ErnBlog’s Super Bowl XLVII Outlook

SB

Ray Lewis was a rookie with the Baltimore Ravens back in 1996 when he recorded his first NFL sack by pulling Indianapolis Colts QB Jim Harbaugh to the Hoosier Dome turf.  On Sunday night in New Orleans, Lewis will take the field with the Ravens for the final time against now Coach Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

Jim Harbaugh will glance across the field not only at the ominous Lewis, but also at his much more familiar older brother – John Harbaugh – Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens.

Family and historical facts aside, Super Bowl XLVII will pit two teams who each failed in the 2011 Conference Championship round against one another for the 2012 World Championship.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco took Baltimore within a dropped pass of Super Bowl XLVI.  He will try to direct the 2012 Ravens to Super Bowl XLVII.  (Source: zimbio.com)

QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens will try to hoist the Franchise’s 2nd Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night. (Source: zimbio.com)

The Baltimore Ravens have finally passed the Patriots in the AFC power struggle.  For anyone looking for evidence of Baltimore’s postseason grit, soak in these 2 facts:

– the Ravens have beaten New England in Foxboro in the Postseason Twice in the last Four years, both times convincingly

– Joe Flacco is the only QB in NFL History to have won 6 Playoff Road Games.

NFL experts will say that it takes Risk to win Championships, and John Harbaugh took a major gamble when he fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron late in the season and replaced him with former Colts Head Coach – Jim Caldwell.  Caldwell reformatted Baltimore’s offensive line and Flacco has reaped the benefits.  The extra second in the pocket has allowed the Ravens’ QB to connect on deep, accurate passes to wideouts Torry Smith and Jacoby Jones.

49ers Coach - Jim Harbaugh (Source: gridironfans.com)

49ers Coach – Jim Harbaugh
(Source: gridironfans.com)

Little brother Jim Harbaugh has been just as risk-averse in San Francisco.  The younger Harbaugh stuck with QB Colin Kaepernick in favor of recovered former starter Alex Smith, who led the 49ers to the 2011 NFC West Title.  While Smith is accurate with a high completion percentage, Kaepernick alters the entire dimension of a football game with his ability to run for first downs and execute college-style option plays, one of which resulted in him racing 50-plus yards for a touchdown against the Packers in the Divisional Round.

So how does ErnBlog evaluate the Super Bowl Matchups?:

Ern thinks that Baltimore can score against the quick San Francisco defense.  Although Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, and company can wreck havoc on an opposing offensive line, I expect the Ravens linemen Michael Oher, Matt Birk, and Bryant McKinnie to contain the 49er blitzes on an overall basis and minimize the sack total.

Ern expects that the Ravens defense can slow down the high-powered San Francisco offense in the first half, but may tire into the second half.  I look for a big day for 49ers tight end Vernon Davis.

So, here it is: Ern’s Super Bowl Selection: 

Super Bowl XLVII: Sunday, February 3rd

6:30 PM at Louisiana Superdome      (CBS)

San Francisco 49ers (3.5-pt favorites) vs. Baltimore Ravens

Over/Under: 47 points

Ern’s Pick: 49ers 31, Ravens 21

52 Total Points are Over the 47 projected in Las Vegas

MVP: Vernon Davis

 

 

 

 

New Orleans: The NFL “Super” City

On Sunday, February 3, 2013; the NFL will stage its World Championship Game in New Orleans for the 10th time in Super Bowl XLVII.  The Louisiana Superdome (now officially sponsored by Mercedes-Benz) will host the Super Bowl for the 7th time.  Come on BMW!!!

