Koski's Super Bowl XLIII Preview - Cardinals win

The Road to Tampa:
The NFC West champs beat Atlanta (+66 scoring diff.) to earn the franchise’s first home playoff victory in 60 years. Experts wrote off the win to rookie-QB-on-the-road-itis and said Atlanta didn’t really have a good defense, anyways. Next, the Cardinals went to Carolina (+85 scoring diff.) and pounced on the Panthers, breaking Jake Delhomme’s career in the process. This victory was also written off to Delhomme’s poor performance and again, Carolina didn’t really have that good a defense. The Cardinals hosted the Eagles (+127 scoring diff.) for the NFC Championship. The game was over in the second quarter, but the refs muffed a kickoff call that would have given the Cardinals the ball inside the Eagles 30 with a 21-6 lead. Sure, the Eagles made a miraculous comeback to take the lead, but the Cardinals closed the deal at the end of the game. This game was written off to the Eagles not covering Larry Fitzgerald and a 4th down non-PI call on incidental contact. The bottom line is, the Cardinals have beaten three good teams to get to the Super Bowl…and they will beat the Steelers.

How it goes down:

Steelers on offense: Hines Ward will be playing, if at all, with a brace on his knee. The Steelers offensive line is made up of turnstiles and there are rumors this week that Big Ben’s back is aching. The Cardinals defense has already contained three better running backs than Willie Parker (Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Brian Westbrook) this post season. Rodgers-Cromartie and Aaron Francisco can cover Santonio Holmes, while Rod Hood blankets a gimpy Ward. Clancy Pedergast (remember that name if your team needs a new head coach in a couple years) will concoct a scheme that contains Willie “Sometimes I am Fast” Parker and puts Big Ben on his back. Byron Leftwich, anyone?

Cardinals on offense: This is going to be tough for the Cardinals offense. Todd Haley, Arizona’s offensive coordinator, is hotter than steam and could be headed to Kansa City after this game to coach the Chiefs. He will have the offense ready for the pressure the Steelers will bring. Remember when everyone said stopping Larry Fitzgerald is the key to shutting down the Cardinals offense? Remember when Anquan Boldin went all T.O. during the NFC Championship? Anquan Boldin will get the ball a lot in the first quarter on Sunday. I would not be surprised to see him run, catch and throw the ball all in the first 15 minutes – prop bet? When the Steelers have to honor Boldin over the middle and Larry Fitzgerald deep, Edgerrin James will get some cheap yards running delays and draw plays. Kurt Warner’s quick release will keep him upright long enough to find the open receiver. Last, but not least, Ike Taylor cannot cover Larry Fitzgerald.

Oh, NO! If the Cardinals win the Super Bowl, the NFL regular season no longer means anything! The non-Best regular season teams aren’t supposed to win so many championships! Woe is me! It’s the apocalypse!
The Reality is that if the Cardinals win, it means its sports. In sports anything can happen, that’s why we love sports. “Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Sports! Bart gets to ride upfront because he’s good at sports.” The Arizona Cardinals’ strength on offense (passing game) is the Steelers defense’s weakness (not really a weakness, but not as awesome as the rush defense). The Cardinals can basically abandon the weakest part of their offense (running game) early and force the Steelers’ offense to beat them.

Super Bowl Champion Arizona Cardinals. Get used to it.

Arizona 24 – Pittsburgh 17

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RT's Super Bowl XLIII Preview - Steelers win

RT is 5-0 against the spread in the playoffs so I would listen to him

It could not have been much easier for the Steelers in the playoffs. They did not have to play the Colts or the Titans and both of their games were at home. Unlike their road to victory in Super Bowl XL, which required three straight road games, the Steelers barely had to break a sweat this time around. The only real news to speak of was the injury to Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward but he is still going to play on Sunday. The Steelers playoff run has been nothing short of a walk in the park but on Sunday they will face their toughest test.


How is it going to go down?

The Cardinals on Offense: At this point, we all know the story of the playoffs for the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald. Sure, Edgerrin James cares again and Tim Hightower is running with a purpose but it begins and ends with Larry Fitzgerald. He has been nothing short of unstoppable in the playoffs and he has set the tone early in all three games. So what happens if he gets shut down early? The Cardinals are in big trouble. The Steelers have been as good as it gets on defense throughout the season and into the post season. Dick LeBeau will come up with a new scheme to shut down Fitzgerald. Kurt Warner has enjoyed the luxury of just throwing the ball into double coverage and having Fitzgerald make an incredibly difficult catch. Once that “play” is no longer available, the Cardinals will be forced to go to the ground. Once the Cardinals are grounded, they are finished.

The Steelers on Offense: The Steelers offense is good enough to win. Unfortunately, that’s the best compliment I can come up with. In addition, the offensive line struggles to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright. Hines Ward is a great possession receiver and blocker but is far from a sexy playmaker and Santonio Holmes is a serviceable deep threat at best. You never know which Willie Parker is going to show up – the one that ran all over the Chargers or the one that seemed content to fall down anytime Ray Lewis came near him.

How can the Steelers offense be expected to score enough points to win? Simple. The Cardinals defense is mediocre at best. They beat the Falcons at home with a rookie quarterback, the Panthers with a gun-slinging quarterback who was shooting blanks and the Eagles with a one legged Brian Westbrook. Big Ben will need to pull a Delhomme (you have to love that as a term for a quarterback who blows his team’s chances of going to the Super Bowl single-handedly) for the Cardinals to even have a chance. The Steelers will play a wonderful game of keep away and provide the defense with the rest they need to shut down the Cardinals.


Anyone looking for the Cardinals to be this year’s Giants might want to reevaluate their grip on reality. Big upsets don’t happen very often and to think they happen in back to back years is just wishful thinking. The fact of the matter is that the Steelers have a better defense and an offense that stays on the field long enough to keep the ball away from the Cardinals’ offense. Furthermore, the Steelers are a much better team than any of the teams the Cardinals have faced up to this point in the playoffs. The Steelers win an uneventful and downright boring Super Bowl.

Trivia Question during the post-game on Sunday

Question: What Super Bowl Champion had the easiest road to the World Championship?

Answer: 2008 Steelers

Steelers 27 - Cardinals 14

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49ers hire Raye as offensive coordinator

According to Adam Schefter, the 49ers will hire Jimmy Raye to be the OC. Hue Jackson would have been my favorite. I wonder if he was too hot for the head coach and Singletary was afraid Jackson would leave to be a head coach sooner rather than later? I don't have anything to add on Raye so I'll let Matt Maiocco do it for me. 

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Checking the Wire - 1/28/09

A lot of different people are commenting on the length of time it has taken the 49ers to hire an offensive coordinator. Ratto is confident Jackson is the new front runner, but the search process was borderline Raiders-esque.

In case you haven't heard, Matt and Matt and Kevin Lynch have the scoop on Hue Jackson returning to Santa Clara the other day for a second interview for the offensive coordinator position.

Kawakami does a little Hue Jackson speculation involving TJ Houshmandzadeh.

The Giants will announce today that WILL CLARK IS COMING BACK!!!!! Baggs had it last night.

Also from Baggs, Noah Lowry defers to the hall of famer of the staff.


Steinmetz is serving up reality pie for all those eternal optimist Warriors fans.

Janny Hu gets the skinny on how Anthony Randolph, the son of two cooks, could be so...skinny.

Adam Lauridsen breaks out some head scratching numbers regarding the breakdown of minutes vs. performance in Nelson's rotation.

The Raiders hired a defensive line coach.

The Raiders also interview a candidate for defensive coordinator who has 49ers ties.

The A's are close to signing Russ Springer. Kids get your Springer jerseys. Also, radio man Ken Korach was re-upped for a couple more seasons.

Nabokov stoned the Avalanche when Limieux returned to Colorado last night.

