Saturday, January 21, 2006AFC Championship Breakdown: Offense
Quarterbacks: Both Jake Plummer and Ben Roethlisberger have solidified their reputation as tough, rugged quarterbacks from the old days. Neither will light up a scoreboard but both have been solid in the playoffs thus far. Roethlisberger has the highest passer rating and more touchdowns thrown in the postseason, Plummer wasn’t great against the Patriots, but he did avoid the big mistakes. In a game that could come down to one of these quarterbacks making a play, it seems like "Big Ben" might be the more reliable signal caller. Edge: Pittsburgh
Running Backs: The Steelers will use Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis to get a bulk of the yardage. Parker is the quicker, powerful back, efficient in running inside and outside. Bettis is most effective at the goal line or when the Steelers are ahead and looking to kill the clock. The Broncos bring the heat with Mike Anderson, but don’t be surprised to get a healthy does of Tatum Bell, especially if the altitude begins to effect the Steelers defense. Anderson is a 1,000-yard rusher with underrated speed. Bell almost reached 1,000 yards and has world-class speed. It’s even on both ends, but I think the Broncos combo packs a more explosive punch. Edge: Denver
Wide Receivers: Pittsburgh has a strong veteran starting core of Hines Ward, Antwan Randle-El and Cedric Wilson in three-receiver sets. Rookie tight end Heath Miller has quickly become an offensive threat, especially in the red zone. Denver is led by veteran Rod Smith, who is certainly no stranger to the playoffs, and speedster Ashley Lelie. Tight ends Stephen Alexander and Jeb Putzier are decent safety valve options, but strong blockers for the runner game. If Roethlisberger gets hot, the Steelers can do some damage with the pass. Edge: Pittsburgh
Offensive Line: Only the Kansas City Chiefs provide better run blocking than Denver. The Broncos offensive line isn’t full of big names, but it remains very effective against even the toughest defense. Pittsburgh’s line is led by a strong interior of Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings, the best guard center combination in the league. Both lines are so talented that the game will come down to conditioning. In the Denver air, I like the leaner Broncos line over the bigger Pittsburgh one. Edge: Denver
Kickers: Denver’s Jason Elam has been amongst the best in the league for the last ten years. He’s accurate, with a huge leg and shares the NFL record with a 63-yarder. Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed is a decent kicker who was 24-29 in one of the most tricky stadiums to kick in. In the end, Elam is a big-time performer along the lines of Adam Vinatieri and he’ll make the kick that counts. Edge: Denver
Friday, January 20, 2006NFC Championship Breakdown: Defense
Defensive Line: If Julius Peppers was healthy the Panthers would have a huge advantage, as it is he’ll only be about 60% and that makes a big difference. Carolina also has Mike Rucker and super substitute Al Wallace to form a solid core of pass rushers. Brentson Buckner is a strong inside presence but there’s no doubt that the Panthers would be much better with Kris Jenkins in the lineup. Grant Winstrom will be the key for Seattle because he’s quick enough to slide to the outside on those WR screens the Panthers love and he’s a skilled rusher. Rocky Bernard will also see a lot of playing time as an inside rusher. In the end Carolina, even without a healthy Peppers, has the better front line. Edge: Carolina
Linebackers: Another area where Carolina’s experience will come into play. Dan Morgan is a strong, albeit constantly injured, middle man while Will Witherspoon and Brandon Short are strong assignment outside backers. This isn’t an overwhelming group, but they are solid and make few mistakes. Lofa Tatupu is a tackling machine for the Seahawks, he covers a lot of ground and doesn’t miss often. Leroy Hill is another new starter who has given the Seattle defense a new look. This is a near even matchup depending on if you like veterans or rookies. Edge: Even
Secondary: Remember the name Marcus Trufant because he’s going to be the one Seattle leans on to contain Steve Smith. He’ll have a lot of help, probably from safety Michael Boulware. Seattle’s secondary has been banged up in the second half of the season, but they are a decent unit when healthy. Carolina has Ken Lucas (former Seahawk, bitter man) and Chris Gamble, two solid corners plus Ricky Manning Jr. who intercepted three passes in the NFC Championship game against Donovan McNabb two years ago, as a nickelback. Marlon McCree has stood tall in as a safety next to veteran Mike Minter. Carolina scores well here. Edge: Carolina
Special Teams: Seattle doesn’t punt a lot and when they do Tom Rouen has shown to be what he is, a journeyman. His main job will be to punt the ball high and away from Smith. Carolina picked up Jason Baker in a hurry-up attempt to rid themselves of Todd Sauerbraun and his 38.9 net average is the second best in the league. Peter Warrick will replace Jimmy Williams at the punt return spot for Seattle and while he’s mostly been inactive this season, he is a great clutch return specialist. John Fox stresses field position and kick coverage and that gives the Panthers the edge. Edge: Carolina
Intagibles: Seattle is 9-0 at home and has a strong advantage at Qwest Stadium. Carolina is 8-2 on the road. Both coaches have been to Super Bowls as assistants and head coaches but only Holmgren has the ring. Carolina is a road warrior team but with injuries piling up it was be especially tough to win a third consecutive road game. Seattle is still widely disrespected and will be looking to prove that they deserve to be here. Edge: Seattle
Overall: I think Seattle wins partially due to a great home field advantage and partially due to a very banged up Carolina team. It will be close and competitive throughout however, 23-17.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006NFC Championship Breakdown: Offense
These are four pretty evenly matched teams. In the case of the NFC, Seattle has the gaudy record, but they have the weak schedule and even a victory over the Redskins doesn't erase the stigma of being a good team rather than a great team.
