BayAreaBall Musings: OTSS: Only The Strong Survive
Aaron: Alright Frank, we’re back for round 2 of the NFL playoffs which means this isn’t an academic exercise for 49ers fans anymore. It’s about to get real.
Last week was not a great showing for me. We both got the Vikings at Packers correctly and we both got the Bengals at Texans game wrong. But then you had to go and pick the Ravens and the Seahawks and make me look like a fool. As the Redskins jumped out to a 14pt lead it was looking like we’d end the weekend even, and then RG3 got broken and the Seahawks rolled.
So here we are for the best weekend of football of the year. The top 4 teams in each conference, 2 games on Saturday and 2 games on Sunday. The best of the best and only the strong will survive. The marquee game around here is obviously the Packers and the 49ers at Candlestick on Saturday night in primetime, but let’s start with the first game of the weekend: Ravens at Broncos. Who ya got?
Frank: Welp my sound strategy of selecting winners paid off again. I actually have no strategy and apparently I black out for minutes at a time while divining my selections from a rift in the time space continuum while I’m typing but that is another story for another time. As for the first Saturday game, I reached into the rift and pulled out the Baltimore Ravens. Even though almost every single statistical category favors the Denver Broncos, (I’m dead serious just look) for some reason I keep thinking that the Broncos are frauds. Sure one of the playoff teams they beat was the Baltimore Ravens but if you look at the rest of their schedule they scored a lot of points against bad teams and lost to the playoff bound ones i.e the Texans, Falcons, and Patriots. Not to mention the fact that the Baltimore offense all of a sudden seems to be clicking and you can’t tell me that Jim Caldwell, former Colts Head Coach for 3 seasons while Peyton Manning was there, isn’t getting called into the defensive film sessions and dropping some tendency knowledge about Peyton. To me this feels like a payback game for Caldwell where he gets a chance to exorcise some demons from his Indianapolis past like taking the heat for Peyton when he couldn’t get back to the mountaintop & getting done dirty by the Colts even though he ran the Suck for Luck campaign perfectly. I say he dials up a crap load of Ray Rice while keeping Joe Flacco out of trouble and under control.
Plus after the Roger Goddell and Ray Lewis love fest from last week, I’m already in full conspiracy mode and think Goddell has the fix in for the Ravens or at the very least told the refs to keep it close. Also can’t you just see Peyton Manning crapping the bed and having his worst game of the season because the pressure of getting out from under Eli’s shadow is just too much for him.
Oh and need I remind you that the Ray Lewis Retirement Dance is just too much to handle right now.
Let’s save the Niners for last this week, so give me your pick for the Ravens vs Denver and then your thoughts on the first Sunday game Seattle vs Atlanta.
AR: Right off the bat we disagree. I like the Broncos over the Ravens, possibly by a big score. I would never discount Ray Lewis, especially in his farewell tour, I just don’t trust Joe Flacco. At all. I’ve seen Peyton Manning crap his pants in a lot of big games (he’s one of the more underrated playoff chokers) and I still trust him more than Joe Flacco. Toss in some elevation and the fact that the Ravens D isn’t real young and is working on a short week against a rested team and I think there’s too much to overcome even if Peyton puts up his standard playoff stinkbomb. I’m with you on the fact that the Broncos are a little fraudulent and have the top seed because they play in what is easily the worst division in football though. This one will be decided early. If Manning can get the Broncos off to a quick start and put pressure on Flacco to keep up I think this game gets ugly. The best hope for the Ravens is to keep it close and rely on Ray Rice for offense.
The early Sunday game is the toughest game of the weekend to pick, as evidenced by the Seahawks getting just 3 pts as the 5 seed on the road against the top seed. There are so many factors at play here: the Seahawks just lost Chris Clemons, Steven Hauschka’s injured, Abraham may be ineffective due to his injury, the Falcons haven’t won a playoff game in the Smith/Ryan era, and the Seahawks have been looking like a juggernaut lately. This game will more or less come down to the Falcons’ 12th ranked rush defense against the Seahawks’ 3rd ranked ground attack, and the Seahawks’ 6th ranked pass defense against the Falcons’ 6th ranked passing offense. Those rankings, plus the fact that Seattle’s passing attack is better than Atlanta’s atrocious ground game (29th in the league), would suggest that Seattle has the edge.
