Friday, January 20, 2012

8 comments Bottom-of-the-Barrel's Pickoffapalooza 2012: Conference

I'm still pissed off about the Saints game, as you will all be subjected to in a bile filled rant soon. Something to look forward to.

BALTIMORE @ NEW ENGLAND (-7.0)
GIANTS @ SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5)


Picks...

Jimmy

First, some old fashioned ridicule of stupid journalism (something I haven't done on here for some time).

Brady orchestrated the humiliating 45-10 beatdown by carving up a number of team and league records, and serving notice that the demise of the drop-back, pocket passer has been grossly exaggerated.

Yes, Jackie, it's dismal how many people have talked about how the passing game is dead. It's all rushing and defense and three 5,000+ yard passers and line play and...oh, something's wrong here isn't there? Speaking of something being wrong with passing...

NEW ENGLAND (-7.0)
NEW ENGLAND 27-17


Flacco's shit. The Ravens had eight first downs deep in the fourth quarter. This week was a sobering reminder of the importance of turnovers, but I'm just not sure we're seeing the best teams in the conference title games because of them. Baltimore were not good last week, at home to a supposedly inferior Houston team. Jacoby Jones' stupidity (mainly the turnover obviously, but he was horrible returning the ball all game, with another drop and two negative returns, the second of which was a regulation evasion of the gunner) was basically the reason they won this game. Houston outgained them by nearly 100 yards, had nearly 50% more first downs, were better on third down, had five sacks to none and Baltimore had seven (count 'em, seven!) three and outs. You name anything aside from holding the ball (obviously not incidental, but still), Houston did it better. Foster (132 yards on 27 carries) was able to run on them consistently, and Suggs was invisible. So Houston was able to execute what it wanted on offense, namely to run - will Brady be able to throw?

I think so. The big question coming out of Saturday for me was - do you give the Patriots any credit for what just happened? Like, Denver is clearly much worse than New England, going there, lacking playoff experience, should we have expected anything less than 45-10? I think they deserve a boost in standing following the game. Sure, it was Denver, but they played as close to a perfect football game as you'll ever see. There was barely an offensive play that didn't do what New England wanted it to do. Denver had nine passing yards midway through the third quarter and 33 by the end of the third. Even with Tebow that's fucking amazing. At one point, Denver had 0.8 YPA. New England racked up 15 negative plays. Fifteen! Even if you think the offense was basically business as usual, the worst defense in the league shouldn't be able to do that to anyone, regardless of who or where they are playing. A bottom five defense shouldn't be able to. I still think they are a below average defense, obviously, but Baltimore is a below average offense too, and worse than that, a one dimensional below average offense (Baltimore has an almost impossibly low 402 yards passing in their last three games). You can gameplan for the Ravens, and the Patriots have the best such gameplanner in the business. In many ways they are similar to Denver, solid offensive line, inaccurate QB (Flacco was 26th, behind Rex Grossman - Rex Grossman! - in completion percentage), run the ball like it's 1957 (8th in rushing attempts per game and 4th among playoff teams) and the odd deep throw (namely Torrey Smith, who was 13th in yards per catch with 16.8). Baltimore's defense is obviously very good, but I don't think it's as good as it used to be. I have mentioned I don't think Reed is the same guy (dropped two relatively easy picks against the Texans, yes, even as he took one away from Andre Johnson late, that was essentially a jump ball on a double covered receiver) and he's hobbled by injury, Suggs has one sack in his last four games, and the run defense is hardly impenetrable (New England don't need 4.7YPC like Houston, something flirting with 4 will do). New England only seemed to have problems when they were almost deliberately trying not to score in the fourth quarter. Brady was hurried twice against Miller and Dumervil and not sacked at all. Is Baltimore's pass rush really that much better? Denver had twelve sacks in their final four games prior to meeting the Pats. Baltimore has three. Their offense is averaging less than 21 points in their last 12 games (and barely over 18 on the road) and haven't scored more than 24 in their last seven anywhere. Turnovers won't bail the Ravens out here, New England has four in their last five games at home and as mentioned last week, lead the AFC in giveaways. About the home thing, the Ravens are 14-15 on the road in the last three years and 4-4 this year despite playing no out of division playoff teams on the road, and considering New England's otherworldly home record, that's a bad sign. I'm not sure Baltimore's offense is much better than Denver's (Denver was a significantly superior rushing team to the Ravens who were 12th in YPC) and if New England's defense shows up with even half as good an effort as last week here, they should be able to hold them to about 20 or less and put the necessary points up themselves.

