Monday, December 14, 2009

NFL Quick Hits

With apologies to the great Peter King, here are some quick-hit thoughts on the NFL as we hit the end of Week 14 Monday night.

The Eagles are dangerous. Between athletes like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and, yes, Michael Vick, Andy Reid has more toys on offense than he's ever had before. Even if Brian Westbrook doesn't come back this season, and if Jeremy Maclin's foot injury is worse than they fear, Donovan McNabb has a lot to work with heading into the playoffs.

Now, we just have to wait and see if Philadelphia can play better defense than they did Sunday night, when Eli Manning carved them up pretty good. When January rolls around -- and it's coming quicker than you may think -- they have to find a way to stop people. Having Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown on the outside helps.

Oh, and Reid's whatever-that-was with Jackson Sunday night was hilarious. He's clearly having fun with this team, and even for a straight-laced coach, that's half the battle.

The Packers might be. It's hard to tell -- even after 14 games -- who the Green Bay Packers are. The adjustment to a 3-4 scheme seems to have benefited the defense, which continues to make plays and slow offenses down.

However, the Packers haven't faced a top offense in some time, and they got decimated by Brett Favre when that happened.

Is what you're seeing now a product of the players making the necessary adjustments and understanding the new defense, or is it simply a decent defense going up against crappy offenses?

As it stands, the Packers are staring down the barrell of McNabb or Kurt Warner in the first round. If they're lucky enough to win that game on the road, here comes Favre or Drew Brees in the divisional round.

In short, anyone who thinks this is a darkhorse Super Bowl contender is delusional.

If you're the Vikings, who do you want to avoid? Assuming the Vikings hold on for a first-round bye, which isn't a guarantee, they are not likely to enjoy the divisional round. The potential opponents include Philadelphia (knocked them out last year and they're better this year), Arizona (already thumped the Vikings once), and Green Bay (division rival, emotional feud).

The Packers might be the most desirable opponent. The Vikings won both games handily, with neither game's final score being at all indicative of how the game was played.

The Vikings will likely have to beat the Saints in New Orleans to get to the Super Bowl. That said, the divisional round will be no picnic, unless the Vikings get really lucky and get to play the Cowboys or Giants, neither of whom will do much to stay competitive against Minnesota.

No matter how tough their road may become, the Vikings are playing like a favorite in every way. They've exhibited offensive balance, they have great pass protection, they are rarely out-physicaled (yes, I know that's not a word), and they can do it all on defense.

To beat them, you need them off their game, or you have to beat them at their best. Regardless of what you think of Brad Childress, it's hard to imagine a veteran team like this being off their game in the playoffs.

No, 16-0 isn't more important than a title. That's just ridiculous talk. However, teams need to look at the past history. As King noted in MMQB this week, the top two AFC seeds are just 3-5 in divisional games the last four years. Last season, neither team in the NFC to earn a first-round bye won in the divisional round. Not only that, but the Cardinals -- twice -- were the only NFC team to win a home playoff game last year.

No, you can't blame this fact solely on teams resting starters when they already have a bye wrapped up. Every time a top team suffers an injury in Week 17, as Ben Roethlisberger did last year, the question of "Why is he even in the game?" comes up. That kind of media and fan pressure makes it tough for coaches to do the right thing.

Healthy players need to play. You can't simulate game speed in practice, no matter what you do. Plus, imagine the outcry if you actually simulated game speed in practice, only to have a top player suffer an injury.

This is football. Guys get hit, and sometimes they get hurt. However, athletes are extremely regimented. Taking them off their normal routine for a bye week is hard enough. Adding to that the potential of one or two more bye weeks is only going to make it more difficult for those players to get back in rhythm when the games resume.

Especially when those games count more than any other.

The pressure of winning home playoff games is bad enough, without players being asked to get back in game shape on the spot.

No comments: