Monday, January 22, 2018

Top 10 Eagles - Vikings Takeaways: The Big Lii

The Big Lii
10) Unlike last week's game, the turning play in this game-- the pick forced by pressure from DE Chris Long, and the remarkably patient return for touchdown by CB Patrick Robinson -- had less to do with luck, and more to do with the actions of the football team. Which makes it look more like the middle of the season, pre-Wentz injury, when the team was playing its best ball and was the clear top team in football.

9) Speaking of such things, I've never seen a team get contributions from so many players. You can rattle off a dozen names that made key contributions on big, game-changing plays, without even really trying very hard. Perhaps that's just what happens when you rip off 38 unanswered points in a blowout NFC championship game, but the depth of this roster just went to ridiculous last night.

8) You have to take these things with a grain of salt, but the team is also genuinely likable. Julie Ertz's reaction of bursting into tears in the middle of her US women's soccer team game, Malcolm Jenkins's activism, Chris Long dedicating his paychecks, and so on, and so on. People talk about the great job that GM Howie Roseman has done, but it goes beyond football. The atmosphere into the locker room is so good, it's rehabbed other guys who were problems elsewhere.

7) Like everyone else in the fan base, I'm thrilled to see the Patriots as the favorites in two weeks. Despite struggling to put away the Jaguars, despite having their best offensive weapon concussed, because Patriots. And like everyone else in the fan base, losing again to those people and their fans would be cruelty writ large.

6) Philly Fan got their full on troll going with a mock "Skol" for "Foles" chant, because of course they would. There was also the famous "Cops are greasing light poles" and the cops warned businesses in Northeast Philly that they couldn't protect their property. We care too much about sports, but we are who we are. (And if you think that the Super Bowl will be an even crowd, and that Eagle Fan won't travel more and harder than Patriot Fan, you are on something that's pharmaceutical grade. The crowd in Jacksonville a dozen years ago was also 70/30 Philly, and that was a stupid number of Patriot SBs ago. Pent-up demand for the win.)

5) People are going to talk about the dominance of this defense, and seven points is all that and a bag of chips, but. Dominant defenses prevent yards as well as points. What the Eagles have been for the last two weeks is absolutely lights out on the plays that they absolutely had to have, the third and fourth downs in the red zone. Historically, that would be unsettling, because it doesn't give them a lot of margin for error... but in this era of the NFL, that's more or less how it manifests. When you have to have a stop and you get it.

4) Nearly as shocking as the outcome was the officiating -- clean, nearly invisible outside of ruling WR Adam Thielen's fourth down attempt in the end zone as a catch before the overrule, and failing to delay the avalanche. Contrast that to the 10-to-1 flag aid that the Patriots got in overcoming the Jaguars, and, well, yeah. The game ran as quick and as true as the play on the field, and it's a little bit sad that this is now the exception, rather than the rule.

3) As for the Vikings, not to take anything away from the Eagles, but they played a flat out terrible
game. Couldn't protect the QB on downs that mattered, couldn't generate effective pressure on third downs, abandoned the running game too early, tried nothing on special teams when the tide was going against them, ran nothing on offense that didn't seem predictable. People are going to throw Case Keenum under the bus for this one, and have doubts about the defense for not showing up when it mattered, all while talking about how they can be back next year... but when you lay an egg as big as this one, it shakes the confidence in the coaching, too. If Green Bay has healthy Aaron Rodgers for all of 2018, and their QB dance doesn't go well, what looked like a team on the rise could easily slide back down. After yesterday's game, you'd almost have to expect that to happen.

2) Finally, Foles. This was the first game he's played this year that he definitively passed the eye test, along with having numbers. The Giants game was good, but that team was a train wreck on defense. Minnesota was, up until the middle of the third quarter of the Saints game, one of the best defense in the past ten years. He carved them. He had help all over the place, but he also made plays -- the touchdown to Jeffery where he had to move in the pocket, didn't take a checkdown or a throwaway, and hit his man in stride for the definitive killshot. The Eagles were 10 for 14 on third down, and he's got a 100 passer rating in his three career playoff games. I don't know if he's going to parlay this into a starting job somewhere else eventually, but, um, damn. Dude played the game of his life at the best possible time for it.

1) Super Bowl Lie. Seems as good a time as any to actually win one. (And yes, NBC has to be thrilled that the top two seeds in the top remaining media markets won out and saved them from ratings death.)