GIANTS (+2.5)
GIANTS 23-17


Run the ball, they said. New York had 95 yards on 27 carries. 23 of them came on Bradshaw's 23 yard gain against prevent defense on the second last play of the first half and 34 more yards came on the icing drive. New York had 14 yards until that Bradshaw run. Rush the passer they said. The Giants eventually had four sacks and five hits (one sack came on a hopeless Green Bay drive, down by three scores with two minutes left), but got absolutely nothing early (again) and considering how often Rodgers dropped back, and how many yards he gained on the ground (66), New York's pass rush was really quite dissapointing. I mean the first half or so (where they held the Packers to just 10), there was not anyone that seemed to even get past a block. Keep Green Bay's offense off the field, they said. Green Bay won the time of possession in the game, and ignoring the final kneel downs, they had the ball for 17:31 of the 28:13 played in the second half. So how did the Giants win? Yes, they got a well below average day from the Green Bay offense. That was always going to be necessary. The secondary that I said couldn't cover anyone, in fact played a pretty reasonable game. But the deeper answer is Manning. Eli is playing out of his fucking skull at the moment. He has nine touchdowns and one pick in his last three games. He has 953 yards and is completing 69.4% of his throws. The dropoff from Brees to Manning is smaller than you might think. And we know he has the playoff minerals to succeed on the road.

Green Bay handled the ball like it was greased up before every play (eight drops, three fumbles), but considering the Giants were on the road, and the officiating was probably hard on them, this was not a fluke performance. The Giants generally played better than Green Bay. That was not true of the Niners. Look, it's fair to say if you picked the Niners to win this game, you expected them to win the turnover battle - fine. They were +28 this year, so give them +2. Hell, give them +3. They were effectively plus five in this game when you consider the one San Fran turnover came at midfield with 17 seconds left in the first half, the Saints with no timeouts. Even for Brees that's not a meaningful possession. Plus five, with two on special teams (including one moronic kick return from the endzone). Lucky. Then, they were so incredibly outplayed in this game, that despite the turnovers, they magically are still down with 4 minutes to play. This is what every single person who picked San Francisco feared (be honest) and what everyone who liked New Orleans predicted; Alex Smith would have to throw. He does, and finishes the drive with a twenty eight yard touchdown run - the longest run of his career (he hadn't had a run of more than 14 yards since 2007). Lucky. Then San Fran are down again with one and a half minutes left and a single timeout. Now "you have to throw" isn't even an expression. You literally have to throw every down. This is really what those who picked San Francisco dreaded. Smith then throws 6/7 for 85 yards and a TD. This is a pretty good analogy to my thinking as I was sitting in my underwear watching this game, as someone that picked New Orleans. I was throwing popcorn at the screen by the end. INSANELY lucky. Lucky three different ways in this game. A game where their defense was a paper tiger. New Orleans had 472 yards, 4 touchdowns and those numbers aren't even misleading. San Francisco could not stop New Orleans in any way whatsoever when it counted. The only reason they won this game is because Drew Brees was unable to get a meaningful possession last. FOX flashed a stat that said only once in the history of the NFL had a team had a +4 turnover margin and lost in the playoffs before Saturday, and again, to remind you, it was really closer to +5. San Francisco were historically outplayed for 59 minutes (by the way, can you imagine if Tebow, and not Smith, did that? The internet might have exploded).