Bruce Jenkins goes over the unsigned free agents and the economy's impact on their status. In a related note, I know a guy who saw CC Sabtahia at the Gucci store in Union Square last weekend shopping while being served Cristal.

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RT's mid-season Warriors' Grades

Note: This evaluation of the Warriors is based purely on the performance a player is capable of and not of what I think of him overall. As an example, I would recommend the Warriors play a lucky fan out of the crowd rather than play Jamal Crawford, but I am not going to give him an F.

Front Office – F

Unlike the rest of the Bay Area media, I could care less about the politics in the front office. What I do care about is that the front office has acquired two of the three biggest losers in the NBA – Jamal Crawford and Corey Maggette (Eddy Curry is the third). There is no excuse for these acquisitions. If it wasn’t for Isiah Thomas, I would say the Warriors front office has had the worst 6 months of any front office in recent memory.

The Warriors should have called Harrington’s bluff and let him sit on the bench for the rest of the year. Trading for Jamal Crawford effectively kills the franchise for at least the next three years unless he opts out of his contract and signs with someone else. In the NBA, there are franchises that win and franchises that lose and acquiring a player with a big contract that has not been on a winning team since the 20th century is not the way to move into the group of winners.

(If the Warriors resign Crawford after he opts out, I am jumping on the OKC bandwagon)

Don Nelson – C

As mentioned above, the front office murdered Nelson’s season so he cannot go any lower than a C. However, his rotations have been ridiculous this season. Besides Biedrins and Jackson, every player has seen his minutes increase and decrease a few different times during the season. Nellie continues to leave Maggette out there in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter when he stops playing defense (Miami game) and refuses to do anything but take jump shots (you pick the game). Once everyone gets healthy, I have to believe the rotations will get much more consistent. However, consistent minutes don’t guarantee success.

Stephen Jackson – B+

It doesn’t matter if you love or hate Captain Jack’s game because he gives more effort than 98% of the league on a given night. In addition to his effort, Jack continues to be the only reliable perimeter defender on the team. The Warriors would have been the worst team in the league in the first half of the season if it weren’t for Stephen Jackson.

(Not to mention, he is the only proven NBA player on the team that can even be considered a point guard)

Andris Biedrins - A

If it was possible to measure what players got the most out of their ability, I would put Biedrins in the top 5 of players in the NBA. All you can hope is that Wright and Randolph are paying attention.

Kelenna Azubuike – B-

The biggest problem with Kelenna is decision making. As the great sports blogger, Curt Shilling, says most hitters decide if they are going to swing before the pitcher gets the sign. Well, Kelenna is that batter on offense. He gets the ball and decides that he is going to shoot no matter who is guarding him or what the situation is. However, his effort cannot be questioned so he deserves a B-.

Corey Maggette – C

There isn’t a player in the NBA that is more consistent than Corey Maggette. He cares about two things: 1) his numbers and 2) the amount of money on his pay check. He has been that way for 9 years and nobody has given him a reason to care about anything else.

(Maggette is the reason people hate the NBA)

Ronny Turiaf – B+

BREAKING NEWS: Ronny Turiaf is a forward that is being forced to play center because the team loves collecting guards as opposed to big men. The Warriors are at their best with Turiaf and Biedrins on the floor at the same time but the lack of big men makes this situation virtually impossible. Turiaf has been better than expected.

(I actually read a blog the other day where the author said Turiaf was not ready for the big time. This is like putting J.T. Snow in left field and telling him after a few errors that he is not ready to play defense on the big league level. Ridiculous.)

Marco Belinelli – B

Positives: He turned into a bulldog on defense that culminated in Danny Granger almost punching him a couple weeks ago. In addition, he is probably the best passer on the team.

Negatives: He takes TERRIBLE shots. Ironically, he makes them once and awhile but they are still terrible.

Conclusion: I am excited to see what he can do with Monta in the back court 4 years from now when Jamal Crawford’s contract runs out.

Jamal Crawford – C+

I would give him a D but he is trying to play more like a traditional point guard. Of course, it doesn’t work but I give him an A for effort and an F for killing Michigan basketball, the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks and eventually the Golden State Warriors.

(Anyone reading this article saying to themselves – “RT has no idea what he is saying, JC scored 41 points in a game” … congratulations, you have been Crawforded

Crawforded: Thinking Jamal Crawford makes your franchise better.

Also, Koski would like everyone to be reminded that it is no coincidence Michigan State won the National Championship the year Jamal Crawford played at Michigan. I guess we can look forward to the Lakers winning the World Championship)

Brandan Wright – C

He was well on his way to B territory until he got hurt against the Lakers. However, he is too talented to continue his sporadic play. It is time to give us some Biedrins type progression.

Anthony Morrow – A

He plays hard, doesn’t get too lost on defense and shoots the lights out. Giving this undrafted rookies anything less than an A would be wrong

C.J. Watson – C

He adds as much to the team as Speedy Claxton did. It is not worth my time or yours to read anything about C.J. Watson

Anthony Randolph – D

I know it is harsh but he might be the most talented player on the team not named Monta Ellis. I have seen ZERO progress on the floor and Nellie seems to like him about as much as a Red Sox fan like A-Rod. Personally, I am not convinced he is giving it 100% on or off the court.

Jermareo Davidson, Monta Ellis, Rob Kurz and Marcus Williams – Incomplete

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RT's Random Thoughts (Warriors Edition) 1/26/09

While I nurse my extended hangover from a birthday weekend. I'll hand over the weekend thoughts (Warriors edition) to RT.

* If you take away the Warriors best player (Monta) and the Cavs best player (LeBron), the Warriors win a seven game series every time. LeBron James is that good.

* Just because I feel like piling on … trade Kobe for LeBron and the Cavs are the 7 seed in the East and the Lakers sweep the Celtics in the Finals.

* Two classic broadcaster moments from Friday night’s game:

1) In the second quarter, Jim Barnett says this about Corey Maggette “He is a really smart player”.

Do smart players exploit a weakness in the defense (Wally Szczerbiak) for three quarters and then start taking fade away jump shots in the 4th quarter to single handedly cost their team the game? Of course, Maggette only does this every night so I cannot expect Barnett to know any better.

2) During the post game, Scott Reis says “Tough way for the Warriors to end a game on the night of Monta Ellis’s triumphant return”

Triumphant (adj.): Exulting in success or victory; conquering

Hmm, losing a game at the buzzer sure sounds like exulting in victory to me.

* Reis must have naked pictures of the owner because he is a train wreck.

* If the Cavs supporting cast is mediocre, the Clippers have the worst supporting cast in the league.

* The Clippers starting back court on Sunday was Eric “I cannot dribble” Gordon and Fred “remember me from the dunk contest” Jones. Yikes.

* The Warriors were 10 point favorites and they covered. Who would have believed the Warriors would ever be double digit favorites this year – let alone cover it?

* Speaking of gambling, LeBron turned a 70% loss into 10% return with his last second heroics.

* RTNBA Fund Return: 24.9%

* Tune in tomorrow for the Warriors mid-season grades

And here is the rest of it.

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Checking the Wire - 1/26/09

Scott Ostler is embarrassed for the Clippers.

Ann Killion says Baron’s opt out has been lose-lose in hindsight.

Mark Purdy says that fans who wanted to Boo Baron should Boo Monta instead.

Steinmetz says the upcoming schedule will be a better barometer than the stint the Warriors just finished. Also, Brandan Wright’s injury just earned Jamareo Davidson $350,000.

Adam Lauridsen has a two game review of Mont Ellis’ return and notes from the Clippers game.

Kawakami writes that Warriors fans shouldn’t read too much into the last seven games.

The A’s and Duchscherer agreed to terms. Also, here.

A Torrey Mitchell update.

Hype week begins, and Kawakami says a Cardinals win on Sunday is bad for the NFL because it ruins the “meaning” of the regular season.