Savor this, folks. And hope like hell that the run continues for just one more game...

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Eagles-Vikings Diary: Well, I Was Wrong, And I Am Happy

Yup, It's Back
> RB Latatvius Murray for 6 to start, not encouraging, but penetration sets up short third down

> First major play of the day is a draw to RB Jerrick McKinnon, who gets just enough to convert

> Vikings seem slightly out of sorts on first, but get it away to Murray on a screen, who beats S Malcolm Jenkins in the flat for another first down

> Murray pushes the pile for 4, then another first down on a clear throw to WR Adam Thielen; Vikings near FG position

> McKinnon beats CB Ronald Darby in the backfield for another first down, and the defense is on its heels

> McKinnon for 4 as LB Mychael Kendricks is the latest guy to miss a chance at a negative play

> Wide open TD to TE Kyle Rudolph, perfect ball by Keenum, and that's just about the worst possible start to the game, short of injury

> Vikings 7, Eagles 0 after 4:46

> Having the best part of the team get punched in the mouth to start the game, killing the crowd and any good feeling, not ideal

> RPO from QB Nick Foles is on target to WR Nelson Agholor to move the sticks; useful

> WR Torrey Smith gets open deep, but Foles is slightly underthrown, and Smith can't bring it in; opportunity missed

> WR Nelson Agholor on a swing for six yards, good tackling

> Third and four and avoid disaster start is Foles to TE Trey Burton, who can't get his feet down on a terrible unforced error by the TE3

> On the plus side, Foles didn't look bad during that series; on the negative, everyone else is stinking it up

> Unforced error on special teams adds 15 yards to the Vikings offense, as if they aren't comfy enough right now

> Incomplete and DT Fletcher Cox with a shoestring tackle; 3rd and 10 is a big damned deal

> WR Stefon Diggs gets the perfect out and converts on Darby, and the avalanche is getting bigger

> Murray for 2 as negative play potential is missed, but Cox closes

> Diggs drops and suffers a back injury from LB Najeh Goode's knee, setting up 3rd and 8 and another opportunity

> Without Diggs, Keenum is modified just enough by DE Chris Long; CB Patrick Robinson collects the pick and patiently goes 50 yards for a shocking touchdown

> K Jake Elliott converts the PAT, which he's trained us not to take for granted, and the game is tied again

> First TD given up by Minny on offense all year

> Murray for 4, incomplete screen off pressure with a QB hit, and 3rd and 6 with a possible three and out and keep Big Mo is here

> Diggs can't get loose in the flat, with Jenkins holding on for dear life, and that's a three and out that's absolutely essential

> P Ryan Quigley is fair caught by PR Kenyon Barner for 44 yards, and we're back to fill equilibrium, ten minutes in

> RB Jay Ajayi's first touch goes for 13 with startling quicks

> Ajayi gets seven as the line does another nice job on a running play, and he loses a shoe at the close

> Nice catch by WR Alshon Jeffery on a slant to move the sticks without drama

> In Vikings territory, end around to Agholor loses ground, because Minny's seen the Atlanta tape

> Foles to TE Brent Celek is a drop, setting up 3rd and 10 outside of figgie range

> Foles to TE Zach Ertz, who bounces off tacklers to get 11 and move the sticks -- massive play, good throw, good protection

> Foles on RPO to Ertz for 8, then RB LeGarrete Blount mashes just well enough to move the sticks

> Foles to Jeffery on play action, looks as comfortable as he ever gets, nice gain again and that's the end of the first quarter

> 2nd and 2 is a run blitz that keeps Ajayi from converting, but it's in sneak range, except that Foles isn't great at those

> From the gun, play action to Ertz to convert, and it's a significant sign that HC Doug Peterson is putting the key plays in the hands of Foles

> From the 11, Blount gets a nice hole, explodes through contact, and the home team has a lead

> Elliott converts, and it's Green 14, Purple 7

> Elliott's curling line drive kickoff gets to the end zone, so no foul, but something to note for later

> Murray for 1 as DE Vinny Curry gets on the board, then Diggs gets 7 on a slant

> Third and 2 and maybe get some cushion is Keenum missing against a Jenkins blitz, on a play that barely beat the play clock; Keenum looking slightly shaky

> Quigley gives Barner a chance, and he gets 10 yards and pain

> From the Green 30, Blount for 2, then Foles tries Agholor, covered, late, incomplete

