Behind the Mic: LI – Which Teams?

Green Bay vs Atlanta; Pittsburgh vs New England:  Which teams will make it to the Super Bowl?  It’s hard to believe they could be more evenly matched, with each team led by some of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.  If your fantasy draft was held tomorrow would you take Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers, or Matt Ryan?  Would it even matter – they are each that good!  No team would really seem to have the advantage at the quarterback position, but which one is better at crunch time?  Here is how I see the match-ups for this Sunday with the winner making a trip to the Super Bowl.

Green Bay at Atlanta – 3:05pm (Fox)
As I write this the over/under on this game is 60!  That’s right – 60 points.  Someone forgot the adage that “defense wins championships”.  So, obviously, Las Vegas does not believe either defense can stop Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan.

The Packers have won eight straight and Aaron Rodgers is the reason for the streak – 24 TDs and one interception.  And he just finds a way to win the game – the throw to Jared Cook on the sideline to set up the game-winning field goal is the most recent memory of Rodgers’ ability to just make something crucial happen.  And speaking of game –winning field goals, the Packers’ placekicker, Mason Crosby, has made 23 consecutive playoff field goals.  He last missed one in 2010.  At the end of the game, getting in field goal position is Rodgers’ job and winning the game has been Crosby’s job and both are getting their jobs done.

Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons will most likely be the NFL’s MVP and he has a receiving corps led by Julio Jones that is better than the Cowboys.  The Packers have all kinds of trouble stopping both the run AND the pass.  If Atlanta can run enough to keep the Packers concerned about that aspect of the game, Matt Ryan could have quite a day.  Statistically, the Falcons run the ball almost as effectively as the Steelers and the Steelers’ rushing attack is very good.  Dallas was able to exploit the Packers’ secondary.  Most fans, I think, would agree that the Seattle Seahawks’ defense is more formidable than the Packers’ defense.  I am beginning to understand the over/under.

WHO WINS?  – The Falcons are favored; they are at home; but can I bet against Aaron Rodgers?  No!
GREEN BAY – 34     ATLANTA – 31 

Pittsburgh at New England – 6:40pm (CBS)
Is anybody better than Tom Brady in these situations?  Is anyone’s pass rush in the playoffs been better than the Steelers?  The answer to both questions is “No”.  But there are some troubling stats if you are a Steelers’ fan.  The Patriots have lost only once to the Steelers (Brady was injured in that game) in New England in the past 18 years and the Patriots have won nine of the last 12 match-ups between these two teams.

For Pittsburgh to win, and they have won nine in a row, they must be able to run the ball and I believe they will.  Le’Veon Bell was exceptional against Kansas City – 170 yards on 30 carries.  Throw in DeAngelo Williams and the New England rush defense will be severely tested.  Balance that rushing attack with the wisdom of Roethlisberger and his talented receivers, especially Antonio Brown, and life could get miserable for the Patriot defense.  But the Steelers did not score a touchdown against the Chiefs.

“Ho hum” for New England.  Aren’t the Patriots always in this playoff position – in the playoffs and at home?  They are 4-1 in the AFC Championship games and 16-3 all-time at home in the playoffs.  And Tom Brady is Tom Brady!  With the exception of Brady, the Patriots do not have the “name players” that the other playoff teams have, but they do have Bill Belichick.  And those two are the true “killer Bs”.

WHO WINS?  New England is favored; the game is in Foxboro; and Brady and Belichick do not lose.
NEW ENGLAND – 24     PITTSBURGH – 23

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
 

  1. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin made a valid point after the Steelers’ late Sunday win at Kansas City. New England has a day and a half preparation advantage over the Steelers due to the Patriots playing early on Saturday and the Steelers late on Sunday night and having to fly back to Pittsburgh.  Just what the Patriots need – another advantage.
  2. I hate to harp on the officiating, but do you agree that splitting up the NFL officials’ crews was a bad idea. There have been so many incidences where the crew just does not seem to be on the same page.  It makes them look bad and most fans think they are bad anyway.  There sure seems to be many more “booth reviews” than ever before.  Suffice it to say, no team is angrier with the officials than the Kansas City Chiefs – a holding call on the two-point conversion kept them from tying the game and sending it into overtime.
  3. Packers’ kicker Mason Crosby has been unbelievable – he became the first kicker to make two field goals of 50 yards or more in the last two minutes of a playoff game. His 56-yarder was the third longest in post-season history.  He had to make the game-winning 51-yarder twice after the Cowboys called time-out right before he made the first one.  That makes 23 in a row, a record.
  4. New Lafayette football coach John Garrett is certainly not a fan of Crosby’s. His brother, Jason, is the Dallas head coach and he had just put his team in position to go to overtime.
  5. Congratulations to both Allen and Bangor as they continue to stay undefeated in the high school basketball season. Allen is 6A and Bangor is 5A so they will not meet in the playoffs.  That’s a shame.