And yet I can’t shake the feeling that Mike Smith and Matty Ice (worst nickname in sports that I can’t stop using) are due or the feeling that I still don’t fully trust Seattle on the road. For sure they can’t get off to the kind of start they did in Washington and expect to win. With RG3 limping even before he was knocked out the Redskins just couldn’t put the Seahawks away early despite ample opportunity to do just that. Atlanta won’t be the same experience for them. Throw in the loss of Clemens and Ryan Longwell making his first kicks of the season under intense pressure and I think the Falcons hang on in a very tight and entertaining game. I think. Like I said, for me this is the hardest game to pick and I have absolutely no confidence in my pick because there’s a chance it’s being influenced (a lot) by the fact that I just don’t like Seattle. I can neither confirm nor deny that I make the “I just threw up in my mouth” face whenever I think of this Seahawks team.
Since we both picked New England to make yet another Super Bowl appearance last week I’m guessing you’re taking the Pats in the second Sunday game just like I am. I guess the only question then is, can Houston make it a game or is this a replay of the week 14 beatdown that the Pats issued the Texans on Monday Night Football? I say the Pats will once again layeth the smack down. The Texans made it relatively close against Andy Dalton and a struggling Bengals offense last week despite playing the game in Houston, and BREAKING NEWS: Tom Brady is better than Andy Dalton.
On a sidenote I don’t think AJ Green caught a pass until the 3rd quarter and may not have even been targeted in the 1st half. Whaaaaaat? How is that possible? Who drew up that gameplan and why haven’t they been fired yet? I was shocked because Mike Silver is an NFL Insider according to KNBR and he’s always telling the world what a genius Hue Jackson is. Was Mike Brown calling plays in that game just to keep AJ Green’s asking price down? To me AJ Green gets the old school Randy Moss treatment: at least once a quarter you throw him a deep ball regardless of whether it’s one-on-one, double coverage, or all 11 guys form a phalanx and surround him. I mean that’s like ignoring Vernon Davis in favor of getting Delanie Walker involved.
FG: First, why are you killing my boy Hue? Secondly, I’m glad we can agree on the early Sunday Game. I also think it’s going to be a tough tight game but it will inevitably fall on the shoulders of Matt Ryan. Seriously though, whoever came up with the Matty Ice nickname needs to be drawn and quartered right? I hate the nickname because Ryan hasn’t done anything under pressure that would warrant him being cool under pressure or have the aforementioned Ice water running through his veins. No seriously name one thing he’s done under pressure? Oh that’s right people who continue to call him that, you can’t name one! SO STOP CALLING HIM MATTY ICE!
Sorry had to get that off my chest. Even though the Seahawks probably have the best 2 corners to combat the Jones and White duo, the loss of Chris Clemons on the Seattle defensive line is going to prove costly. Plus I don’t think that 1st Rounder Bruce Irvin is quite ready to be an every down defensive end and to adequately replace Clemons. Which is why I think Jacquizz Rodgers is going to be the Falcons most valuable asset out of the backfield. Without the same amount of pressure from the front line, I think the LB’s will be exposed a little and won’t be as quick to the ball as you normally expect from the Seahawks. Rodgers will be able to take advantage of this and I think he is going to have a big day catching a lot of passes out of the backfield with open space to operate in. Thus keeping my “Atlanta in the Super Bowl” pick alive.
Also I probably don’t share the same amount of hate that you do for the Seahawks but if it’s any consolation, I hate the Broncos the same way that you hate Seattle. So much so that every time I see a picture of the Broncos logo, I got out and by some Elmer’s glue and mail it to the Denver offices with a note saying, “I hope this happens to your entire organization!”
As for the final Sunday game, I don’t see why the Patriots don’t lay down a solid run of the mill beat down on the Texans. Now that Gronkowski is back, even if he isn’t technically at full strength, it give the Pats another weapon and that just spells more trouble for the Texans. Sure the Texans were able to keep the Bengals in check but like you said, that was against Andy Dalton and Tom Brady is no Andy Dalton. Plus even if everyone and their mother are picking the Patriots and every single paper in Boston is coming up with new and interesting ways to insult the Texans, the Patriots are still just a better team with a more proven track record. Literally, the only way the Texans can win this game is if Brady somehow tears his rotator cuff fixing his hair and Arian Foster then goes out to have the game of his life scoring 3 TD’s and rushing for 275 yards and essentially keeping the Pats offense off the field.