The Panthers are hardly a great team, but they are tough as hell and it seems like the more banged up and bruised up they are, the tougher they become. Let's see how it shakes out.
Quarterback: Matt Hasselbeck is the NFC's Pro Bowl quarterback and one of the best QBs in the league. Jake Delhomme is a scrapper who saves his best performances for the biggest game. There's no question that the talent edge goes to Hasselbeck, but Delhomme is much better in the playoffs (4-1, 3-0 on the road) and has victories in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to his credit. The Seattle crowd, as tough as it is, should not have an effect on him. Hasselbeck proved last week that he can carry Seattle to a postseason victory but can he do it twice? One thing this playoff season has taught us is that the guy who's been there before has the edge, however slight it may be. Slight Slight Slight Edge: Carolina
Running Back: If Shawn Alexander is healthy its not even close. He should play, but with a concussion it'll be hard to see how long he goes. Mo Morris is servicable, but he's not considered a quality backup. The Panthers are down to third-stringer Nick Goings, who has considerable experience and actually rushed for five 100-yard games last season when he was called on. Mack Strong is one of the best lead fullbacks in the game, if not the best. Since Alexander will play, the edge has to go to the Seahawks. Edge: Seattle
Receivers/Tight Ends: Steve Smith was the best receiver in the league in 2005, while I expect the Seahawks to challenge him at least a little better than the Bears, he's going to get open and catch some balls. Carolina's other receivers are more known for their strong blocking within the running game than their catching ability. Seattle has been banged up at this position, but Darrell Jackson caught nine balls for 143 yards with his broken-down body. He's in considerable pain, but he's playing. The Seahawks have Joe Jurevicius and Jerramy Stevens as other receiving options, but in this case one is greater than three. Edge: Carolina
Offensive Line: Walter Jones is the premier offensive tackle in the NFL. He anchors a strong line with Chad Hutchinson and newly-installed bad boy Sean Locklear. They are an excellent pass protection line and they paved the way for 1,800 yards from Alexander. They will have their hands full with the Panthers' defensive line. Carolina's line should inclue tight end Kris Mangum as they do a good bit of max protection. Jordan Gross and Jeff Mitchell are the leaders on a good line that stresses conditioning for long, tough ground-based drives. Edge: Seattle
Kickers: John Kasay didn't have one of his best years, going 26-of-34 but he's perfect in the postseason including 3-for-3 last week against Chicago. Josh Brown wasn't much better, going 18-for-25, but he's got a big leg, kicking 5-of-8 from 50 yards or further and seems to make his best kicks from the longer distance. His knowledge of the Seattle conditions gives him the edge in this case. Edge: Seattle
Sunday, January 15, 2006The Curses of Irony....
Well later we find out his knee got sliced up by his wife during a domestic dispute. His wife, Danielle, is in jail without bond, which is probably a good thing for her because Colts fans might want to kill her. [Indy Star]
Here's the irony. With a minute left, Jerome Bettis fumbles and who picks up the loose ball but Nick Harper. He's running, but laboring obviously and whereas a perfectly healthy Nick Harper might've taken the fumble 97 yards, the injured Harper only went half that distance. And the Steelers held on.
Moral of this story is simple: Women always ruin football games.