It is true that Dallas, Atlanta and Green Bay are all weaker pass defenses than San Francisco, albeit by less than most might think. But the difference is not in the secondaries. Dallas' secondary is a horror film, but Atlanta has disciplined players at the back, and two good man to man corners. Green Bay has Woodson, Tramon Williams, and one of the best ballhawking defensive backfields in football (and Manning had to throw into it, with his short targets being basically useless - characteristically, New York tight ends and running backs caught just five balls against Green Bay for 60 yards). No, the difference is simply in the pass rush. While San Francisco's linebackers lost the battle with Graham and Sproles, no one can question the exceptional play of the defensive Smiths. Aldon Smith is one of my favourite players in the league, and Justin Smith is just extraordinarily strong. There was an amazing play where he was pushing Jermon Bushrod back, all the way to Brees, and then grabbed Brees while still being blocked. New York's offensive line has been pretty good in the last three games, with four sacks and nineteen hits on Manning, but the only exceptional pass rusher they faced was Ware (check Matthews' numbers this year, he was invisible against the Giants too). However, the bigger problem is on the other line. Look, I think despite my grumblings about the pass rush being much more sizzle than steak of late, we can agree that Pierre-Paul, Kiwanuka, Tuck and Umenyiora are dangerous pass rushers, and San Francisco might be the worst pass blocking line in the league. The Niners conceded the seventh most sacks in the league, despite barely clearing 450 attempts this year (second last in the league)...if the Giants pass rush does get going, this could be a blowout. Even if it doesn't, New York has proven it can beat better teams than San Francisco without one, surprisingly. On the flip side, while I have done pretty well on this pick 'em thing the last three years, there is one, rather fatal flaw in my record - picking the Superbowl winner. The last two years in games involving the Packers and Saints, I am 2-5 against the spread (and 1-6 picking the winner). I am 10-5 in all other games. This year, if I have such a bogey team, it is all but certain to be the Niners. I just don't see what everyone else sees. Being 6-1 in games that don't involve them and picking against them back to back without success does concern me, but in the end, I can only pick what I think - the Giants to win.

Jon

NEW ENGLAND (-7.0)
NEW ENGLAND 30-19


How are we supposed to take a Baltimore team that lost to the Jaguars 12-7 on the road on MNF in late October (and has generally been a much different (read: worse) team on the road)? Not to mention that they looked mostly unimpressive last week (couldn't quite put away the Houston Texans, who to their credit aren't exactly bums, but let's just say I didn't walk away thinking the Ravens looked like a championship caliber team). We have all heard that defense travels well, but I don't see them faring well against New England.

On the other hand, the Patriots beat the shit out of the Broncos last week and what sucks is that no one can really take anything away from that victory. They already beat Team Tebow handily in Denver and then continued that to a further degree in Foxborough. A 13-3 team dominated an 8-8 team. Big whoop. What we do know is that the Patriots' defense, which is their biggest relative weakness in this matchup (and a huge one at that), did a pretty good job at getting to the quarterback. I think that could be huge. It looks as if the Patriots are content to go with a no-huddle offense from the get-go and well, that means that they will mostly likely jump out to a lead and force the other team to pass. Which means more Joe Flacco. On the road. In a conference championship game. I think this could end up being a great game, but Baltimore's defense will almost definitely have to score for them to have a shot at winning this game.

SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5)
SAN FRANCISCO 20-16


Anyone still wondering which New York Giants team will show up this week is an idiot. They are arguably playing the best football of any of the teams remaining. The real question is whether or not their A game is good enough to beat the 49ers in San Francisco. The weather this time around will not be as nice as last weekend. There will most likely not be any sunshine and the field will be wet. I think that this will lead to a lower scoring game and that plays right into the hands of San Francisco.

Now, I know some people will be like, well there's no way the 49ers' turnover advantage is sustainable. Well that may be true, and while the Giants didn't need any turnovers to kick the awful Falcons' ass, they were also the beneficiary of some turnover good fortune against the Packers. In my opinion this game comes down to which defense I think will be better at creating turnovers, and I'm going to go with San Francisco. As much as I hate the Giants, I still think they have a great shot at winning this game. These two teams played an amazing game in mid-November, and I'm sure this Sunday's game will deliver as well.

Chris

BALTIMORE (+7.0)
NEW ENGLAND 21-17


As a resident Hoosier and longtime Colts fan, let’s make one thing clear. I do not want the New England Patriots to win. Under no circumstances do I wish to have the Bill Belicheck led brood in my hometown dome on February 5th. A 2-14 season, the potential farewell of a Hall of Fame quarterback, and the current front office housecleaning has not put me in a good mood when discussing the potential for Tom Brady to hoist the Lombardi trophy in my backyard.