Gary’s Guesses: NFL Picks – (Last week – 2-2; Overall – 167-94-2 – 64%)
SEE ABOVE
 

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Eagles Season Recap

One of my pet peeves in the sports broadcasting industry is commentators who make dozens of ridiculous predictions each sports season for the sole purpose of claiming “victory” once one of his/her inane insights happen to come true. These same people will quietly forget or ignore the other, incorrect guesses they made in an effort to make themselves look smarter than they may actually be.

We made our own predictions on an Eagles preview edition of RCN SportsTalk and, in the interest of full disclosure, I went back to see how we did. Here’s the good…and the bad…predictions we made about the Eagles 2013 season, keeping in mind these were made by our panelists and myself several weeks prior to the start of the season.

Preseason prediction #1: The Eagles will end the year with a .500 record or better.
When the team started the year 1-3 and their defense had more holes than Gruyére Swiss, this prediction wasn’t looking too solid. Even when the Eagles lost to the Giants—giving New York their first win of the season—not many people thought this team would break even record-wise, led alone win the division. Between fate (you couldn’t have ask for more opposing teams’ number-one players to go down with injuries), an improved defensive scheme, and an offense that learned to trust new starting quarterback Nick Foles, the team won seven of its last eight games. Despite a frustrating loss to the Saints in the first round of the playoffs, this year’s 10-7 season was a success and built a solid foundation for 2014.

Preseason prediction #2: Michael Vick will start 10-12 games this year.
WRONG! Not one of us on the panel thought that Vick had the slightest chance to go the entire season without missing at least a few games due to injury and/or ineffectiveness. However, Vick went down with debilitating injuries early and often and Nick Foles took full advantage of the increased playing time, turning in a performance for the record books. For a time, he had the highest quarterback passer rating in the HISTORY of the game. Despite a lackluster finish, he ended the year third on the all-time list sandwiched by future Hall of Famers Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Foles’ rapid ascension to the starting quarterback spot made Vick—even after recovering from injuries–an afterthought by season’s end.

Preseason prediction #3: Nick Foles will finish the year as the starting quarterback.
Correct—but….
Most of our panel believed that Foles would eventually win the job anyway, or he’s be the last QB standing by default. Matt Barkley never did anything to indicate that he would be a signal-caller to run this offense in training camp, and the limited times we saw him during the season suggests he’ll only return next year as a third-stringer at best. I know people don’t want to hear any possibility that Foles DOESN’T return as the starter next year, and I still highly doubt that the team will seriously look to move him. However, there’s a few well-respected Eagles’ journalists that I’ve spoken with that insist the team will at least venture into the possibility of “selling high” and getting a bundle in return for him—or at least, ASKING for a king’s ransom, and keeping Foles if no team bites.

Preseason prediction #4: Mychal Kendricks will emerge as a star.
This prediction came true very early in the season as the second-year, 23-year-old out of California established himself as the top-notch middle linebacker this team has sorely needed since the first departure of Jeremiah Trotter. But what we didn’t foresee back in early August was the way the players around Kendricks would step up their games. Connor Barwin also become a force on defense for the Eagles, disrupting passing lanes and rarely allowing a ball carrier to break free in his territory. By season’s end, Trent Cole looked extremely comfortable after adjusting to his “hybrid” position in the Eagles new 3-4 alignment. Really, there weren’t too many weaknesses in this defense overall—with the exception of depth, especially at outside linebacker and safety. Improving on the core with Kendricks at the center of it all will be the Eagles number one priority this offseason. Adding bigger, taller and stronger players into the fold was a focus of Chip Kelly’s post-season analysis and will be the main mission of the front office this offseason.

Preseason prediction #5: Jeremy Maclin will return next year.
At the time this prediction was made and contrary to many other players like him in the last year of a contract, Maclin had made the classy decision to NOT sit-out of training camp. Perceived as a critical piece of the puzzle in Kelly’s new offense, Maclin participated in preseason drills for the betterment of the team, only to tear his ACL, and lose all negotiating leverage he had when trying to extend his contract.

This will be a key issue for the team to address in the coming months. With the emergence of Riley Cooper as a solid number two receiver (despite that dropped pass over the middle in the Saints game), and another steady season by slot receiver Jason Avant, it appears that Maclin will not have a place on next year’s team. The Eagles have dropped the public relations ball on previous players who gave their heart-and-soul to the team (i.e., Reggie Brown, Brian Dawkins) only to be spurned a respectable offer to return. I know Maclin is not in that group’s class of all-time greats, but if the team is truly looking to embark on a new year, it should bite a small financial bullet and bring Jeremy back. It still remains to be seen if one of the top-skilled position players from a year ago will be back this fall.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Eagles season and on what steps the team needs to take this offseason to further its playoff drive for next season. Post a comment below or email your sports opinions to us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and tune in on Thursdays at 6pm for the latest local, regional and national sports conversations.