Archive | January 2013

Road to the Super Bowl: The Colin Kaepernick Story

We all know Colin Kaepernick as the QB of the 49ers, but what people might not know much about, is how he got there.  When Colin was born, his mother Heidi Russo, a (now) 44-year old nurse from Colorado, was 19 years old, nearly broke, and out of wedlock.  She cared for him for a few months before giving him up to Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, who had two children.  They had also lost two boys to heart defects.  They claim it was a major factor into why the chose to adopt Colin.  After Heidi dropped Colin off with the Kaepernicks, she would receive letters and pictures from them every so often until Heidi asked that they cease.  She simply found it to be too painful to see her son grow up.

Teresa and RIck Kaepernick take a photo before the game.

Teresa and RIck Kaepernick take a photo before the game.

In his youth, Colin excelled at sports.  He began playing football at age eight, and by age nine, was the starting quarterback.  In high school, Colin grew to be an unbelievable three-sport athlete.  He was an all-state football, basketball, and baseball player.  Oddly enough, it was his baseball skills that caught collegiate attention, not his football abilities.

The lanky high school Kaep'.

The lanky high school Kaep’.

He was listed on the 2006 MLB website as being a draftable prospect out of high school.  He was a two-time all-state pitcher.  He finished his senior season with a record of 11-2, an ERA of 1.265, with 10 complete games, and 97 strikeouts.  He touted a 92 mph fastball, which we still see today on the football field.  The Chicago Cubs selected Colin in the 43rd round of the 2009 MLB draft.

During his senior football season, Colin led his high school to their first-ever California state playoff victory and was named the Central California Conference (CCC) MVP.  However, college scouts felt he had an unorthodox throwing motion, and believed him to be too light (he was 6’ 5”, 170 lbs. at the time).  In his high school offense, he was also rarely allowed to run, as they tried to protect him from injury.  As we all know now, this is a big part of his game.  At the end of the football season, he still had no scholarship offers to play football.

It wasn’t until a University of Nevada scout saw him play in a basketball game later in the year that he got noticed.  Colin played through the game with a 102 °F fever, and absolutely dominated.  Nevada decided to offer him a football scholarship, which he signed in February of 2006.

At the outset, Colin redshirted.  A move you see pay dividends from time to time (like redshirt freshman guard Ben McLemore for the University of Kansas, talked about as a potential #1 overall pick in the NBA draft).  The next year, as a redshirt freshman, Colin got his chance to play after the Nevada starter went out for the season with a foot injury.  Entering halfway through the second quarter, Colin amassed 384 passing yards with 4 TDs and 60 yards rushing in a loss to Fresno State.  The next week, he led the Wolfpack into Boise State (who had never lost to a WAC conference foe at home).  The game went to four overtimes, but Nevada came up short.  Kaepernick’s stat line?  A whopping 177 yards rushing with two scores and 243 yards passing for 3 TDs.  He went on to set WAC records and consistently rank in the nations top-five in QBR.  By the end of his senior season, he was the only NCAA Division I player to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in three straight seasons.  He was selected 45th overall by the San Francisco 49ers, who traded up picks with the Denver Broncos in order to draft Colin.

I hope Colin high-fived his 4th grade self after getting drafted.

I hope Colin high-fived his 4th grade self after getting drafted.

As for his NFL career, well, as Alex Smith knows best: it came on in a blaze.  Can he keep the heat for one more game?

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Road to the Super Bowl: The Baltimore Ravens Catalysts to Postseason Glory

This season turned on that 4th and 29 play.  Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the play I’m talking about.  Down 13 to 10, Ray Rice catches the ball with about 24 yards to get, and somehow manages to juke and drive forward for the first down.  The Ravens go on to kick a field goal, and win in overtime.  This jettisoned them to new heights; they stormed off that field a confident bunch, to blow through the rest of the season on their way to the playoffs.

Oh, wait… they lost four out of their last five after that one… Seriously?  How does a team slide to the Super Bowl?  One can only guess, so here are a few.

