Sunday, January 14, 2018

Eagles - Falcons Takeaways: 53 Pick Up

As accurate as Nick Foles
We've officially entered the Obvious Bonus Round of this Eagles season, where every moment of joy and relief is way beyond anything you could have hoped for at the start of things. Which makes quibbling and having a memory and sense of realism completely unwelcome, but I am what I am. (And I am a guy that run 10 miles on a gym treadmill with closed captions during all of this, in a region where no one gave a damn about the game. The sacrifices I make for this team, which can seemingly only contend for championships when I am far, far away.) And with that... on to the takeaways!

10) K Jake Elliott's habit of missing PATs, then making monstrously important 50+ yarders, is downright freakish. It also is a little worrisome and speaks to a need for coaching, but for now, the whole makes up for the flaw. (Fix the flaw already.)

9) LB Nigel Bradham seemed like a knucklehead last year with off the field distraction stuff and middling play. When people talk about Coach of the Year accolades for HC Doug Pederson, it's the improvement in guys like Bradham, more than the Xs and Os. (And yes, the best player on the field last night was DT Fletcher Cox, but saying Fletcher Cox is good is too obvious by triplicate.)

8) Pederson's seeming willingness to go for it on 4th and 2 while up 12-10 in the fourth was, well, insane. Cooler heads prevailed and the figgie was kicked, but only after a timeout was wasted. This game really was a coin flip away from being blown, but Pederson is having a year for the ages on shaky decisions.

7) Special shoutout to Falcons OC Steve Sarkesian for taking a unit that returned intact from a Super Bowl run and making them punchless and ineffective. This, despite multiple good RBs, a deep WR core, a credible QB and a Pro Bowl C. Oh, and his game planning in this game was also highly impactful in the Eagles winning. Seriously, go look at what the Falcons were getting on outside runs, then ask yourself, um, why not just do more of that?

6) That's not to say that Falcons QB Matt Ryan doesn't have a hand to play in this. That crazed shuffle pass to deep reserve RB Terrion Ward during the Eagles goal line stand to win it was a pure gift, and his inability to convert on any number of third downs when nearing field goal position put his team in a hole all night. I get that conditions weren't dome field ideal, but when they write your legacy as an NFL player, not winning exceptionally winnable playoff games matters more than counting stats.

5) Turning to the Eagles, there will be a great rush to hope in the second half play of QB Nick Foles... which I'd like to put into a trace amount of perspective. The team scored six points after the half. Foles didn't throw a TD pass. He should have been picked, easily, in the deflection ball that turned the tide of the game by getting the club in position for a long field goal before the half. He missed TE Trey Burton on what would have been a massive play in the first. He spent most of the first half looking like, well, a terrible QB, squandering opportunities from bailout defensive flags.

He, well, sucks. He sucked less in the second half, against a defense that sold out to stop the run and brought no pressure. If you think he's going to suck less against an actually good defense next week, you are living with hope that just isn't supported by facts or the eye test. But you do you.

4) Kudos to WR Alshon Jeffery, who did what he could with what was there and was huge in the win tonight. I don't know if he ever puts up monster numbers in this system, because this system spreads the ball and he's older and more brittle than you'd like, but in terms of impact per play, he's everything you could hope for.

3) Let's not diminish what the defense did tonight. The Falcon TD was aided by a short field and terrible officiating. They pretty much played perfect defense on the downs that mattered the most. They kept the Falcons not from moving the ball, but scoring points. And they did it while not getting very much in the way of turnovers and sacks. It's crazy that they won this game, but they won it.

2) Similarly, the offensive line was balls nasty all night. Trucking multiple DBs on screens and gash plays used to be just a Jason Peters thing, but now it looks like everyone is doing it. They avoided crippling holding and false starts, especially important when you are wet nursing a QB with little ability to improvise or convert long third downs. It's less crazy that they won this game, but they won it.

1) The team will be home, and an underdog again, for the winner of Saints-Vikings. I'm hoping for the Vikings for the simple reason that Case Keenum hasn't won a Super Bowl and Drew Brees has, but Keenum is more mobile, and the Viking defense might be the best in the game.

But all of that doesn't matter as much as this: the Eagles won as a full team tonight. With a liability at QB, they overcame adversity, sold out for each other, got past unforced errors (multiple fumbles, missed extra point) and several deficits, and gave us all a memory and hope. They've made it to the final four. Do that twice more, and one of the most improbable championships in NFL history, and the end to something that most of us have been waiting our entire lives to experience will end. Stranger things have happened, right?

Friday, January 12, 2018

NFL Playoff Picks: Mama Didn't Raise No Foles

Or quarterbacks
ATLANTA (-3) at Philly

There are many reasons to pick either team here, which is why you wind up with such a tight line. Atlanta has playoff experience, a vastly improved defense, game breakers at RB and WR, and a QB who's won these kinds of games before. Philly has home field, the bye week of rest, a running game that could control things and take the pressure off QB2 Nick Foles, and a rampant amount of motivation for a defense that's been great for most of the year. I fully expect the Eagles to come out of the locker room flying, to take an early lead behind RB Jay Ajayi and a healthy offensive line, and to look great for about a quarter, maybe a quarter and a half.

Then, Foles will be Foles; he'll fail in the red zone, turn it over, take a sack because he's trying to do too much and has the mobility of a spry 50-year-old, etc. A Falcon skill player will make a play. Dread will infect the place. The home field won't be such a benefit. And it's white-knuckle time until the close, with the team that's got a margin for error pulling away.

The problem is that QBs win playoff games, and they really win close ones. Atlanta's QB isn't legendary, but he's good enough, despite his historical record of not doing well in the Linc. Philly doesn't have a QB that you'd trust to run a lunch truck, and yes, I'd be picking my laundry with Colin Kaepernick. (Just as I might be picking Jacksonville with him. So glad the NFL decided that Ideological Purity was more important than winning games.)

I really hope I'm wrong, and I easily could be, but this year ended when QB and MVP Carson Wentz limped off in Los Angeles. The Eagles don't know it yet, but they will.

(Deeper analysis? Atlanta's got a better kicking game and special teams, too. Which also isn't cheery when it comes to a playoff game. Also, Eagle WRs drop too many passes, especially when the passes aren't particularly accurate, because the QB isn't a QB. Let's just move on.)

Falcons 24, Eagles 20

Tennessee at NEW ENGLAND (-13.5)

If there's a bigger collective moment of America motivating themselves to kick a football before the Patriot Lucys pull it away, I've never seen it. Yes, whatever, Mssrs. Kraft, Brady and Belichick can all get butthurt over Who Is The Most Genius, and New England will rue the day when it allowed an aging athlete to dupe them into a fire sale of his competent backup.

But that day isn't today.

Belichick isn't going anywhere at his age and comfort level, and the Titans got a massive number of breaks to be here. The road team can run the ball a bit, and maybe QB Marcus Mariota has a good game because no one really expects him to win, but in the end, New England's going to score a lot and Tennessee isn't. And then every New England fan will try to make you regret living on this Earth, because that is their superpower. And probably will be for another 1-3 years. Let's just move on.

Patriots 38, Titans 20

Jacksonville at PITTSBURGH (-7)

I love "The Good Place" on NBC so much that I kind of want Jacksonville to continue its improbable run, just so the best doofus on television (Jason Mendoza, a Blake Bortles fan) can have things to say about it. But QBs who run better than they throw don't win big games in college, let alone the NFL, and they really don't win on the road. Pittsburgh won't look good enough to make people think they should be favored in the most inevitable conference championship game in our lifetime, but they'll still cover this spread with ease. Just hope they can get through the game with all of their skill players intact, because there's really no more Patriotic way to win their win into another Super Bowl than to take advantage of injuries. Let's just... yeah, it's a running gag. (So is clinical depression!)