In the words of Mike Singletary, I’ll say this about that: Kawakami uses last year’s Giants and the Colts of 2006 as an example. The problem is that both of those teams were good, but didn't perform like it during the regular season. The Colts had been competing in the upper echelon of AFC teams for several years and 2006 was probably their worst regular season performance, but their best post season performance. The Giants were the #1 seed in the NFC this season despite losing Strahan to retirement, Umenyiora to injury before the year. In the NFL, Any Given Sunday is truer than ever.

Nancy Gay looks at the latest head coaching trend in the NFL.

Bruce Jenkins is picking Arizona.

Football Outsiders Bill Barnwell on the best WR post season performance ever. It’s an ESPN Insider article, but if you aren’t subscribed, Jerry Rice is #1, by a mile.

Lowell Cohn breaks down the Super Bowl teams’ owners.

Matt Maiocco and Matt Barrows both answer questions about the 49ers from readers.

The search for a head coach keeps going and going and going and going.

The search for a Defensive Coordinator is just as confusing.

College Basketball:
Ratto says it’s time for St. Mary’s coming out party.

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Quick Note on Monta's Return

Monta looked good and the game lived up to and even surpassed expectations. StackJack was back hitting big shots all game and the Warriors played well even without Jamal Carawford and the game was close and exciting all game even though the result was sour , LBJ pulling an MJ to end the game was sweet. Two last second shot losses in a row for the Warriors, burn. Here's Kawakami's recap, blog with Monta, SJAX, and Nellie Q&A transcript, MTII's take, Cam Inman talks LBJ for MVP and a Patty Mills mention, Ratto gives two thumbs up, and Janny Hu says Baron won't play at the Oracle tomorrow.

I haven't been at Warriors' practices, so I haven't seen Monta play ball until last night and the guy has a lot more tattoos than I remember. I thought guys got a bunch of tattoos before they got paid? Was Monta on his way to get ink when he wrapped his moped? I have to get a better look at them before I pass judgement, as long as he doesn't get a big pair of lips... 

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Adam Schefter via ESPN Rumor Central - Could Vick come back with the 49ers?

This is from today's Rumor Central on ESPN.com:

On his NFL.com blog, Adam Schefter has speculated that the San Francisco 49ers may be angling to bring former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick into the mix to be the team's new field general, should Vick be reinstated by the league when his prison sentence is over.

Schefter notes that the team will interview Dan Reeves today for its vacant offensive coordinator position, and Reeves was the coach of the Falcons when the team traded for a No. 1 overall draft selection to take Vick in 2001. Two other coaches the 49ers have pursued for the vacant offensive coordinator position - Baltimore Ravens quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson and former Falcons wide receivers coach Mike Johnson - also have ties to Vick.

The team has also signed Jimmy Williams, Vick's former teammate at Virginia Tech, who lives in Hampton, Virginia near one of Vick's homes.

In 2008, San Francisco's passing attack ranked No. 13 in the league with 3,379 yards through the air. Shaun Hill and J.T. O'Sullivan combined for 21 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and were sacked 55 times. In 2006, Vick threw for 2,474 yards with 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and also ran for 1,039 yards and two touchdowns.

Sure, Dan Reeves coached him. Big deal, Dan Reeves isn't the 49ers OC, yet. Although, the Schefter mention and Reeves' arrival in Santa Clara may mean the team is close to hiring him. Still, Michael Vick is still in prison. I would think San Francisco would be a hard place for Vick to ressurect his NFL career. The Bay Area is full of dog lovers. Not just people who like dogs as pets, but people who LOVE dogs. People like my wife, who still doesn't think Vick has paid enough for what he did. Never say never, but I don't see the 49ers being able to generate enough PR to make that happen. Besides, if the 49ers draft a QB in the first three rounds in the draft, that guy will get a shot before Vick does.

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Checking the Wire - 1/23/09


Monta Ellis will log his first NBA minutes of the year tonight against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Tim Kawakami writes, “Tonight will be about Ellis returning precisely when the Warriors needed a burst of hope and ticket-buying relevancy.” Friday night, Monta Ellis makes his debut against LeBron James, should be the loudest crowd of the season. Kawakami also links to a Sac Bee interview with Nelson by Scott-Howard Cooper.

Marcus Thompson covers all the important dates throughout the Monta Saga.

Bruce Jenkins thinks Rick Barry should have had a chance to coach the Warriors.


Jeff Kent announced his retirement earlier this week and John Shea looks at his role in the fight against steroids in MLB. Although Kent is a total red ass, what he’s saying is what fans want to hear from all the players. “The integrity of the game always needs to be in question…I'm completely embarrassed about the steroid era."

Kent smells like a hall of famer to Rob Neyer.

Andrew Baggerley checks in with Omar Vizquel and his new digs in Texas.


Ray Ratto breaks down the options available to the Sharks before the trading deadline. They, like most other teams, will be looking to acquire a defenseman and the All-Star break is the time when phones start to ring and temperatures are taken.


Cam Inman has some positive news to marginally balance out the week for Mark McGwire. McGwire has been tutoring new Oakland A, Matt Holliday.

Chin Music has some quotes from Manager Bob Geren from the A’s annual preseason media luncheon.

Susan Slusser has notes on the A’s including that Bobby Crosby also worked out with Holliday and McGwire.


Matt Barrows at the Sac Bee says Ravens QB Coach Hue Jackson is interviewing for the vacant OC position. He also has an update about former 49er OC frontrunner, Scott Linehan.

The 49ers signed former Va Tech and Atlanta Falcon DB Jimmy Williams. I remember in 2006 Williams was mentioned as a possible pick for the 49ers. Now, they get him for free.

Maiocco also talks about Hue Jackson’s interview and lists other possible OC candidates and those who are out of the running. Plus, a follow up on Linehan and what his new job reveals about his motives for not accepting the 49ers offer.

The 49ers are going to interview DanReeves for the OC position.

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Weekend Review

49ers: Linehan turns down the 49ers offer and at first it was thought to be for family reasons. Now, it turns out that Linehan has other suitors, namely the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You can read this result a couple of different ways. The 49ers wanted to have a commitment from the next OC that he would be around for several seasons and Linehan has desires to redeem his disasterous first head coaching gig. The other is that the 49ers organization is not particularly attractive for prospective candidates, which is not good. Here's Kawakami's take.

NFL Playoffs

Cardinals v. Eagles
The Cardinals are on fire right now. Sure, there was a third quarter blip where they allowed 19 unanswered points to fall behind the Eagles by a point, but they came back and scored a touchdown on their last drive when the needed it. Really, the game should have been over in the second quarter when the kickoff was ruled out of bounds. The play was not reviewable even though the kick clearly didn't land out of bounds and was recovered by the Cardinals. The score was 21-6 at the time and Arizona would have had the ball at the Philly 27 yard line. Good for the Eagles, fighting back to take the lead and make a game out of it, plus hitting the over.

Steelers v. Ravens
The Ravens are a good team. They've been a good team all season. Joe Flacco is an okay quarterback. When the Ravens went 11-5 and then won two road playoff games, including beating the team with the best record in the NFL regular season, Joe Flacco seemed to be canonized by various media. Maybe they were just being lazy, looking for the easy story. I mean,. Joe Flacco was the first rookie quaterback to win two post season games, but to me, that's mostly coincidental. Well, the Steelers made St. Joe Flacco looke like rookie Joe Flacco. The Steelers could not run the ball against the Ravens, at all. Haloti Ngata is a beast (picked after Vernon Davis in '06), but Super Ed Reed wasn't very noticeable and Roethlisberger was able to keep plays alive and find open recivers. Troy Polamalu is The Man and his TAINT (Bill Simmons' acronym for INT returned for a TD) covered the spread and hit the over. Boo yeah!

The Warriors beat a bad Wizards team yesterday, at home. Monta Ellis will probably play by this weekend. This season is a wash for any type of hope, really, it's a season that is breeding despair. The return of Monta Elllis is exciting and Warriors fans have been dreaming about the return of the team's most electric players. I will readily admist, I haven't watched a lot of games this season. It's too depressing. Not jsut the losing, which Warriors fans have accepted on a certain level, but the evaporation of cap room, the forcing out of fan favorite Mullin, the un-development of rookies and the ugliness of the Monta injury.

Sharks: Man, that was a great game on Saturday against the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. I was a little nervous heading into the game since the team was coming off a loss at home to the Calgary Flames. Were the Sharks going to be able to forget about that game and play at a high level? Yes, yes they were. It wasn't a walk in the park, in fact in what a great test of the team's will. The Sharks scored early and Detroit came back and scored on their first shot on goal. The Sharks took the lead going into the second, but Detroit scored on it's first shot in the second period as well. Less than three minutes later, the Red Wings had the lead. The Sharks tied the game and then fell behind,but Cheechoo tied it up with a little over a minute to play in the 2nd. The Sharks turned it up in the third period and scored twice and held off a late rally by the Red Wings. ESPN's power rankings has the Sharks at #1, but offers a less than rining endorement. I'm not an expert on hockey, my hockey interest began with NHL Hockey on the SEGA Genesis in the early 1990's, but the Sharks are good. #1 in the NHL is up for debate, but the Sharks definitely have to battle the east coast bias which is even more apparent in Hockey for obvious reasons. I'll be watching the Hockey Skills competition during All-Star week closely. It's the type of All-Star event that can be exciting for fans without risking injury, are you listening NFL?

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McCoy to be Broncos OC confirmed - Fat Guy Coalition Celebrates

It took longer than I thought, but by Sunday morning my earlier report has been verified. Mike McCoy is the new Broncos Offensive Coordinator. I shared my "scoop" with those at Mile High Report, the Broncos fan site at SBNation, and I took some heat when it wasn't immediately announced. All I have to say know is, like the  Collie Buddz song, I'm Blind to You Haters.

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Koski's NFC Championship Preview

Two nine win teams will be squaring off for the NFC Championship Sunday. The Eagles stats belie their record as they finished as the #1 team in Football Outsiders DVOA rankings (Ravens #2) as the best team in football. They have gone on the road and battled through two tough defenses and now face the best offensive team left in the playoffs. The Cardinals were considered unworthy of a playoff spot by many football fans and writers. While the offense continues to play at a high level, the defense has turned into Mr. Hyde during the playoffs. Arizona is a home dog for this game and has been feeding off the “chip-on-the-shoulder” mantra since season’s end.

#6 Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5)

The Eagles defense beat the Giants last week. The defensive line stopped the Giant’s short yardage rushing attack at crucial times and their first touchdown was set up by Asanate Samuel’s INT return inside the five yard line. The Eagle defense, Samuel especially, will have to continue their high level of play because Kurt Warner is not Eli Manning and he’s definitely not Tarvaris Jackson.

Offense - There hasn’t been much to say about the Eagles offense in the Playoffs. McNabb has been decent, but not outstanding over the last two weeks. DeSean Jackson was okay against the Giants, but nonexistent against Minnesota. The engine that drives the Eagles offense, Brian Westbrook, has been in vapor lock this post season. He has the game clinching screen pass touchdown against the Vikings, and nothing else. Based on the regular season, playing the Cardinals defense should be the equivalent of a slumping hitter going to Coors Field in the middle of summer. The Cardinal defense the last two weeks is not the same one that we saw during the regular season. The Eagles offensive line has been doing a good job protecting McNabb from the rush, but is not doing a good job of creating running lanes for Westbrook.Defense - The Eagles’ defense is hitting on all cylinders right now. Asante Samuel is playing at his best, as usual, in the post season. Samuel and Sheldon Brown’s ability to cover man to man frees up Jim Johnson to call a variety of blitzes to disrupt the opposition’s offense. Broderick Bunkley and Mike Patterson lock down the line of scrimmage, allowing Trent Cole and Juqua Parker to aggressively rush the edges while the linebackers are free to chase the ball and make tackles.

#4 Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals went to Carolina and quickly gave up a touchdown to the Panthers and then punted on their first offensive possession. The game looked to be unfolding just as everyone who bet money on the Panthers – 9.5 thought it would. The next drive the Cardinals defense got on track and forced a three and out. Without Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald somehow ran free and the Cardinals tied it up a few plays later. The next play after the kickoff, the Antonio Smith stripped Jake Delhomme inside the 20 and Arizona scored two plays later. Five Jake Delhomme INTs later, the Cardinals are hosting the NFC Championship.

Offense – You can say all you want about the Cardinals running the ball more and that’s why they are being successful, but it’s still the passing game that is winning the games for them. Larry Ftizgerald was a beast without fellow Pro Bowler Boldin on the field last week. What I will say about the Cardinals rushing attack is that they have been better in the red zone and Hightower had some nice runs last week, but that was after the game was decided. Edgerrin has always been good at pass protecting and I expect him to do a lot of it on Sunday.

Defense РThe Cardinals had a turnover margin of zero in the regular season.. During the post season they are +7 and have scored 39 of their 63 post season points off of turnovers. Darnell Docket, Bertrand Berry and Antonio Smith have played at a high level on the defensive line and the linebackers and secondary have taken advantage. Rookie cornerback Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie has played especially well given that opposing offenses are targeting him to try an exploit his rookie naivet̩. The Cardinals stuffed Michael Turner and jumped on the Panthers early to silence their rushing attack. No doubt that stopping Brian Westbrook will be the focus of the defensive game plan this week.

Arizona v. Philadelphia Matchup

Eagles on offense – The Eagles will try and test the run early. They didn’t have any success in the first two games of the post season on the ground, but they were also playing two top ten rush defenses. The Cardinals have to prove that they’re performance was for real and not a two game fluke. It’ll be interesting to see the rookie battle between DeSean Jackson, the Eagles most talented receiver, against Rodgers-Cromartie, the Cardinals most talented cornerback. Both have speed and the Eagles will want to stretch the field to open up the field for screens to the running backs and intermediate TE routes. McNabb has to take care of the ball. The Cardinals are in a ball hawking frenzy right now and the way they are scoring points off turnovers has to be a concern for the Philadelphia offense.

Cardinals on offense – Can the Cardinals create enough of a running game to create space for their receivers? Boldin is back and he’ll be all crossing all over the field as Warner’s hot read when the blitzes come. The Cardinals offensive line has played extremely well against the pass rush allowing only one sack in the playoffs. The Cardinal line has also neutralized some pretty good pass rushers in John Abraham and Julius Peppers in back to back weeks. The Cardinals have receiving fire power like no other team in the playoffs, but Philadelphia has the best corners to battle the passing attack. Arizona will run its three wide receiver formations and try and get Fitzgerald, Boldin or Breaston isolated in man to man coverage.

Prediction – This is a tough call because it’s hard to say that the Cardinals defense that we’ve seen the last two weeks will definitely show up this week. Philadelphia’s defense has been playing at a high level the last two weeks on the road. The Cardinals proved they could win on the road last week and now play at home in what will be the most amped stadium they’ve ever played in. I’m going to go with the Cardinals to win this game based on the turnovers they are creating and their ability to convert those turnovers into points. The Eagles offense hasn’t shown a lot this post season and I don’t think the Eagle defense will be able to keep the Cardinals out of the end zone.

Arizona 27 – Philadelphia 20

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RT's AFC Championship Preview

As I embark on my last AFC playoff preview, I would like to give you a few thoughts before I pad my 4-0 record.

* How come nobody is talking about how Jake Delhomme single-handedly OJ’d the Panther’s season!? He just turned in the worst single performance in playoff history and somehow he gets a free pass. I don’t get it.

* We are about to enter a new era of great quarterbacks. Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford and Brady Quinn have the collective potential to bring back respectability to the quarterback position.