> 3rd and 8 sees Foles pump, pull it down, and convert to Ertz for 15 on a play that he clearly doesn't make in the last month; huge

> Ajayi for 3, then an incomplete on pressure that was borderline disastrous

> 3rd and 7 outside field goal range sees Foles hold it too long and take a violent sack, and the QB was lucky to avoid a fumble there

> Jones to the 15 with a fair catch, and so much for margin

> McKinnon for 2 on a play that a better back could have gotten more out of, then Diggs gets 22 on a wide open blown coverage

> Keenum throws it away on a long play that seems like it could have had holding

> Toss to WR Jerrious Wright gets 4 as Kendricks recovers well

> 3rd and 6 with 7:30 left in the second quarter is another major opportunity, and it's Diggs on an 8 yard out that lacked zip or difficulty

> Keenum to Thielen moves the chains again, as the secondary has been too soft

> McKinnon for 3 to long figgie range, then gets another first down on a well-designed screen

> McKinnon for a yard to enter the red zone, then a few to the flat as Kendricks is the lone man on the scene

> Third and five inside the red zone is make or break, and the defense makes a monster play, with DE Derek Barnett with the strip, and DE Chris Long with the recovery

> Second massive play by the defense of the half, and the reason why they are ahead

> Odd screen to Ajayi gets two, then Blount for 2 to get it down to the two minute warning

> RB Chris Clement with a great violent spin and conversion on a pass to the flat -- huge play

> Smith gets 11 on a bubble screen that almost goes deep, then Foles throws deep to no one while looking too excited

> With 85 seconds left in the half at midfield, Foles holds it too long and throws it away, and clock management hasn't worked out well here

> 3rd and 10 with both teams having full timeouts is huge, and Foles is able to avoid pressure and unload to a shockingly open Jeffery for another shocking score

> 53 yards on 3rd and 10 is just about as iconic a play as you can make, so you be you, Nick Foles

> CB Terence Newman, 39 years old, not all that good right now; CB Xavier Rhoades was off with a foot issue

> Elliott connects, and it's 21-7, and more points than I'd think Green would score all day

> 2 for McKinnon, then 5, and with 58 seconds left, opportunity for the defense to really get ahead of the game

> Slant to Wright converts, with Keenum making a big play; first Purple timeout

> McKinnon for 4 in the flat, then Keenum misses an open Diggs

> 3rd and 6 with 44 seconds left is Keenum missing Rudolph due to heavy pressure, and the defense does the job again

> Quigley to the end zone as the gunners miss a chance

> with 29 seconds left, near lateral to Ajayi for 10; dangerous and silly with just 23 seconds left, but Pederson is just playing with house money right now

> Foles to a wide open Ertz down the sideline for 36, and I have no idea what S Harrison Smith was thinking there; massive chance to add to the lead

> Screen to Ajayi gets it inside the 20, and only the clock is stopping this offense right now

> Seriously, Wentz couldn't have played that half any better

> Elliott from 38 makes it, and it's 24-7 Green

> Starting the third with opportunities for serious comfort, it's Foles to Smith for 4, then again to move the sticks on RPO; QB still on point

> Ajayi pinballs for 3, then Foles hits Jeffery on a hot read off the blitz; the WR spins for the first down

> Foles slow to get up as the fan base gulps, but stays in and hands off to Ajayi, who gets five on a nice burst draw

> In Vikings territory, Blount loses to Newman, setting up 3rd and 6 and decide the game kind of play

> Full clock burn, then a screen to Smith, who extends just enough for the first down

> Flea flicker with a bomb to Smith, who fakes the corner and gets to the pylon in front of Smith

> Oh, by the way, Foles makes one of the best throws of his life, and that's as much of a killshot touchdown to start the second half as you could hope for

> 31 unanswered points for the home team

> Murray for zero as Fox changes to coaching hire news, because why talk about the game in front of them

> McKinnon for 13 to quiet down the party, then a draw for 9, and another for 2 to move the sticks

> Keenum to a wide open Wright for 33 into the red zone

> Keenum tries Thielen on the sideline, but out of bounds, then Keenum is able to avoid a sack

> 3rd and 10 in a situation and distance that makes me wonder if it's four down territory is McKinnon getting enough on a hot read to convert, so oh well

> From the 7, incomplete to Wright as Mills closes well on the slant

> Keenum misses Thielen in the back of the end zone, Darby super tight on the coverage

