2008 NFL Divisional Playoffs Review

January 12, 2009
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I know it’s 2009 but this is the 2008 NFL Football Season so that is what I am calling the playoffs.

General Observations

If someone told me four weeks ago we would be seeing the Philadelphia Eagles versus the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship I would have them committed to an insane asylum.

Defense and turnovers win championships and that is certainly what happened in this weekends’ playoff matchups. The Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles, and Steelers all played great defense and generated turnovers that ultimately lead to their taking the next step in the playoffs and a right to play for an entry into Super Bowl XLIII.

Now putting my New England Patriots’ hat on for a moment, I am thrilled we won’t be seeing a Manning in the Super Bowl. I don’t really root for any teams in the playoffs when the Patriots don’t make it I just root against the teams I least want to see in the Super Bowl. The Chargers and Eagles get kudos for knocking off the two teams I least wanted to see.

I still find it a bit whacky to see the Eagles and Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. The Eagles looked awful for a long stretch this year and only made the playoffs because the circus act in Dallas imploded. And the Cardinals? They didn’t look like they could win a game on the road or run the ball late in the season. They’ve done both in these playoffs.

 

Baltimore Ravens over Tennessee Titans, 13-10

This was a game dominated by the defenses. Three turnovers by Titans, two in scoring position, were the difference in this game. I won’t say the Titans outplayed the Ravens because the Ravens earned their turnovers, but if the Titans had scored even field goals instead of giving the ball back to the Ravens, the outcome would likely have been different. After two touchdowns in the first quarter, there wasn’t another score until the fourth quarter.

Both defensive lines played phenomenal games. Unlike their last meeting, Tennessee’s defensive front throttled the Ravens running game. The Ravens did give up a good chunk of running yards in the first half, but two turnovers thwarted Tennessee’s scoring opportunities. Tennessee was badly hampered when their best offensive player, running back Chris Johnson, was injured in the second quarter and never returned to the game. Tennessee also clearly missed Kevin Mawae at center. Haolti Ngata got great penetration most of the game, particularly in the first and fourth quarters.

Probably the most damaging blow to Tennessee, other than injuries, was an interception by Kerry Collins in the second quarter around the Baltimore 32 yard line after having driven from their 1 yard line. That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the game.

For Tennessee this was a huge blow after the great season they had and having home field advantage throughout the playoffs. After blowing out the Steelers at home late in the season I really thought we would be seeing them in the Super Bowl. They certainly looked like Super Bowl contenders. But it wasn’t to be.

MVP: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens

Arizona Cardinals over Carolina Panthers, 33-13

I was stunned by this game. After seeing the Cardinals get blown out by the Jets, Eagles, and Patriots and losing badly at home to Giants, I did not believe they could beat the Panthers in Carolina. Of course six turnovers, 5 interceptions and a fumble by quarterback Jake Delhomme, was the difference in the game.

But the Cardinals offense didn’t rest on their heels. They once again established a running game to ago along with their passing attack and turned those turnovers into points. Larry Fitzgerald had another stellar game with 8 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. And the defense, like last week, did a great job shutting down the running attack.

The Cardinals have played like a legitimate playoff team and if they continue to perform at this level and do not revert back to their late season swoon, the sky is the limit for this team. It just depends on which team shows up.

MVP: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals


Philadelphia Eagles over New York Giants, 23-11

I don’t know if it was the wind or not but neither Eli Manning nor Donovan McNabb had a particularly good day. Both were mostly inaccurate with their passes and neither team really established much on offense. The Giants were able to run the ball at times but their inability to do much in the passing game really hurt them. The offenses and the quarterbacks looked average not like to teams meeting in the playoffs.

The defenses did play well and this game came down to turnovers and defense. The Eagles’ defense played just a little better than the Giants’ and McNabb played just a little better than Eli and made a few good throws when the Eagles really needed it. To me the key play in the game was Asante Samuels interception of Eli Manning in the first quarter, giving the Eagles the ball near the goal line and an easy touchdown. Even though it was early in the game and only a 7-3 lead, scores were hard to come by and this gave the Eagles a leg up. Also impressive were two fourth down stops by the Eagles in the fourth quarter.

MVP: Brodrick Bunkley, DT, Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers over San Diego Chargers, 35-24

The Pittsburgh Steelers, leading 14-10 at halftime, controlled the ball nearly the entire third quarter going up 21-10. They just wore out the Chargers defense and the game was all but over after that. The Chargers did a good job of putting up a few scores late in the game but the Steelers were playing loose on defense just chewing up the clock.

This was an extremely impressive effort by the Steelers offensive line. Their defense also played extremely well, holding Darren Sproles, last week’s superstar, to only 15 yards rushing. Most of San Diego’s offensive output came in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were mostly playing prevent defense and the Chargers were scrambling to catch up.

Running back Willie Parker ended up with 146 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, while Big Ben had an efficient, mistake free afternoon at quarterback. He did miss a few deep throws down the field, but he hit a few as well, including one that ended up netting a touchdown after a pass interference call in the end zone.

If the Steelers can continue to play lights out defense, run the ball well, while Ben makes plays with his arm down the field, they will be tough to beat. But they face a nasty defensive team in the Ravens next week, which will be another slugfest.

MVP: Willie Parker, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Defensive Player of the Week: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens
Offensive Lineman of the Week: Jeff Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh Steelers
Special Teams Player of the Week: Santonio Holmes, KR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Week 17 NFL Picks

December 26, 2008
ESPN.com Illustration
ESPN.com Illustration

Happy holidays, football fans.  I’m back and coming off a rather putrid 7-9 week, so things have got to be better this final week, right?  Although of course this is the week that wacky things happen and teams that clinched rest people and all sorts of stuff, so maybe not.  We’ll shoot for better anyway and see how it goes.

