Sunday, January 07, 2007

End of an Era

Bill Cowher, head coach of the storied Pittsburgh Steelers for the past 15 years, officially stepped down from his position on Friday.

Cowher, a Pennsylvania native, was well known for his jutting jaw and tough-love coaching style. Over the course of his impressive tenure, he placed together an overall record of 161-99-1, including a victory in Super Bowl XL.

Cowher was one of only two people to hold the head coaching job at Pittsburgh over the past 38 years. Chuck Noll held the position from 1969 to 1991, winning four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

NFL Wild Card Weekend, Part 1

Chiefs vs Colts (AFC)

Even though this AFC matchup pits a sagging #6 against a strong #3, the experts a calling it the Upset Special of the playoffs. But beware; the experts aren’t always right.

Its no secret that Indianapolis has one of the weakest run defenses in the league. With Kansas City throwing Larry Johnson at defenses an average of 26 times and 112 yards per game, that Indy defense is in for a long day.

But lets not forget that Kansas City hasn’t exactly been a brick wall against rushers this season either. While viewers will be closely watching LJ rip up the Colts defensive line, don’t forget to keep an eye on rookie phenom Joseph Addai doing the same against a Chiefs defense that gives up over 100 rushing yards a game. Though Addai only logged two 100+ yard rushing games this year (including a monster 171 yard performance against Philadelphia), look for him to add his third this Saturday.

But Addai is the least of Kansas City’s worries this weekend. The Chiefs defense must find a way to contain the NFL’s most prolific passer, Peyton Manning. With well over 4000 yards passing and 31 touchdown connections, Manning is a serious threat in any game. Part of his success is in no small part due to the talented Indianapolis receiving corps of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, both with 1300+ yards this season. With the Chiefs defense allowing over 250 yards passing per game, the dynamic duo of Harrison and Wayne should have a field day in KC’s secondary.

Another big push for Indianapolis is their home-field advantage. The Colts mounted an 8-0 record in the dome this year, giving them a huge edge over anyone that comes to Indy. With the Chiefs sitting on a pitiful 3-5 road record, including a late-season overtime loss to the Browns, Kansas City is in trouble.

The Colts started their season on a 9-0 run, but finished 3-4 with late season losses to the Titans, Jaguars, and lowly in-state rival Texans. However, big wins over the Bengals and Dolphins justifies the late swoon.

The Chiefs battled to keep their heads above .500 all season long, almost blowing the feat by finishing the season 3-5. Wins over Denver and division leaders San Diego and Seattle bolster their 9-7 mark.

The bottom line? There’s no way Kansas City will be able to shut down Manning and his star receivers.

My take: Indianapolis 34, Kansas City 17.

Dallas vs. Seattle (NFC)

This NFC game is the Pick ‘Em of the Wild Card round. These two teams are not only evenly matched, but also limped into the playoffs together, both dropping 3 of their last 4 games of the season.

Despite their equal 9-7 records, these two teams couldn’t have had more divergent seasons. Dallas flip-flopped their wins and losses with the fading Drew Bledsoe at the helm early on, and didn’t seem to truly find their groove until their Week 10 victory over Arizona, after which they rolled off three more consecutive wins. They triumphed in the games they should have, and even tacked on a few big-win games, including handing the streaking Colts their first loss of the season.

Seattle’s biggest win of the year was an early-season rout of the New York Giants. Since then, they’ve feasted on a slew of sub-.500 teams to reach their 9-7 mark. Of those 7 losses, you ask? Minnesota, Arizona, and San Francisco … twice.

When comparing offensive weapons, you have to give the nod to Dallas. Though playing with a rookie QB, they have two receivers (Owens and Glenn) who racked up over 1000 yards receiving. While no dominant running back has been seen wearing the silver star since the days of Emmit Smith, Julius Jones continues to improve as he rushed for 1,084 yards. Marioni Barber III, a second-year running back out of Minnesota, led his non-QB teammates in touchdowns, crossing the goal line 14 times for Dallas.

Seattle does have the always-dangerous Shaun Alexander, who is a constant threat to eat up some serious yards during a game. Though he fell way off his record-setting touchdown pace from last year, finding the end zone only 7 times compared to 2005’s 27, Alexander remains one of the premier running backs in the league. However, injury kept him out of 6 games this season and held him under 1000 yards rushing for just the second time in his career. Against a stingy Dallas defense that gave up only 103 yards rushing per game, it could be a long night for Seattle’s ground attack. Couple that with no receivers over 1000 yards and a quarterback with almost as many interceptions as touchdown passes, and you have the potential for an offensive sputter from the ‘Hawks.

I’m calling it: Dallas 27, Seattle 13.
Next up: Sunday’s Wild Card playoff games.