Thursday, January 18, 2007

AFC Playoff Thoughts

I've been meaning to post some thoughts on the divisional round of the playoffs as well as my predictions for the title round, but have been hypnotized by Bravo's Top Chef. So you have my apologies.

Indianapolis 15 Baltimore 6. Even though this game was the least exciting and had by far the fewest points tallied of any of the divisional round games, it might have had the most interesting subplots. The Colts bailed out on the city of Baltimore back in the early 80's, only to be replaced by the Browns-turned-Ravens, who - led by Art Model - snuck out of Cleveland under the cloak of darkness nearly a decade ago. In addition to this intriguing bit of history there was the unstoppable force of Indy's offense going up against the immovable object of B-More's defense.

Then the game started, the Ravens defense prevailed (Manning had yet another terrible playoff game), and yet Baltimore still lost the game. How?

- For starters, Steve McNair came through with a classic Veteran Mistake when he threw a horrific interception at the Colts' goal line, which took points off the board and halted Baltimore's momentum when they finally had something going. Not only that, but then the vaunted defense failed to pin Indy deep, instead allowing the Colts to go marching back down the field.

- The Ravens were also victimized by bad luck, when two interceptions were tipped away by Ray Lewis.

- They got hosed by the officials, who blew the play dead when they incorrectly thought Ed Reed (who was by far the best player on the field) went out of bounds before lateraling the ball to Chris McAllister. The officials also made a terrible holding call on Jonathan Ogden and missed a blatant unnecessary roughing call on Cato June.

- Baltimore really missed B.J. Sams' return abilities on special teams.

- But mainly, they shot themselves in the foot with bad playcalling. Despite facing a run defense that many have called one of the worst in NFL history, the Ravens only ran the ball five times out of 22 second half plays. It wasn't until the 3:15 mark of the third quarter that Jamal Lewis got his first carry of the second half (after nine passing plays and a fullback dive) and for the game he got just 13 totes. How is this possible? Not only did Lewis look better than he has at any time since he had his soul taken in prison, but the Colts are porous against the run! Here is the problem with exploiting a bad run defense: it only works if you actually run the ball.

Give the Colts credit for being able to move the ball on the ground when they had to – especially on the last drive with Rhodes - and for getting the job done on defense, but don't mistake this victory for any kind of dominance. In fact, that is the irony here. The Colts are now playing at home in the AFC title game and will probably win the Super Bowl, but they are only this far because the first two teams they played just absolutely gagged. The Chiefs should have given them a run for their money and Baltimore absolutely should have won the game. Amazing.

New England 24 San Diego 21. In my playoff "guesses" I forecasted matchup and result, because I just couldn't picture the Chargers beating the Patriots. It turned out that was correct, but for the life of me, I still don't know how this happened. My dad suspects that Belichek has some sort of voodoo doll that he employs on the sidelines. I keep flashing back to the movie The Last Boyscout and wondering about a point shaving scandal. I mean seriously, how in the hell did this happen? The Chargers were bigger, faster, stronger, and better all game long. They had the unstoppable Tomlinson, Rivers was handling the situation well, and Brady was taking a giant dump on the field. But then the dust cleared and the Pats were doing the Merriman Lights Out dance and celebrating yet another huge postseason win.

I'm still in shock, as you can probably tell from this scattered recap. The hardest thing here is to assign blame. I guess you can blame Marty since he has a track record and a few key mistakes can be traced back to him. Eric Parker fumbling that punt should never have happened, because once he dropped three passes and showed that he was the leader in the clubhouse for the Worst Hands Award, he never should have been back there. Florence getting the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on fourth down has to go back to the coach, at least on some level. The conservative playcalling after the game was tied, that definitely falls on Marty. But a guy intercepts a fourth down pass and then fumbles it? How can you anticipate or prevent something like that?

I couldn't feel any worse for the Chargers at this point, I don't think.

Patriots at Colts

I personally don't think either team deserves to be in this game. The Colts have had two opponents just roll over and give them the path to the Super Bowl, while the Patriots' victory called to mind the putt at the end of Happy Gilmore. And I don't know about anyone else, but I am sick and tired of the Colts and Pats. It is worse than Sox-Yanks, I think. Blah.

That said, I think this is now the Colts year. They've absorbed two more classic Manning playoff games in which he has thrown five picks and played with the world's tightest sphincter. Now they get a home game to win the AFC and go to the Super Bowl as at least a seven-point favorite. Unless the Patriots can find a fountain of youth for Corey Dillon and/or get Laurence Maroney to run like he did before be bruised his ribs (or somehow acquire Maurice Jones-Drew and disguise him as Kevin Faulk), they won't be able to exploit this run defense. And they certainly don't have the receivers on offense or the corners on defense to win a shootout. Unless, of course, Manning actually poops his pants on the field. Then all bets are off.

The pick: Indy 27 New England 17.

No comments: