Wildcard Weekend: Seattle Seahawks vs. Detroit Lions

Up in the Pacific Northwest the playoffs will be underway when the Lions enter Qwest Field as an underdog. After a 5 game winning streak against non playoff teams, Detroit fell to 3 straight teams who are in the postseason. In fact they went 0-4 against teams that made the playoffs so it begs the question… how will they win in Seattle??

Stafford's injured hand in a glove.

Stafford’s injured hand in a glove.

Interestingly Seattle isn’t exactly streaking into this match-up either. Not only did they finish 3-3 over the last 6 games but the vaunted defense gave up more than 30 points in the last two losses. Some may point to the loss of FS Earl Thomas who was lost for the season. Yet reality is setting in how plucked and depleted their defense has become over the last few years due to free agency.

Seattle comes in with the NFL’s 5th ranked defense however LB Bruce Irvin and Super Bowl MVP LB Malcolm Smith are playing in Oakland. CB Brandon Browner is out of football, DE Clemons is in Jacksonville just to name a few are missing from the XLVIII championship unit. Now Thomas injury adds to this mix although several holdovers remain.

Surprisingly 15 of the 37 sacks Detroit has allowed have come on the road. This tells us Matt Stafford will work the short passing game and keep the Seahawk pass rush at bay. The Lions haven’t won a game since Stafford injured the middle finger on his throwing hand and their last game outdoors?? They only scored 6 points in New York. They have to  possess the ball and own time of possession.

russellwilsonRussell Wilson and the Seattle offense has struggled to establish an identity all season. Without his scrambling to aid the offense in getting 1st downs they have run by committee and have yet to be inconsistent. Ever since CJ Prosise injured his shoulder the team has shuttled in a series of backs. In fact the Seahawks leading rusher is Christine Michael (469 yds) who has been cut and plays for the Green Bay Packers.

The Seahawks are vulnerable but Wilson should make a few plays to bail his team out today. He has a penchant to start scrambling before realizing his injured ankle hampers him and taking big sacks. He can’t do that today. One fumble on his side of the field can give the Lions life.

Seattle should squeak by in this game 23-12. Having lost 3 of their last 6 along with 3 road games where they couldn’t score 10 points, they are vulnerable. They may have a 1 week reprieve with a win this week.

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2016 NFC Predictions

As the nation mourns the 15th anniversary of 9/11, we’re kicking off another NFL season. The memorials have made today more sobering than the open giddiness of last week’s kickoff with college football. Yet we move on and remember those lost.

Winston is growing as a signal caller.

Winston is growing as a signal caller.

Here in Phoenix, all the radio shows have been abuzz with a Super Bowl or bust season for the Arizona Cardinals. Of course their flagship station is all pro Cardinals with only one on air personality, John Gambadoro, remembering his awful finish. This echoes The Chancellor of Football’s view that their season begins and ends with the psyche of a 37 yr old quarterback who has never had NFL postseason success. Our NFC West preview still has Seattle as the class of the division.

In Dallas, the Cowboys feel they have found their quarterback for the future in Dak Prescott. With 1st round pick Ezekiel Elliott the offense will benefit from an offensive line that paved the way for 2014 rushing champion DeMarco Murray. The question is how will Prescott perform when he is faced with real exotic NFL regular season defenses?? Will it be enough for the Dallas Cowboys to win the east??

rs_news_photoNFC West Champs: Seattle Seahawks 12-4**

NFC North Champs: Green Bay Packers 12-4

NFC South Champs: Carolina Panthers 10-6

NFC East Champs: New York Giants 9-7

Wildcards – Arizona Cardinals, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The team to reach Super Bowl LI in Houston will be the Seattle Seahawks. Once there they will beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-26 to win their 2nd title in a 4 year period.

Russell Wilson will have an MVP season as he matured into a total quarterback last year in Marshawn Lynch’s absence. Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael will be able to maintain a solid rushing attack. Wilson can still take off on runs to supplement his growing prowess as a passer. Keep in mind he has already been to 2 Super Bowls and down the stretch he threw for 24 TDs to only 1 interception in the last 7 games.

The Legion of Boom defense is still formidable and finished 2nd only to the World Champion Denver Broncos. They are still the best team in football and if they force teams to make that long trek to the Pacific Northwest, this team is hoisting the trophy.

In the East, the New York Giants with their offensive weapons will lean on their defense for the first part of this season. Yes you heard that correctly. Eli Manning and the offensive woes of the preseason will take until midseason before they gel late. Coach Jason Garrett’s defense is way too porous for the Cowboys to win this division or even make a playoff push.

The roof will cave in on the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles for different reasons. Kirk Cousins will have it all on his shoulders as the Redskins let Alfred Morris go. NFL Defensive Coordinators now have a year of film on Cousins and he will have a sophomore slump and no proven runner to lean on.

The Eagles are a mess and are about to start a rookie QB in Carson Wentz who missed most of the preseason with a rib injury. Are you serious?? Philadelphia may win less than 4 games this season.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

However the Seattle Seahawks are the class of the NFC and the NFL and will win Super Bowl LI.

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2016 NFC West Previews & Predictions

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

Michael Bennett & Cliff Avril sandwich Drew Brees amid the din of Qwest Field.

If you go back to last year’s NFC Divisional Round, the Seattle Seahawks learned the hard way how valuable the homefield advantage was they had enjoyed the previous two seasons. After having traveled 8,931 miles in round trips to Phoenix, Minnesota in the Wildcard, then taking the field in Carolina, they were an exhausted team. Falling behind 31-0 by halftime to the eventual NFC Champion Panthers. Their season came to a close with a 31-24 defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and company.

In an attempt to make it to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, Seattle needs to draw teams up to the Pacific Northwest. Let them fatigue with the travel. Yet a question remains: So who are they?? The team that fell behind big in Carolina or the team that came roaring back outscoring them 24-0 in the 2nd half??

seahawksalt22016 NFC West Predictions

Seattle Seahawks 12-4**

Arizona Cardinals 10-6*

San Francisco 49ers 6-10

LA Rams 4-12

The first question that will arise from the desert will invariably be: “What about the Arizona Cardinals? They won the NFC West last year?”

Which is 100% true. Yet let’s take you back to week 17 of the 2016 campaign and offer the genesis why they aren’t favored.

In week 10 the Cardinals had knocked off the Seahawks in a rousing 39-32 road win to become the media darling of the NFC West. National sports shows and pundits flocked to the desert to interview this team. Some even waxed philosophical about Carson Palmer for league MVP, he was having that good of a season. Yet a date with an old bully loomed in the last week of the season.

There was an outside chance the Cardinals had a shot at homefield advantage, and more important could knock the Seahawks from the playoffs. Just as important to the Cardinals psyche was the chance to sweep their nemesis and prove to themselves the first win was no fluke. They had become the heavy in the NFC West and this would cement that notion to both teams…to everyone.

carsonpalmerWell the Seahawks punched the Cardinals right in the mouth as Palmer deteriorated (12 of 25 for 129 yards 1 TD / 1 int) into his worst performance of the year. He was pulled in the 2nd quarter in the middle of being routed 30-6 by intermission, finally falling 36-6. His spotty play continued against Green Bay in the divisional round of the playoffs, as the offense struggled for continuity in a 26-20 overtime win.

The only reason they won that game was Larry Fitzgerald early in overtime caught an intermediate route, cleared Clay Matthews, and in normal circumstances runs out of bounds with a 1st down. However Fitzgerald knew he had to take matters into his own hands and turned upfield instead of going out of bounds. He ran like the Cardinal’s playoff life depended on it going 75 yards to the Green Bay 3. Winning the game with a shovel pass 2 plays later.

Then comes the 4 interception and 2 fumble meltdown 49-15 loss to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. Palmer finished with 3 poor games when the stakes were the highest and has to prove he’s not a shot fighter. He hasn’t had a good postseason outing since the 2002 Orange Bowl in college. Only problem is Pete Carroll was his coach then and not the division rival as he is now. Much like a boxer after a vicious knockout loss, the Arizona Cardinals need to win the battle with themselves psychologically. Starting with Palmer. That is why they aren’t favored.

Bruce Arians and the window for the Arizona Cardinals is going to close after this season. Its now or never to make it to the Super Bowl with Palmer (37 yrs of age) and Larry Fitzgerald (33 yrs of age) leading the charge. David Johnson is coming into his own at RB and should rush for 1,300 yards this season.

The Cardinals had the 5th best defense in football and pulled off a coup of a trade picking up OLB Chandler Jones from New England. However his addition is offset by Tyrann Mathieu rehabbing another blown out knee. Can Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher get enough out of top pick DT Robert Nkimdiche and Jones in the rush to keep from his exotic blitz packages?? Mathieu had CB like coverage skills when 100% healthy. This season he could get exposed by those blitzes so they need the front seven to get after opposing QBs.

rams.takingfield.losangeles

The L.A. Rams taking the field for the 1st time in the 21st century.

In Los Angeles we had 90,000 come out to the LA Coliseum to witness the Rams returning to Southern California, and we are in the honeymoon stage. Lets not forget this was the 32nd or dead last offense in the NFL last season, and 1st pick Jared Goff needs a lot of work.  Despite RB Todd Gurley’s 1,106 yd 10 TD debut season, this is a team that had to take a QB#1 overall after tossing an anemic 11 TDs last season. It looks like journeyman Case Keenum will start as the prized rookie (Goff) learns the pro game from the sidelines. The question that arises… Can Coach Jeff Fisher and QB Coach Chris Weinke get Goff ready to be an NFL signal caller?? Maybe they will…but not this season.

