Monday, December 31, 2007

NFL Playoff Preview

Well, now that all the prelude is out of the way, we here at the Sandlot can say we're not really all that surprised about the playoff matchups. No one is surprised that Dallas and Indy, both with absolutely nothing to play for except a crippling pre-playoff injury, played preseason-level games against Washington and Tennessee, thus punching their tickets for a wild-card berth.

To be fair, Cleveland probably deserved a shot at the playoffs, but they also should have beaten the repugnant Cincinnati Bungles two weeks ago, so you get what you get. The Vikings, of course, need a real-life NFL quarterback, not some guy whose first name is "Tarvaris." Sounds like the new four-door sedan, doesn't it? "For 2008, the new Ford Tarvaris." Guh. Trade for McNabb; heck, trade with Cleveland for Brady Quinn or draft Matt Ryan, I don't care, just get the running game some help!

Okay, now that I've gotten than out of my system, here's how The Sandlot's preview system works. I will make my predictions now for the entire playoffs, but from week-to-week, I'll adjust my picks based on actual wins. When it's all said and done, I'll tally up my overall record.

Wild Card Weekend
Saturday's Games
Washington at Seattle—I absolutely hate the Seahawks. Mike Holmgren is the most overrated coach in the league, Matt Hasselbeck isn't nearly as good as the "experts" want you to think, and Shawn Alexander's shelf life as a pro RB is set to expire. Add to that the fact that Washington has just won three "playoff-style" (i.e., win or go home) games in a row, not to mention the inspirational factor of playing for their recently deceased teammate, this whole game smells of a road win for the 'Skins.
Redskins 27, Seahawks 20

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh—I'm so sick of hearing the "experts" gush and goo about Jax like a junior high school girl with a crush on the varsity quarterback. They may have one on Pittsburgh in the regular season, but there's no freaking way they roll into Heinz on a cold day in January and beat the Steelers at home. Nope, not even going there.
Steelers 24, Jag-wires 21

Sunday's Games
NY Giants at Tampa Bay—OK, which Eli Manning do we get? Last week's "almost beat the Patriots" Eli who reminds you of the power of DNA, or QB rating 33 Eli, who makes you wonder if Peyton rubs that Superbowl ring in little brother's face when they gather at Mom & Dad's in the offseason. Given that, plus Tampa's defense at home, I have to give a slight edge to the Bucs, though if I were a gambler, this would be a "pick-em" that I would avoid like the plague.
Bucs 21, Giants 20

Tennessee at San Diego—Two good defenses, two shaky quarterbacks, one great coach (Fisher) against a less-than-average coach (Turner); what's the difference. LaDanian Tomlinson, of course. I'm not picking against LT at home. As long as Turner doesn't do anything stupid—like put the game in Philip Rivers' hands instead of LT's—San Diego simply has far more offensive weaponry, even against a good Tennessee defense. The truth, however, is that if Sunday night's game had been meaningful for the Colts, they could have beaten the Titans by three TDs, at least.
Chargers 31, Titans 17

Divisional Playoff Predictions
Dallas over Washington
Green Bay over Tampa Bay

New England over Pittsburgh
Indianapolis over San Diego

Conference Championships
Dallas over Green Bay
Indianapolis over New England

Indianapolis over Dallas

Oh, come on, did you really expect me to pick differently?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Are you freakin' kidding me?

Mark Mangino over Gary Pinkel for college football coach of the year? Are you freakin' kidding me? Didn't Mizzou beat Kansas?

Oh, yeah, I forgot, the people at ESPN think Kansas is good at basketball. That explains everything.

Personally, I think Bob Stoops should be pissed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Future is bright for Vikings, but the future is not now.

The immortal Bart Simpson invented a word that perfectly described last night's Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings: "craptastic."

I was, of course, completely geeked out to watch Adrian Peterson, the sure-fire rookie of the year running back for the Vikings, run up and down the Metrodome turf, once again humiliating the Bears and further solidifying the Vikings as the red-hot team that no one wants to play.

Instead of that, I got a running game that forgot to block Brian Urlacher (still the best defensive player in the NFL) as well as not accounting for those cornerback run blitzes that San Francisco used to neutralize AP last week. Goodbye, running game. Hello, Tarvaris Jackson, hello interceptions, hello sacks, hell, oh no, he's throwing the ball downfield into triple coverage again.

I think Brad Childress might still end up being a decent head coach. He's kind of weird—he looks like "Major Dad," disciplines players like "the Great Santini" (if you've never seen the movie, well then, you don't know who Robert Duvall is at all) and motivates the team like Dr. Phil high on the most mellow Columbian Gold you've ever smoked. Yeah, weird.

My earlier comments this season about offensive coordinators serving as head coaches still stands. I think Childress needs to find an OC who shares his philosophy whom he can entrust with the operation of the offense. They also need a QB coach who will point out, as HOF QB Steve Young did last night, that when opposing defenses are stacking eight men on the line to stop the run, that only leaves three d-backs to cover five receivers. Hello, short pass down the middle? Doesn't Childress run the West Coast Offense™?

Anyway, the defense is just great; it looks like the old Purple People Eaters. Other teams simply cannot run on this defense. Their running game has the potential for greatness if the passing game can make defenses pay for stacking the box with 7-8 men. But playoffs? Playoffs? (cue hysterical Jim Mora press conference meltdown...)

Not so much.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Tribute to Jimmy Baseball

Change is inevitable and usually necessary, so it was with sad resignation that I read about the Cardinals' trade of Jim Edmonds to San Diego this morning. Edmonds has been hobbled for several years with leg injuries and doesn't have the magic bat that once thrilled us in those dramatic playoff games.

He'll be remembered as a Cardinal hero, a spectacular Gold Glove center fielder who made unbelievable running catches that were tailor-made for SportsCenter highlights. His greatest catches include two against Cincinnati—home and away—where he took away a home run to dead center field, and the running, diving, desperate grab that killed off a Houston rally in game seven of the NLCS in 2004.

Speaking of that series, there might not have been a game seven if not for his most dramatic home run, a walk-off blast in the 12th inning (I think...I'm going on memory and not research, so don't skewer me if I'm off a bit) that sent us to game seven and ultimately, a four-game loss to Boston.

It's fitting that Jimmy Baseball was part of the magical 2006 World Series run, albeit not as integral a part as he had been in the past. It would have been a shame if all those Octobers he spent wearing the birds on the bat had not resulted in a championship. We'll remember him with the long line of other Cardinals heroes from the past, and rightly so.

Edmonds probably only has a year or two left in the tank, if that, and it's doubtful he'll play every game this season in San Diego. But he does get to go home to SoCal, and the Padres are usually contenders in the NL West. I wish him well. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are clearly moving into salary-dump, let's-get-younger rebuilding mode, and this is just the beginning. As Cardinals fans, we have to hold on to our memories, because that's probably as good as it will get in 2008.