Saturday, January 28, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI: New England Patriots

     It came down to one field goal. Three points would tie the game for Baltimore, sending an already exciting game into overtime. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff aims, not wanting to miss this 32 yarder. In the playoffs, there is small margin for error, even less so when playing in the AFC Championship game. In this case, an error would keep the Ravens out of the Super Bowl once again. Finally, the ball is snapped, Cundiff makes contact, and sends the ball flying into the air. It appears like it may go in, but suddenly, the football creeps towards the left post, until a large gust sends it wide left. He had missed. The game was over. The New England Patriots did extremely well in the regular season, with a final record of 13-3. Once in the playoffs, Tom Brady dismantled Tim Tebow's Broncos, leading his team to an easy 45-10 win at home. After beating the Ravens in a nail-biting 23-20 victory, the Patriots will play the Giants in the Super Bowl once again. With one week left before Super Bowl Sunday, The NFL Report will break down the Patriots as a team, and how they have been able to do so well this year.

Tom Brady
Offense: Everyone knows that, when it comes to the playoffs, the quarterback position is the most important role. Luckily, Tom Brady knows how to win games. Though things have not gone his way of late in the playoffs, Brady has been great during this years Super Bowl run. In a traditional football season, Brady's outstanding statistics would have won him the MVP Award in a land slide.  Unfortunately for the Patriots quarterback, he will likely finish third in the MVP voting. This does not mean his 5,235 passing yards and 42 total touchdowns is a terrible thing, because obviously it helped him get back to the Super Bowl. In my opinion, Brady is the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, and a 4th Super Bowl win would only solidify my confidence. As a team, the Patriots offense is ranked among the top 5 in nearly every major passing statistic. The Welker-Gronkowski tandem has combined for a league leading 2,896 receiving yards, the most out of any WR-TE duo in the NFL. Last weekend, Gronk suffered a severe ankle sprain against Baltimore, and has yet to participate in practice. Though the Pats have 2nd string tight end Aaron Hernandez to fill that role, Gronkowski's power and size creates serious problems for opposing team's defenses. When it comes to running the ball, the Patriots were disappointed with their running backs Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Instead of ranking among the top 10 in terms of rushing yards per game (ranked 9th in 2010), the Patriots dropped  down to 20th in 2011 (110.2 rushing yards per game). Not only did the team's rushing yards go down, but running back BenJarvis Green-Ellis rushed for just 667 yards compared to 1,008 in 2010. Surprisingly, rookie running back Steven Ridley has been clutch for the Patriots; though he rushed for 441 yards, he was only given 87 attempts, resulting in a 5.1 yards per carry. Sadly, Ridley did not play against the Ravens due to a fumble in the Divisional Round, and it is not likely he will play much in the Super Bowl as well. In this years playoffs, the Patriots' offensive line has been extraordinary. In two postseason games, Brady has been sacked just once, coming against the notorious Ravens D. The offensive line will be extremely important next weekend against a team who has a total of 7 sacks in the playoffs. If there is anything the Patriots can do, it is scoring points. The Ravens did a great job of containing Tom Brady, but he will look for revenge against New York in Indianapolis.

Defense: Atrocious. That is the best way to describe the Patriots defense this season. Ranked close to last  in nearly every defensive statistic. When it comes to the Patriots pass defense, New England allows close to 300 yards in the air each game. Along with yards allowed, New England is tied for last in 1st down percentage each passing attempt (39.6%). However, things weren't all bad for New England; the Patriots were tied for second in interceptions with 23 (only behind Green Bay). Clearly, the Pats did a great job forcing turnovers, for they also tied for second in fumbles recovered with 10. The defensive line did a great job in 2011, allowing 117.1 yards per game, ranked 16th overall. Sadly, the Patriots are not exactly the same status as the 49ers rush defense, with 13 rushing touchdowns allowed during the regular season. The pass rush gradually improved as the season progressed, and they finished 14th overall with 40 total sacks. Considering they were without players like Jerard Mayo (2 missed games) and Patrick Chung (missed 8 games) for several weeks, the defense was still able to contain great teams. So, when you add all of this up, who would have thought the defense was the main reason they were able to conquer Baltimore in Foxborough. The Ravens are not known for passing the ball, but what the Patriots did a spectacular job of was shutting down star running back Ray Rice, limiting him to 78 total yards and no touchdowns. If the momentum on defense can carry over into the Super Bowl, the Patriots do not have much to worry about. Like I said, the playoffs are all about consistency, and that is what New England's defense needs most. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Conference Championship Preview