The 49ers could be the surprise of the season with Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick leading a new charge under Chip Kelly. Carlos Hyde will have to become the every down back Frank Gore used to be and rush for 1,200 or better. Kaepernick and an improved Gabbert will win 6 games this year as the 49ers build back to respectability.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Now Russell is as big a threat in the pocket as outside of it.

Which brings us to Seattle. The Seahawks had a dress rehearsal of the upcoming year without Marshawn Lynch in 2015.  Wilson became the focal point of the offense and developed as a total signal caller. In completing 329 of 483 for 4,024 yds 34 TDs to just 8 ints, Wilson graduated from being the resourceful scrambler to a bonafide elite QB add MVP candidate.

With so much attention on Wilson, Rawls (830 yds / 4 TDs) was able to settle into the RB position along with Christine Michael. The defense is still one of the NFL’s best although they lost LB Bruce Irvin to the Raiders. Kam Chancellor, Earl Thomas, and Richard Sherman are still patrolling the secondary with LBs Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright eating up the passing lanes underneath. The Seahawks have to get more from Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett up front this year. At times the pass rush wasn’t there last year and exposed the back 7 some.

Seattle is the class of this division and should challenge for homefield advantage.

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2015 Divisional Playoff: Panthers v, Seahawks

Now we get the big boy pads on as the 15-1 Carolina Panthers host the 10-6 Seattle Seahawks. Over the last few years these have been the most physical teams and defenses in the NFC. Seattle finished #2 in defense to the Panthers finished just outside the top five ranked 6th. Against the run Seattle finished #1 and Luke Kuechely’s unit is right behind at #4.

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

Can the Seahawks repeat?? Absolutely

 

This game will be won on the line of scrimmage in an old fashioned, slobber-knocking physical way. No easing into a street fight as Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart are powerful backs. We won’t know if Lynch can carry the load coming back for the first time since mid November. Both backs were kept from the average of 4 yards per carry in the October meeting won by Carolina.

This is Newton's chance to shine in the playoffs.

This is Newton’s chance to shine in the playoffs.

However we don’t want to overlook two of the great young quarterbacks in the game. Taylor Blitz Time’s MVP Cam Newton has had a great season passing for 3,837 yards 35tds with just 10 ints. He won it on the basis of his leadership, those passing numbers and adding 636 yards and 10 more touchdowns.

In his last two games against the Seahawks he ran for 30 and 37 yards respectively. The Seahawks are athletic enough to keep him contained and get to him whether in pass rush mode or when Newton takes off. He needs the running game to be more productive then it’s been. They get back Jonathon Stewart but he’s been out the last 3 games.

Russell-Wilson-Seattle-SeahawksNow we get to one of the TBT MVP runner-ups in Russell Wilson. He has had a tremendous season with 4,024 yards 34 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. This season has seen further maturation as he developed his downfield touch with WR Doug Baldwin and his receiving corps. He has run efficiently this year with 553 yards and his penchant for not turning the ball over is why this team has been in the last two Super Bowls.

Baldwin (78 rec. 1,069 yds 14 tds) lines up everywhere and we have to see if Panther CB Josh Norman is going to shadow him.

Where this game changes is the fact the Panthers are missing CB Charles Tillman (IR) from the beginning of the season and they have plugged in Cortland Finnegan and retreads in the secondary. With Wilson playing lights out from week 9 on…this will be where the difference will be.

The winner of this game will also go on to win the Super Bowl. Seattle will win this game today by the way they have been playing lately and their experience… 29-24.

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NFC Wildcard Predictions

How can we top that Cincinnati Bengal v Pittsburgh Steelers for drama? You have to love the NFL playoffs and its time to get into day 2 with both NFC games on the same day.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2First game up is the Washington Redskins hosting the Green Bay Packers in the nation’s capital. All year long you’ve heard The Chancellor of Football state the Packers are a flawed football team. They have gone 4-6 down the stretch and have the NFL’s 23rd ranked offense. Twenty third?? Not only that, the supposed great Aaron Rodgers and the Packers passing game ranks 25th. No team has won with more smoke and mirrors than Green Bay.

What this game will turn on is Kirk Cousins and the 11th ranked passing attack facing the 6th best passing attack of Green Bay. The reason the Packers rank so high against the pass is they have been run on all year…ranking 21st. Also the fact they have gone 6-2 at home and won 5 of their last 6, the Redskins will win 31-17 sacking Rodgers 5 times.