The first three Big Easy Super Bowls were played at Tulane Stadium, otherwise known as the Old Sugar Bowl – the site of the annual college Sugar Bowl Game before that event too moved to New Orleans.  Let’s take a look at the History:

Super Bowl IV: Tulane Stadium, January 1970

Kansas City Chiefs defeated Minnesota Vikings

Hank StramSource: kcconfidential.com

Hank Stram
Source: kcconfidential.com

New Orleans first Super Bowl pitted a team that played in the Inaugural Super Bowl – the Kansas City Chiefs coached by the affable Hank Stram against the Minnesota Vikings coached by stern-faced Bud Grant.  The Chiefs, in the bright red jerseys that they still wear today, relied on the running of Mike Garrett in a decisive victory over the Vikings.  While Bud Grant would guide three more Minnesota teams to Super Bowls in the 70’s, the Chiefs have not made the trip since Super Bowl IV.

 

Super Bowl VI: Tulane Stadium, January 1972

Dallas Cowboys defeated Miami Dolphins

Roger Staubach Source: sportsthenandnow.com

Roger Staubach
Source: sportsthenandnow.com

 

This was the Cowboys first World Championship, back before they became “America’s Team”.  This Game involved two of the greatest coaches in NFL History (Dallas’ Tom Landry and Miami’s Don Shula) and two of the premier Quarterback on the 1970s (Dallas’ Roger “The Dodger” Staubach and Miami’s Bob Griese).  Staubach, the 1963 Heisman Trophy Winner from the Naval Academy, earned his Nickname for his ability to elude defenders during mad dashes out of the pocket.

The Cowboys and Dolphins became two of the NFL’s best teams in the 1970s – combining to win Four of its Ten Super Bowls (Two each).  Although Miami would lose this battle in New Orleans, the Dolphins would win the next two Vince Lombardi Trophies, going an Undefeated 17-0 in 1972 (the only team from the Super Bowl Era to achieve such a feat).

 

Super Bowl IX: Tulane Stadium, January 1975

Pittsburgh Steelers defeated Minnesota Vikings

"Mean" Joe Greene was one of Coca-Cola's biggest endorsement figures of the 1970s.  Here, in a "Classic" commercial, he shares a Coke with a fan after the Steelers win the Super Bowl. Source: jimmyrayeyouthfoundation.org

“Mean” Joe Greene was one of Coca-Cola’s biggest endorsement figures of the 1970s. Here, in a “Classic” commercial, he shares a Coke with a fan after the Steelers win the Super Bowl.
Source: jimmyrayeyouthfoundation.org

Super Bowl IX represented the beginning of one NFL Dynasty (the Steelers) and the continuation of one franchise’s Era of Disappointment (the Vikings).  With this victory in New Orleans, the Steelers would begin a run that would produce Four Championships in the 1970s – all directed by their Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw.  The Vikings, on the other hand, who had lost the previous Super Bowl (VIII to the Dolphins), would lose another (XI to the Raiders) to conclude an 0-3 Record in 1970s Super Bowls.

Although Terry Bradshaw was in the spotlight of Super Bowl IX, the Steelers defense, led by pass-rusher “Mean” Joe Greene, carried Pittsburgh to victory, holding Minnesota to only 6 points in the 16-6 final outcome.

 

Super Bowl XII: January 1978, Louisiana Superdome

Dallas Cowboys defeat Denver Broncos

Even more than their Silver Star, Tom Landry (with his fedora hat and gray suit) continues to be the most recognizable symbol of "America's Team" - the Dallas Cowboys.Source: coacheshotseat.com

Even more than their Silver Star, Tom Landry (with his fedora hat and gray suit) continues to be the most recognizable symbol of “America’s Team” – the Dallas Cowboys.
Source: coacheshotseat.com

Super Bowl XII was the first NFL World Championship Game to be played in a dome.  At the time, the new Louisiana Superdome (home of the Saints) was being nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, the first domed structure to reach a higher summit than Rome’s ancient Pantheon.

Super Bowl XII was also the first World Championship appearance for the Denver Broncos, led on defense by the ferocious Lyle Alzado and Tom Jackson (an ESPN star for the past 25 years).  “Orange Crush” (as they were called) demolished their way through the AFC, finally dispatching their rival Raiders for the AFC Title.

