NFL Divisional Round Preview: Part II

Here it is, y’all. The post that everyone has been waiting for. Since the Chargers and Cowboys are currently the two most compelling teams where I’m from(Sunny So. Cal), just about everyone I know is excited for this highly anticipated preview(except for those gangster Raider fans that I avoid, or the bandwagon Steeler fans that I abhor. Which reminds me; just two days ago I was standing in line at In N Out((which is yet another great thing about living in California)), and there was a man in front of me about 50 years old or so. I noticed the hat he was wearing was a Pittsburgh Steeler hat, and for the first time in a while, seeing that logo on a fan did not bother me. I was unsure why at first, but later realized that it was because he was a real fan. He wasn’t those lame bandwagon fans that pop up when the Steelers are making a lucky playoff run. He was true to his team, win or lose. I respect that man. I would just as soon throw his hat in the waters of Lake Minitanka, but I would do it with the utmost respect.). Not everybody I talk to is a Charger fan, but they would definitely like to see them do well. It’s the nature of locale loyalty. Someone should write a paper on that. Oh wait, a guy named Karl Marx already did, only it was an entire Manifesto.

I’m totally kidding about this post being highly anticipated(although I did advertise it to a local Wingstop employee, whom I also promised I would not be too hard on Minnesota to). What I’m not kidding about is what two teams are most compelling in my residence. I’ll start with the Cowboys-Vikings matchup, because let’s face it: it’s just way more fun to talk about your own team.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings

Much like I did before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Orlando Magic in the Finals, I have once again read ample literature on this game. I’ve hoarded any and all articles that had an opinion on the upcoming game. I’ve read opinions from both sides, and I’ve come to realize two things:

1. These two teams matchup extremely well with eachother. It’s easily one of the most compelling playoff games in recent memory.

2. It’s virtually impossible to tell who will win. Anyone who says they know who will win is a flatout liar. If they end up being right, they will have gotten lucky. There is no way to predict who will win this game with more than 20% certainty.

Let’s start with the Minnesota side of things, where ESPN’S Kevin Seifert handles all things Twin City. Just yesterday he gave his Final Word on the upcoming game, pin-pointing a few key in-game matchups. Here’s my take on the Vikings’ season, in a nutshell:

Solid first quarter of the season start, dominant through the next two quarters of the season, and then unimpressive in the final quarter of the season.

It's inevitable...that Brett Favre will retire and then comeback again.

For the record, the Vikings have benefitted from a cake schedule for a team that was in the playoffs last year. The only tough games they had in the first 10 weeks were against division rival Green Bay, which actually nullified the “tough game” aspect because Brett Favre had an axe to grind with them. Outside of that, they played only one good team on the road in the Arizona Cardinals. They lost to Carolina and Chicago on the road in the final month, and won in dominant fashion against the Bengals in the Metrosexualdome. Err, Metrodome*.

However, if I have learned anything from watching the NFL in my life, it’s this: getting lucky breaks leads to perpetual confidence building, which results in a team thinking they can win. Thinking you can win is half the battle, and the second half comes with executing. The Vikings are a good team because they got a lot of breaks in the beginning of the year(that TD catch against San Fran, that missed Field Goal by Baltimore), and have since steam-rolled because they started believing after that. Trust me. It sounds like this is ficticious, but it exists. It’s intangible, yet completely palpable.

The Vikings boast an explosive offense with a veteran quarterback and a power-speed combo of a running back. Their offense could cause problems for Dallas as they figure to spread them out with their speedy wideouts and pound them inside and out with the dominant Adrian Peterson. It will be fun to watch the Dallas DBs attempt to stick with the Minnesota receiving corps.

Some critical matchups to keep an eye on:

(Dallas corners)Terence Newman, Mike Jenkins, and Orlando Scandrick versus (Minnesota receivers)Sydney Rice, Bernard Berrian, and Percy Harvin

Dallas has tremendous confidence in its defensive backfield, and with good reason. Before this season, the Cowboys would often move Newman around because he was our(yes OUR) best cover corner. He would follow around speed guys like Carolina’s Steve Smith or New York’s Domenik Hixon. This season, not so much. The Cowboys have solidifed that right cornerback position with the development of Mike Jenkins. I’ve gushed about his play before, but this is really where we’ll start to see how it benefits his team. Against a unit like Minnesota, not having to move Newman around will be key. He will be able to focus on who comes to his side, and the same for Jenkins. The toughest draw will be Scandrick, who gets the short straw in defending the dynamic Percy Harvin. The kid is a speedster with great vision, and covering a slot receiver is difficult by nature. Look for the Dallas linebackers to help Scandrick protect the middle of the field. I give the edge to Jenkins in whoever he’s matched up with, a draw to whoever matches up with Newman(because he makes up for his mistakes and is a really good tackler for a corner), and the edge to Harvin as he should be able to get open against Scandrick.