As for the Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings it is nostalgic to have this game outside. Teddy Bridgewater will make it to the divisional round…next year. Today in below zero weather is not the time to develop your downfield passing. Seattle gave up 125 yards to the Vikings  in week 13. Too many match-ups Seattle won on the line of scrimmage. The Seahawks will win this 27-13. It will be closer than the last time due to the cold.

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Overcoaching: Vol 3. Super Bowl XLIX Edition

Super Bowl XLIX was a great game but the end left a lot of fans empty as Seattle opted for a pass from the 1 with seconds left to play. Immediately I railed it was the worst play call in Super Bowl history on social media. Many former NFLers agreed. So after a small hiatus my thought hadn’t changed and now it was time to revisit another classic case of overcoaching in the NFL.

03_ball_grand_canyon_1_hi_nat1366First off… if anyone thinks the Seattle  throwing that pass at the one yard line was the right play call, then they think Vince Lombardi called the wrong play on the final play of the Ice Bowl. Its that simple. One of his philosophies played out at the goal line during the final seconds of both the 1966 & 1967 NFL Championship Games.

Lombardi’s philosophy was in a pressure situation, players would make mistakes in Tom Landry’s complicated offense. The Cowboys had the ball at the 2 with less than 2 minutes to go down 34-27. They had momentum and had just scored on the drive previous. True to form T Jim Bokeim had a false start… remember they did a lot of shifting on the line. On the final play, which was a rollout, RG Leon Donohue ran past Packer LB Dave Robinson instead of blocking him. Robinson hurried Don Meredith into a game ending endzone interception.

The rubber match for the Ice  Bowl (1967 championship) saw the reverse as the Packers were down to the 2 yard line with less than 2 minutes to go. After two plays and a final timeout, Green Bay was at the 1 with :16 left down 17-14. Where Tom Landry was heard yelling “watch Starr on the rollout”, Lombardi’s Packers went with a QB sneak to win the game. A simplified play.  Years later in recalling Lombardi’s philosophy, G Jerry Kramer said “When the game or life is on the line, you don’t gamble and you put your faith in the defensive player’s chest.”

A philosophy the Seattle Seahawks had believed in until the 1 minute mark of Super Bowl XLIX. Some new age philosophies have made coaches overthink and overcoach situations lately. Ever since that Monday Night game where Brian Westbrook had that breakaway run at the end of the game against the Dallas Cowboys and slid down to run out the clock, people have been overcoaching end of game scenarios.

However I said it right after…that was the same play call the Titans went with in Super Bowl XXXIV when Mike Jones tackled Kevin Dyson at the 1 yard line also. That stacked receiver slant is 0-2 in late Super Bowl moments. Truth is they should have run the ball twice with the read option and kept it on the ground. They should have immediately run a play after Lynch made it to the 1.

Fist lets take a look at the early stages of the game when Marshawn Lynch scored to tie the game at 7.

You’ll note the first run Lynch face initial contact at the 9 ans made it to the 6 1/2 yard line. Then on the touchdown he faced initial contact at the two and powered to more than a yard into the endzone. He’s the best contact runner since Corey Dillon and he was constantly falling forward during the game.

Now we get to the fateful last plays of Super Bowl XLIX.

 

Had Seattle rushed to the line of scrimmage with the 1:06 left (after Lynch made it to the 1) New England may have let them score (another bone head new age move) to ensure Brady would have a chance with the football and more clock. Don’t tell me Belichick doesn’t think that way because he was lauded for his taking a late game safety against Denver 10 years ago so the Patriots would get the ball back with time and field position… Had Seattle got up and rushed to the line, New England also wouldn’t have sent in their goal line 3 corners package where Seattle would have been better suited to block. Wasn’t that why Pete Carroll said they were wasting a play??

By not rushing back to the line the Seahawks overcoached the situation. There comes a time where coaches have to drop those silly play charts and coach on guts. Lynch had gained positive yards after contact on all of his runs. Even his last carry he broke a tackle at the 4 and made it to the 1. Had they hurried and faced the same defense the next play you don’t think he scores from the 1?? That same personnel he powered through for their first touchdown and 3 yards after contact.

Bill Belichick was saving all of his timeouts and let the clock run down to :32 seconds before Seattle snapped the football.

Yet alas Malcolm Butler ended the Seahawks bid for back to back Super Bowl championships. Coaches have to get back to owning each situation and score first and win the game. Don’t sit and speculate when you can or even if you will score on a later play. You just have to trust your defense. If you can think back to Super Bowl XLVI between the Patriots and the Giants, Ahmad Bradshaw tried not to score when he “accidently” fell in the endzone. Taking a 17-15 lead, the Giant defense held off Tom Brady in that one. You have to rely on your defense.

Another clear case of overcoaching and now Seattle has to let this fester as they ponder an opportunity lost. It could fuel their trip to Super Bowl L in San Francisco’s new stadium. Stay tuned…

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