This Game would be the crowning achievement of Cowboys coach Tom Landry’s Hall of Fame career as his “Doomsday” Defense (with Ed “Too Tall” Jones) suppressed the Broncos.  A young running back from the University of Pittsburgh – Tony Dorsett ran all over the Denver defense, leading the Cowboys to their 2nd World Title of the 1970s.

 

Super Bowl XV: January 1981, Louisiana Superdome

Oakland Raiders defeated Philadelphia Eagles  

Even though both of his parents were blind, Jim Plunkett had a stellar college career at Stanford, was selected First Overall in the 1971 NFL Draft, and then led the Raiders to 2 Super Bowl Championships. Source: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Even though both of his parents were blind, Jim Plunkett had a stellar college career at Stanford, was selected First Overall in the 1971 NFL Draft, and then led the Raiders to 2 Super Bowl Championships.
Source: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t much a part of Super Bowl History, only competing in 2 of the 46 World Championship matchups, losing both.  But Coach Dick Vermeil and QB Ron Jaworski (another current ESPN mogul) made the trip in 1980.  The story of this Game was as much Political as Football.  It was announced on Game Day that the American Hostages (featured in the current motion picture Argo) would be returning home from Iran.  The American public heard the announcement of the Hostages’ Return on Superdome locker room telephone from newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan, after he congratulated Raiders Coach Tom Flores and Owner Al Davis on winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

In terms of the fooball that day, Raiders QB Jim Plunkett controlled the Game for Oakland, earning MVP Honors in the 27-10 victory.

 

Super Bowl XX: January 1986, Louisiana Superdome

Chicago Bears defeated New England Patriots

Even defensive prodigy William "Refridgerator" Perry got to carry the ball for Da Bears in Super Bowl XX, shown here barreling over the Patriots into the end zone.Source: ellenpatton.blogspot.com

Even defensive prodigy William “Refridgerator” Perry got to carry the ball for Da Bears in Super Bowl XX, shown here barreling over the Patriots into the end zone.
Source: ellenpatton.blogspot.com

New Orleans has become known for hosting an NFL Team for its first trip to a Super Bowl (Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos, and Philadelphia Eagles).  So it was no different when the Big Easy welcomed both the NFC Champion Chicago Bears and one of the most unlikely teams – the New England Patriots for Super Bowl XX.  Although staffed with some recognizable NFL names (Coach Raymond Berry, Pro Bowlers – John Hannah and Steve Nelson, cornerback Raymond Clayborn, and wideout Stanley Morgan), the Patriots were no match for Mike Singletary’s “Monsters of the Midway” – the Chicago Bears, who “shuffled” their way to a 46-10 lambasting of New England.  The 36-point differential was by far the widest to-date in Super Bowl History.

Bears Coach Mike Ditka later confessed that, amidst the assault of Chicago forced turnovers and touchdowns, he should have put Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton into the Game to score one of those several touchdowns.  Payton, who was at the end of his career playing in his only Super Bowl, died in 1999 of liver cancer.  Ern wore Payton’s famous Kangaroo sneakers (sleak black ones) in First and Second Grade.  The sneaks featured a velcro tongue pocket, convenient for storing quarter for lunch.  Remember, back in 1986, 75 cents could score you a Super School Lunch!

 

Super Bowl XXIV: January 1990, Louisiana Superdome

San Francisco 49ers defeated Denver Broncos

Joe Montana, one of the Super Bowl's all-time Top Performers, had his chance to flourish at the Superdome in Super Bowl XXIV.Source: sportscoma.com

Joe Montana, one of the Super Bowl’s all-time Top Performers, had his chance to flourish at the Superdome in Super Bowl XXIV.
Source: sportscoma.com

 

Joe Montana put his stamp on Super Bowl XXIV from start to finish, throwing some of the most beautiful passes in Super Bowl History.  One memory from this Super Bowl came from my brother Eric in recent years: “I remember John Madden kept saying that John Elway (the Broncos quarterback) was throwing the ball so hard that his receivers couldn’t catch it!”