* I want to thank the Steelers defense for mailing in the last 5 minutes of last week’s game to ruin my prediction of a blowout. Thanks guys.

Baltimore Ravens v. Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)

#6 Baltimore Ravens

OFFENSE: The Ravens looked terrible on offense last week. The coaches looked scared out of their mind every time Joe Flacco dropped back to pass. The fear was completely unjustified as Flacco did what he has done all season which is manage the game and make a few big plays. I would say he played with significantly more confidence than Kerry Collins. Beyond Flacco, the running game was pathetic. The offensive line was dominated and the numbers proved it. McGahee had only 32 yards rushing and McClain had an abysmal 12 yards on 12 carries. No running lanes = No victory for the Ravens this week.

DEFENSE: There is only one thing that needs to be said about the defensive effort from the Ravens last week. If Ed Reed doesn’t pull a “one-game suspension” worthy dirty play on Chris Johnson in the first-half, the Titans win the game by 10 points and the Steelers are playing on the road this week.

#2 Pittsburgh Steelers

OFFENSE: The Steelers offense starts and stops with the run game. Willie Parker ran all over the Chargers (as predicted here) and the Steelers won the game going away. The run game will again be the key this week as Ben Roethlisberger cannot be trusted to win the game against a defense like the Ravens. He gave us a B game last week and he will need his “A” game if Parkers is stuck at the line of scrimmage all game. Of course, the unsung hero of the Steeler’s win over the Chargers was the offensive line which gave Big Ben all the time he needed and gave Parker the running lanes he needed.

DEFENSE: How is it possible that the best defense in the league can be underrated!? If you asked most fans which team has the better defense – the Ravens or the Steelers – I have to believe 2 out of 3 say the Ravens. Ridiculous. The Steelers gave up a bunch of passing yard to Rivers last week, but that was after the game was well in hand. Don’t expect the defense to let up this week.

Ravens v. Steelers Matchup

Ravens on offense: I fear for the Ravens this week. They will do their best to establish the run early but I think they will run into the same problem they had last week. Too much running the ball at the beginning which will force them to rely on Flacco to make big plays. To have a chance to win, the Ravens offense will need to score points by establishing a balanced offensive attack. If they continuously run the ball on 2nd and 7 in the first half, this game could be over very very early.

Steelers on offense: As I said above, getting Willie Parker his yards early in the game is critical for the Steelers. Big Ben is a very good quarterback but he cannot take over a game like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Even though I do expect the Steelers to control the line of scrimmage, I don’t think the Steelers can win without a steady diet of Parker. Nobody is talking about how “Super” Ed Reed won the game last week by putting Chris Johnson on the sidelines for the second half. Unless Reed can duplicate his dirty play, Parker will get his yards early and the Steelers will move the ball consistently down the field.

Prediction: It’s the Steelers again. The team that can run the ball wins this game and that team is the Steelers. While it would be easy to say the rookie Flacco folds under the pressure in a hostile environment, I think he continues to deliver a performance that keeps his team in the game. In the end, the Steelers are too good on the defensive side of the ball and they are a tough team to beat at Heinz Field unless some guy named Brady is the quarterback of the other team. Steelers by a touchdown.

Baltimore: 10 – Pittsburgh: 17

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My sources tell me the Broncos will hire Mike McCoy to be the offensive coordinator. McCoy comes to Denver after nine seasons with Carolina, most recently serving as the QB coach. 

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Kurt Warner, Hall of Famer?

The NFC Championship game will be hosted by the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium thanks in large part to the play of Kurt Warner. The question that may be bounded about in the media is, “Is Kurt Warner a Hall of Fame player?”

Kurt Warner is NOT a Hall of Famer.  

A Hall of Fame player should play at the highest level for many seasons. Career statistics set the threshold for greatness and post season performance acts as extra credit for those players whose career stats may be not up to snuff. I’ve picked several statistical categories to help compare Warner with several contemporary Hall of Fame quarterbacks and other contemporary quarterbacks with similar statistics. I chose six categories aiming to combine seasonal statistics, premier awards and Super Bowl extra credit points to see where Warner fits in historically.

3,000+ yards passing seasons – Throwing for 3,000 yards is a nice round benchmark of a superior season for a Quarterback. If you average 3,000 yards per season for 11 seasons your peers in career passing yardage would be Hall of Famers Steve Young, Y.A. Tittle, Troy Aikman and Sonny Jurgenson.

20+ TD pass seasons –If you averaged 20 TD passes a season for 12 seasons you’d have more TD passes than Steve Young, George Blanda and Jim Kelly and be right behind Y.A. Tittle.

# of Pro Bowls – As a QB, a pro bowl selection means you were one of the top 6 quarter backs in the NFL and one of the top three in your conference. One or two could be a blip, but four or five show consistent excellence.
 Awards (All Pros, MVPs, SB MVPs) – These are the awards that mean you’re the best and everybody remembers.

Super Bowl Appearances – It’s important to get to the big game, even if you don’t win. Winning is a big bonus.

Seasons with 13+ games started – This is a longevity factor. 13 games is roughly 80% of a 16 game schedule. For QBs that played in the 1987 strike shortened season I use 11 games as the marker.

Up first, the five quarterbacks most recently inducted into the Hall of Fame, in no particular order:

3,000+ = 5
20+ TDs = 1
Pro Bowl = 6
Awards = 1 SB MVP
SB record = 3-0
Seasons w/13+ GS = 8

3,000+ = 12
20+ TDs = 6
Pro Bowl = 9
Awards = 1 MVP, 1 SB MVP
SB record = 2-3
Seasons w/13+ GS =13

3,000+ = 9
20+ TDs = 7
Pro Bowl = 9
Awards = 0
SB record = N/A
Seasons w/13+ GS = 11

3,000+ = 13
20+ TDs = 13
Pro Bowl = 9
Awards = 3 time All Pro, 1 MVP
SB record = 0-1
Seasons w/13+ GS = 14

3,000+ = 8
20+ TDs = 7
Pro Bowl = 4
Awards = 1 All Pro
SB record = 0-4
Seasons w/13+ GS = 11

3,000+ = 6
20+ TDs = 5
Pro Bowl = 7
Awards = 3 All Pro, 2 MVP, 1 SB MVP
SB record = 1-0
Seasons w/13+ GS = 7

Now let’s look at retired quarterbacks that are not in the HOF and are most likely not going to be inducted any time soon:

3,000+ = 4
20+ TDs = 4
Pro Bowl = 4
Awards = 2 All Pros and 1 MVP
SB record = 0-1
Seasons w/13+ GS = 4

3,000+ =7
20+ TDs = 5
Pro Bowl = 4
Awards = 1 All Pro
SB record = 0-1
Seasons w/13+ GS = 9

3,000+ = 6
20+ TDs = 3
Pro Bowl = 3
Awards = 1 MVP
SB record = 0-1
Seasons w/13+ GS = 8

3,000+ =7
20+ TDs = 6
Pro Bowl = 1
Awards = 0
SB record = N/A
Seasons w/13+ GS =8

3,000+ = 9
20+ TDs = 7
Pro Bowl = 4
Awards = 0
SB record = 0-1
Seasons w/13+ GS =11

Next in line to the Hall:

3,000+ = 17
20+ TDs = 14
Pro Bowl = 9
Awards = 3 All Pros, 3 MVPs
SB record = 1-1
Seasons w/13+ GS =17

Here are Kurt Warner’s totals:

3,000+ =5
20+ TDs = 5
Pro Bowl = 4
Awards = 2 All Pros, 2 MVPs and 1 SB MVP
SB record = 1-1
Seasons w/13+ GS =3

Of all the quarterbacks I’ve listed, Kurt Warner is statistically closest to Rich Gannon, Troy Aikman and possibly Steve Yonug. He’s less like Aikman because Troy had Emmitt Smith and didn’t have to pass a great deal. Aikman and Warner are similar in the Awards/SB categories, where Aikman’s three wins and one SB MVP left no doubt of his greatness. Steve Young is somewhat similar, but sitting behind Hall of Famer Joe Montana for four seasons is a special circumstance that Warner does not similarly share. As of now, Warner is a slightly better Rich Gannon. Do you consider Rich Gannon to be a Hall of Famer? What if the Raiders had beaten the Buccaneers in SBXXXVII? I say Warner still has to do more to separate himself from Gannon to get into Canton.