Atlanta over St. Louis:  The Falcons are in the playoffs and still have a chance to win the division with a Carolina loss, so they still have much to play for.  Not to mention momentum.  The Rams have been playing for a top draft pick, as they’ve been doing all season.  No incentive here so the Falcons get the pick.

New England over Buffalo:  The Patriots still have a chance to hit the playoffs with some help but of course they first have to win.  I don’t see this being an issue.  Has any team tanked more than Buffalo after their hot start?  NE rolls.

Kansas City over Cincy:  In the game that means absolutely nothing, this week’s Suck Bowl, I’ll go with the team that has been far more competitive each week than the one that has a win over the lowly Browns.  KC has lost several heart breakers but they’ve not quit, not sure I can say the same for all the Bengals players.  KC with the win.

Green Bay over Detroit:  And here it is…the quest for 0-16 comes down to this week, to this team, to this moment.  And I’ll admit it, I’m scared as can be over this one.  Will my dreams be dashed the final week of the season?  Will Green Bay continue to choke away games they should have won?  I’m going with them to hold on, pride on the line and all that, and give us the dream season.  Come on Lions, don’t let me down.

Indy over Tennessee:  Tenn has clinched and Indy is in as well, so not sure what teams we’ll see out there.  I think Dungy will keep his starters playing for awhile and I’m not sure about Tenn, thus I’m going this way.  Frankly I would go this way even if both teams played everybody, Indy has shown something in recent weeks while Tenn has been more of a wild card.

Minnesota over NY Giants:  The only reason I’m going with this one is because the Giants have clinched and Minn is fighting for its playoff life.  They still have a chance to take the north.  Again, I’m going with the team that has the motivation.

Carolina over NO:  Carolina still needs a win to clinch the division, even though they’ve earned a playoff spot.  NO has nothing to play for, except hatred of Carolina perhaps.  I nearly went with the Saints but their defense is crappy and Steve Smith will likely have a field day.  Carolina wins and claims the NFC South title.

Pittsburgh over Cleveland:  And now we know that a team with no quarterback really can’t survive in this league.  I mean, we knew that before, but it’s been reconfirmed.  Ken Dorsey?  Did anybody really know he was still in the league?  I sure didn’t.  Perhaps this week when they lose Brady Quinn will get punched again by another random player.  The Browns are fun at least!

Tampa Bay over Oakland:  Unbelievably Tampa is still in the playoff hunt after 3 terrible weeks of football.  They should be able to beat Oakland, but who can say with this team anymore?  The Raiders have shown signs of life in recent weeks so I can’t be as comfortable about this pick as I would like to be, but I will again go with the team that has the most on the line.

Chicago over Houston:  Hmm this one is tough.  Houston has actually played well in recent weeks but the Bears are fighting for a playoff spot so they should be going all out here.  I’m not going with an upset even though I don’t think that much of the Bears, despite their being on the cusp of the playoffs.  Orton still has not won me over and their offensive game plan, just chuck the ball down field and hope Hester catches it or gets a flag doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in me.  However they are fighting to make the post season so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and pick there here.  I’m sure Houston will make me pay for that.

Baltimore over Jacksonville:  This game could go the other way but Balt is hungry and they’ll want to keep the Pats out of the playoffs.  I believe that is the scenario…there are so many going through my mind that I can’t keep track of them all.  Jax is one of the disappointing teams of the year, no reason they should rise up now.

Washington over San Fran:  Just because someone has to win.  Chalk the Skins up as another team that was a major disappointment.  I still can’t figure out what went wrong with them, it seems like they have the pieces there they just can’t put them together.  I’m happy the 49ers are signing Singletary longterm, I do think he’s the right man for the job and he has them playing hard at a time when they’re not playing for much of anything.

NY Jets over Miami:  Here we go to the big games…and I honestly have no idea what to expect here.  Every time I pick against Miami I end up regretting it, and every time I pick the Jets I end up regretting it too.  But for some reason I am inflicting a double whammy on myself by predicting the Jets to beat Miami.  So either I’ll really get it wrong or whatever voodoo these teams have working against me will cancel out and I’ll get it right.  Should be interesting at any rate.  The Jets get the nod because they’re at home and desperate.

Dallas over Philly:  Yep, I am predicting that my morons miss the playoffs due to Dallas winning at Philly.  It seems like the kind of thing that would happen to Tampa, after all, doesn’t it?  Frankly they don’t deserve to make the playoffs anyway.  I am hoping that Philly takes it but I have no confidence in them and Dallas feels like that team that’s going to luck into the playoffs and maybe make some noise once they’re there.

Arizona over Seattle:  Who cares really?  Zona is one and done in the playoffs and Seattle has nothing going on.  This game bores me.

San Diego over Denver:  Here’s the other big win and you’re in game we have this week.  I really couldn’t begin to guess what is going to happen in it either, but I do know that Rivers shredded Tampa’s defense last week and Tampa’s defense is a heck of a lot better than Denver’s is.  Of course, this is a divisional game and it feels like everything gets thrown right out the window in those games.  San Diego has been playing well in recent weeks and I think they’ll continue the trend and win that division.  Hard to believe that they can come back from their terrible record early in the season but there you go.

So that’s it for the final week in the NFL.  Let’s hope that my picks are a bit more accurate than last weeks were! I’ll be back next week with playoff predictions and individual awards.  Enjoy your final week of regular season football!  Oh, I forgot to name a Douchetard of the Week for last week…tough call but I think Big Ben gets his second award of the season.  With home field advantage on the line he lost two fumbles and threw a pick 6 when the game was still not out of reach.  Congrats Big Ben!

Last Week:  7-9

Season Record:  150.5-88.5