AFC Wild Card: San Diego Chargers v Cincinnati Bengals

Welcome to day two of the National Football League playoffs for 2013. One of the items being thrown around by television pundits is “No one wants to play the San Diego Chargers.” It’s true that the Chargers have won 5 of their last 6, but so have the Cincinnati Bengals. In the 6 Cincy has won, one of those was a 17-10 victory over these exact same Chargers on their home turf just a month ago. The media is at it again…

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

What about the fact the Bengals were not only 8-0 at home but tied the National Football League record for scoring 40 points in four of those games?? Last performed by the 2000 St Louis Rams of The Greatest Show on Turf vintage. They averaged 34.4 points per game at home and are being treated like an after thought by the media. Everyone is pointing to Andy Dalton throwing 4 interceptions in the finale against Baltimore. Yet they still scored their average with a 34-17 rout ending the reign of the champion Ravens.

Now the Chargers show up on wild card weekend with the NFL’s 23rd ranked defense that has given up 30 on the road to Philly, 30 to Washington, 38 to Kansas City, and even 27 to the lowly Raiders. Do you realize the Chargers have only forced 6 turnovers in 8 road games this year?? Now they’re going out in the cold and will do it in the playoffs?? Isn’t this the team that barely beat the Chiefs playing with a second string group 27-24 in overtime just to get into the playoffs?? What juggernaut “no one wants to play team” are they talking about??

The National Football League's #3 defensefeatures Vontaze Burfict. Who is seriously considered  for TBT Defensive Player of the Year.

The National Football League’s #3 defensefeatures Vontaze Burfict. Who is seriously considered for TBT Defensive Player of the Year.

The Bengals will win this game 37-24 on the strength of a couple things. The first is they field the only top ten defense from the AFC that is in the 2013 playoffs. They rank 3rd… Another is the Bengals know the Chargers very well. Not only did they beat them in San Diego 17-10 this year, they beat them 20-13 last year on the road again. Now they get them at home where the Bengals really put up points?? That doesn’t bode well for today. Who and what were the teams ranked Cincy draped 40 on at home this year?? Try 49 on the 11th ranked New York Jets, 41 on the 9th ranked Cleveland Browns, 42 on the 20th ranked Indianapolis Colts, and 42 on the 31st ranked Minnesota Vikings. Last but not least these were totaled from week 8 on so this is very relevant.

Don’t listen to ESPN try to sell you a bag of goods on San Diego and not bring up the strength of the Bengals. They are peaking at the right time and are right where we predicted they would be:

Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have only known playoffs in their 3 seasons in The Queen City. Today should show the growth of the team with a win.

Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have only known playoffs in their 3 seasons in The Queen City. Today should show the growth of the team with a win.

The Chargers really would pull off a tremendous upset if they were to win today. The Chancellor of Football doesn’t see that at all, not in spirit, way the teams are playing, nor in stats. But that’s why they play the games as Chris Berman always reiterates. However the Bengals should win easily 37-24. We predicted they would be in New York for the Super Bowl. Step one is today…

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NFL Wild Card Week: New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles

Now as we move on to game two of the National Football League’s playoffs, where the New Orleans Saints travel outside to The City of Brotherly Love. The first thing that jumps out at you is how poorly they have played on the road this year (3-5) and how they haven’t won a road playoff game in their history. Every pundit is talking about the battle between Drew Brees and Nick Foles.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

The bigger issue is the Eagles field the NFL rushing champion in LeSean McCoy while Pierre Thomas is out for the Saints. Brees and the offense needs some balance in this game. They have passed the football 68% of the time on offense. That doesn’t win road games and especially doesn’t win playoff games. If Mark Ingram can step up the Saints have a chance to win this game.

However Sean Payton won’t want to stay with the running game long enough to keep the Eagle offense out of rhythm. Drew Brees will have to carry the load as he throws 50 times on a windy night. Now would be a good time for the defense to force Foles and McCoy into a few turnovers to steal momentum from the Eagles.

Problem is Nick Foles has played as well any quarterback in the NFL this season. All the Eagles have to do is stay balanced and they should win this game. Mark Ingram will have the chance to leave his imprint on this game, however he will have to show some toughness as he takes hits going into the second half. Especially in the cold. The Eagles defense should make him turn it over late and secure a solid win 30-17.