While Elway thought he was still on the Stanford pitching mound, Joe Montana gracefully floated the ball to his star wideouts – Jerry Rice and John Taylor, who raced up and down the Superdome turf.  The 49ers 55-10 thrashing of Denver eclipsed the Bears destruction of the Patriots four years earlier as the biggest wipeout in Super Bowl History; and gave Joe Montana his 4th Vince Lombardi Trophy – tying Terry Bradshaw for the most ever.

 

Super Bowl XXXI: January 1997, Louisiana Superdome

Green Bay Packers defeated New England Patriots

No one in New Orleans celebrated more after Super Bowl XXXI than Southern Boy - Brett Favre.
Source: fanpop.com

The First Half of Super Bowl XXXI was one of the most exciting 30 minutes in Super Bowl History.  The two young gunslinger QBs (Brett Favre of the Packers and Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots) drove their teams up and down the field on scoring drives.  Although Green Bay led 27-14 at Halftime, the Patriots had shown the ability to move the ball quickly and were coached by one of the League’s best Second Half Planners – Bill Parcells.  Patriots tailback Curtis Martin electrified the Superdome with a touchdown run, cutting the Packers lead to 27-21 in the Third Quarter.  But in the end, the “Minister of Defense” Reggie White proved too much for Drew Bledsoe, continually sacking him en route to a 35-21 Green Bay victory.

Another ESPN standout – Desmond Howard came up big for the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI, returning a third quarter kickoff for a key touchdown.

 

Super Bowl XXXVI: Louisiana Superdome, February 2002 

New England Patriots defeated St. Louis Rams 

Tom Brady celebrating the Super Bowl XXXVI Championship in New Orleans.  February 2002.  
(Source: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

MVP Quarterback Kurt Warner and the 16-2 “Greatest Show on Turf” rolled into the Superdome to face another unexpected Patriots AFC Championship Edition, this version coached by the introverted Bill Belichick.  Long under the shadow of Bill Parcells, Belichick (the team’s former Assistant Coach) had a “heart-to-heart” talk with Pats Owner Bob Kraft on the flight home from New Orleans following their Super Bowl XXXI loss to Green Bay – a flight that Parcells elected not to take as he instead headed directly to The Meadowlands to accept the Head Coaching position of the hated Jets.

The Big Story leading up to Super Bowl XXXVI (the Star-Spangled Super Bowl following September 11, 2001) was who would play Starting QB for New England – the team’s Franchise Player – Drew Bledsoe or 24-year-old second-year Tom Brady, who directed the team to the AFC East Title following serious injuries sustained by Bledsoe.  When Brady was knocked out of the previous week’s AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh, Bledsoe filled in admirably as the Pats defeated the Steelers.  But a few days later, Belichick made the decision to hand the ball back over to Brady for the Super Bowl.  Bledsoe would never throw another pass for New England, finishing his career in Buffalo and Dallas (to ironically be coached by Parcells again).

In Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots applied intense pressure on both Kurt Warner and the Rams receivers, forcing key turnovers – including a memorable interception returned for a touchdown by Ty Law.  With the game tied with a minute left, FOX commentator John Madden recommended to the World that Belichick should “run out the clock”.  Instead, Brady started throwing screen passes and then hit Troy Brown with a pass play out of the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice Super Bowl XXIII Playbook.  Adam Vinatieri kicked a perfect 48-yard field goal as time expired, and the Patriots were Super Bowl Champions for the first time.

 

 

ErnBlog NFL Championship Sunday Selections

Here we are, only THREE days away from the best DAY of Football each year – NFL Championship Sunday!  And NFL Fans have been treated to what should be two phenomenal games.  What does ErnBlog think?