Football Gods, why haste thou forsaken me?

Not only are the Football Gods against me, but it seems that everyone with an opinion feels that the Patriots are a shoe-in for the Super Bowl. And why shouldn’t they? Of course any comparisons between the Ravens and Patriots begins behind center. Tom Terrific put on a clinic against the Broncos, throwing for six touchdowns and 363 yards on 26 of 34 passing attempts. His counterpart, Joe Flacco struggled to move the offense behind 176 yards on 14 completions in 27 attempts. Matter of fact, Flacco hasn’t surpassed the 200 yard mark in 7 of his 8 playoff appearances (Ravens are 5-3 during that span). Just this week, teammate Ed Reed made some not so flattering remarks about his quarterback’s play against the Texans. Will the public ploy by Reed serve to motivate his beleaguered QB, or have the seeds of doubt been sewn? There are no doubts about Tom Brady.

Baltimore’s chances rest primarily on the shoulders of their defensive unit. Albeit an aging defensive unit. The Ravens surrendered just 16.6 points per game this season, third best in the NFL. The Ravens also led the AFC with 48 sacks this season, led by Terrell Suggs with 14. The defensive line must have a great game and put pressure on Brady from all sides of the pocket. Each lineman has at least 5 sacks this season, which demonstrates their ability to do just that.

These are just some of the knowns. What will decide the outcome are some of the unknowns. Can the Ravens find some way to contain the dual tight end threats of Hernandez and Gronkowski? If anyone can, these Ravens can. But then do you expect to be able to contain Wes Welker and Deion Branch as well? Will Ray Race and the tenth ranked rushing attack of the Ravens be able to exploit a Patriots defense growing in confidence? After managing a paltry 87 yards against the Texans, I’m positive that the Ravens will lean on their running game early on, which if successful will take pressure off of Flacco.

All signs point to my prayers going unanswered. Last week the Ravens didn’t make many mistakes, playing penalty free football, while not turning the ball over once. Forcing four such turnovers by Houston. Conventional logic would tell one not to expect the same this week against a veteran led playoff ball club like the Patriots. But, if the Ravens can’t improve upon the anemic output from their offense, expect to see their championship hopes dashed. Maybe the last such run for players like Ray Lewis and the aforementioned Ed Reed.

I think that Baltimore has a better defensive line, and offensive line than the Patriots. And of course you have to win in the trenches first and foremost. But, I think that Baltimore’s woes on the offensive side of the ball will be too much to overcome, even with the Ravens defense putting forth all the effort needed for a trip to Indy. In the end…..despite my obvious bias, I am picking the Patriots to win.
Watching the Patriots win this weekend would be adding insult to a season that has already seen significant injury to the collective pride of Colts Nation.

Football Gods, don’t fail me now. As this is one time that I would be more than OK with being proven completely and utterly wrong.

SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5)
SAN FRANCISCO 23-20


Generally speaking, Super Bowls are won by the elite quarterbacks of the game. Ask most people and only one of the teams in the NFC Championship game has a great QB. Eli Manning has won over any remaining detractors with his stellar play this season, especially in the clutch moments. Damn that reporter earlier this season for questioning whether Eli was in the class of Tom Brady. He may be in the back corner of the room like some new kid that just moved into the neighborhood, but he’s there alright.

Alex Smith on the other hand has faced scrutiny of a different sort for most of his career with the 49ers. Questions about whether he was fit to be a starting quarterback at the highest level dogged Smith through seven different offensive coordinators in his first seven seasons. With the arrival of new head coach Jim Harbaugh this season, the confidence of Alex Smith began to show in his play. Never more so than in the waning moments of a thrilling home win against the favored New Orleans Saints and their powerful offense last weekend. Regardless of past grievances aired by naysayers, one thing is for certain. Both Manning and Smith come into this game off the highs of great divisional round performances.

