by TOM WEPPEL
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Last weekend, all four home teams won their respective wild card playoff games…a rarity in the NFL, for sure. And so now, Houston, New Orleans, the Giants, and Denver will all play again THIS weekend…this time as the VISITING team!
That said, here are your four playoff match ups heading into Saturday and Sunday…
Saints at San Francisco
The 49ers had a 13-3 season, featuring the #1 ranked rush defense in the League. After a week off, they get to play this one at home, where they sported a 7-1 record. At one point this season, they won eight straight! They also won their last three to close out the season.
…And yet, they are four-point underdogs on Saturday to the New Orleans Saints!! Go figure…
Obviously, the Saints have become a solid influence on a number of fans and prognosticators, feeling strongly their offense simply cannot and will not be stopped! QB Drew Brees leads the #1 ranked offense in the NFL. They showed that last weekend, producing 45 points in beating the Lions.
And now they will have to go against a pretty good 49ers defense…but ranked #17 in pass defense. San Francisco held opponents to ten points or less in six of their 13 victories. They will need to do their best in trying to stop the Saints offense.
It’ll be interesting to see how both teams come out at the beginning of this one. I think it could have a huge influence on the eventual outcome. I also think it could be the most competitive game of the four scheduled this weekend…
Broncos at New England
Please raise your hand if you are sick and tired of hearing, reading, or watching Tim Tebow!!!
Yeah…I thought so.
You know, I wasn’t mature enough to have gotten into the popularity craze back in the 60’s when Elvis and the Beatles were in their heyday. But I can say this…what is going on right now with all this attention (and fascination!) being given to Mr. Tebow, could almost rival the level of attention given previously to those past musicians…and I am NOT joking when I say that!
At the beginning of the season, there were plenty of NFL experts and pundits who felt the Broncos QB was not NFL-caliber…that he didn’t have the ‘skill set’ necessary to succeed!
And here we are, with the Broncos still alive in the playoffs, after that incomparable 29-23 OT victory over the Steelers last weekend. The bottom line here is you simply have to give Tebow some degree of respect and/or admiration for what is going on…
While he isn’t the most efficient or the most productive QB in the NFL, he certainly has made some things happen that make us all shake our collective heads! And the Denver Broncos probably wouldn’t still be alive without him…simple as that.
Ironically, it is their RUNNING game that is ranked #1 in the NFL, while their passing game is ranked next-to-last! And that could end up hurting them, in the long run.
Meanwhile, the Patriots (13-3) come in after a week off to get back into the groove of the postseason…and certainly, both Tom Brady and Bill Bellichick know EXACTLY what that is all about!
If the Patriots have a weakness, it is their passing defense, which is ranked last in the League! Luckily, going against Denver’s weak passing game should be no huge problem.
New England is playing at home in this one, where they were 7-1 for the season. When they played the Broncos in Denver only a few weeks ago, they beat them soundly, 41-23. They are favored to beat the Broncos again, and are two-touchdown favorites. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the outcome.
Then again, we all know Tim Tebow is capable of pulling of miracles, don’t we?
Texans at Baltimore
Statistically, these two teams’ Defenses rank #’s two (Baltimore) and three (Houston) in the League. So, it would make you think we are in for one helluva defensive battle for this game on Sunday!
Then you see a) Houston let the Ravens score 29 points in their game earlier this season, and b) Baltimore is a nine-point favorite going into this one, and it makes you wonder what the deal is!
When a team plays their opponent for a second time in a season, there are two ways they can be looking at it. They can either figure, ‘Hey, we know we can win, after what they did to us earlier.’ Or, they can end up feeling, ‘Damn, they are beating us just like they did last time!’
And since the Ravens are such a strong, solid, veteran group…one that has been through these games previously…and since they are a team that beat Houston (29-14) in Baltimore, in the exact same setting as last time, it would make you think they have a solid edge over a Texans team that simply is not doing a great job with their offensive output. Houston QB T.J. Yates has barely produced blue-collar numbers. He has done okay, but not great by any means.
And to be that way against a nasty Ravens defense…it could get nasty, to say the least.
Giants at Green Bay
In years past, these two franchises have been known for their rough, nasty, physical play, both on offense AND defense! They have been consistent in producing a solid running game on offense, while shutting down opponents with a strong consistent defense. You could almost call it a trademark, so to speak, which has made them that much more attractive to their fan base.
Not this year!
Look at the stats for both Green Bay and the Giants this year. For New York, their running game ranks LAST (32d) in the League in total yards, while their defense is in the bottom 20’s, both in running and passing. You might think that is low, but then you see that the Packers’ defense is ranked 31st in the NFL in total yards given up! The Packer running game is #27 overall in effectiveness!
Those rankings make fans of both teams shake their collective heads and wonder, ‘What the hell!’.
All that said, there is no denying that the only thing carrying both these clubs has been the passing game! Green Bay is third overall in their play, while the Giants are fourth. THAT is the reason the Packers are 15-1, while the Giants are on a roll, having won their last three games.
In their last game, Green Bay went over to the Meadowlands and was able to hold on for a 38-35 victory over the Giants. Now, going into this contest, the Pack are a nine-point favorite to win at Lambeau Field. While the Giants have shown strong play from their defense recently, it will be very difficult to go against one of the top QB’s in the League in Aaron Rodgers. All that said, I am interested in seeing how this one plays out. There could be some drama to play out going in. Will it be another high scoring battle, or will they simply get down and dirty?
We shall see…
And…we’ll see if any of the four visitors can pull off a victory…
The Colts just hired 39-year old Ryan Grigson, formerly with the Philadelphia Eagles, and a past Detroit Lions offensive lineman, to be their new General Manager.
Normally, when a NFL team hires a GM to come into the fold, there might be only a certain few issues to handle or deal with, depending on the situation.
But that is not the case at all in Indianapolis! In fact, there is no question Grigson will now be thrown into a relative fire, as he has a number of decisions to make on the Colts roster, all of which will certainly be noteworthy.
That includes having to deal with possibly re-signing solid veterans (and former Pro Bowlers) C Jeff Saturday, WR Reggie Wayne, and DL Robert Mathis, who still might have one or more years of good football left in them, but who also would want a big-time contract featuring guaranteed money the Colts might not want to be willing to dish out. That certainly can be an issue for Grigson to be very careful with.
But the biggest situation to deal with will involve QB Peyton Manning…the guy who has been THE COLT the past decade!
That is, except for this past season, when his neck problems caused him to sit out and not play the entire season. That, of course, led to the Colts’ 2-14 record. The only positive out of that, of course, is that Indy now has the #1 pick in the NFL rookie Draft coming up in April.
Now, if Manning is on the roster on March 28th, he will receive a $28 million bonus! Otherwise, he can be released from his contract and become a free agent. And I am SURE there would be a number of teams very interested in talking with Manning, no matter what his condition is presently!
And that is the real question here…can Manning play next season and be ready and good to go?
It sounds like the Colts will draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck #1 in April, no matter what Peyton’s status is. I’m sure Grigson will have to come up with some type of strategy and mindset with the owner Jim Irsay.
And of course, we haven’t even brought up the issue of what to do with HC Jim Caldwell…