One category routinely brought up by Warner-for-Hall-of-Fame supporters is his outstanding Passer Rating. I don’t put much stock in that category as a Hall of Fame indicator because it’s skewed by the current offensive era. Warner is currently 4th in career Passer Rating. The Hall of Famers I listed above have the following career passer ratings ranks: Aikman - 38th, Elway – 53rd, Moon – 42nd, Marino – 16th, Kelly – 25th and Young – 1st. The Top 20 in career Passer Rating is full of contemporary quarterbacks not even close to Hall of Fame consideration: Chad Pennington – 8th, Jeff Garcia – 13th, Trent Green – 17th, Marc Bulger -19th. In fact, 17 of the top 21 QBs in career passer rating are current players.

For me, Warner is close, but has some lofty achievements to reach before I would induct him into the Hall of Fame. He has had several great seasons, but also several okay-to-sub par, injury-shortened seasons and lacks the consistent greatness reserved for the Hall of Fame.

In order to be given consideration, Warner needs to do the following:

1) Warner will have to lead the Arizona Cardinals to the Lombardi trophy and win the SB MVP

2) He needs one more season of 3,000+ yards, 20+ TDs and 13+ games started.

Some would argue anyone who leads the Cardinals to a Super Bowl trophy should immediately be enshrined into Canton, but - what can I say – I still think the Hall of Fame is reserved for greatness.

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Weekend Thoughts

NFL Playoff thoughts

Baltimore v. Tennessee
Sure, Baltimore has a great defense, but Tennessee gave that game away. Let's do a quarter by quarter breakdown of all the Titans breakdowns.
1Q: After looking good holding Baltimore to two three and outs the Titans score first and hold the Ravens to a 3rd and 18. Then defensive offsides on Vanden Bosch pushes it to 3rd and 13. No biggie, except on the next play it looks like Chris Hope is supposed to have the deep third coverage, but is late getting over and gives up the 48 yard touchdown.
2Q: Tennessee has another nice drive into Baltimore territory, but it stalls when a screen to Bo Scaife is sniffed out by Raven safety Leonhard for a five yard loss to make it 4th and 8 at the Baltimore 30. Because of the wind conditions Jeff Fisher elects to go for it and Collins fumbles the snap. 4th and 8 isn't close to guaranteed against the Ravens, but you have to give yourself a chance. The next Titans possession starts at their own one yard line and they move the ball all the way to the Baltimore 32 and face a 3rd and 8. The Ravens blitz and Collins throws up a duck that is easily intercepted. Collins is a seasoned veteran, but looked like the rookie all game when the Ravens bring more than four pass rushers. The Titans hold the Ravens to three and out and get the ball back and in seven plays are already inside the Raven 22 yard line with 36 seconds before halftime. LenDale White earns five hard yards, but doesn't protect the ball when he's in a wash of defenders and the ball pops loose and Baltimore recovers.
3Q: Both teams are playing great defense after the half, each team forcing three punts. The Titans get to the 28 yard line on one drive, but the Ravens challenge a third down catch by Scaife and the ruling is reversed forcing a 51 yard FG attempt instead of a 46 yard try. Bironas misses to the left. 51 yard FGs are not gimmes in any sense, but you have to make those in the playoffs if you want to move on.
4Q: After the Ravens take the lead with a FG, the Titans put together a ten play drive and Collins completes a pass to Alge Crumpler on 2nd and 9 from the Baltimore 13. Crumpler gains seven before he's hit and the ball goes flying forwards, recovered at the one by Baltimore. Again, the contact was coming, but the ball wasn't protected. The Titans hold the Ravens on the next drive and comeback and tie the game with a FG afterwards. When Baltimore gets the ball back, they face a 3rd and 2 on their own 32 yard line when the now infamous play clock reaches zero and no flag is thrown. The amount of leeway that NFL fans are used to allows for a split second after the play clock reaches zero to get a play off, but this was almost a full second.

The Ravens earned the victory, but Tennessee did more than enough to help them out. Both fumbles had more to do with carelessness than with defensive pressure. Joe Flacco the rookie had more pocket presence than 15+ year veteran Kerry Collins. Tennessee lost its best offensive player, Chris Johnson, for the entire second half because of an ankle injury and they got burned by an officiating blunder. What lesson can be learned from this? Don't let your team peak too early in the season. Tennessee was the last unbeaten team this year and then fell off a little, even though they ended with the best record in the NFL. They didn't "play" in week 17 and then they looked sloppy after the bye week.

Arizona @ Carolina
The surest bet around had to be Carolina -9.5 at home against the a Cardinal team that was 0-5 on the east coast this season and 2-22 in it's last twenty four games played in the eastern time zone who was missing a key cog in the offensive attack, Anquan Boldin. Carolina even came out and scored rather easily on the first drive in five plays. Unfortunately, the Panthers could not cover Larry Fitzgerald and Jake Delhomme might have had the worst playoff quarterback performance of all time. It was extra ironic for Delhomme because on Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN, I think it was Bob Holtzman said Delhomme came into the game as third all time in playoff QB rating after Joe Montana and somebody else. Later on the same show Cris Carter repeated the stat, but didn't give Holtzman(or whoever said it originally) credit like he had come up with it himself. Delhomme had six(!) turnovers including five INTs. Delhomme had a playoff passer rating of approximately 104.5 before this game and it dropped over twenty points after this game to 83.3.

Philadelphia @ NY Giants
This game was all about the Eagles defensive line. The Giants defense played great as well, holding Westbrook to 36 yards on 18 carries and only two catches for ten yards, but the Ealges and Broderick Bunkley in particular won this game for Philly. It was windy at the Meadowlands and John Carney, who missed only two 40+ yard FGs all year, missed two in this game. The windy conditions and the Giants power run game led Tom Coughlin to go for it on fourth ans short three times, but the Giants only converted the once in the first quarter. Not counting the intentional grounding by McNabb in his own endzone for a safety, neither team had a sack this game. Two great defenses, both teams like to blitz and both are in the top ten in number of sacks this season had zero this game. The Giants had zero sacks against the Eagles in three games this year. Clap it up for the Eagles offensive line.

San Diego @ Pittsburgh
Every team that scored first this weekend ended up losing. Three of the four teams scored touchdowns first. San Diego connects on a long bomb to DUI Jackson and then force a Pittsburgh punt. After giving the ball to Darren Sproles three times the Chargers give the ball to last week's MVP, punter Mike Scifres. Unfortunately, the Charger punt coverage was hideous, with four men bunched on the left side of the field and the five others spread too far apart on the the other side of the field. Naanee had a chance to push Holmes out of bounds, but instead dove at his ankles like a punter/kicker/quarterback and Hollmes hurdled him easily. The key to this game was San Diego's inability to get pressure on Roethlisberger and the Steeler offensive line to protect Big Ben. Only one sack for the Chargers, by the safety Weddle, while the Steelers got four sacks from Woodley, Harrison and Keisel, all DL/LBs.

Despite some people panicking because the Sharks aren't leading the other NHL teams by 10+ points, they beat the Oilers and Canucks on back to back nights on the road. Now the Sharks have four home games spread out over the next week before the All Star break.

I hate this team. Not because they are losing and will continue to lose. It's because the team is symbolic of what the Warriors were just three short season ago and the previous decade before that, irrelevant with no hope for the future. Ellis is unhappy. Maggette sucks. He can get to the line, but he can't pass, at all. Bellinelli looks promising. Randolph looks promising. Wright looked promising before separating his shoulder. Will any of them flourish with the Warriors? Most likely not because Robert Rowell and Nellie mucked everything up when their egos got in the way. Warriors basketball, it's a great time out.

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Koski's NFC Divisional Playoff Preview

#6 Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles defense beat the Vikings last week. While the Eagles only sacked Tarvaris Jackson once, he felt the pressure. Jackson completed just 43% of his passes for a pitiful 4.7 yards per attempt. The Eagles also played the run extremely well. Sure they gave up a 40 yard run to AP, but he only had 43 yards on his other 19 carries. The Eagles will need a similar defensive performance to succeed against the Giants this week.

Offense – The Eagles struggled to run the ball last week, but should be marginally more successful this week versus the Giants top ten rush defense. The Eagles did a good job of finding an open Brent Celek, who was the leading receiver against Minnesota. I expect more of the same this week because the Giants pass defense is weakest against defending the TE. Brian Westbrook is the game changer on offense, despite the publicity McNabb receives for his performance. Westbrook was targeted five times in the passing game last week, catching three passes for 83 yards including the 71 yard game clinching screen pass. Look for the Eagles to send Jackson deep, throw the ball to Celek in the middle, and give the ball to Westbrook early and often.

Defense – The Eagles stopped the Viking rushing attack, for the most part, last week. They’ll have an even greater challenge this week versus the number one rush offense in the league. Saying Eli Manning is less mobile than Tarvaris Jackson is an understatement to be sure, so I expect more sacks this week for the Eagles. Brian Dawkins is the Ed Reed of the NFC. He won’t have to worry about Plaxico Burress and will focus on stopping the run, blitzing Manning and creating turnovers.

#1 New York Giants

The Giants earned the number one seed and home field advantage with the best running game in the NFL and a top ten defense. Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward provided an excellent one-two punch behind the best offensive line in football. The Giants defensive line has played extremely well and has put a good deal on opposing quarterbacks despite losing Michael Strahan to retirement and Osi Umenyiora to injury all season. Establishing a consistent rushing attack and containing Brian Westbrook will be the keys to victory.

Offense – Brandon Jacobs got nicked up at the end of the season, but has been able to rest for a couple weeks and should be ready to roll all over the Eagles. Derrick Ward comes in on passing downs and does his best Brian Westbrook impression when he gets the ball. The loss of Plaxico Burress severely hurts the offense in the playoffs. Burress provided a deep threat that required safety help. Domenik Hixon has had good games here and there, but has struggled to be consistent and will have a tough time against the Philly corners. TE Kevin Boss started the season slow, but has become more involved in the game plan during the second half of the season.

Defense – Justin Tuck leads the defensive attack from defensive end and he’s been aided by Mathias Kiwanuka and the improved play of Jay Alford and Fred Robbins. Corey Webster has proven to be an effective corner while Aaron Ross has been the corner that the opposition has chosen to attack. The Giants have problems covering the TE, but are still top ten in defending the pass.

Eagles on offense – The Eagles will have the same attack plan as they did versus the Vikings. They will try and get Westbrook matched up with the Giants linebackers in the passing game. The Giants linebackers are good, but they aren’t fast enough to keep up with Westbrook. I expect another 20+ touches for Westbrook and probably 10+ for Buckhalter, who is as healthy as he has been all season. The Eagles will feed Westbrook to draw the Giants safeties up before throwing the ball down the field to DeSean Jackson. The Eagles bring in Buckhalter a lot on passing downs because he’s a good pass blocker, but he’s also effective on draws and screens. McNabb will be under fire for a lot of the game and he’ll need to move around and keep plays alive while Tra Thomas and John Runyan try and block Justin Tuck. Like last week, I predict a “big” game for TE Brent Celek as the Giants defense has a lot of other responsibilities to worry about.

Giants on Offense- The battle in the trenches will be the key to victory. The Giants line will need to move the Eagles defensive tackles and slow the end rushers. The Giants want to use Jacobs pounding running style to challenge the Philly linebackers to tackle him all game. After the linebackers get tired of Jacobs, Ward comes in and uses his quickness to evade tacklers and break long runs. The Giants will want to stay away from obvious passing situations where Jim Johnson can go blitz happy without worrying about safety help deep. I expect a trick play or two from the Giants as they try and take advantage of the aggressive Philly defense. TE Kevin Boss should play an integral part in the passing game as Manning’s safety valve and should see some targets in the red zone.

Prediction- I really like how the Eagles are playing right now. They only lost by five at home when the Giants had Burress and beat the Giants at the Meadowlands a mere five weeks ago. Playing Minnesota was a nice tune up for the Giants as both teams have similar rushing attacks and defensive pressure. The Giants will need to win by getting pressure on McNabb and using the running game to control the pace of the game. The Eagles are playing real well. McNabb is playing well. Westbrook is always a play away from breaking the game open and the defense is in lock down mode. Eagles upset the Super Bowl champs.

Philadelphia 20 Giants 17

#4 Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals scored on a long flea flicker pass, a disrupted handoff fumble return and a short crossing pass to Boldin who somehow managed to stay inbounds as he sprinted down the sideline and they only won by six points. The Cardinals defensive line played outstanding, Betrand Berry in particular, and we’ll see if they can repeat the performance on the road where the Cardinals have been horrendous. Arizona’s only road victories came against the three NFC West teams and lost at Carolina earlier this season. To add insult to injury, Anquan Boldin may not play due to a sore hamstring and the Cardinals will need him to beat the Panthers.

Offense- Larry Fitzgerald is the best receiver in the NFC and it’s a virtual draw between him and Andre Johnson for best wide receiver in the NFL. When Boldin is playing, the Cardinals like to work him underneath with Breaston and Fitzgerald working the deeper routes. This worked to perfection against the Falcons when Boldin caught a short pass and took it 71 yards for a score and Fitzgerald caught a 42 yard toss up over two Falcons in the end zone. Edgerrin James was surprisingly effective against a bad Falcons defense, but how will he do versus a better Panther defense? Arizona needs James to play up to his contract this game to have a shot.

Defense- The Cardinals defense turned up the pressure against Atlanta and got three sacks and two interceptions plus a fumbled handoff return for a touch down. Bertrand Berry anchors the mediocre at best defensive line. Berry’s line mate Darnell Dockett was M.I.A. last game and Arizona needs him to be a presence in this game. Adrian Wilson is a strong hitting safety who should see a lot of action this weekend. Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes are effective ILBs that will be kept busy all day with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the rookie corner who has shown tremendous potential, but is still a rookie whom Carolina will likely test. If anybody’s got the speed to keep up with Steve Smith, it’s Rodgers-Cromartie.

#2 Carolina Panthers

Carolina had a shot at home field throughout the playoffs, but fell six points short in New York in week 15. The Panthers were 8-0 at home this season and have been remarkably consistent all year. Carolina has a power running game with the highest percentage of runs of more than 10 yards in the league. The Panthers had the second least amount of “stuffs” (define stuffs for those of us who are unclear on what he is talking about) and converted 80% of 3rd or 4th downs with two yards or less. In the playoffs, those are the types of plays that need to be made and Carolina will have plenty of confidence coming into this game.

Offense – I covered the rushing stats above, but DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were both excellent running backs this year. Williams had an unbelievable year with 18 rushing touchdowns including two games with four a piece. Stewart was no slouch either, rushing for 10 touchdowns himself, more than Portis, Chris Johnson or Brian Westbrook. Steve Smith might have topped both backs by having the third most receiving yards in the NFL (only ten behind Fitzgerald) despite playing in only 14 games! Smith has a knack for catching deep passes in clutch situations. Pick your poison Cardinals, who will you try to stop?