> Third and goal is Keenum missing Thielen in the flat badly, not that he'd likely have gotten in anyway

> Fourth and goal and put the game away is Thielen making what seemed to be an impossible juggling catch, but the replay is clearly an incomplete, and That Could Be That

> Fox analyst Mike Pereria likes that he didn't have to work very hard in this game, and we're all with him on that

> With 21:21 to burn, Fox goes to Celebrity Watching time

> Ajayi for 4, then 1, always falling forward as Pederson goes for Clock Burn

> 3rd and 5 and keep the defense fresh with more burn is Foles to Ertz on a rollout, simple throw, bad coverage, easy conversion

> Ertz now with 82 yards against a defense that kept TEs down all year

> Ajayi for 5, then 1, ball security is everything

> 3rd and 4 and keep everyone thinking Nick Foles Is God is an improv off a scramble to Agholor for a massive chunk, and we're to the point of High Comedy

> Ajayi loses as the offense nearly lost clock containment, then Foles hits Burton, who fights for a first down as Purple looks quittish

> Toss to Clement who motors for another first, and it gets five more on hands to the face from the defense

> From the 5, Ajayi stretches to the 2, and that's the end of the third

> Ajayi loses, and on third and goal, it's Foles to Jeffery for the score

> Elliott converts prior to a pointless fight, and it's 38-7 Green

> I think the Eagles are out of fireworks and touchdown celebrations

> Eagle Fan with world-class trolling by changing the Skol chant to Foles

> Kicking from the 50, Elliott puts it out of the end zone for funsies, but Philly gives back the 15 with some dumbassery

> Vikings HC Mike Zimmer fails to make our day complete by trotting out QB Sam Bradford for victory cigar time

> Diggs for 4, then Wright for 8, clock

> Keenum misses Rudolph, then barely avoids a pick on an overthrow as S Rodney McLeod is a step short; pressure is a major problem for this QB

> For the first time today, Keenum gets 8, setting up 4th and 2; Purple timeout as crowd is in full delirium

> Pressure, incomplete, Fletcher Cox, and the Eagle defense wins on the plays that matter one more time

> Ajayi for 4, Blount for 2 but a Celek hold back it up

> 2nd and 16, Ertz for 4 on that double fake screen that Pederson can't get away from

> 3rd and 12, safe screen to keep the clock running goes to Ertz to pad numbers, and we're 10 minutes from ending this

> Jones to the 9, and it's Dog Mask Time for video panning

> Thielen for 4, because checkdown QBs are kind of his thing, then McKinnon converts for his fantasy football playoff owners

> McKinnon for 7, then 5, and they are very good at running tempo between the 20s

> McKinnon gets 14 and the sideline, but the clock keeps rolling at this point in the game, and the road team is huddling

> Curry nearly catches Keenum on a throwaway, then Diggs sits after a yard so Philly Fan can hate on him

> Diggs for 14 as we're in the Fluff Howie Roseman portion of the program (sure, he deserves it)

> McKinnon for more and LB Nigel Bradham gets his hand on a facemask for bonus

> Wright can't bring in a high throw in the end zone and nearly winds in in the first row

> Interception by CB Corey Graham as he jumps the route on Thielen, and Minny couldn't have been worse in the red zone today

> Ajayi converts as Pederson goes into full Nobody Get Hurt mode

> Ajayi for 15 on a play where he's hit in the backfield and just does not give a damn; sheesh

> Clement converts on third down on an obvious running play, because Purple stopped caring about an hour ago

> All season highs for the Viking defense today, and since the third quarter of the Saints game, they just stopped being the same team

> QB Nate Sudfled on to take the kneels as Dance Party Philadelphia kicks in

> Fox tells us how proud Mike Zimmer should be of getting completely trucked

> Eagles-Patriots II in two weeks, and let's not think about it for a while

Thursday, January 18, 2018

NFL Conference Championship Picks: I Want To Be Wrong

Jacksonville at NEW ENGLAND (-7)

The case for Jacksonville: Elite defense that would have won last week's game by a lot more if only fourth and garbage time weirdness hadn't kicked in. Power running game is a common element in teams that win in New England in the playoffs. GM Tom Coughlin has beaten the Belichick Beast in big games before. Playing with the most house money you could imagine in a stage of this size. QB Blake Bortles can make plays with his legs. The special teams don't make the killer mistakes that turn games against the Patriots into routs. Secondary is the best in the NFL right now.

