Monday, January 11, 2010

Thoughts from Wild Card Weekend

Lots of interesting things happened during Wild Card Weekend, although most of them happened during the Cardinals-Packers shootout. Here's what I took from this weekend's games:

-Cedric Benson is legit. I hate to say it, but at this point it's hard to deny Benson his due. He was the only major difference between the two games the Jets and Bengals played recently, rushing for 169 yards on 21 carries. Larry Johnson and Bernard Scott managed just 58 yards on 15 carries in Week 17. Benson's vision and ability to change direction proved to be a handful for the Jets defense to contain. Good thing the Bengals were losing for most of the game and never got the opportunity to unleash Benson for 30-plus carries. He's developed into a workhorse.

-Carson Palmer is overrated. I've always liked Palmer, but he isn't the Pro Bowl quarterback many think he is right now. In his last 10 games this season (including playoffs), he threw just 9 touchdowns and was intercepted 7 times. He averaged almost 29 touchdowns per season and 15 interception from 2005-2007 before an elbow injury ended his 2008 season. A lot of his struggles this season could stem from the injury and tragic death of Chris Henry, Cincinnati's best downfield playmaker. But Palmer is a statue in the pocket and looked extremely uncomfortable against the Jets these past two weeks. I'll give Palmer until the end of next season to prove me wrong.

- In a passing league, running and defense is still a winning blueprint come playoff time. The Jets and Ravens proved this point. Mark Sanchez threw 15 passes (12-15, 182 yards) against the Bengals, five more than Joe Flacco attempted against New England (4-10, 38 yards). Both teams won by double-digits. The Jets ran the ball 41 times for 171 yards, while the Ravens carried 52 times for 234 yards. Both defenses held the opposing quarterback around four yards per pass attempt and stayed in control the entire game. Let's see if the Jets and Ravens can repeat against Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, respectively.

-Tom Brady is human, especially without Wes Welker. People thought Tom Brady's early-season struggles were a result of him shaking off the rust from missing last season. But he threw 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in the season's first six weeks. Welker missed two of those games, and Brady was just 48-89 (54%) for 493 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception without his leading receiver. In the four games of the first six in which Welker played: 108-162 (67%) for 1,231 yards, 11 touchdowns, 1 intereception. And without Welker this week? 23-42, 154 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. Wes Welker is the MVP of that team, not Tom Brady.

-Its 2010 now, not 1995-2009; Those years don't matter anymore. The Eagles are 7-0 in playoff openers under Andy Reid. The Cowboys hadn't won a playoff game since 1995. The Patriots reached the Super Bowl the last three times they went undefeated at home in the regular season and were 5-0 all-time agains the Ravens. The Bengals...well...their playoff winless streak continued. But I think you can see the point. Football isn't played on paper and it sure isn't played in the past.

-Aaron Rodgers can make pedestrian receivers look like superstars. James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Spencer Havner all reached the endzone against Arizona. It doesn't matter who you are, if you get open Rodgers will hit you between the numbers or whereever he needs to. He wouldn't let his team fold down 31-10 and almost led them to a come-from-behind victory against God (read: Kurt Warner) and the Cardinals. Speaking of Kurt Warner...

-Kurt Warner is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, if there was any doubt. Just take a look at how Matt Leinart ran the Arizona offense in Week 17 against the same Packers defense. The Cardinals scored 44 more points with Warner under center, and he was virtually flawless in throwing just four incompletions. Cardinals-Saints in the dome could break the freshly-set Arizona-Green Bay record for points in playoff game.

-The Cowboys are different this season. I didn't believe this until they ended the season strong, but this Dallas team just has something going. They made it look easy against the Eagles, a team that threw all over most teams they played. The Cowboys have the pass rush and secondary to force Brett Favre into mistakes and the linebackers to keep the suddenly-underwhelming Adrian Peterson in check. I'm not saying they win for sure, but they have the best chance of any other road team this weekend.

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