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AFC Wild Card: Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

Playoff time in the National Football League begins now and you can smell it. Listening to all the pundits talk about the team no one wants to play, they keep talking about the wrong team. The team no one wants to play isn’t the San Diego Chargers, it’s the Indianapolis Colts. They are the giant killers that toppled Denver from the ranks of the unbeaten, beat the Seahawks, bludgeoned the 49ers, and three weeks ago upended the Chiefs to keep them from winning the AFC West.

Lucas Oil Stadium with championship banners hanging.

Lucas Oil Stadium with championship banners hanging.

Keep in mind they are coming into this playoff match-up with a higher defensive ranking than the Chiefs. They have to contend with Jamaal Charles who represents 35% of the Chiefs offense. Today Andy Reid has to get Alex Smith to go downfield with DeWayne Bowe while the Colts are keying on Charles.

He led the Chiefs in rushing (1,227 yards) receptions (70) and the league in touchdowns with 19. Right now Reid’s offense is too one dimensional. Dexter McCluster could be a wild card here but we have to see some new wrinkles.

Today the Colts will win 30-21 as they are plus 5 in takeaways at home. Take out the aberration when they turned it over 5 times in a 38-8 loss to the Rams, that number jumps to plus 10.  In the last seven games, Kansas City has forced only 6 turnovers in 6 games and 7 versus the Raiders. The problem is they’ll be missing Tamba Hali although LB Justin Houston is back. The playoffs start with a win in Lucas Oil by the Colts.

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Super Bowl XLVII Preview:….And The Winner Is??

Super Bowl XLVII

Super Bowl XLVII

Three nights from now, the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens will try to get some sleep knowing their lives will be different by the end of Sunday night. The boy-hood dream of becoming a Super Bowl champion will be realized by one group where the other will be roped off as the trophy presentation begins.  What color will the confetti be as the league assembles the champion’s podium??

For the most part the sporting world wants to know why Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers is not nervous. Its relatively easy, he’s playing the same offense he did in college. Under normal circumstances a young quarterback is spending his time learning a new offense along with learning the pro game. This game will be decided by the read option and the execution of it. Can the Baltimore defense squeeze this play down and minimize it’s effectiveness??

As we told you in the Ray Lewis Super Bowl preview article….this is the key to this game: In the Ravens defense, when they see this play, Lewis needs to stay on Frank Gore and the outside guys in Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and Bernard Pollard have to be there to hit Kaepernick early to get his attention. Lewis out in space would definitely be a liability at this time. He, Haloti Ngata, and Terrence Cody have to take care of Frank Gore at the point of this play.

Dannell Ellerbe, Haloti Ngata, and Paul Kruger are as key as Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XLVII

Dannell Ellerbe, Haloti Ngata, and Paul Kruger are as key as Ray Lewis in Super Bowl XLVII

If the Ravens can prove to use the front 3 to eat up the blockers and limit Gore’s effectiveness on the read option, Lewis will be able to scrape from inside out if Ellerbe and Kruger can keep containment. This will have to be later in the game once the read option has been neutralized up front. This game may be won or lost on this premise. Lewis needs to flow from his Inside Linebacker position to the cut back point of this play with containment. If the 49ers can stretch the outside, Lewis will not be able to make it to that point to stop Kaepernick.

One wild card the 49er offense can play is RB LeMichael James, he lends a cutback ability and a bounce in or out of a running play that might be harder for Lewis to track. However will he be in enough plays to be that effective a decoy and make that much of an impact on this game. One of the 49er’s strengths is their offensive line. The movement they got on BJ Raji of the Packers in the divisional round was embarrassing. They moved him from left to right where RT Anthony Davis, and Guards Mike Iupati, and Alex Boone rooted him out of there playing too high. This group can move and they can block. If ever there was a game where Terrence “Mount” Cody needs to hold ground next to Haloti Ngata, this is it. Our CEO has often said Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL for his ability to take on double team blocks low, defeat them and make the tackle in the backfield, while keeping blockers off Ray Lewis. Even if he doesn’t make the tackle, occupies the double team allowing Lewis to make the tackle, he’s done his job. Anything more is extra. Understand that Ngata had 50 tackles and 5 sacks from the interior. That is down from 2011’s 64 tackle performance but still enough to make his presence felt this Sunday.

The best linebacker on the field for Super Bowl XLVII won't be Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. It's Navorro Bowman.

The best linebacker on the field for Super Bowl XLVII won’t be Patrick Willis or Ray Lewis. It’s Navorro Bowman.

