NFL: Divisional Playoffs 2009

Second Guessing the Second Season

by Rick Rockwell

Technically, all sports columns are second guessing. Thus the phrases: “Monday morning quarterback” or “armchair quarterback.”

So what is it when a columnist reconsiders?

Perhaps it is of little consideration. But when the first week of the Second Season starts at a .250 clip, it is time to reboot. Now, that the Super Bowl prediction is dashed (who saw the Chargers coming on so hard in an overtime upset over the Colts?) why not completely dismantle the idea that the World Champion New York Giants will get to defend their title in the Super Bowl?

My Hero Team, the Philadelphia Eagles has made me reconsider.

Truth be told, this author has not been so loyal to the Hero Team. Sure, at the beginning of the season what was clear was the talent and coaching were there for a playoff run. But by mid-season it was obvious there were two Eagles teams. There was the inconsistent underperforming bunch, which let Jim Zorn and his D.C. crew sneak in a late season victory and then there was the team that fell apart when playing the Baltimore Ravens. (Which was the cause of the brief and appropriate benching of quarterback Donovan McNabb.) Then there’s the squad that walloped the Dallas Cowboys and ended that team’s playoff dreams with a knockout blow. That was the team that showed up in Minneapolis last weekend. That was the team that dominated the Minnesota Vikings in the second half. That was the team that bottled up league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson in the second half and dared quarterback Travaris Jackson to beat them.

However, this author did pick the Eagles to win 12 games this year, and the team did not meet that mark. No wonder there’s been a little less loyalty the past few weeks. Sure, perhaps we should be like Norman Chad who made the Arizona Cardinals his Team of Destiny five years running. Now that the Cardinals finally made the playoffs, Chad (king of poker announcers that he is) went all in and said the Cardinals would win the Super Bowl. (The Cardinals certainly surprised the Atlanta Falcons and this author too in the first week of the playoffs.) Chad is only half-serious with such predictions, which is what makes him so funny: his loyalty is pure like any fan of the team. Those are the differences. This author isn’t even a tenth as funny as Chad and the loyalties are seasonal. Next year there will be a different Hero Team at least until the Miami Dolphins get rid of their owner. But that’s a different story.

So this week, the Hero Team having proven its mettle again, it’s time to go all in with them. Here’s the reasoning behind the idea the Eagles can drop the Giants out of the end-of-the-season tournament.

First, the Eagles have the best defense in the National Football Conference (NFC). Yes, the Giants’ defense is ranked just behind, so expect a low-scoring affair this weekend. The Eagles employ both passing and rushing blitzes. They could not stop Peterson last weekend, but they contained him. He did not have a 100-yard game, which is the benchmark of excellence for a running back. The Eagles will need all they have because the Giants have the best rushing attack in the league, led by running back Brandon Jacobs.

Will McNabb outduel Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning? This is tough to predict. Both quarterbacks have exactly the same rating for the season. Both are solid quarterbacks. Not spectacular, but solid. McNabb turned over the football last week against the Vikings, but he limited his mistakes. Again, the Eagles’ defense will likely have a slight edge here, providing pressure and sacking Manning a time or two more than the Giants get to McNabb.

The player who is the intangible: Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. His long run with a screen pass last week was the play that sealed the Eagles’ victory. Even if the Giants contain Westbrook for most of the game, like last week, on one big play he could send the world champions packing. Westbrook and the Eagles’ defense are enough to give Philly a slight edge for this upset.

How’s that for a sports column mea culpa? It just shows if you have a Hero Team, stay loyal.

Divisional Playoffs Office Pool Predictions

Game of the Week/Upset Special: Eagles at Giants (Eagles)

Cardinals at Panthers (Panthers)
Ravens at Titans (Titans)
Chargers at Steelers (Steelers)

Last Week: .250
2008 Season: .614

Playoff Explanation:

For those who asked, wild card playoff teams are determined by picking two teams in each conference which have the highest winning percentage but did not win their specific divisions. The Baltimore Ravens in the American Football Conference (AFC) and the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC are the two wild card teams that survived the first weekend of the playoffs.

Playoff TV Schedule:

  • Ravens at Titans, Saturday, Jan. 10 at 4:30 p.m. EST (CBS)
  • Cardinals at Panthers, Saturday, Jan. 10 at 8:15 p.m. EST (FOX)
  • Eagles at Giants, Sunday, Jan. 11 at 1 p.m. EST (FOX)
  • Chargers at Steelers, Sunday, Jan. 11 at 4:45 p.m. EST (CBS)

For other blogs calling NFL games, please see:
  • The D.C. Universe,
  • Gun Toting Liberal, and
  • The Liberal Journal.

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