For all of the talk about their respective QB’s, make no mistake, this contest will come down to defense. Both teams boast fierce defensive fronts that can wreck havoc on offenses. San Francisco allowed a league low 77 yards rushing per game, finished top ten in sacks and led the league with 38 takeaways. The Giants resurrected season and deep playoff push can be attributed to a renewed presence of their once feared pass rush, led by Pro Bowler Jean Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Tuck. The Giants were also top ten in sacks this season. When these two teams met in Week 10, it took a defensive stand by Justin Smith, Carlos Rogers and the 49ers defense to stave off Manning for a 27-20 victory at home. Furthermore, it should be noted that two of the game’s most prolific offenses ever, now sit at home in large part because of the efforts of these defenses.

Ahmad Bradshaw missed the November 13th meeting between these two teams and may be a bit of an X-factor this week. A steady one-two punch from Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs will likely be the key if Eli Manning is to have the time necessary to find dangerous wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz. The Niners gave up less than 40 yards rushing against the Saints last week, so it really may not make a difference who is in the backfield for the Giants. Eli will need a stellar game in order for New York to advance.

Alex Smith had great success in the first game when targeting his tight ends, and coming off a 180 yard, two touchdown performance last week, Vernon Davis will be a big key for the Niners chances. The Giants bottled up the San Francisco rushing attack in that first meeting, but I bet that we see a bunch of Gore early and often in an attempt to establish ball control.

Because of how close this game will be, I think a crucial turnover will eventually be the deciding factor in this game. I think that San Fran poses just enough of a threat on the ground that Smith and the passing game moves the offense into scoring position several times throughout the contest. The 49ers have not been great in the red zone this season so I’m not predicting a dire need for several touchdowns like last week. I think a number of field goals are kicked and will be the margin of victory here.

Sean

BALTIMORE (+7.0)
BALTIMORE 20-17


Defense, defense, defense. Ed Reed was right, by the way: Joe Flacco really looked like shit. He'll probably look like shit again, too, which is why I think this one will go down to the wire. But the Ravens still have Ray Rice and I think he'll be the difference. You may wonder, "What, no credit for Tom Brady?" The man's a great quarterback. Obviously if the Patriots start strong, the Ravens will be in a lot of trouble. But I would take the Baltimore defense to win that battle any day of the week. Including Sunday.

SAN FRANCISCO (-2.5)
SAN FRANCISCO 24-20


Fine, I believe in the Niners. I'm not confident about it by any means, but if their defense can force Drew Brees to make mistakes, they can sure as hell do that to Eli Manning, too. Now that I've said that, watch the Giants win on Sunday.

Ben

New England (-7.0)
New England 34-20

You would think these games would get easier as the playoffs go along. At this point, we've seen these teams play 17-18 times this year and could have a feel for how good or bad each team is. It is just not true though, at least for me it isn't true. 17 games into the year and I still don't like the Ravens offense and still don't think they are good enough to make the Super Bowl. I've been critical of Joe Flacco over the last week, but I had a revelation a few days ago. I was critical of Flacco in the Ravens victory over the Texans. He looked bad, but he also didn't commit any turnovers, so I take that as a positive. The Texans have a very good defense too, so merely not turning the ball over is somewhat of an accomplishment. So that actually says a little bit that Flacco, who never will mistaken for Joe Montana. He played efficiently but not well during the game. So perhaps Flacco wasn't as bad as I said he was. Of course, he very well could have been as bad as I recall. I'm trying to give Flacco credit with the whole "he may not have been as bad as we recall" excuse. I mostly want to acknowledge he went up against a tough defense. He will get a lot of people off his back if he plays well on Sunday.

As far as the Patriots go, Tom Brady chewed up a good Broncos defense last week, but even if he takes a step back against the Ravens this week, I still think he is still going to put points on the board. The Patriots defense isn't seen as tough and was statistically one of the worst in the NFL this year. In theory, Flacco should be able to move the ball against the Patriots defense. The key to this game (and this may seem obvious) is the Ravens defense has to shut down Tom Brady enough to give Flacco and the Ravens offense a chance to not end up in an early hole. I'm not sure they will be able to do this. The Patriots offense is on such a roll and there has been so much attention paid to the tight ends on the Patriots roster that Wes Welker has become almost an afterthought. I think this week he reminds he us he is on the roster and has a big game while the Ravens are concerned with Gronkowski and Hernandez.

