For The Season
(163-93) Straight Up - 63.6%
(145-106-5) Against The Spread - 57.7%
Atlanta (+5) at Philadelphia
In a world often beset with anomalies, one thing has been
certain for the past four years - the Philadelphia Eagles are plenty
good enough to reach the NFC Championship game. And despite the
many mysteries that plague NFL prognosticators on a weekly basis
during the regular season - and sometimes the first couple weeks
of the playoffs - a trend has developed over the past three years
that for me, with my vocal, self-pronounced loathing of anything
Philadelphian, has become a comfortable assurance of the city's
suffering. Losses. Pain. No Super-Bowl for you, Eagles.
Once again, just one team can prevent the City of Brotherly Love's
precious Eagles for reaching the big game - an event they haven't
enjoyed since the 1980 season. Unfortunately for the Eagles, who
have problems stopping the run, its a Falcons team that rushed for
327 yards on 40 carries (8.2 per) versus the Rams last week.
While the Falcons were sparked by a 47-yard run by Michael Vick
on the third play of the game and a 62-yard run from the diminutive
but effective Warrick Dunn, they beat the Rams off the ball all
game. Both Vick and Dunn finished with over 100 yards on the ground,
and the game was never in jeopardy.
If the Eagles are to overcome the misery of a fourth straight loss
in the NFC Championship Game, they'll have to subdue Vick and get
some interior pressure. The Falcons offensive line moved around
the St. Louis front four pretty easily, which needed much more than
Leonard Little's pursuit of Vick to control his wayward ramblings
of 10+ yards a pop, but the Eagles line is a little better.
Defensive tackle Corey Simon and defensive end Jevon Kearse will
need to get past their blockers and reach Vick early. Linebackers
Jeremiah Trotter (MLB) and Mark Simoneau (WLB) will need to reach
an effective balance in the defensive scheme of blitzing and run
coverage in order to thwart Vick.
Little spoke after Saturday's game about the problems defenses have
in facing the Falcons when Vick is in top form. "With Vick, it really
gets you back on your heels because you just down know if he's going
to run or throw," said Little. "They really had their thing going."
Although its not the same Falcons team that lost 20-6 to Philly
in decrepit Veterans Stadium two years ago in the playoffs, Vick
will still need to avoid turnovers and stay explosive throughout
the entire game. If anything, this Eagles defense is better than
the one Atlanta faced in 2002 and features an excellent secondary
made up of C Lito Sheppard, CB Sheldon Brown, SS Michael Lewis and
FS Brian Dawkins. But this Falcons defense is a heck of a lot better,
too. They are led by arguably the best defensive line in football,
including DE Patrick Kerney, DT Rod Coleman, DE Brady Smith and
DT Ed Jasper. LB Keith Brooking, LB Chris Draft and SS Bryan Scott
also had good years.
With no Terrell Owens until the Super Bowl, the QB Donovan McNabb
will have to hook up with WR Freddie Mitchell before the Atlanta
line gets to him, sparking the offense with an occasional scamper
and protecting the football in the open field. RB Brian Westbrook
is a solid option, but the Falcons will no doubt be keying on McNabb
and Westbrook and applying pressure from the outside to keep them
contained. If there is was defense designed to stop the Eagles without
Owens, it would be this Falcons squad, which relies heavily on its
pass rush and containing quarterbacks and receivers out of the backfield
with good tacklers in its capable secondary.
Final Score: Falcons 23, Eagles
New England (-3) at Pittsburgh
Well things got back to normal during the divisional round
it was kind of a slap back to reality. It is no coincidence that
all four teams that are left are among the best defensively in the
league. However I would have preferred to see more offense in the
final four. But hey it will be two great games as it is.
The top four seeds all advanced but not without a little drama for
one of those four teams. That team would be the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers avoided what would have been one of the biggest upsets
that I can remember in some time. The Steelers didn't win this one
Doug Brien lost it. What a choke that was. They 42 yarder at the
end of regulation was not even close. It was wide left about 10
yards. Those are things that will get you fired. In any event the
Steelers best season since 1970 lives on.
The Steelers have some warts to figure out come Sunday. Big Ben
was not very good last week as he had two almost very costly interceptions.
One of those was taken the distance by the Jets and the other should
have sealed their fate late in the fourth. He is going to have to
take care of the ball better than that against Big Bill on Sunday
or you can go ahead and make arrangements to Jacksonville if you
are a Patriots fan. The Patriots are no Jets, Steeler fans. If you
watched last weekend they absolutely erased one of the best seasons
by a QB in NFL history. They never smelled the end zone. But give
the Steelers some credit. The marched right down the Jets throats
and won that game in OT. It wasn't pretty but it was a victory.
The Steelers are 1-3 in Championship Games under Cowher. That lost
the three all at home and each time they were heavy favorites. Turnovers
will play a key role here. Bettis is usually sure handed but his
fumble was another turnover that almost gave the game away when
he fumbled inside the Jets 24 yard line. That Polamalu is a monster.
He is probably one of the best safeties in the game. The Steelers
know they can beat the Pats at home but the question is can the
Pats be beat in the playoffs. All of that regular season stuff goes
out the window on Sunday.
The Patriots played one of the best playoff games I have ever witnessed.
But I am coming used to saying that when we talk about the Pats
in the playoffs. Hey I am the first to say that I agreed with Antonio
and his prediction. I too thought this was Manning's year and Vanderjagt
was right that the Pats were ripe for the pickings. With, again,
their two best cover corners out with injuries they absolutely stifled
the league's best offense. The defense was the key here. The Patriots
defense played one of the best games ever and wanted it more than
the Colt's offense. Manning is now 0-7 in Foxboro and it is safe
to say that he may always be a bridesmaid and never a bride.
This will be the Pats third trip to big game in four years if they
win. I can assure you that Bruschi, McGinest, and company will have
a well thought out game plan to stop the Steelers offense. They
know that the Steelers are really one-dimensional right now and
will concentrate of stopping the running game. Making Big Ben make
the throws necessary to win and hope he makes similar mistakes as
he did on Sunday. Is he ready for primetime? This writer doesn't
think so. This defense held E. James to 39 yards rushing and you
didn't hear his name in the fourth quarter. Bettis is a good running
back but he is no James. Also I would venture to say that the Colts
O-Line is just as good as Pittsburgh if not better. See a theme
Brady did not have a big game last weekend but that was not the
game plan. The game plan was ball control and they worked it perfectly.
Dillon rushed for 144 yards and Kevin Faulk added another 56 yards
to the tally. The defense forced two fumbles and an interception.
One of those fumbles was basically a drag down takeaway from Bruschi
on Rhodes. He had both fumble recoveries by the way. They will come
in with added motivation to win this one as they did get manhandled
in the first meeting. Here is saying that Big Bill will have a perfect
game plan for this one too.
Final Score: Pats 24, Steelers