Ray Lewis Announces Retirement

Three days after their Week 17 loss to the Bengals, Ray Lewis announced this would be his final season.  If this was a coincidence, then Jim Nance isn’t losing his hair.  This was a genius move on the part of Ray Lewis.  You have a team that’s downtrodden, slumping, and lacking purpose going into the postseason.  Ray Lewis, the most iconic Raven of the past decade, gave them a reason to get riled up about this postseason and a grander reason winning football games.  Secondly, have you ever seen Ray Lewis getting his team fired up before the game?  I want to hit someone just watching, add his imminent retirement to that fire, now you really want to put a smack down on someone.

Firing Cam Cameron

I don't think Torrey Smith treats Jim Caldwell like this...

I don’t think Torrey Smith treats Jim Caldwell like this…

On December 10th, the Ravens fired Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron after an overtime loss to the Redskins.  They wallowed in offensive mediocrity for the final three weeks, never scoring more than 17 points.  Well, you have to give Jim Caldwell a few weeks to get comfortable with this offense, but after a few weeks, they pulled it together at just the right time.  They scored 24, 38, and 28 points in their three postseason games, a drastic change from the pedestrian totals that Cam’s offense was averaging.  Cam Cameron even called the move “brilliant” after the Ravens made their run to the Super Bowl.

The play of Joe Flacco cannot be understood or understated either.  Whether this is due to Ray Lewis (more doubtful) or Jim Caldwell (more likely), Baltimore fans couldn’t care less, as long as he keeps it up for one more game.  He benefitted from the easiest first round game, when they got to host the Colts at home.  I think winning one game gave him the confidence to step up in the next two games, and his confidence just grew from there.  Whether he can keep this momentum up against the 49ers defense is another story.

What’s the Advantage?

Is home field or a first-round bye a good thing? Recent history might disagree.

How could the number one or two seeds be a bad thing?  Seriously, it doesn’t make sense, but recent history would contradict this notion.  In recent years, teams have been making runs out of the Wild Card round, and into the Super Bowl.  Since the 2007-2008 NFL season, there has been a #4 or lower seed in four of the last five Super Bowls.  Of those four low seeds, they have a record of 3-1.  Is there a method to this madness, or is it just sheer luck?  These teams may have more in common than you think.

Quarterback Play

The 2007-08 New York Giants made an astonishing run from the #5 seed in the NFC to become champions of the NFL.

He still looks goofy even after winning the Super Bowl.

He still looks goofy even after winning the Super Bowl.

There are a few things about this run that stand out.  Firstly, Eli Manning put on his big boy pants, and decided to become a clutch QB.  He threw for 6 TDs and 1 interception during this run.  These other teams also leaned on their QBs.  The 2008-09 Cardinals would not have made a run without Kurt Warner, who threw for a whopping 11 TDs in his four playoff games, keeping them in contention.  The 2010-11 Packers had Rodgers, who fired off a 9:2 TD-INT ratio and the 2011-12 Giants’ Manning, 9:1. Joe Flacco has followed the mold, throwing 8 TDs without a pick this postseason.  I think you get the point.

We all know the QB position is crucial to winning football games.  Without great QB play, most teams don’t have a shot (exceptions: Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer… yeah I forget they won Super Bowls too).  But what else is driving these teams?

Retirement

Strahan was on the fence about retiring for a good year and a half before finally pulling the trigger.  But most Giants fans and personnel knew that the 2007-08 year would be his last.  He had broken Lawrence Taylors franchise sack record, which was a motivation for him to come back after sitting out the pre-season.  This could have motivated the Giants to “win one for Mike”.  Kurt Warner decided to come back to the NFL after his Super Bowl loss, but you’ve got to imagine if they won, he would have retired.  This postseason, I don’t think I need to explain the Ravens retirement situation.  After every game, every Raven that gets interviewed is asked about Ray Lewis retiring.  They all say the same thing:  We’re trying to win this for Ray.

Keep up the motivation, Baltimore media.  It's working.

Keep up the motivation, Baltimore media. It’s working.

Defenses and Turnovers

The old adage of “Defense wins championships” has been questioned in recent years with the increased focus on up-tempo, frequent pass-play offenses.  But for these low seeds, the defenses have been pretty stellar.  The 2007-08 Giants held opponents in the playoffs to 20 points or less every game, while forcing seven turnovers in their four games.  When you think of the 2010-11 Packers, you don’t immediately jump to defense.  However, this unit held opponents under 25 points, while forcing an amazing 11 turnovers (they also had a guy named Atari Bigby, easily a top 5 NFL name).  Well, these 2012 Ravens have forced eight turnovers in just three games, while holding an offense as gifted as the Patriots to just 13 points.

Forget home field advantage, it seems like a team with a confident quarterback, maybe some extra motivation (like a star’s retirement), and a defense that is willing to take the risks to make turnovers is better than having home field advantage and a first-round bye.

After watching the Ravens play the Patriots this weekend, as a Giants fan, I got a lot of vibes that this Ravens team is very similar these lowly seeded teams.  They’re both underdogs the whole way to the Super Bowl, with shockingly good QB play, a star making his last stand and a turnover-happy defensive unit.  Time will tell if they can close the door like the Giants and Packers did.  If they do, I expect Eli Manning and Justin Tuck to tell people next season will be their last.

Championship Weekend Preview: Soak Up Them Points!

With football season winding down, we need to soak up all the Spogo points we can.  With just two games this weekend, every question matters.  While I cannot prepare you for every single question, I can try to give you some stats and trends to follow, and bet accordingly.  Let’s make sure everyone gets some free Nachos, Beers, and Wings this weekend.

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

#88 has come on strong this postseason.  If the Ravens are going to pull up this upset, he better keep it up.

#88 has come on strong this postseason. If the Ravens are going to pull up this upset, he better keep it up.

Tom Brady has an absurd record in the playoffs.  This guy rarely loses, but if there is a New York Giants-esque team this year, it’s the Ravens.  Flacco would obviously be playing Eli Manning (that terrifyingly, inexplicably successful quarterback who has made big plays all postseason).  This Ravens team is playing inspired football right now, and they are not scared of the Patriots as the Texans were.  Look for probably 5-10 shots downfield from Flacco to Smith or Boldin.  Historically, the Patriots have been susceptible to giving up a big play or two a game, I expect to see Torrey Smith get in the end zone at least once this Sunday.  Also, Dennis Pitta has shown he is a very capable tight end, and is being targeted more and more.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he finds his way to paydirt, as the Pats gave up loads of yards to Houston tight ends.  This Ravens offense has averaged 31 points per game this postseason, so don’t be afraid to bet on point-scoring drives regularly.

Let’s face it: the Patriots can, and will, give up points.  This is the leagues 29th ranked pass defense.  While they can stop the run, Baltimore has proven they don’t need to rely on that.  It will be interesting to see what Belichick comes up with to stop the Ravens offense.  As for their offense, I would follow the Baltimore recipe: bet on scores.  The Patriots have scored under 20 points just once this entire season, and have proven that they have plenty of tricks up their sleeves.  I’m not so sure I trust the rushing attack in the playoffs.  The Ravens have clamped down on the run in the playoffs.  So I might bet under on the rushing questions, and over on passing questions.  We could easily see 70 points in this game.

Out of the two games, this one has the most upset potential (read: if you’re a Patriots fan, watch this without any sharp objects around).

San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons

"My name is Willie (Willie Beamen!), I get the ladies (screamin'!)"

“My name is Willie (Willie Beamen!), I get the ladies (screamin’!)”

         I’m going out on a limb on this one.  I think this game could be a two touchdown win for the 49ers.  The way Colin Kaepernick played in the Divisonal was stunning, inspired.  It was like watching Jamie Fox as Willie Beamen in Any Given Sunday, during that montage of epic throws and runs.  Atlanta just doesn’t have an answer for this kind of athlete. In fact, one of their worst losses came against Cam Newton, a quarterback with a similar skill set.  I’ll be betting heavily on Kaepernick getting 100+ rushing yards, scoring at least one rushing TD, and having a solid passing game.  Due to this Kaepernick (or is it Beamen?) explosion, the defensive unit isn’t the first thing people talk about anymore.  But they are still absolutely stifling.  While their secondary isn’t quite as good as Seattle’s, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get an interception or two off of Matt Ryan.  If any team has athletic enough linebackers to cover Tony Gonzalez, it’s the 49ers.