But here’s a question, what if the Patriots do actually lose? Can that please end the Brady is better than Montana talk once and for all? I’m not a fan of either QB but respect what both have done and to say that Brady even holds a candle to Montana is a little disrespectful. Plus, if it weren’t for a money kicker named Adam Vinatieri I think Brady’s career takes a little different course in terms of All-Time greatness.
Ok, now the game that everyone wants to hear and talk about, the Niners vs Packers which is the late game on Saturday. This game is probably my “Too close to call game” because, biases aside, every time I have an argument for 1 team winning I can counter it with and equally compelling argument as to why the other should win. God I’m getting sick even saying this but I think that the Niners will pull this game out with a game winning field goal by, DAVID AKERS.
Sure everything about the Niners winning will hinge on how effective Justin Smith can be and how long he can stay in the game before he tears his tricep completely. But the true key for a Niners victory will be how well the secondary can stand up to the Packers offense and if they can create turnovers. Rodgers will be throwing early and often and it is going to be up to the secondary to set the tone in terms of being physical with the Packers receivers if they stand a chance of winning.
I actually think Kaepernick is going to play fine and Frank Gore is going to have a solid game but as we both know, the defense is what makes this team a contender and it will be the defense that will need to win this game. Another factor playing in my controversial decision to select the Niners is because everyone in the national media is picking the Packers to win going away. Although if I were a Niner fan, I would be worried about the resurgence of the Packers defense and how they might be able to fluster Kaepernick into some detrimental turnovers. If Kaepernick gets in trouble early, do we see the return of Alex Smith? If you’re Alex Smith would you even come back if asked? Also if the Niners end up losing, does the Bay Area media go in on Harbaugh or do they wuss out and make excuses for him?
Alright Aaron, finish the final game off with your pick and the reasons why or why not the Niners will be victorious tomorrow?
AR: I guess we have pretty different opinions on Brady but I’m probably biased by the time I spent watching him in Boston. And the fact that I’ve been a Michigan fan my whole life. And the fact that he also grew up on the Peninsula. It’s almost hard to remember now but the Pats were horrendous before Brady and Belichick came along. Yeah they had Drew Bledsoe and Parcells and they made it to a couple Super Bowls but year in and year out they were generally a trainwreck. While I give Montana the slight edge over Brady it’s not like Montana went undefeated in his career either. Among all-time QB’s I put Montana 1, Brady 2. In Brady’s defense I also think that the more recent Patriots teams were pretty unbalanced, and outside of the time he had Moss he’s never really had a great WR corps. Welker might be the best slot guy ever but Brady has spent the majority of his career without any significant threat on the outside.
But enough about Brady and the Pats. I’m leaning the same way as you on the 49ers against the Packers, which makes sense considering I picked them to go to the Super Bowl. I’m with you on the need for the Niners to force a couple of turnovers but I think the key players on each side are Justin Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Obviously the question with Smith is how effective he can be, and there’s no doubt that if he goes out there for 2 plays and can’t continue the 49ers are in trouble. He clearly won’t be himself, however I do think he can hang in there long enough to have an impact. The question for the Packers is do they give him his usual double-team or gamble that he’s too injured to really do anything and try to match up with him one-on-one?
We’ve seen what Kaepernick brings to the 49ers offense, never more so than in the game against the Pats where he created some big plays. He’ll probably need 1 or 2 such plays in this game, and with Rodgers on the other sideline getting 7’s instead of 3’s (which are no sure thing right now) is going to be critical. But eventually, this game is going to come down to whether he can channel a little Alex Smith. The 49ers have to win the time of possession battle, and probably have to win it pretty decisively. That means they need a couple of those 14-15 play drives that chew up 7-8 minutes of the clock and, hopefully, culminate with touchdowns. To do that he’s going to have to show some touch on the shorter passes in addition to the big arm he flashes on throws down the field. I’d love to see some screens set up for LaMichael James to get him some opportunities to play in space, and I think the gameplan should feature Kaepernick under center at least 50% of the time. The pistol is great and he’s clearly very comfortable in the shotgun but as I said, controlling the clock is going to be imperative in this game and the 49ers running game is more diverse and Frank Gore is more effective with the QB under center.
The usual caveats all apply to this game as well: get off to a quick start, win the turnover battle, be aggressive but not reckless, don’t take too many penalties, etc. In the end I think the Niners get it done and advance to play in Atlanta next weekend for a trip to the Super Bowl.
Of course the fact that we agree on a 49ers vs Falcons NFC Championship Game means it’ll be the Seahawks traveling to Lambeau next week.
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