 We are just two weeks away from Super Bowl XLVII, and it is sure to be a great one. With four teams remaining (Patriots, Ravens, 49ers and Giants), it shall make the games this weekend even better. The Divisional Round had some exciting outcomes, and I would not be surprised if that carried over to the Conference Championship. From 3 o'clock onwards, football fans everywhere will tune into the NFL playoffs in what should be another memorable weekend for football.

Ravens at Patriots: After dominating the highly revered Denver Broncos, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will move on to the AFC Championship game for the 6th time in 11 years. The offense in New England looked extroidanry against the Broncos, led by future hall of famer Tom Brady (record tying 6 touchdown passes). However, the most astonishing part of last game was how well the Patriot's defense played. Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns against one of the league's best defenses, the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, in the Divisional Round, Tebow's luck ran out, and he passed for a mediocre 136 yards with no touchdowns against the horrific Pats secondary. It is not like Tebow was running the ball well, either; in 31 dropabcks, the Broncos quarterback was sacked behind the line 5 times, one of which resulted in a turnover. As for Baltimore, the number 2 seed is coming off of a spectacular defensive performance against the Houston Texans (4 turnovers). However, the offense was lacking any sort of stand out performance, especially from star running back Ray Rice. Also, Pro-Bowl safety Ed Reed participated in a limited practice due to an ankle injury. If their star defender were to be missing against the Pats, there is no way the Ravens can beat the outstanding Tom Brady in Foxborough.
Patriots over Ravens: 30-20
Stand-Out Performance: QB Tom Brady: 320 passing yards, 2 passing TD's, 1 rushing TD

Giants at 49ers: Last weekend, the 2 seeded San Francisco 49ers beat Drew Brees in a thriller at home. Though they were ranked higher, the 49ers were considered to be the underdog entering Saturday's game. The main reason they were able to defeat New Orleans (besides with their exceptional defense) was due to their great passing performance from quarterback Alex Smith. Normally, Smith would throw for a mediocre 200 yards each game. However, against New Orleans, he had 299 yards with four total touchdowns. This weekend, they will play the New York Giants at home, a team who is coming off of a surprising win over the Green Bay Packers. Like the defense in San Francisco, the Giants defense was absolutely incredible in the Divisional Round. Traditionally, Aaron Rodgers picks apart defenses, especially in important games. However, New York was able to sack Rodgers 5 times, picked him off once, and recovered a fumble as well. The offense did great as well, led by quarterback Eli Manning (330 passing yards, 3 passing TD's) and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (7 receptions, 165 yards, 2 TD's). If both teams play to their full potential, the 49ers have the edge. However, in the playoffs, it is all about consistency.
49ers over Giants 34-27 (OT)
Stand-Out Performance: K David Akers: 5 FGA, 5 FGM, 1 Game Tying FG

Friday, January 13, 2012

Divisional Round Preview

Someway, somehow, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are advancing to the AFC Divisional Round after an overtime thriller at home. Sure the Steelers were affected by a large amount of injuries, but the fact of the matter is Denver wasn't even supposed to make the playoffs once they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. Along with Broncos, the three other teams who had home-field won each of their Wild Card games, a rare occurrence in the NFL Playoffs. There are 4 GREAT games taking place this weekend, and The NFL Report has everything you need to know about the 2012 NFL Divisional Round!