The Ravens are simply not a very good road team. They are 4-4 on the road this year with losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle and San Diego. I don't believe the Patriots have a great defense, but I also don't believe the Ravens have a great offense. The Patriots offense is on such a roll that no matter how good the Ravens defense may be, I see the Patriots being able to score points. The Patriots are going to focus on shutting down Ray Rice and that will be the key to the game. The Patriots are going to the Super Bowl and your nightmare that involves reading running diaries from Bill Simmons while he is at the Super Bowl has become a reality.

New York Giants (+2.5)
New York Giants 17-13

This is a tough game to pick. These two teams played earlier this year in Candlestick Park and the 49ers won. Frank Gore spent much of the second half of the first game on the bench and the Giants defense wasn't playing quite as well then as they are now. This is the overpowering force versus the immovable object, at least in terms of momentum. One of these two teams has to win this game. Whether it is the Giants, who seem intent on reliving the 2007 season or the 49ers who have as much momentum as the Giants and seem destined to make the Super Bowl. It would set up a bizarro Super Bowl (against the Patriots) where a #1 overall pick (Alex Smith) would manage to be an underdog who few people believed in. That just seems weird to me.

I will disagree with J.S. that the 49ers were lucky. The 49ers forced the Saints into making turnovers in the first half and just like the 49ers defense couldn't stop the the Saints, the Saints defense couldn't stop the 49ers offense. The 49ers won that game because they had the ball last, but they proved they deserved to win the game with their play in the first half. So I disagree the 49ers were lucky and I think they weren't any luckier than the Saints would have been had they won the game.

The biggest question I've had all year with the Giants is their defense. I've never really questioned whether they could run the ball. I figured once Bradshaw got healthy the Giants running game would pick up and become more effective. I expect this to be a very good game. The 49ers came out throwing against the Saints and it worked effectively. The Giants secondary is still a bit of a question in my mind, so this plan may work in this game as well. It can help set the 49ers up for shorter second and third downs. The Giants were very effective against a weak Packers defense last week and the 49ers will pose a much bigger problem because they have the best defense the Giants have faced in the playoffs. We learned from last week the Giants need to control Vernon Davis and try to take away Frank Gore. I think the 49ers are going to limit the offensive opportunities for the Giants, but the Giants excellent defensive line is going to get more pressure (without blitzing) than the Saints could get last week. Alex Smith is excellent against the blitz and I think the Giants can slow down the 49ers run game and make Smith uncomfortable in the pocket. I hate to pick against the 49ers, but I'm finally on the Giants '07 deja vu train. Sorry Giants fans, I said I would pick against you to ensure your future luck, but I just couldn't do it.

Jimmy: NE (-7.0), NYG (+2.5)
Chris: BAL (+7.0), SF (-2.5)
Sean: BAL (+7.0), SF (-2.5)
Jon: NE (-7.0), SF (-2.5)
Ben: NE (-7.0), NYG (+2.5)
Bill Simmons: NE (-7.0), NYG (+2.5)

8 comments:

J.S. said...

Look on the bright side Baltimore, at least you don't have to second and guess that 4th and 6 instead of the 51 yard field goal. Cundiff couldn't hit a 32 yarder

rich said...

Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.

Thank you Kevin Williams!

rich said...

And by Kevin I mean Kyle.

Thanks for the fumbles!

Bengoodfella said...

J.S., poor Cundiff. I feel sympathy for him. You still have to hit those kicks though.

Speaking of guys I feel bad for. Kyle Williams. Sucks for him. You know he is Ken Williams, GM of the White Sox, son. Also, he was drafted in the 6th round and was in the game because highly drafted glory boy Ted Ginn was injured. Can't wait to see how Gregg blames the fumbles on Ginn.

Ericb said...

Now we must prepare for the longest two weeks of the year. Whatever will Peter and Gregg write about next week?!

Bengoodfella said...

Eric, I am sure they will find something. Never fear. Having to deal with the Pro Bowl next week somehow makes it worse in my mind. It's watching a half-assed game which reminds us we aren't watching very competitive football for another week.

J.S. said...

Crabtree curse!

Bengoodfella said...

I swear, if Gregg talks about that tomorrow I'm going on a five state rampage of throwing pennies at cars.