The San Francisco 49ers front seven is as good as the Super Bowl has seen in the last ten years. Their linebackers are better than that Tampa unit that won Super Bowl XXXVII. Navorro Bowman just may be the best linebacker in the NFL although Patrick Willis gets most of the ink. If you’re not a Taylor Blitz Times regular it may come as a shock to you that Bowman has been  an All Pro now for back to back seasons even though he just made the Pro Bowl for the first time. Coaches and those that know like The Chancellor of football know this tackling machine can play the run (144 tackles) or the pass. It was Bowman that knocked down the 4th and 4 attempted pass to Roddy White at the end of the NFC Championship Game. He is going to be all over Ray Rice in this football game, whether its a flare pass or run. Willis will be there along with DT Justin Smith (64 tackles) to keep Raven rushing attempts to minimal gains. Watch for RB Bernard Pierce #30 to get a series or two as the lead back if Rice is ineffective early. The 49ers front seven is hard to crack.

Which brings us to the passing attack and the way that Super Bowl XLVII will be won. Coming into this game we have two front sevens playing heads up football but what about the back seven?? The 49ers passing game saved the day with the re-emergence of TE Vernon Davis in the NFC Championship Game. The question was was it a new wrinkle in the offense or an aberration. On a whole is the passing game enough to carry the 49ers to victory on a team that just made Peyton Manning and Tom Brady look pedestrian in back to back playoff games on the road?? The Ravens picked off those two Hall of Famers 5 times combined while on the road. Now they face a quarterback in his 10th start with Hall of Fame S Ed Reed lurking back there disguising his coverages. We don’t see it.

Ed Reed's crafty play at safety is a wildcard in Super Bowl XLVII. He will force Kaepernick into one mis-read interception in this game.

Ed Reed’s crafty play at safety is a wildcard in Super Bowl XLVII. He will force Kaepernick into one mis-read interception in this game.

The other hot hand in these playoffs is Joe Flacco. He’s passed for over 800 yards and 8 touchdowns in the three playoff games leading to this one. He has found the most success in the three receiver sets which have simplified his reads. One of the changes to the Ravens offense that no one is talking about is the firing of Cam Cameron and the play calling of former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Caldwell. He used to shape the game plan for the Colts also so he knows what to call having participated in Super Bowl XLI & XLIV. Through this play selection, Flacco has been confident and delivered the football to TE Denni Pitta, WR Anquan Boldin, and WR Torrey Smith. Boldin provides a power mismatch on the outside with his experience but it’s his muscle in the slot that showed in the playoffs. He just bullied Patriot DBs when the ball was in the air.

In the end, the Ravens will force Kaepernick to win this game passing, unfortunately the Ravens should have the lead from being successful passing the football first, winning the game 31-27. The Baltimore Ravens will be the winners of Super Bowl XLVII

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Look for the Taylor Blitz Times new website in the near future and this logo.

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Super Bowl XLVII Preview: Joe Flacco – Transformation Into An Alpha Quarterback

Joe Flacco has come of age in the 2012 playoffs.

Joe Flacco has come of age in the 2012 playoffs.

Contrary to LaMarr Woodley’s opinion, the Baltimore Ravens have made it to the Super Bowl with Joe Flacco at quarterback. Even here, our CEO has had his issues with Joe Flacco who used to shrink a the enormity of the event. But something happened out in Denver that separated the Raven quarterback we once knew, to the confident play maker that has emerged.

For the whole of his career, Flacco plays well enough but always left you wondering. Every now and again he’d have a flash, like the last second touchdown pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh in week 4 of 2010 to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Yet when the season was on the line some 14 weeks later in the divisional round of the playoffs, Flacco played nervously and wouldn’t pass downfield. In this playoff loss he only completed 3 downfield passes in a 31-24 loss that seamed to seal his fate as a quarterback who couldn’t lead his team to a championship.

He appeared to be afraid to pull the trigger and kept checking the ball down to Ray Rice in that game. Its been the knock our CEO has had on him for years and we’ve talked about ad nauseum when covering the Ravens.  He wasn’t going through his  progressions and getting the ball down the field when the plays were there. We spoke of a damaged fight or flight mechanism that had his nervous feet count 1, then 2 seconds then throw it to Ray Rice. There were games when a receiver would break open and the ball would be overthrown. He wouldn’t capitalize on these moments and would always keep the Ravens opponents in games by not putting them away. It happened in last year’s AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots as well.