Tom Brady
Saints at 49ers: There is no better way to kick off the NFL Divisional Round then with an intense game between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers. The Saints are coming off of a dominating win over Detroit at home, and have not lost a game since Week 9. Unfortunately for MVP candidate Drew Brees, his team will not be playing at the Superdome this weekend, where their record is an outstanding 9-0 this year. Instead, they will play in windy San Francisco against the rolling 49ers defense. San Francisco has done extremely well at home, with notable wins coming against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Giants. The Saints have not done very well on the road, losing to mediocre teams whom they should have beaten. However, due to the fact many of the 49ers have never played in a playoff game, the inexperience may come back to haunt them. Quarterback Alex Smith is not considered to be great at his position, so coach Jim Harbaugh must rely heavily on star runningback Frank Gore and the stellar defense as well. The only way the number one offense in New Orleans can defeat the spectacular 49ers defense is if they can finally do well on the road. Otherwise, Drew Brees will fall short of the Super Bowl once again.
Saints over 49ers 24-13
Stand-Out Performance: RB Frank Gore: 80 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD

Broncos at Patriots: Tim Tebow has shocked the world; last Sunday night, he led his Denver Broncos to win over the heavily favored Pittsburgh Steeler in overtime. Many believed his inexperience would lead to a Bronco loss, but he was still able to defeat the defending AFC Champions. The road to the Super Bowl does not get any easier, as they play New England away from home. The last time these two teams faced off, Tim Tebow began by trampling the weak Patriots defense. However, by the end of the 2nd quarter, Tom Brady took over and led his team to 41-23 win on the road. Luckily for Denver, their quarterback was able to pass for 316 yards and 3 total touchdowns against the stellar Steelers defense. Though the Patriots are not known for their defense, I do not expect Tebow to come out slinging for the second game in a row. Foxboro is not an easy place to play in, especially come playoff time. Brady has not won a playoff game since 2007, but I believe that streak will be snapped on Saturday night.
Patriots over Broncos 33-24
Stand-Out Performance: QB Tom Brady: 315 passing yards, 2 passing TD's

Texans at Ravens: There is no better matchup than when a great defense battles a great defense. Though Baltimore may not be as strong as in previous years, veteran linebacker Ray Lewis has led his team to a 12-4 record and a first round bye. Now, Baltimore will play the Houston Texans at home, a team who defeated Cincinnati last weekend. Houston ranks in the top five in nearly ever major defensive category, especially when it comes to yards allowed. Arian Foster is coming off of an extraordinary performance against Cincinnati, with 153 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. However, Ravens running back Ray Rice is one of the best in the league, most likely better than the running back in Houston. Rice ran for 1,365 yards plus 12 rushing touchdowns in the 2011 season, also having 160 total yards when Baltimore played Houston back in Week 6. In this defensive matchup, Ray Rice along with the Baltimore defense will be too much for the Texans, and Baltimore will go on to play in the AFC Championship Game.
Ravens over Texans 20-13
Stand-Out Performance: RB Ray Rice: 135 rushing yards, 2 Rushing TD's

Giants at Packers: Aaron Rodgers. Every football fan dreads the name, for it means the invincible Green Bay Packers are coming to town. The Packers lost just once this season, coming against the mediocre Kansas City Chiefs. The MVP-candidate Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of 122.5 this season, a single season record. Though the offense has been great, the defense in Green Bay has been absolutely terrible (ranked dead last in points allowed per game). The New York Giants on the other hand are coming off of a great defensive performance, limiting the great Falcons offense to just two points. Quarterback Eli Manning has been great, one of the 10 passers to throw for over 4,000 yards. Wide recievers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Knicks have both done very well, and are two great options for Eli. When it comes to the rushing game, New York has a large advantage with running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, even though they ranked dead last in rushing yards per game in the regular season. The last time these two teams met, Rodgers and the Packers won thanks to a game winning field goal by Mason Crosby. Unfortunately for New York, they must travel to Wisconsin and try to beat the Packers in Lambeau Field. However, I am predicting an upset on Saturday night, and Eli Manning will come out on top.
Giants over Packers 34-30
Stand-Out Performance: QB Eli Manning: 355 passing yards, 3 passing TDs, 1 rushing TD