For Atlanta to win this game, they’ll need to keep some resemblance of a running game going.  If it’s solely placed on Matt Ryan to throw his way out of this game, I think the 49ers will get the pressure they need to force some turnovers.  If the running game can get the yards to keep them from 3rd and long, Matt should be able to find one of his favorite targets.  I’m going to be betting on the Falcons punting often, with maybe the occasional scoring bet if they have solid field position.

Best of luck to all users this weekend.

Divisional Playoff Recap: Unproven Quarterbacks Step It Up

This was the kind of weekend that makes NFL fans drool, causal NFL watchers fans, and non-fans, well, fans.  Everything that the Wild Card round didn’t provide, the Divisional did.  Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, and Colin Kaepernick, three very different schools of quarterback, all showed that they have what it takes to step up in big games.  Let’s break down what we saw (or didn’t…).

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

Trainer: "Coach, we've lost another RB..."Belichick: "Oh, well, they all step up when I tell them too, throw in the next one! Muhaha"

Trainer: “Coach, we’ve lost another RB…”
Belichick: “Oh, well, they all step up when I tell them too, throw in the next one! Muhaha” … I swear it happens just like that…

This was the only successful pick I made this weekend, which isn’t saying much.  I’m pretty sure most six-year olds probably had this pick.  What we saw from New England was exactly what we expected to see.  An extremely well prepared offensive unit confusing the defense, and making big plays.  Tom Brady’s stat line is always the same, I swear.  300-350 yards and three touchdowns… like clockwork.  He made ridiculous throws to a multitude of receivers, and propelled this offense to the AFC Championship.  The loss of Gronkowski is big and should not be understated just because they’re winning.  He’s really the second best player on this offense and makes Aaron Hernandez a much better player.  But, as history has shown, someone always steps up for this Patriots team.  Enter, Shane Vereen.  This guy was a sideshow to Stevan Ridley all year, then they put him in this “Woodheadish” slot and he makes play after play.  So Belichick.

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

This game was like Rocky, if Rocky battled back, and then got knocked out in the last second.  The greater Seattle area must still be hung over

Matt Bryant hits the game winner to send Atlanta to the 'Ship.

Matt Bryant hits the game winner to send Atlanta to the ‘Ship.

from this one.  After rallying from a 20 point deficit, which took an entire half (or 29:29 of a half), Seattle still found a way to give up a field goal in the closing seconds.  I don’t blame them for this last second kick.  Any team, who is playing at home in a dome, with a kicker who has a really solid leg, has a quality shot to win.

The Pete Carroll timeout call is quite perplexing to me.  From everything I saw of the replay, it appeared that he did call for a timeout.  It wasn’t how he responded to the initial call (of course, he’s going to be a little annoyed after Bryant misses the kick), but after the game, he was absolutely irate.  This sort of prolonged anger makes me wonder if he just walked over to the official and said “I’m just trying to make it look like we’re going to take a timeout here, I don’t actually want one,” or something to that effect.  If that is the case: he definitely won’t be trying that fake again.

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

When Sam Shields ran back that interception a mere two minutes and change into the game, I already thought my Packers pick was secure.  However, I underestimated Colin Kaepernick.  This guy has a rocket launcher attached to his arm.  Some of those passes must have been coming out at 60 mph.  It wasn’t just the fastball throws that Colin showed he could make, it was the touch passes that he also had going.  I was simply blown away by how well he threw the ball.  The San Fran defense also clamped down on one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and held Rodgers to 257 yards passing, and just under 22 minutes of possession time.  Keeping him off the field was always going to be a winning formula for this team.  They consistently did this with the running game.  The 49ers piled up 323 yards on the ground, and finished with two 110+ yard rushers.  The thing that I love about how this 49ers team utilized (and has utilized) Kaepernick in the past is that he puts up great rushing numbers, but isn’t taking the punishment of his contemporaries.  The way he and RGIII play are very similar, but RGIII is constantly getting murdered.  The 49ers have taught Kaepernick to take care of his body.  This will go a long way for the future of this franchise.

Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos

Worst. Coverage. Ever.

Worst. Coverage. Ever.

