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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Playoff Brackets Nearly Set: Week 17 Wrap-up

What a way to end a topsy-turvy season! Five-plus blowouts--including three shut-out performances--as we wrap up another fine NFL regular season. In the end, seasoned veterans, such as Brett Favre and "choke artist" Tony Romo, will be watching the playoffs unfold from their armchairs at home. Just like the rest of us!

Replacing the two gun-slingers (I guess Romo would like to be referred to as a gun-slinger?), are two rookie signal-callers, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. Flacco of the Ravens, and Ryan of the Falcons are battling for both the Rookie of the Year award and the right to represent their respective conferences in the Super Bowl this season.

If you had asked an entire panel of so-called "experts" before the start of the season, I'm 99% sure that neither the two young'un's (that's how said it was spelled, FYI), nor their teams would be mentioned under the category of playoff potential. Baltimore won just five games one year ago as Atlanta went on to win just four. Both teams turned a new page over the off-season, hiring a new head coach and drafting themselves a franchise QB. Both team owners hit jackpot, as you can see. Two wild card teams battling for League supremacy.

As an NFL fan and observer, all you can do it sit and wait anxiously for the two to take the field next weekend to come. Again, as an NFL fan and observer, I will certainly be watching these two warriors battle it out, and possibly even witness the two make a few big plays and lead their teams to round two the following weekend.

Flacco, accompanied by Baltimore's stingy defense, ranked #2 in the NFL, will go head-to-head with possible MVP candidate, Chad Pennington in Miami. Yes, you heard me correctly. Dolphins QB Chad Pennington, the scum of New York just a few years back, has come up in a few MVP debates. I mean, really, why not? There really hasn't been a clear front-runner this year, unlike last year when New England Patriots QB Tom Brady won--almost unanimously! Pennington deserves a majority of the credit for turning around the 11-5 Dolphins. Remember, they won just one game last year, and that was in overtime against the 5-11 Ravens. But, I'm gonna throw this out there to counteract that last argument, Tony Sparano is my vote for NFL Coach of the Year (even though I don't even get a vote).As far as the Ravens/Dolphins wild card matchup in Miami goes, this could be get out of hand. I'm going with the upset, which really isn't an upset in my eyes. The three v.s. six seed matchup is misleading. Both teams have an 11-5 record, but Baltimore has the hot hand, winning 9 of their last 11 games, including a 27-13 victory over, yes, the Dolphins. Over half of Baltimore's wins haven't really been that close, and believe it or not, Baltimore's offense has played fantastic the past few weeks. Their defense is, well, great. Hard-nosed, in-your-face defense explains the Ravens D, completely. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers! That's what helped them defeat the Jacksonville Jaguars to reach the point they're at now. That, and the fact that Jags' QB David Garrad was on his back a majority of the time.

Regardless of the outcome of the Denver Broncos/San Diego Chargers game (DEN 6, SD 24 at the half), the Indianapolis Colts (#5 seed in AFC bracket) will come out winners. Peyton Manning, like Pennington, is well alive in the hunt for the NFL's MVP award, and plays his best ball late in the year. Never rule Manning out of anything, he knows what he is doing and gets the job done day-in, day-out.

According to my calculations...and predictions, it will be Baltimore at Tennessee and Indianapolis at Pittsburgh in the second round of the AFC playoffs. I will give you my round two predictions when we get that far. Too early to tell you who is playing better ball (sorry).

Not much to say about the NFC. The Chicago Bears let me down:( I had them beating Houston--and the 12-4 New York Giants beating Minnesota)--and winning the NFC North title. Rookie RB Matt Forte is still another one of my favorites to win Rookie of the Year. Man, it's sooo hard to choose just one this year. Minnesota pulls off a shocking upset, 20-19, after a Ryan Longwell game-winning 50-yard FG in their dome. Thanks to his 103 yards on the ground, Adrian Peterson won the NFL rushing title with 1,760 yards in 16 games.

Like the Baltimore Ravens, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys just had to win their final game and they clinch the final spot in the NFC playoffs. The problem? Dallas and Philly were playing eachother. That simple fact, plus the fact that these two teams were fierce rivals, made this game a great, evenly-matched game. Or so we thought..The game, to my surprise, quickly got ugly for Romo's 'Boys. I can hear the people in Dallas now:

"Romo is a waste of space, time, money" ((etc, etc, etc.))

But, I don't think it's fair, personally. Yes, he has found several different ways to lose playoff games--even with 13 Pro Bowlers last year--but he is still rather young and is still in the middle of his prime. Give him a little breathing room, Dallas. Not so much pressure. That could end up going a long way. It took both Manning's a few years to get into the groove of things.

Anyways, let's go on to the other side of this matchup. Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid did it, Philly. Despite the long skid earlier in the season and talks of Reid's firing, the Eagles have reached the playoffs and even have a shot in the wild card game against the third-seeded Minnesota Vikings (10-6). Great win for Philly, especially since they were able to shut-down division rival Dallas, 44-6.

I doubted Minnesota against the Giants this week and I will not let that happen again this week. Ever since Tarvaris Jackson's return to the lineup, the Vikes have been a whole different team. They have won five of their last six games (only loss was v.s. Falcons, 24-17), and have the number one rusher in the League in their backfield. Minnesota's D will shut down the Philly run game and AP will run over Philly's D for 150+ yards. Minnesota defeats Philly to move onto round two.

In the other first round NFC wild card matchup, the struggling Kurt Warner--who was once in the thick of the MVP talks--and his Arizona Cardinals will have to tackle a huge task. Out-throwing, and out-running the red-hot Atlanta Falcons. Led by, of course, Matt Ryan (like I said earlier), the Falcons have had the most success they've had in several years (well, since Michael Vick, anyway) under new head coach Mike Smith.

To me, this is no contest. The lower-seeded Falcons will run away with this one and Ryan may only have to throw the ball 20 or 25 times. Former San Diego Chargers RB Michael Turner has had a phenomenal season, as he picked up 208 yards on the ground against the New Orleans Saints earlier today. Round two matchups: Falcons @ Giants, Vikings @ Panthers.

Still awaiting tonight's results. But, like I said, I don't think the late-game will affect my wild card round all. Enjoy the rest of your time off, everyone.

Happy New Year!

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