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

NFL Report Wild Card Round Preview

The 2011 NFL playoffs are finally underway, after several hectic weeks of regular season football. There are many great teams with high expectations entering the playoffs, such as the Packers, Patriots and 49ers. However, every year, an unexpected team makes a deep run and upsets at least one highly favored team. As for this year, I suspect that team will be the New York Giants. In Week 13, New York almost pulled off an upset against the heavily favored Packers, losing by just three points. They enter the playoffs with back to back wins against the Jets and Cowboys, two highly regarded teams in the league. The Giants will play the Atlanta Falcons at home in what should be a great game. Out of the AFC, watch out for the deadly Cincinnati Bengals. Though they lack experience, that team has the heart and soul needed to win the Super Bowl. Without further ado, I present the Wild Card Round Preview:

Arian Foster
Bengals at Texans: Sadly for the Texans, they enter the playoffs with three straight losses, one of which coming against the 2-14 Colts. However, the Texans had clinched a playoff spot in Week 14, so they did not necessarily need to try due to the risk of injury. Ironically, the most recent win for Houston came against the Cinciannati Bengals. This weekend, the Bengals must play on the road in order to advance. They have an extremely inexperienced team this season, led by rookies AJ Green and Andy Dalton. However, the same could be said for Houston, who have just clinched their first playoff birth in franchise history. On paper, Houston has the edge with a slightly better defense and a better running game. However, their cold streak may hurt themselves against the determined Bengals. In the end, it should be a close game, but I think the Bengals will upset the 3rd seed this Saturday.
Bengals over Texans 24-17 (OT)
Stand-Out Performance: RB Arian Foster: 105 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD

Steelers at Broncos: It appears as if Tim Tebow's aura has faded; like Houston, the Denver Broncos have lost their last three games. What is the problem? Defenses have finally figured out Tim Tebow. However, it will not get any easier for Denver, as they face the intimidating Steelers defense this weekend. Pittsburgh is ranked 1st in passing yards allowed per game (171.9), 1st in receiving yards allowed per game (186.3) and 1st in total yards allowed per game (271.8). The most important statistic in favor of Pittsburgh is the fact they are ranked 2nd overall in rushing touchdowns allowed (7). Against a team like Denver who relies heavily on their running game, the defense will need play with a sense of urgency. This should be an easy win for Big Ben, even without star running back Rashard Mendenhall.
Steelers over Broncos 24-10
Stand-Out Performance: S Troy Polamalu: 7 tackles, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 Sack

Lions at Saints: There is no team in the NFL doing as well as Drew Brees' Saints. In the past three games, the Saints offense averages 44 points per game. The main contributor? Star quarterback Drew Brees. In 2011, the Saints QB set the record for the most passing yards in a single season with 5,476. Not only does Brees have a cannon for an arm, but he is extremely accurate; Brees led the league this season with the highest completion percentage (71.2). The Saints have the most net points in the league as well (208), a combination of points for and points against. Though the Lions have great offense, there is no way they can compete with the rolling Saints. Detroit is coming off a disappointing loss against the Green Bay Packers , even though Green Bay played 2nd string quarterback Matt Flynn (480 passing yards, 6 touchdowns). If the Lions defense can't even control Matt Flynn, there is no way they can handle the amazing Drew Brees.
Saints over Lions: 45-17
Stand-Out Performance: QB Drew Brees: 430 passing yards, 4 passing TD's

Falcons at Giants: After a competitive game against Dallas in Week 17, the Giants are in the playoffs. Sadly, the road is not an easy one for New York fans; Atlanta, led by it's offense, is coming off of a dominating win over Tampa Bay. On paper, the Atlanta defense is better than the defense in New York; they are ahead in nearly every major defensive statistic. The net points are in favor of the Falcons as well, with 52 points compared to -6 for the Giants. However, New York usually is able to match up well against decent teams, and I expect them to make a deep playoff run after defeating the Falcons at home.
Giants over Falcons 27-17

Super Bowl Prediction: Saints over Ravens 34-28
Super Bowl MVP: 375 passing yards, 3 passing TD's, 1 rushing TD, 2 INT