Even when you look at his performance over this season, he only completed 59.7% of his passes for 22 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.  Rookie quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck out performed that throwing for 26 and 23 touchdowns respectively. He performed well in the wild card win over Indy with a 282 yards passing, 2 touchdown performance, but would he continue those ways against an AFC heavyweight. For his career he would beat the lessor teams and struggle against the better teams in the AFC playoffs. Why would the divisional tilt against the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning be any different?? The Broncos were on an 11 game winning streak and he had under-performed and lost to the elite quarterbacks in playoff games. He had said he was elite and now was going into the lion’s den at Invesco Field. It didn’t look good.

Flacco's coming out party in the AFC Divisional 38-35 defeat of the Denver Broncos.

Flacco’s coming out party in the AFC Divisional 38-35 defeat of the Denver Broncos.

In the game that will forever define him going forward, Flacco played a magnificent game. He was decisive and made every read while going through his progressions completing 18 of 34 for 331 yards and 3TDs. Where Ray Rice was 2nd on the team with 61 receptions, he didn’t catch a single pass in the 38-35 overtime thriller. When the play was there, he was on time and perfect like when he feathered a 59 yard bomb to Torrey Smith to tie the game at 7. However the clarion moment for him took place when he took the field with 1:09 left in the game and down 35-28. His team needed a touchdown and they had to cover 77 yards. On a 3rd and 3 Flacco dropped back and instead of his usual scared check down throw he launched a game tying bomb to Jacoby Jones for 70 yards and the tying touchdown with :41 left in regulation. Everyone of the 78,000 in the stadium were stunned along with the millions watching the game and Broncos S Rahim Moore. No one believed he would go deep.

SuperBowl47_SOR01a_2012_SCC_SRGBIt was the confidence in how he dropped back and delivered the football that was the most telling point of the play. He was sure of himself and the throw he executed will go down in NFL history. He carried that confidence into the AFC Championship Game in New England. Where for a second year he out-dueled Tom Brady throwing for 240 yards and 3 more touchdowns leading his team to Super Bowl XLVII. If you’re keeping count, Flacco’s thrown for over 800 yards, 8 touchdowns and no interceptions during this postseason. He’s buried the memories of losing in the playoffs to two of the most storied quarterbacks of his era in Manning and Brady.

So now he gets to wrap up this great postseason run in Super Bowl XLVII. Why would he get nervous now?? Everyone is talking about Colin Kaepernick, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, and Frank Gore when the man poised to win the most valuable player award and possibly this game is wearing #5 for the Ravens. He now has the most road wins in playoff history with 6. On Sunday he’s going to try and join Eli Manning as the only quarterbacks with 7 or more postseason wins away from home. He’s flown under the radar this whole week and seems poised to do it again.


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2012 NFC Championship Preview: San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons

The George Halas Trophy that is awarded to the NFC Champion.

The George Halas Trophy that is awarded to the NFC Champion.

Well we only have a few days left to see who will punch their ticket to New Orleans and Super Bowl XLVII. San Francisco comes in riding the emotional high of having vanquished the Green Bay Packers, behind Colin Kaepernick’s record-setting performance. Where the Falcons are starting to understand who they are in winning their first playoff game under the current coaching regime. This is the most intriguing match-up of the conference finals weekend.

In the divisional round we learned what Atlanta has grown accustomed to do, will carry over into the playoffs. Including last week, they had gone 8-2 in games decided by 7 points or less. That lass loss was a meaningless game to conclude the regular season. If you go back to the 4th game of the season, it matched what took place in last week’s game with Seattle. They were behind 28-27 with less than 1:00 to go when Matt Ryan led them to a last second field goal and a 30-28 come from behind victory.

The banter and hard hitting between Seattle and Atlanta could spawn a bitter playoff rivalry.

The banter and hard hitting between Seattle and Atlanta could spawn a bitter playoff rivalry.

Sure the first victory came against the Carolina Panthers but now the Falcons performed the encore in  the playoffs. Many fans didn’t care what they did until they made it to the playoffs. Many were  sure they were going to lose their first game before the playoffs even began.  The Taylor Blitz Times believed in the Atlanta Falcons yet felt the Seahawks were playing better heading into last week’s game. However this was the game where “Matty Ice” and Coach Mike Smith came of age and won their first playoff game. Will they go into this conference championship brimming with the confidence of the team that left the field, or the tentative nervous bunch that watched a 20 point lead vanish in the fourth quarter??

One thing about the NFL playoffs, when the national media focuses on one aspect of a football team they normally overlook another. This is happening as we speak with all attention on Kaepernick, no one is covering the fact the 49ers are allowing 30 points per game on average in their last 4 games. In fact if you take out the win against the hapless Arizona Cardinals, that average jumps to 35.6!! What is happening to the great San Francisco defense??