Steelers 26, Jaguars 13

New Orleans at MINNESOTA (-5)

A similar game to Atlanta/Philadelphia, but with everything just a little bit better for the home team. The dome makes the home field noise a little louder. The QB2 is a little (OK, a lot) better. The defense, especially the secondary, is more airtight. And it will all add up to a win, albeit not a very comfortable one, especially because the Saint running game doesn't look like it can take enough of the weight off, especially on the road. Five years ago, QB Drew Brees would win this game for the Saints. Now... not seeing it. But it really wouldn't shock me to lose this one on the spread.

Moving on!

Vikings 27, Saints 20

Last week: 2-2

Season: 128-122-7

Career: 1010-1009-43

Friday, January 5, 2018

NFL Picks: Wildcard Weekend, Because Pretending Is Fun

It's The Only Way To Delude
This week, with actual explanations! What can I tell you, I've actually got a human amount of free time right now, mostly because I'm 3,000 miles away from my car and second job. Fewer games mean more words. That's a win for everyone. (Or, well, not.)

Anyway, this weekend is usually a mix of boredom and delusion that makes you wonder why you watch... but then one out of four games is worthwhile, and when it's more than that, it's just an absolute gift. Besides, you also usually get a big terrible blowout or two that sucks on money for road teams in Round 2.

And with that... on to the picks!

* * * * *

Tennessee at KANSAS CITY (-8.5)

Sure, the Chiefs don't defend against the run all that well, and the Titans are good at that, especially with Actual RB2 DeMarco Murray on the shelf with an injury, and Actual RB1 Derrick Henry getting the majority of the carries. KC also spent several months derping away any chance of a first-round bye. But while HC Andy Reid has a long history of blowing home playoff games with superior talent, this game is just too much of a layup for him to gack. The Titans aren't good against the pass, haven't gotten enough from QB Marcus Mariota to threaten anyone in a road game, and are the living embodiment of one and done. Everyone will get fooled by the Chiefs into thinking they can win a road game next week after this one...

Chiefs 38, Titans 17

ATLANTA (+5.5) at LA Rams

Falcons QB Matt Ryan has a surprisingly good playoff history, and while the Rams can get after the QB with defensive line pressure, that's a hard thing to sustain for 60 minutes. On the other side of the ball, this will be the first playoff game for QB Jared Goff, who has been in a wildly comfortable position with RB Todd Gurley wrecking the world all year. I think he struggles for a while, the Falcons get a lead that takes some of the Gurley Show out of the flow, and this one comes down to the wire. Yup, this is the one game this weekend that I think the road team takes, with WR Julio Jones reminding everyone that he's got a claim to Best In The League status.

Falcons 24, Rams 23

Buffalo at JACKSONVILLE (-9)

Poor Buffalo. In the playoffs for the first time in decades, but without do-everything RB LeSean McCoy, and facing a very good defense on the road. Trusting QB Blake Bortles to cover a big number in his first playoff game isn't exactly a recipe for comfort, but I don't think he's going to have to get more than 20 to cover the number, and Jacksonville does have some weapons at the skill positions.

Jaguars 20, Bills 9

Carolina at NEW ORLEANS (-7)

You hear this a lot: that it's tough to beat the same team three times in a season. Without getting too into the weeds and running the numbers on that... um, why? If you beat a team twice in the same season, you are very likely to be, well, better than that team. You are also at home, with lots of confidence, and probably have matchup reasons as to why you won the first two games. Which brings us to this game, where the Saints' strong running game and breakout defense goes up against a sputtering offense and intermittent defense. Oh, and they'll do it in a deafening dome, with a Hall of Fame QB. Sure, there's a chance that Panther QB Cam Newton drags his team to a win, but his accuracy just isn't there, and the weapons are pretty ordinary. Because the only thing harder than beating the same team three times in a year... is winning a road game with lesser talent.

Saints 31, Panthers 30

Last week: 9-7

Season: 126-120-7

Career: 1008-1007-43

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