49ers Coach - Jim Harbaugh(Source: gridironfans.com)

49ers Coach – Jim Harbaugh
(Source: gridironfans.com)

NFC Championship Game:

49ers (12-4-1) (4.5-pt favorites) at Falcons (14-3)

Over/Under:  48.5 points

Sunday at 3:00                    FOX

The 49ers and Falcons did not play each other in 2012.  Surely, their Divisional Playoff results from last weekend vary extensively.  While San Francisco dominated the second half of their 45-31 dismantling of the Packers, Atlanta barely survived the Seahawks furious 4th Quarter rally in a 30-28 nailbiter.   So prognosticators would put the Niners in the drivers seat this Sunday – explaining San Francisco’s 4.5-point cushion in Las Vegas.

The 49ers are also “Tournament Tested” to borrow another phrase from former Giants and Patriots Super Bowl Coach – Bill Parcells, who had a knack for referring to the NFL Playoffs as “The Tournament”.  San Francisco played last year’s eventual Champs – the New York Giants to a 20-17 Overtime decision in the NFC Championship Game.  My point is: the Niners have been here before.  And even going on the road this time, you have to like their chances.

But then there’s “Matty Ice” in Atlanta, playing the best football of his stellar five-year NFL career.  The BC Kid is hitting all of his primary targets – Tony Gonzales, Roddy White and Julio Jones.  When you add the Falcons two-headed rushing monster of Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rogers into the mix, plus the raucus Homefield Advantage of the Georgia Dome; the Falcons like their birds’-eye position.

So where does ErnBlog lie on this matchup, historically dominated by San Francisco (dating back to the days when the 49ers and Falcons were both in the NFC West)?  I think that inexperienced Niners QB Colin Kaepernick will toss one harmful interception, leading to Atlanta points.  The Falcons will attempt to control Time of Possession, which ErnBlog expects them to lead.  On the other hand, I think that San Francisco’s “Quick Strike” Offense has enough weapons (Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore) to ultimately pull this one out.  And I think that the high-speed 49ers defense (led by Patrick Willis) will force at least one Falcons turnover, giving San Francisco a valuable extra possession.

ErnBlog’s Pick:  49ers 30, Falcons 27     

57 Total Points are OVER 48.5

 

Tom Brady celebrating the Super Bowl XXXVI Championship in New Orleans.  February 2002.<br /><br /><br /><br />
(Source: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Tom Brady celebrating the Patriots victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.  Louisiana Superdome: Sunday, February 3, 2002.

(Source: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

AFC Championship Game:

Ravens (12-6) at Patriots (13-4) (8.5-pt favorites)

Over/Under:  51.5 points

Sunday at 6:30                  CBS

So here we go again: another Patriots-Ravens AFC Championship for the second straight year.  Same place (Gillette Stadium), same network (CBS), even the same commentators (Jim Nantz and Phil Simms).  Only a different time – bitter cold 6:30 PM.  Ravens QB Joe Flacco played well enough to win in the 2011 AFC Title Game, a 23-20 Baltimore loss.  So far in the 2012 Playoffs, the Ravens have fixed several of the mistakes that cost them last year’s Conference Title in Foxboro.  Baltimore was able to stay right with the Broncos in last Saturday’s thrilling OT win in Denver.  The Question is: Do the Ravens (in another possible last game for Ray Lewis) have enough juice left in the tank to dethrone the defending AFC Champs?

The Patriots (fairly easy winners over the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round) have once again lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski to a broken arm.  Now fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (a weaker blocker than “Gronk”) will need to once again pick up the slack for the Pats.  It is unclear whether New England tailback Danny Woodhead will suit up on Sunday.  But against Houston, the Patriots featured a double-tandem rushing attack featuring Shane Vereen, with Stevan Ridley as the supporting back.

Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career.  Some may argue that he was superior in both 2007 and 2010 – MVP Seasons.  But in my opinion, Tom now seems to have virtually complete control of games from the QB position.  Last week, before the Divisional Round, I verbally compared Brady to Michael Jordan in the closing minutes of an NBA Finals Game or to Pedro Martinez on the mound for the Red Sox in 1998-2000.  He appears to be at a point where only a consecutive series of minstakes made by Him can result in the derailment of this Patriots Train.  At what point of Sunday’s AFC Championship will the Ravens offense need to sit on the sidelines for a span of 10 minutes while Brady and his “Offensive Instruments” drive down the field with NFL Films classical music floating through the minds of Pats fans?  Will it be the Second Half?  The Fourth Quarter?

Baltimore, like Houston, is ready for the challenge.  But at the end of the day, the Patriots offense is simply too strong and explosive.  This Patriots Train is churning toward a familiar Super Bowl destination – New Orleans!

ErnBlog’s Pick:  Patriots 34, Ravens 24

58 Total Points are OVER 51.5

 

NFL Championship Sunday: A Test of Four Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan led the 2007 BC Eagles to a Top 10 National Ranking.  5 years later, he's piloting his soaring Falcons (7-0) toward the top of the NFL.(Source: boston.com)

Matt Ryan led the 2007 BC Eagles to a Top 10 National Ranking. 5 years later, he’s piloting the soaring Falcons toward the Super Bowl.
(Source: boston.com)

This is a big weekend for Boston College Football – a program that has only seen one of its Quarterbacks play in a Super Bowl – Matt Hasselbeck of the 2005 Seahawks.  On Sunday, Matt Ryan will attempt to become the second BC signal caller to start a Super Bowl when his Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers at the Georgia Dome in the NFC Championship Game.  Ryan, selected 3rd Overall in the 2008 NFL Draft, finally overcame his Postseason Bug (0-3 record) with a championship caliber performance in Atlanta’s thrilling 30-28 victory over Seattle yesterday.

At Boston College, Ryan was nicknamed “Matty Ice”.  While ErnBlog attributes that alias to the QB’s clutch 4th Quarter heroics (specifically a last-second TD strike to defeat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg), several other BC SuperFans claim the name was taken from the popular (and very cheap) campus beer – Natty Ice.

Now that Matty Ice has defused any questions from NFL Critics of whether he can deliver under the bright lights of the Postseason, he faces the next difficult barrier to a Super Bowl – the San Francisco 49ers.  The Falcons earned Homefield Advantage for the NFC Title Game with a 13-3 regular season record.  Their only losses were suffered to their NFC South Division opponents (one each).  The Falcons and 49ers did not play during the season.

ErnBlog would say that Matt Ryan’s biggest Strengh is his Poise.  The BC alum never appears flustered or angry; his demeanor steady and consistent.  He is also definitively in command of the Falcons huddle as he carefully regulates the smooth efficiency of the Atlanta offense.  Ryan’s most significant Weakness is his occasional inability to Close Out games.  He twice failed yesterday to convert 4th quarter first downs that could have finished off the Seahawks before the Two-Minute Warning.

Despite leading the Ravens to the Playoffs in all 5 of his NFL seasons, no QB has received more criticism in 2012 than Baltimore signal caller Joe Flacco.   Can he finally lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl?Source: bleacherreport.com

Despite leading the Ravens to the Playoffs in all 5 of his NFL seasons, no QB has received more criticism in 2012 than Baltimore signal caller Joe Flacco. Can he finally lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl?
Source: bleacherreport.com

Joe Flacco has the same NFL experience as Matt Ryan – also finishing his fifth year in the League.  Flacco has directed the Ravens to the Postseason in all 5 of those seasons.  This will be Baltimore’s third trip to the AFC Championship Game under the leadership of the former University of Delaware Blue Hens quarterback.  Like fellow Delaware alum Mike Gallaher (former Blue Hens swimmer), Flacco is a consistent title contender.

