January 08, 2009

Wildcard Weekend

A friend showed me this site, AdvancedNFLStats.com, which I've spent quite a bit of time reading over the past few days. The author takes a lot of misconceptions in football and clarifies them with statistical analysis. Being a numbers guy I'm fascinated with the stuff he's got here, everything from debunking things like "establishing the run", to whether or not defenses truly win championships, or his take on Spygate.

A lot went on last weekend and I just wanted to weigh in on the weekend of exciting football.

The first game we watched was Atlanta in Arizona. Right off the bat Matt Ryan threw an interception and I thought oh boy, this rookie needs to settle down, which he did. What shocked me early on about the Cards was how much they were running the football in the first quarter, and then why they abandoned the run thereafter. It's a wonder to me how such a potent aerial assault remained successful with no running game whatsoever, unless you count goal-line plunges/dives by Tim Hightower.

Even though Atlanta lost, you'd have to be pretty satisfied and if anything, vindicated, if you're a Falcons fan after the Michael Vick fiasco. This team is headed back in the right direction. Matt Ryan easily had one of the best rookie seasons for a QB since, well, this season's MVP Peyton Manning. And his team certainly had a far better record to show for.

Arizona faces Carolina next week in Carolina, where they face very steep odds of upsetting a team that pretty much dominates them in every facet of the sport. My advice for the Cards is to run, run, and then run some more. Edgerrin James is a fresh after having done almost nothing this year! USE HIM! If there is one thing Carolina isn't so great at, it's stopping the run.

The second game we watched was a heartbreaker. My brother says he hates being a Colts fan in January, and I can see exactly what he means. They break your heart.

I'm not going to say much about this game because it was too close to my heart. Neither of these teams were headed to the Superbowl anyway. Anyone who watched it knows why the Colts lost. Bad defense, terrible tackling and an ineffective running game. Why the Chargers won? Darren Sproles. Their offense sputtered and their backup runningback stepped up against one of the worst run defenses in the playoffs to win it. The Chargers are gonna get demolished by the Steelers.

What I do want to talk about is two things. How in world does an 8-8 team have home field advantage over a 12-4 team? Where is Mark Cuban when you need him most? Mr. Goodell, I propose that you change the rules: Divisional Champs can still make the playoffs, but the seeding needs to change. Home field goes to teams with better records.

Second thing is the overtime. The coin toss that has decided 60% of all overtime games in the past 8 years. Did you know that 99% of all team who won the coin toss in overtime have elected to receive? And 60% of those teams who got the ball first won the game? 30% of all overtime games ended in the coin-toss loser having never touched the ball on offense.

My proposal is this: Have a 5th period that is not sudden death, teams just play another 15 minutes to decide the game. If the game is still tied by the end of the 5th quarter, then play college style where one team tries to equal or better the other as they take turns on offense. Loser of a coin toss tries first. It's a shoot-out of sorts, football style.

I missed the Baltimore Ravens against the Miami Dolphins because I was watching the Raptors beat the Magic at the ACC. Joe Flacco won that game Trent Dilfer style, by doing nothing and relying on blistering defense. The NFL's Most Improved Player Chad Pennington decided to kick it "old school" and reminded the league of why the Jets gave up on him in the first place, throwing 4 interceptions in a 35-9 drubbing.

The Ravens will have to show a lot more on offense against the Titans in Tennessee. I believe in Joe Flacco more than Kerry Collins, but I think the Titans can take this simply by shoving the ball down the Ravens' throats with Chris Johnson and Lendale White. I am hoping Jeff Fisher has dissected every second of the Giants' win over the Ravens back in November. In that game, the Giants attacked Ravens' formidable run defense and found a way to get through. Lendale White is built like a tank, similar to Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. And between you and me, there is no comparison between Chris Johnson and Ahmad Bradshaw. The Titans have what it takes to win this one.

The final matchup was between the Eagles and the Vikings. I've never been a huge fan of the Eagles, or Donovan McNabb but I thought this game was the Eagles to lose. Even though they squeaked into the playoffs having had pretty much every impossible scenario fall into place, I honestly thought they were the better team even coming into it. Tavaris Jackson was replaced for a reason. He's young and raw and given that he didn't have the entire season to develop confidence, the minute he started to thwart, it was all downhill and you could feel it happening right before your eyes. There was no way this team was going to go deep into the playoffs with an inexperienced quarterback. McNabb is the QB that Tavaris Jackson hopes to become in 5-6 years.

The Eagles at the Giants game this week is the one to look out for. I think it is the most evenly matched.

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