Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The NFL Playoffs Preview

"Make the TV cameras come
back NOW MOMMY!!!"
The experts keep telling us how bad the defenses of the Packers, Patriots and Saints are because they finished 32nd, 31st and 24th respectively in "total defense." The problem is that total defense is based on yards allowed and is a lousy measuring device because giving-up yards is not the same as giving-up points. Just ask the Jets who finished 5th in yards allowed but 20th in points allowed. (I think I just made Rex Ryan cry again which is fairly typical of people who don't get enough attention . . . five year old people).  

Let's instead measure those three defenses based on points allowed and see if we can figure out how these sieves somehow managed to finish a combined 41-7 in the regular season.  The Packers finished 19th, the Patriots 15th and the Saints 13th in scoring defense.  Not exactly the '85 Bears but certainly good enough to support three quarterbacks who combined to throw for over 15,000 yards and a 130 touchdowns.  (As a Ravens fan, this whole line of reasoning is starting to make me a little queasy.  Not quite sure how I got on this ride but I want to get off).  

"I finished that first coat of paint
boss. See you next summer."
So let's not get carried away with the notion that every playoff team is flawed because flaws don't matter if you can cover them up (or at least that's what my boss told me when I accidentally sandblasted a rather large hole in the bottom of some guy's yacht during my summer job in high school . . . and then he suggested that I get my job at Footlocker back). The question then becomes "is there a team that has enough defense to keep Rodgers, Brees and Brady in the high 20's and enough offense to get to 30?"  I'm pretty sure the answer is "no" but let's run through the other contenders to find out.

I'm not considering the Bengals, Lions, Texans or Broncos as legitimate contenders.  The Bengals would have to do it the whole way on the road with a rookie quarterback and that's simply not happening.  The Lions just blew a chance to avoid the Saints in Round 1 by allowing a back-up quarterback to throw six touchdowns against them and this is not the season you want to be going into the playoffs with a suspect secondary.  The Texans will be feisty but you're not winning four regular season games in a row with T.J. Yates much less three playoff games and the Super Bowl.  The Broncos are not one of the 20 best teams in the league right now as evidenced by the fact that they just lost to the teams with the 21st and 23rd best records.  The fact that their odds to win the Super Bowl are only 60 to 1 is a clear indication that even the most devout are willing to gamble on divine intervention because those odds should be 5,000 to 1.         

The Ravens (6 to 1):  The Ravens have a very realistic path to the Super Bowl.  A Texans win over the Bengals in the first round would send the Steelers to New England for the second round so the Ravens would play Houston and T. J. Yates at home and would then either go to New England a week after the Steelers pounded on Tom Brady for four quarters or they would get to host a road weary Pittsburgh team in Baltimore.  The big hurdle for the Ravens isn't getting to the Super Bowl, it's winning the Super Bowl if they come up against one of the offensive juggernauts from the NFC.  Ray Lewis and Ed Reed seem to be aging at an accelerated rate (did you see Reed's attempted "tackle" on Bernard Scott last Sunday?).  Let me allow Sean Payton channeling Moe Greene to elaborate:

"Ed Reed's missin' tackles two at a time.
Receivers are running right by him.
What's the matter with you?"
"Yeah, let's talk business, Pagano. First of all, you're all done. The Ravens defense don't even have that kind of muscle anymore. Ray Lewis is hurt, right? You got chased out of San Diego by Rivers. What do you think is going on here? You think you can come to a dome and beat the Saints?  I talked to Norv Turner. I can double team Suggs and still give Brees four guys to throw to!"

The bottom line - John Harbaugh needs his brother to pull off a miracle for the Ravens to hoist the Lombardi Trophy because Alex Smith might be the only quarterback in the NFC playoffs who the Ravens can handle.

The 49ers (12 to 1):  The 49ers path to Indy needs to circumvent Lambeau Field which could happen if they can get past the Saints at home (a long shot but not impossible) and either the Falcons or the Giants can pull off the upset against the Packers (also a long shot but not impossible).  If those two things happen, suddenly you're looking at the 49ers hosting the Falcons or the Giants as a favorite to win the NFC Championship and the almost unbelievable possibility of a Harbaugh Bowl re-match for the title which would absolutely shatter the record for most clichéuttered by two head coaches leading-up to the Super Bowl (previously set by Jon Gruden and Bill Callahan in 2003).

"Lieutenant Douchebag
reporting for duty sir!"
The Steelers (12-1):  It's going to be interesting to see how the Steelers fare as the wild card team being rolled into the playoffs on a hospital gurney (and by "interesting" I mean "enjoyable"). If they make it to the Super Bowl by winning at Denver, New England and Baltimore, I will first remove all of the tile from my bathroom using nothing but my forehead and then will give Tomlin and Roethlisberger their due as one of the top 10 coach/quarterback duos of all-time. 

I just don't see them surviving the injuries they already have plus the ones they're going to get along the way. (That statement should in no way be interpreted to mean that I'm not rooting for any Steelers to avoid getting injured . . . especially Roethlisberger). 

Sidenote:  Pretty fitting that Hines Ward's 1,000th reception was on a shovel pass that lost three yards. Even his milestones are cheap.

The Giants (20 to 1):  The boys in Vegas are clearly not buying the Eli Manning hype otherwise the Giants would have the same 5 to 1 odds as the Saints. Maybe it's because the Giants went 1-3 against playoff teams this year and sprinkled in a couple of losses to the Redskins including one at home three weeks ago in which Eli threw for no touchdowns and three picks. (The crusade against Eli will continue like the reporter going after Kelsey Grammer in Boss until the Giants lose. If you haven't seen Boss, check it out. It's on Starz and I'm not going to say it's as good as The Wire or The Sopranos but just the fact that the comparison comes to mind should be recommendation enough.  If that doesn't draw you in, there is an average of one sex scene and one murder per episode).

The Giants could get blown-out by the Falcons or make it all the way to the NFC title game and get blown out by the Saints but they're not going all the way this year.  This is not 2007 when they ran the pedestrian gauntlet of Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo and Brett Favre to get to the Super Bowl.  Ryan, Rodgers and Brees are going to put up more than 17 points per game and Eli is going to come up short against one of them.

The Falcons (40 to 1):  The Falcons intrigue me as a long shot pick because their sum should be better considering the quality of their parts.  They have arguably the best receiving tandem in the league, the leading rusher in the NFC and a defense that was decent against everybody but the Saints.  The good news for the Falcons is that they wouldn't have to play the Saints until the NFC championship game.  The bad news is that they will almost definitely be playing the Packers in the next round and Aaron Rodgers hung 48 points on them in the playoffs last year on the day when the words "Matt Ryan is as good as any young quarterback in the league" were last uttered.

"I have to do it in my underwear?
Jeez. That seems a little excessive."
So basically the Falcons face the same Sisyphean Task as the rest of the NFC. Even if they get the boulder up the hill by beating Eli Manning, they have to watch it roll back down and push it up again to beat Aaron Rodgers . . . and then Drew Brees . . . and then Tom Brady. At some point they're eventually going to do what I think Sisyphus did. Sit down against the rock, grab a cocktail, light a cigarette and say, "hey Zeus, go fuck yourself!"  He probably didn't even feel the lightning bolt.                 

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