(Kickoff Specialist)David Buehler versus (Return Specialist)Percy Harvin

Harvin is the only guy who has two key matchups. If Buehler can do what he has done against the rest of the league all season, including Philadelphia last week, the Cowboys have a great chance at winning the field-position battle. That battle is extremely underrated in fan circles around the league. They don’t seem to get how much it changes the play-calling of both the offense and the defense to start at your own 20 instead of your own 36 or 41. Every yard counts, and the defensive coordinators tend to get more aggressive when they have more field to defend. Buehler did a great job of helping the Cowboys win that battle all year, or at the very least negate an advantage for the opposition, and if that continues this week, the Cowboys will be in great shape. Harvin is an electric returner whom you do not want to let get going. He’s young, so confidence in any facet of the game will translate to over-confidence in other facets of the game. As I stated earlier, confidence begats results. I give the edge to Buehler because Harvin’s success depends on Buehler’s play.

(Dallas Linebackers, Nose Tackle)Demarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer, and Jay Ratliff versus (Minnesota Offensive Tackles, Center) Bryant McKinnie, Phil Loadholt & company

Those three are easily the best of the Dallas pass-rushers and run-stoppers. For all the credit Ware gets around the league as a pass-rusher, his run-stopping ability is often over-looked. The man’s arms are incredibly long, and his football IQ is off the charts. He’s more than just a quarterback’s nightmare, but a guy that running backs avoid as well. Spencer has come on of late, whereas in the beginning of the season he was doing everything right but finishing the play. The Dallas linebackers are up against a faulty offensive line, but those are the lines that usually play well against the Cowboys. Remember when everyone was expecting the Cowboys to add to the league-leading sacks allowed by the Green Bay offensive line? Yeah, that was the only “blowout” the Cowboys suffered all season. Ratliff could be the ex-factor here. He is such a mismatch for most offensive linemen because his speed-power combination. He’s too quick for the stronger guards, and too strong for the quicker guards. He jumps around the center and gets in the backfield way more than opposing quarterbacks and running backs like. Give the edge to the Cowboys, only because of Ratliff.

Anybody versus Adrian Peterson

If AP goes off, the Cowboys are in trouble. Now, he hasn’t had a 100 yard rushing game in over 2 months. This bodes well for the Cowboys, but also means he might be due. I don’t think it’s going to happen because the Cowboys are really good against the run. They have a heavy, athletic defensive line. If it does happen, though, look for the Vikings to punch their round-table tickets to New Orleans. I just hope he continues his fumbling ways against us, because that would allow the Cowboys to punch their tickets to the same place. Edge: Cowboys. Not allowing a 100 yard rusher in 16 games is more than just luck, it’s skill.

Dallas Offensive line/Marion Barber, Felix Jones, Tashard Choice versus Williams Wall + Jared Allen

This is the one matchup that scares me. The Cowboys are number one in the league in rushing the ball up the middle with an average of 4.5 yards per attempt, while the Vikings defense is the stingiest at allowing rushes up the middle with an average of 3.5 yards allowed per attempt. Something has to give. I want to say it will be the Cowboys three-headed rushing attack, but I think they will only make the plays when they need to. The rest of the time, the Williams brothers will hold down the fort. The Cowboys are exceptional at the draw play thanks in large part to quarterback Tony Romo, who sells it better than Donald Trump sells real estate. This will free up Romo for passing plays more than it will the Dallas RBs for running plays. Look for them to run behind big Leonard Davis for their patented power run plays on critical downs. Other than that, give the edge to the Williams’ brothers, and Jared Allen. The man is psycho. Seriously. He’s going to give Flozell Adams fits on the left side. Adams has been playing well against good pass rushers lately. He effectively took Trent Cole out of the game for two consecutive weeks. Allen’s a different story. He isn’t as strong as some other pass-rushers, but he is still great at what he does. I just hope Flozell is an animal enthusiast, because Allen is a dubious game-hunter. He has been known to hunt animals and video tape it, including his spearing of a deer, and bragging about hunting wolves on Inside the NFL. Somebody call PETA.

Tony Romo & Miles Austin versus Minnesota’s Secondary

Tony grew up idolizing Favre, and imitating his game. Tony will have his work cut out for him on Sunday, however. The pressure that figures to be brought by the Vikings should throw him off his game a little in the beginning. If Dallas handles the blitz well, look for Romo to exploit Austin’s mismatch with cornerback Antoine Winfield. Austin seemingly has a mismatch against any corner not named Darrelle Revis these days, and Winfield is no different. He’s not fast enough to guard Austin, and he hasn’t played well since before his injury. That same injury caused him to miss the majority of the season, and rarely does someone who has been out for a long period of time come back and shut down a guy that’s been hot all the while. The Vikings have done a good job of looking out for their below average safeties by giving them a lot of help. I don’t expect that to continue, on paper. Tight end Jason Witten could play a huge role in this one, much like every other game the Cowboys win. The Vikings do have homefield advantage, and their defense is going to play inspired football. Despite the hot streak the Dallas offense has been on, they have stalled late in games after getting out to fast starts. I expect more of the same on Sunday morning. I just hope the Cowboys have already built a big enough lead to where it doesn’t stop them from winning. No edge. This one is a draw.

Minnesota Coach Brad Childress versus Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre and himself

You know it’s going to happen. Childress is a terrible head coach. Favre was in control of the organization the moment he gave them the rope-a-dope in the off-season. He held them ransom, then decided halfway through training camp that he wanted to be their quarterback. Childress allowed it, and ever since, he has been in control in Minnesota. Childress is just a figurehead. Sooner or later, the Vikings are going to be in a situation where Favre wants his way but Childress wants his way, and something has to give. Give the edge to Favre, who might pull the whole “This might be my last football game EVER!” card if the two get in an argument. How can Chilly argue with that? He doesn’t even know what he’s doing half the time.

I feel very little confidence in my pick. I know that if I pick my team I run the risk of being a homer, and if I pick against them I will be a traitor. I really think we can beat the Vikings, but everybody else picking them has me very worried. The Cowboys always win the games nobody thinks they can. Then they throw duds in games where they’re favored. We’re underdogs in this game, but we’re a trendy underdog. Screw it, I’m calling for a trendy upset.

Dallas wins, 24-20

New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers

This game has some pretty polarizing personalities. Everyone who isn’t a Charger fan hates Philip Rivers. Meanwhile, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan has been pretty cocky in his press conferences. Say what you will about both of them in terms of PR, but those are two guys I would rally behind any day of the week. Give me a quarterback with a fiery attitude that can back up the trash he talks with his play. At the same time, give me a flambuoyant head coach who has unparalleled confidence in his team, and who can coach the hell out of any defense.

As far as my pick goes, this one will be closer than one might think. The Chargers’ biggest strength is their ability to throw the ball. They’re awful at running it, and the Jets are great at defending the run. San Diego will basically concede that and attempt to run plenty of screens, bootlegs, and deep passes. They have the largest receiving corps in the business, and Rivers does a great job of putting the ball in a place where only they can get it. Revis has his work cut out for him as he figures to match up against Vincent Jackson, who is a Pro-Bowl snub in my book. Revis can cover anybody, but Jackson is 6’5”. Revis is 5’11”. Eventually, Jackson’s going to make a play. Revis cannot cover everybody, so he’s going to need some serious help from his LBs and from opposite corner Lito Sheppard.

Outside of the receivers for San Diego, their tight end is really good too. Antonio Gates is a matchup nightmare, and that will not change against the Jets. They’re going to have to do a lot to take him away. I think they have a great shot, with LB Bart Scott shouldering most of that load. Scott is a Pro-Bowl linebacker who is incredibly proud and he won’t let his defense lose from his own individual assignment. Rivers is going to look to Gates a lot because he might not have enough time to hit his other receivers due to the Jets’ blitz packages. They’re coming after Rivers and his fast-talking mouth. That part of the story’s already written. I can’t wait to see what happens next in the ending that has yet to be written.

The Chargers run defense is historically bad for a team that finished the season 13-3, and winners of 11 straight. The strength of the Jets is their ability to run the ball, and they are going to give the Chargers fits because of it. If the Chargers don’t stop the run, the Jets will in effect be slowing the game down to a snail’s pace, which is what they want to play it at. If not, then they give Rivers more time to find holes in a solid defense. I don’t care how good your defense is, if you leave them on the field long enough, a quarterback like Rivers is going to make something happen.I don’t like the Chargers defense outside of Antonio Cromartie. I think the game will be played the way the Jets want it to be played, and that will even out the talent-mismatch that the Chargers possess.

Jets QB Mark Sanchez will be coming home, and he will get quite the welcome. If the Jets are forced to rely on him to win this game, then the Chargers will be victorious. However, if they make him a smaller variable in the whole equation that it takes to defeat the Chargers, they can successfully pull off an upset. To win, the Jets have to do everything right, because the Chargers don’t beat themselves. I have to pick one upset, and after going 2-0 in my Saturday picks for the second straight week, I am going to take the underdog Jets over the heavily-favored Chargers.

New York wins, 20-17

Oh man I’m already regretting this pick.

Till next time.

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3 Responses to “NFL Divisional Round Preview: Part II”

  1. Nate Brew Says:

    I like it. I’m going to have to re-read this whole thing again probably 2-4 more times to take in all this football talk.

  2. Gene Says:

    Love the Jets pick.

  3. Conference Championship Games Set « An Epic Mess Says:

    […] winning, and to them I say tough sh*t. I’m extremely happy for them, not just because I picked them, but also because they are showing the NFL and its fans that you don’t have to pass in this […]

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