Colin's 181 yard rushing performance was a transcendent performance.

Colin’s 181 yard rushing performance was a transcendent performance.

Remember the style of offense the Niners were running that kept their defense rested at the beginning of the season?? That isn’t the case any longer. For a team that finished 4th overall allowing 294.4 yards per game, it’s now allowing 406 to go with the 35.6 points given up in those 3!! Are you paying attention?? They are wearing out their own defense and now they have to go on the road for the NFC Championship Game. If you take out the 3 games we’re talking about, the 49ers gave up an average of just 256.6 yards per game in the other 14.

Now while everyone is giddy over the record-setting performance of the quarterback, let’s remember that happened at home. How did he fare in his last road game?? He was chased out of Seattle. Do we get that Kaepernick, or the one that torched the Patriots on Sunday night football?? Sandwiched between those two performances was a very forgettable road loss that is being ignored largely.

We said in our NFC South Preview this was the time for Coach Smith’s 4 year plan to mature. Michael Turner is about to turn 30 and one of history’s finest tight ends in Tony Gonzalez is set to retire after the season. Now with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers as the change of pace back that can spell Michael Turner, the Falcons have more explosiveness on the field than with RB Jason Snelling. One of the unsung acquisitions that should pay off in this football game is CB Asante Samuel. He stepped in when Brent Grimes went down on IR and has been a key contributor. Do you realize that Samuel is the leading interceptor and yardage leader in NFL playoff history?? One lazy sideline pass can be disastrous against this group. They were the 5th most larcenist defense in the NFL with 20 interceptions and the Georgia Dome will be loud this Sunday.

Samuel is the NFL's all time post season interceptor, yardage, and touchdown leader.

Samuel is the NFL’s all time post season interceptor, yardage, and touchdown leader.

What was interesting was how slow the Packers were in adjusting in last week’s divisional playoff. This is the NFL and we have seen this type of quarterback before. Whether we’re talking 2002 Michael Vick, 1987 Steve Young, a 1987 John Elway, or a 1989 Randall Cunningham. The number one way to get after them were to clog their escape routes sending 5 to 6 rushers after them. After all, this defense has to chase Cam Newton twice a year so they’r equipped to do it. In Randall Cunningham’s case, the Los Angeles Rams confused him with everyone up on the line of scrimmage. By the time he knew who was rushing and who was dropping, his team fell behind and the game was out of reach.

The one thing going for the 49ers last week was the fact that it was quiet and Packer pass rushers couldn’t get the jump on their offensive tackles. Expect more delayed blitzes and zone blitzes this week to accompany John Abraham off the corner with all the Georgia Dome crowd noise. Instead of defenders with their backs to Kaepernick in man to man, they will be facing him and should keep scrambles at a minimum gain. The Falcons will look to get Colin to look down at running lanes and his vision off the downfield receivers. That is a big no-no in the NFL.

One other axiom of the NFL as Nick Buoniconti once said about the NFL playoffs circa 1987 “What happens the week before, doesn’t necessarily happen the next week.” Eric Dickerson ran for a playoff record 248 yards in a divisional playoff in 1985, then lost in the NFC Championship Game. Anthony Carter caught a playoff record 227 yards passing in a divisional playoff in 1987, only to lose in the NFC Championship Game. Peyton Manning threw for a record 457 yards (most ever in a regulation playoff game) in 2004 only to fall  in the divisional round against New England. You have the 1995 Buffalo Bills who rushed for a modern playoff record (post modern 1950 NFL) 341 yards in a Wild Card win over Miami, only to collapse in the AFC Divisional in Three Rivers. Then finally the 1999 Jacksonville Jaguars who scored the most points (post modern 1950 NFL) with 62 in the AFC Dvisional playoff only to lose in the AFC Championship Game.

The 49ers are going to depend on that type of performance by Kaepernick again and won’t get it early as they fall behind. Just like the other teams that had record setting performances in year’s past. The Falcons have two unheralded linebackers in Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas that can flat out run. Not only will the Atlanta Falcons get the early lead after forcing a few 3 and outs early….they should win the game 30-21. Atlanta will be making the trip to New Orleans.

By the way….look at what arrived in Atlanta today…

This year's George Halas NFC Championship Trophy  just arrived today in Atlanta.

This year’s George Halas NFC Championship Trophy just arrived today in Atlanta.

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