Defense – The defense was not as good as you’d think for such a highly touted team. Carolina was in the bottom half in Yards per Game, Passing Yards per Game and Rushing Yards per Game. They can get after the quarterback, however and the main man is Julius Peppers. The Panthers also have a beast in the middle in Jon Beason, the east coast version of Patrick Willis - a tackling machine. Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble are solid cornerbacks who will have their hands full, especially if Boldin plays. Unfortunately, Carolina may be missing both its starting nose tackles to injury. Fortunately, the Cardinals are not a running team, even if they wanted to be.

Cardinals on offense – The Cardinals don’t have much choice. They are a passing team and that’s all they are. Even if Boldin is out they will bring in Jerheme Urban and keep throwing. Frankly, it’s for the best. It’s the playoffs so don’t waste your time trying to be something you are not. Put Warner back in the shotgun and spread the offense. Levi Brown will have his hands full with Julius Peppers and his results will be a referendum on his high draft status.

Carolina on offenseCarolina is going to run the ball, with several Steve Smith targets mixed in. Williams and Stewart will put pressure on the Cardinals linebackers and Adrian Wilson to come up and make tackles. DeAngelo Williams was tied with Steve Slaton for most 40+ yard runs this season and second behind AP for most 20+ yard runs. Williams was 4th in the NFL in first down runs with 24% of his runs reaching a first down. Bryan Robinson and Darnell Dockett will have their hands full trying to stop the Williams and Stewart combo. Once Carolina has established that they are going to pound the rock, Steve Smith will work some magic on the rookie corner and get behind the defense.

Prediction – Magic Eightball, will the Panthers obliterate the Cardinals this weekend? “All signs point to Yes.” I don’t see any way the Cardinals can win this game. They only lost by four in October, but Carolina has hit its stride the last few weeks, especially in the running game. Plus, the Cardinals haven’t shown they can win on the road. Boldin is a must play for the Cardinals to have a chance. Big day for Williams. Big day for Steve Smith.

Carolina 34- Arizona 17

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RT's AFC Divisional Round Playoff Preview

Baltimore Ravens v. Tennessee Titans (-3)

#6 Baltimore Ravens

OFFENSE: It is no surprise that the defense continues to be the straw that stirs the drink for the Ravens but the offense continues to do a good job of not losing the game. Flacco was less than impressive in the win against the Dolphins but who cares? The most important stat for him is interceptions, as in zero. Little else is required of him in order for the Ravens to be in the game. Of course, he is afforded this luxury because the running game is hitting on all cylinders. McClain and McGahee were not exactly overwhelming against the Dolphins but they did run with passion that kept the Dolphins on their heels. The offense will need to be a little more dynamic than they were against the Dolphins if they expect to beat the Titans.

DEFENSE: The defense is playing as well as any defense I have seen in recent years (including the Bears of 2006). The Ravens have been very impressive in December especially against the Steelers on Dec. 14th (and they lost that game!) You cannot talk about the defense without talking about Ed Reed. It is really amazing what happens when you put an undersized wide receiver with a chip on his shoulder at free safety. There are football coaches around the country who would love to have Ed Reed talk to their wide receivers about the joys (and glory) of playing on defense. Reed is a difference maker and he plays at his highest level in tight games.

#1 Tennessee Titans

OFFENSE: Similar to the Ravens offense, the Titans offense doesn’t exactly overwhelm with star or fire power (besides Vince Young … never mind). Kerry Collins has done a very good job as the leader this year. He still throws a very good ball and he rarely is the reason a team loses a game. However, he is not the type of guy who will carry the team so the running game will remain paramount to the Titans success. As a result, the Titans will continue to rely on Chris Johnson to get the job done as one of the most impressive rookie running back in recent memory. His “back-up” is LenDale White who is nothing short of one of the biggest head cases in the history of the NFL but credit Jeff Fisher with getting White to play with more passion than many thought possible. The combination of Smash and Dash gives the Titans all the offensive weapons needed to reach the conference finals

DEFENSE: The most important note of this game for the Titans is the return of Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch. These two anchor an impressive defensive line which will be critical to the success of the Titans in the playoffs. There is no reason not to think the Titans will not continue their upper echelon rush defense in the playoffs. However, the rank near the bottom in the league at defending the pass which could come back to haunt them sooner rather than later.

Ravens v. Titans Matchup

Ravens on offense: The Ravens are going to have a really hard time scoring on the Titans. Flacco is going to be asked to more than he has all season because the Titans will have eight men in the box on most plays and the return of Haynesworth will only make things more difficult. It will be a long day for the Ravens if they cannot establish some kind of passing game to Derrick Mason and Todd Heap early on. Everyone is familiar with the concept of establishing the run to set up the pass – well – look for the Ravens to do the opposite.

Titans on offense: The Titans need to run the ball effectively to win this game. The potential loss of center Kevin Mawae could be huge for the run game and the pass coverage. The Ravens have been running the 3-4 for some time and they have been exceptional stopping the run all year. Chris Johnson has never played this much football in his life. Will he show signs of wear and tear or will the week off have him as good as ever?

Prediction: After the controversial end of the Steelers-Ravens game on Dec. 14, it just seems like the two are destined to play again. While I am very concerned about the play of Joe Flacco, I just think the Ravens defense goes 2001 Super Bowl on Kerry Collins and the Titans and wins the game in a close one.

Baltimore: 17 – Titans: 13

San Diego Chargers v. Pittsburgh Steelers (-6)

#4 San Diego Chargers

OFFENSE: The Chargers offense is very simple. Rivers is good not great and really needs a big performance from his running back in-order to be effective. Since LaDainian Tomlinson is hurt, Darren Sproles will need to have another huge game for the Chargers to have any chance at all. The reality for the Chargers offense is their best player when they have the ball is the punter, Mike Scifres. I fear for them on Sunday.

DEFENSE: Except for a brain fart by Antonio Cromartie, the defense was exceptional last week. The punter gave them numerous advantages but the defense stopped Peyton Manning – not the field position. They will need to duplicate their effort this time around if they have any chance of success.

#2 Pittsburgh Steelers

OFFENSE: The Steelers offense is not exactly overwhelming. They are ranked either in the middle or the bottom of the league in almost every important category. Of course, they have had numerous injuries at running back which has forced Ben Roethlisberger to win games on his own. That’s not exactly the ideal situation for a team that is built to run the ball down your throat then throwing the ball to keep you honest. Everyone seems to be healthy and the week off should really help this team.

DEFENSE: If defense wins championships then the Steelers should win the Super Bowl. They are first in the league in points allowed, yard and passing yards. However, the Steelers really struggled stopping the run … they were second in the league by allowing 80.2 yards per game on the ground. These numbers are impressive on their own but when you take in to account that they had to play the NFC East and played almost every tough team in the AFC – you have to realize this team is THE most dominant defense in the NFL.

Chargers v. Steelers Matchup

Chargers on offense: The Chargers need an all-pro performance from their offensive line in order to score more than 7 points in this game. I really don’t see how the Chargers move the ball any other way.

Steelers on offense: The Steelers will force the run and until it is established. The Chargers job is to keep it from becoming established and force Big Ben to throw the ball to win the game. Besides last week, the Chargers secondary has been dreadful this year against the pass so it could be a blessing in disguise for the Steelers if they have to throw the ball than they would like to.

Prediction: THIS GAME WILL BE A BLOWOUT!!!! While you will hear a thousand analysts tell you how the Chargers have a chance because they are on a roll, please remember that I told you on Monday that this game was the first lock of 2009. The Steelers are rested, motivated and hungry. Too many things have to go right just for the Chargers to score more than 10 points let alone cover a spread of 6 points. Did I mention the game is in Pittsburgh and the forecast is a high of 24 degrees and snow showers!? To be clear, the Steelers will win this game by a lot more than 6 points.

San Diego: 6 – Steelers: 24

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