The case against:QB Blake Bortles can be comically inept, and even at best, erratic. None of these WRs would start for any of the other remaining teams. RB Leonard Fournette is banged up, which is about the worst thing he can be right now. Gave up a ton of points last week, and can lose focus, like any young team. Oh, and young teams die in Foxboro. Forever.

The case for New England: Having as easy a route to the Super Bowl as any team has, well, ever. Best coach, QB, blah blah blah. Don't beat themselves. Defense has been very good at preventing points, because of course they are. After a weak start to the season, have looked more than good enough to win. TE Rob Gronkowski remains the biggest matchup problem in the NFL. OL has been solid, especially in run blocking. At home, as rested as you can hope for, nearly as healthy as you can hope for.

The case against: So spoiled that home field is barely a thing now. If QB Tom Brady is limited, serious dent in the armor. Fell behind early against a middling Titans team, then got momentum going with the usual gut punch officiating call. Might not get the gut punch officiating call. Could be secretly mediocre and propped up by their cakewalk schedule. We usually only find that out around this stage of the season.

Prediction: Death, taxes, Patriots. Lather, rinse, repeat. Close early, Jags don't convert their chances, Patriots do, you feel stupid for watching. Please all die in a fire.

Patriots 31, Jaguars 16

MINNESOTA (-3) at Philadelphia

The case for Minnesota: Best defense in the game. Lockdown run defense. Exceptional corners. Well coached. Deep. Get pressure, don't beat themselves, excellent tacklers. You only score against them with short fields and/or exceptional execution early. Then they get a lead, and the momentum continues. As good a defense as Seattle during their heyday, and unlike Seattle, the offense keeps them rested. Offense is competent, with two very good WRs; WR2 Stefon Diggs could be a nightmare in this game. Playing with a sense of destiny after unreal escape last week. QB Case Keenum made a bunch of big plays, even before the final one, and mobile QBs have hurt the PHL defense this year (see Russell Wilson in SEA, and Alex Smith in KC).

The case against: Should have lost, and would have blown a big lead in doing so. Keenum also looked shaky late and will give you chances for turnovers. Running backs are just ordinary at this point (due to injury). TE Kyle Rudolph isn't special, and special teams are also ordinary. Coaching is untested at this level. Could have road issues in elements, since they play in a dome. For the superstitious, no home team has ever appeared in a Super Bowl, and the game is in Minny. A team that pulls off a once in a lifetime escape after blowing a big lead at home and on a bye doesn't seem like one you should bet on. I'd probably be taking the Falcons against them if Atlanta won last week.

The case for Philadelphia: At home, with the best defense they've had in a decade. Deep stable of running backs and very solid group of WRs and TEs. QB Nick Foles resembled an NFL QB in the second half of the Atlanta win. Best home field crowd this side of Seattle or Kansas City, and they will totally sell out for this team, given what they have had to overcome on injuries. Coaching staff has been freakishly blessed on fourth down aggressiveness. Special teams no longer amazing, but haven't hurt. Offensive line might be the best unit left in the playoffs, especially on plays when they can get downfield. Secondary recovers from mistakes. Linebackers tackle well, defensive line gets pressure, especially on running plays. As the only #1 seed to ever be the underdogs in two successive games, incredibly motivated.

The case against: Foles was terrible in the first half against Atlanta, and the Minnesota defense is a lot better than that. Turnover rate has crept up since QB Carson Wentz went down as guys try to do too much to overcome the loss. Foles has historically bad mobility and can't extend plays; he also can't be trusted in anything resembling improvisation. WRs have had some drop issues. DBs are susceptible to double moves. They don't always do well with officiating, and K Jake Elliott misses more PATs than anyone ever should. He also makes the long ones, but, um, still. That kind of thing is worrisome. Hanging on by the skin of your teeth to beat a 6 seed with a goal line stand, when you are coming off a bye and they are not, does not exactly scream out team you should bet on.

The prediction: If I were a younger man, filled with hope and love for a team that is coming together to rally past adversity, I'd bet that way.

I'm not.

Foles is the original sin, and with the Minnesota run defense the way it is, they need him to play his best to win. He won't.

Vikings 19, Eagles 13

Last week: 2-2

Season: 130-124-8

Career: 1012-1011-43

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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