Thursday, January 18, 2007

NFC Playoff Thoughts

Over in the NFC, things were awfully exciting as both games ended with a score of 27-24. Anytime you get close contests with lots of points on the board, you can’t really complain. Here are some thoughts on the divisional games as well as a prediction for Sunday.

Chicago 27 Seattle 24 (OT). Even though I am living in Chicago right now, I was pulling for Seattle to win this game. I felt bad for the Seahawks all year, as they were constantly decimated by injuries yet never could seem to catch a break from anyone. People acted like they somehow choked this year or something, when in reality they suffered injuries to their starting quarterback, running back, receiver, and almost the entire offensive line and entire secondary.

Yet they still made the playoffs and found a way to advance in the Wild Card round, which, to me, was pretty impressive. And they absolutely outplayed the Bears on Sunday, only to come up a little short.

If I had to fault Seattle for one thing, it would be that stupid angled running play they employ in short yardage situations. I don’t know if it is supposed to be a trap or something, but it never works. By running at a sharp angle, they are giving up leverage and allowing blitzing linebackers to come through and annihilate the running back. They did it against Dallas and lost eight yards one a first-and-goal from the one yard line and then they did it four more times against Chicago and lost yardage every time. If you are going to run, slam it up the middle or toss it outside. Don’t go halfway between the two.

New Orleans 27 Philadelphia 24. Once again, the first thing that comes to mind is play-calling on the part of the losing team. In every game, the loser was victimized by poor playcalling. The Ravens didn’t run the ball nearly enough, the Chargers got too tight late in the game and forgot about LT (especially in the passing game), and the Seahawks insisted on repeatedly trying a terrible running play … that had been a disaster the week before. As for the Eagles, they failed to treat their last possession like it was all “four down territory.” They threw the ball down the field on third-and-ten rather than shave up some yards to make fourth down more manageable. Then, to make matters worse, they actually punted the ball away. Why did Andy Reid do that? Your whole season is on the line, you are trailing, and you know that the opposition (who has run for almost 200 yards at the point) needs only one first down to end the game. Yet out comes the punting team. Just an amazing decision.

On the plus side, we got to see some vintage Reggie Bush. No, not the fumble that almost cost the Saints the game, I’m talking about everything else before that. He took a viscous hit right at the outset, but managed to shake it off and have a really nice game. He had a breathtaking 20-yard run early, a powerful draw play a few moments later, and then the ridiculous touchdown run.

Of course, Bush was only the second best Saints running back in the game. The honor of best goes to Deuce McAllister, who ran all over the Eagles for 143 yards and scored two touchdowns.

The only thing I didn’t like about this game from the Saints standpoint is that they were just a little too excited when they won, like that was their Super Bowl. Of course, the Bears managed to top them on that front, so I guess nobody is at a “just happy to be here” disadvantage.

Saints at Bears. I would like nothing better than to see the Saints go to the Super Bowl and then win it by upsetting either the Patriots or the Colts. And since I picked them to win it all, you would think I could stay the course. However, I had them beating Dallas and the Ravens, because I liked the matchups. I like these matchups less. The Bears feel due for some big plays on defense and I think Urlacher will leave his imprint in the running game. On offense, I think Grossman now has confidence after narrowly avoiding that early interception (when Jordan Babineaux inexplicably missed the ball) and then going over the top to Berrian for a long touchdown.

Deep down I think the Bears will probably win, but I will stick with my original pick out of loyalty.

The Pick: Saints 24 Bears 21.

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