Tons of people are high on the Ravens after this game.  Maybe it’s my inner Peyton Manning fan, but it seems that the Broncos lost this game, more than the Ravens won it.  I hate to use weather as an excuse, but Peyton just did not look like the same guy that we’ve watched for weeks now.  In undoubtedly the coldest game of their season (I was cold just watching), Manning just never looked comfortable.  He took a bunch of hits from this brutal Ravens defense, and it looked like the combination of the weather and these hits got to him.  On the NFL Network Shannon Sharpe said that with injuries like Peyton’s, it’s incredibly hard to get loose in these conditions, and on some of his passes, it showed.  We also did not see him make any throws on posts or fly routes.  Not one.  That’s exactly the type of pass Manning thrives on.

While Flacco played a great game, and I respect his deep ball (the throw to Jacoby Jones on the late TD was an absolute bomb), Rahim Moore has earned a timeout or a dunce cap for his late “heroics”.  After trying to undercut the Flacco pass by backpedalling and jumping to try to bat the ball down, he ended up looking like a bad centerfielder.  He did the one thing they could not allow.  He let someone behind him.  I don’t like to blame losses on one play, but this was about as bad of a play in a critical moment as I’ve ever seen.

Patriots Patter: AFC Divisional Playoffs

Houston, we do not have a problem…..over and out.

Shane Vereen picked a fine time to show his stuff. In addition to the three TD’s, he did a good job on blitz pickups. After your rookie campaign, who would have thunk he had this in him. Certainly not I.

Kudos as well to backfield partner Stevan Ridley, for getting lots of tough yardage. The third partner, Daniel Woodhead, ESQ might be done for the year.

It’s obviously not a good thing that Rob Gronkowski is out for the playoffs, but it is a good thing that the Pats know how to win without him.

Welker, Welker, Welker. How does this shrimp play so big?

J.J. who? Offensive line had another good game. Next week you got to contend with Tyrell Suggs, and a very tough defensive unit.

Speaking of the Ravens, I sure hope they used up their luck this week getting by the Broncos. Was that really Champ Bailey suited up for Denver?

Rob Ninkovich, you continue to amaze us. You figure out a way to make your presence felt.

Scott O’Brien, Patriots special team coach, you have approximately 168 hours to figure out what happened to the kickoff coverage this week. They looked like a unit from the Rod Rust era.

Next Sunday’s start is at 6:30. Pats by 3, call Bookie Bloom.

Celebrating the impending win…Patriots take this one 41-28.

Divisional Playoff Weekend Preview: Pats and Broncos Walk, NFC Up For Grabs

This is the best weekend of football.  Not only are we down to eight teams, but we also still have four games, as opposed to next week’s two.  It’s quantity, it’s quality, and it’s awesome.  The NFC games are so close I’m having a hard time picking a winner.  The AFC games on the other hand, seem like no brainers.  Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each underdog team.

AFC

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots

Texans Keys to Victory:

Can Schaub make a few big plays downfield?

Can Schaub make a few big plays downfield?

This Texans team limped out of their first round game against an above-average Bengals team.  By limped, I mean Andy Dalton connects on just one of those two long passes to A.J. Green (both of which he over threw), and 20 points is probably enough to win this ballgame.  The Texans have no downfield passing game, which really limits their ability to win, because if there is one thing the Pats have been susceptible to, it’s the big play downfield.  If they could somehow get Andre Johnson to go deep (maybe once a quarter), this could be a great chance to break the Pats over the top.

As good as the Texans’ running game is (or was before they decided to stop being the Week 1-11 Texans), the Patriots defense is as good at stopping it.  But this will be essential to executing a winning game plan.  The teams that have historically beaten the Patriots have been able to control the clock, make a few big plays, keep pressure on Brady, and run the ball with consistency.  If the Texans can do these things, they’ll keep it closer than predicted.

Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos 

Ravens Keys to Victory:

Michael Oher, Mr. Blind side, has moved to Right Tackle, a much better place for him to protect Flacco.

Michael Oher, Mr. Blind Side, has moved to Right Tackle, a much better place for him to protect Flacco.

Finding a flaw in this Broncos line up is like finding New York Giants bar in Southie.  If it is even possible, it’s probably disguised or in a backroom where there is a password to get in.  The first time these two teams met was Week 15, and it was not even close.  The Broncos absolutely destroyed the Ravens and let two garbage touchdowns in to make the score seem somewhat passable.  I’m pretty sure my coverage got changed to a different game in the third quarter.

If there was a silver lining from that game, it was that Dennis Pitta (Ravens, TE) caught two late touchdowns.  There’s no doubt that the defense was slacking off a bit down the stretch, but the Broncos have statistically struggled against tight ends.  An aging Keith Brooking cannot keep up with these speedy TE’s and this is where there may be a chink in the armor.

The Ravens are going to have to do what most teams who win on the road in the playoffs do: make a few big plays, force some key turnovers, and don’t turn the ball over themselves.  That means you, Ray Rice…

NFC

Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

Sherman and Browner make a formidable tag team of defensive backs.

Sherman and Browner make a formidable tag team of defensive backs.

Seahawks Keys to Victory:

This one’s kind of cheap in my eyes, because if there is a lower seed that’s most likely to win their game, it’s the Seahawks.  They played a great three quarters of football in Washington, and now have a road win under their belts.  This will go really far for Russell Wilson who clearly entered the Wild Card game with some jitters.  He settled down and really played a fine game.  The Falcons may have the best receiver combo in the league in Jones and White, but the Seahawks defensive backs have been smothering, and will have to continue to do so in this one.

The Atlanta defense statistically is one of the worst remaining in the playoffs.  They rank 23rd against the pass and 21st against the run.  Marshawn Lynch will be feasting on this defense, while Russell Wilson makes some big plays.  I’m not sure Atlanta will survive this storm.

Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers

Packers Keys to Victory:

This game has been the most debated match up of the week, and for good reason.  I think I’ve flopped on my pick a few times, and still haven’t settled on it.  There are two main factors in a Packer win.  Firstly, Colin Kaepernick has yet to start a playoff game.  It’s incredibly hard to tell how someone is going to react to a moment as big as this for the first time.  Russell Wilson looked shell-shocked at first in his game, if Colin reacts the same way, it could be too late for the 49ers.

Secondly, the 49ers defense will be playing with Justin Smith, who has been a monster at defensive tackle for this team all season.  This sounds like fantastic news but he has torn triceps, and just how effective he can be, will largely determine how this teams defensive front will play.  Aldon Smith, who was closing in on Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record, has not recorded a single sack since Justin Smith got hurt.  If this 49ers team cannot get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, it will be a very long day for their secondary.  With the full compliment of Packers receivers back in the game, who knows what damage they could do.

Wild Card Weekend Recap: Only One Rookie QB Remains

The first weekend of the 2013 NFL playoffs went as advertised.  After it was all said and done, there was plenty of action to report on.  Let’s dive right in.

Indianapolis Colts, 9 @ Baltimore Ravens, 24

If Luck takes a beating next year like he did this year, he'll be talking like Billy Bob in Varsity Blues at the end of the season.

If Luck takes a beating next year like he did this year, he’ll be talking like Billy Bob in Varsity Blues at the end of the season.

Andrew Luck got absolutely crushed in this game.  I think he got hit 10 times, and that kind of game (on top of a regular season in which he took a consistent pounding) will wear a quarterback down.  It’s hard to stand in the pocket confidently with such pressure.  He handled it decently well, and his receivers did not have their best games.  Hell, even Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal from 40 yards.  Also, I think it goes unnoticed that without Bruce Arians (hospitalized for illness) this was not the same offense. Clyde Christensen (quarterback coach) took over the play calling and it showed.  He ran a critically conservative offense, running the ball way too much on first down, and failing to get this team to 3rd-and-short opportunities.  I think even Phil Simms said on the broadcast at one point that they needed to convert their 1st and 2nd down plays for 8-10 yards because 3rd and long against this defense is just bad news.  Arians would have been more aggressive calling plays.

For the Ravens, I’m not sure I thought I would ever say this about Joe Flacco in the playoffs, but he made some big plays.  Down the stretch he connected with Anquan Boldin on a few amazing pass plays that really made the difference.  To be a winning quarterback in the playoffs, you have to be able to make the big play.  Well, Flacco connected on just 12 passes, but they went for 282 yards.  That’s definitely in the big play range.  Ray Rice coughed up the ball twice, which was uncharacteristic, but it ended up not killing them.  Out of all the AFC Wild Card teams, Baltimore is by far the most dangerous going forward.

Seattle Seahawks, 24 @ Washington Redskins, 14

Two words: Beast Mode.

Two words: Beast Mode.

As great as the first quarter was for Washington, the last 3 were horrendous. Washington’s offense had 129 yards on their first two drives, but finished the game with 203.  How much this is due to RGIII’s knee injury is up for debate.  The Redskins receivers couldn’t get open down the field even when RGIII stayed in the pocket to pass.  The running game was not the same, and the Skins threw out all the designed QB runs after seeing what kind of shape RGIII was in.  This probably made Alfred Morris’ life a little harder.

You have to hand it to Seattle though.  Down 14-0 on the road, the FedEx Field crowd roaring, Russell Wilson hadn’t gotten comfortable yet, and they put together a drive to just get a field goal on the board.  This seemed to have settled Wilson down, and they went on to control the rest of the game.  Wilson played about as well as you could ask for (other than the early rookie playoff jitters), the defense really buckled down and held Washington scoreless in the last three quarters, and Marshawn Lynch was… well, Marshawn Lynch.  If there is one blemish on this Seattle performance, it’s the loss of Chris Clemons, their leading pass rusher.  He tore his ACL and MCL in this one, and his ability to attack quarterbacks will surely be missed.

Cincinnati Bengals, 13 @ Houston Texans, 19

Of any team who has to be most upset about their performance, and feel like they had a chance to win the game, it’s Cincinnati.  Andy Dalton overthrew A.J. Green twice on deep balls, and that seemingly would have made the difference in this game.  Dalton just did not play the way he needed to in order to advance.  This was not the game that made Houston fans say “oh my god the team we had from Week 1 to Week 11 is back,” it’s just not.  Matt Schaub looked really uneasy at best, throwing one pick-six.  His receivers don’t really help him, and Andre Johnson can’t do it all by himself.  The Patriots have to be absolutely thrilled with how this game played out.

Minnesota Vikings, 10 @ Green Bay Packers, 24

Christian Ponder was out on Saturday night, so Joe Webb got the start.  I’m not sure it mattered much who was playing quarterback for the

Mr. Discount Double-Check in action.

Mr. Discount Double-Check in action.

Vikings on Saturday night, because the Packers finally decided that they we’re going to contain (don’t mistake this for shutdown, because he still ran for 99 yards) Adrian Peterson.  After they did that, the Vikings were really stuck.  If I think Houston’s receivers are bad, Minnesota’s are awful.  Without Percy Harvin, their best option was a 30-year old Michael Jenkins, followed by that guy who flipped into the end-zone for Cincinnati last year, Jerome Simpson (do not confuse this with the AT&T “Hello!” commercial).  I’m pretty sure Simpson got a contract for that play alone.  Even Shane Falco would have a hard time with this group.

DeJuan Harris added a new and surprising pop to this Green Bay rushing attack.  This was the weak spot for this team all year, but I’m not sure it is anymore.  He has good cutting ability, can make some defenders miss, and also isn’t afraid to lower his pad level and take defenders on.  On top of adding a bit of a ground game, the Pack seem to have their full compliment of receivers back at the right time, something they haven’t had most of this season.  This was far from a true test for the Packers.  Next week, San Francisco will provide just that.

The Night of All Things That Are Good

“You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all the world’s problems at once, but don’t ever underestimate the importance [Spogo] can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

                  – Michelle Obama

Just a last reminder to our friends and fans in the Boston area.  Tonight we’ll be kicking off the NFL Playoffs in proper fashion with a big party at Game On! on 82 Lansdowne Street (right by Fenway Park) in Boston.  We have the lower level reserved all night, so come any time and LiVe A LiTtLe!!!

There will be some T-Shirt giveaways, enter-to-win contests and, for those of you who have enough Spogo points, be sure to use them on some great free apps.  Looking forward to seeing everyone there.

Spogo's Boston Bash

Wild Card Preview: Rookie QB Showdown Headlines Weekend

The time has come.  No more excuses, no more “we’ll-get-‘em-next-week”, it’s win or go home.  This week has provided some great games in the past.  We all remember the Music City Miracle in 2000 when Frank Wycheck threw the ball across the field to Kevin Dyson, who ran 75 yards for the touchdown in the final seconds.  That play probably isn’t allowed to be discussed or aired in the greater Buffalo area due to the rioting that would ensue.  In fact, I think the penalty for such a transgression is jail time.  This week has definitely provided some games that could end in similar fashion, let’s see which match up has the most potential to send a city into a car-flipping tizzy.

Saturday, January 6, 2013

Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans – 4:30 PM EST

Last year the Texans held A.J. Green in check, will they do the same this year?

Last year the Texans held A.J. Green in check, will they do the same this year?

Somehow, the Texans have found a way to fall into the Wild Card round, after losing three of their last four.  These teams will meet for the second time in as many years.  Last year, back-up T.J. Yates ended up leading the Texans to a win.  This year, the Texans are stumbling in and seem positioned for an upset.  Houston’s defense hasn’t held an opposing offense to under 23 points since Week 10.  Even the offense has been stagnant.  Matt Schaub started the season with 21 TD passes and 9 interceptions over their first 12 games (11-1), since then, he’s thrown 1 TD and 3 interceptions over their 1-3 stretch.  If the Bengals can get A.J. Green going, and open up the run for Mr. Law Firm, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, they’ll be in business.  This game is all about which Houston team decides to show up.

Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers – 8:00 PM EST

It’s not every year that two teams meet in Week 17, and then meet again in the Wild Card round.  Normally I would be opposed to watching two teams play again, but this one has drama all over it.  Adrian Peterson nearly broke the single-season rushing record while leading the Vikes in a win over the Packers in Minnesota.  This afforded the Vikings a playoff birth, and now they meet again in Green Bay.  This will be the third meeting of these two teams, and so far, the home team has one each game.  In fact, home field has been a huge determinant in this match up over the years, with the Packers winning five of the last six games at Lambeau Field.  Minnesota will have to rely on AP heavily again to have a shot, but funny enough, Minnesota is 0-3 in Green Bay when AP breaks 100 yards.  They’ll have to hope these stats don’t hold up, because for them to have a shot they’ll need him to have a monstrous game.

Sunday, January 7, 2013

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens – 1:00 PM EST

The league will miss this guys passion for the game.

The league will miss this guys passion for the game.

This game has so much potential.  It could be Ray Lewis’s last game, as he has announced his intention to retire at season’s end.  It could be a Cinderella story continued if Pagano’s Colts could win a game here.  Chuck, now back on the sideline, could not have picked a better time to come back.  He spent the past four seasons on the Ravens sideline as defensive backs coach then defensive coordinator trying to confuse opposing offenses with Ray Lewis before bolting for Indy.  If anyone knows this defense, it’s Pagano.  Andrew Luck has been asked to throw the ball a ton for this Colts team, and has had his share of up’s and downs.  He comes into this week having thrown 5 TD passes with 0 interceptions in their last three games.  The Ravens have been battling injuries all season, but they feel that this is the best shape they’ve been in.  For the first time this season they expect to have Terrell Suggs, Bernard Pollard, and Ray Lewis all on the field together.  Maybe that will be enough to bring the bite back to this historically amazing defense.

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Redskins – 4:30 PM EST

Russell or RG III? Both have shown they belong in this league.

Russell or RG III? Both have shown they belong in this league.

            Rookie quarterback vs. rookie quarterback, what else could be more exciting? They even have a similar game.  Both have made exceptionally good decisions passing the ball (RG III has 5 INTs, Wilson 10), and have made some waves with their legs when it mattered.  Offensively, these teams are quite similar.  Not just at QB, both teams have great running backs that have proven they can carry the load week after week.  It’s the defensive end where they differ.  The Seahawks secondary has been a bright spot for this fourth ranked defensive unit.  The Redskins on the other hand, have the third worst pass defense in the league.  We’ll have to see how much the home field advantage helps the Redskins in this one.  It may come down to which QB makes more mistakes

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