Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thoughts on this Sunday

The NFC Championship game might be the biggest surprise to me from the entire season. Yes - before the season began, I predicted that the Eagles would outlast any of their NFC East rivals, but I figure that to be a regular season thing, not post. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised by just about anything - I could just as easily see a Cardinals-Ravens Super Bowl as a Steelers-Eagles bowl. That said, if I had to make a prediction - and I don't think, given the last couple of weeks, anything can be said decisively - this is my breakdown on what to expect this weekend...

The Eagles are playing great defense right now, but the Cardinals have more weapons on offense than the Giants, and the Cardinals are playing as well on offense as the Eagles are on defense. Additionally, like the Colts during their championship run a couple of years ago, the Cardinals are actually playing sterling defense right now.

Of all the teams left, the Cardinals might be playing the best across the board. I don't know that this will translate into a Lombardi being raised in the desert, but, at this point, it wouldn't surprise me....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

If I had to call it, I would say that the Cardinals are going to walk out of this one as the winner. Donovan McNabb had an okay game last weekend, but not great, completing only 55 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one turnover. If the Cardinals make McNabb have to beat them in the same way the Giants did (taking away Brian Westbrook), then I have a hard time believing that the Eagles will keep up.

I think that Arizona has too many weapons on offense, and if the Cardinals line keeps Kurt Warner upright (the Patriots showed back in the 2001 Super Bowl that the best way to rattle Warner is to pressure the receivers and knock them off their routes, not to blitz Warner - and the Eagles D lives by the blitz), I don't think the Eagles have the cover guys to match up with the Arizona receivers.

My guess is that the Cards walk out with a ten point win, but, as I said, after the two rounds we have already witnessed, nothing will surprise me.

Over in the AFC, I see, in essence, two large cavemen smacking the crap out of each other with their clubs.

This is in no way, shape, or form, an offensive struggle of any kind. We're looking at the Monster Mash with the two best defenses hammering on grind-it-out style offenses. It will be the sort of game where it won't even come down to the last team with the ball. It will be whatever team's defense comes up with the game-changing play.

I could easily see this as a one point game, decided on field goals, safeties, or an interception return for a touchdown.

If I went based on who I think is more banged up, I would guess that the Steelers were going to win. If I were going on odds, I would go with the Ravens, based on the idea that it is really difficult to beat the same team three times in the same season even when the loser of the first two contests is mediocre - and the Ravens aren't mediocre. They're really good.

If one of these two teams definitively had a quarterback as good as either Donovan McNabb, or Kurt Warner, I would feel that there was a definite advantage for one of the two teams, as such, I just tossed a coin and am going with the Ravens.

There you have it - if my wishy-washy predictions are accurate, we might well have the fowl-est Super Bowl ever. Sorry for the pun, and enjoy the playoffs this weekend. If I think of something between now and Friday, I will be sure to post it, along with a story about this past Saturday night and its relation to my latest column for the Brewing News.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Quick hits during a busy week...

It's about time that Jim Rice got into the Hall of Fame.

There have been many who were detractors, trying to compare him unfavorably to other players or Hall of Famers - seldom comparing him to the peers with whom he played. From 1975 through 1986 - a twelve season stretch - Rice led the AL in total games played, at bats, runs scored, hits, homers, RBIs, slugging average, total bases, extra base hits, go-ahead RBIs, multi-hit games, and outfield assists.[3] Among all major league players during that time, Rice was the leader in five of these categories. In five categories he was better than anyone in the game - better than Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, Tony Perez, and any other Hall of Famer from that era.

Detractors like to point to his defense, and talk about the advantage he had playing in Fenway's short left, forgetting that the Green Monster wreaks havoc with visiting outfielders. The Monster both giveth and taketh away - defensively it's more difficult than people remember when it comes time to vote for the Hall. They also forget that Reggie Jackson was brutal in the outfield. Additionally, Rice was a six-time top five candidate for the MVP during that 12 season stretch, including a win in 1978. Jackson was a top five candidate five times over a 12 season stretch and hit 100 RBI's or more only six times over a 21 season career. Rice - eight times.

Yes, Jackson was a monster in the post season, but Rice was better than most people give him credit for - in 1986 he also scored 14 runs and drove in six. The 14 runs Rice scored is the fifth most recorded by an individual during a single year's postseason play.

Jackson was inducted in his second year of eligibility. It took Rice 15.

It's a shame they took this long to get it right.

For the Birds...

So - if anyone had told me, pretty much at any time in the last couple of weeks, that the NFC Championship game would come down to Arizona holding court against Philly, I would have laughed hard enough to give myself a hernia. Philly I figured could make it that far, even though I believed it to be unlikely, but the Cardinals? Anyone else notice any signs of an impending Apocalypse?

Elsewhere around the NFL...

I was a little surprised by Josh McDaniels choice to go to Denver. Lately it's a situation where it seems like the inmates are running the asylum. I figured that there was every possibility he would end up wherever Scott Pioli did.

Rumors are that Terrell Owens might be on the chopping block in Dallas. Wonder where he ends up if that happens. Oakland, maybe?

Good luck in your next line of work Tony Dungy. I gotta admit, I thought he'd be back for one more season. It should be interesting to see what happens in Indy next season.