So the defining scene for Flacco and the 2012 Ravens will once again be Gillette Stadium on Sunday – the same setting as last year’s AFC Championship setback.  If you remember, Flacco put Baltimore in position to win that game.  Wide receiver Lee Evans (with help from Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore) dropped a Flacco pass in the end zone.  Then, Ravens placekicker Billy Cundiff missed a field goal inside 40 yards and the Patriots advanced to Super Bowl XLVI.

Despite Baltimore’s late regular season struggles (losses in 4 of their last 5 games), Flacco has primarily steered the Ravens’ ship effectively through a brutal 2012 schedule.  When last confronting the Patriots (September 23 in Baltimore), Flacco torced the New England secondary in the second half en route to a 31-30 Ravens win.  That was the Patriots’ only AFC loss of the season.

Flacco’s most poignant Strengh is his Connection with his three primary weapons (running back Ray Rice and receivers Torry Smith and Anquan Boldin).  The Ravens QB seems to always know where these guys are, when to hit them, and how to throw the ball to a place where only they can catch it.  If you take a look at most of the balls that Torry Smith catches (Belichick is probably doing this right now), most of these passes are thrown past Smith and his defender(s) so that the tall speedster needs to catch up and extend his arms.  These types of plays vastly reduce the chance of an interception.

Flacco’s biggest Weakness: the infrequent, but Dangerous Interception at the most inconvenient time of a game.  Is that an old 2011 problem?  Or will it resurface in Foxboro or in Super Bowl XLVII?

Jim Harbaugh's put his faith in second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who has electrified the NFL with his college-style option attack.Source: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Jim Harbaugh’s put his faith in second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, who has electrified the NFL with his college-style option attack.
Source: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Colin Kaepernick emerged this season in the bizarre Tie game against the Rams at Candlestick Park.  Starting QB Alex Smith suffered a concussion and was replaced by Kaepernick – the second-year backup from the University of Nevada.  Coach Jim Harbaugh, a former scrambling QB himself, became quickly enamored with the elusiveness of the darting Kaepernick.  Suddenly the San Francisco offense had been transformed from a dropback passing attack to a multi-faceted, high performance sports car.  Kaepernick truly puts the “Back” in “QuarterBack” (as was originally intended) by occasionally running all over the field, utlizing every player on the offense as a blocker or decoy.  Sometimes when watching this new 49ers offense (like none other in the League), I feel like I’m watching a Notre Dame game from the late 1980’s with QB Tony Rice hustling toward the line of scrimmage, following blockers, looking to tailback Jerome Bettis or Ricky Watters for a fake pitch before galloping for a first down.  After Kaepernick’s 56-yard jaunt to the end zone Saturday night against the Packers, I received the following text message from my pal Bond Malone (a College Football fanatic and Texas Longhorns season ticket holder): “It’s official; for the first time, it’s college football influencing the NFL.”

Kaepernick has options – tailback Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis, a speed receiver in Michael Crabtree (2 TDs in the Green Bay playoff game), and a long distance threat in Randy Moss.  But when you add the dimension of the QB’s ability to race around the field like another former 49er Steve Young while making decisions, the result can be fatal for competition, even this late in the Postseason.

Colin Kaepernick’s biggest Strength: Elusiveness.  His most significant Weakness: Inexperience.  When it comes time to make the big throw for a key first down on Sunday, who’s gonna make it?  Kaepernick or Matt Ryan?

Tom Brady (Source: zimbio.com)

Tom Brady (Source: zimbio.com)

Last but obviously not least is the Patriots QB – Tom Brady – winner of 3 Vince Lombardi Trophies and 2 NFL MVP Awards.  Of all the talents bestowed upon this future Hall of Famer, his greatest strength now toward the end of his storied career is his Experience.  Arguably no player in the history of the NFL understands the game better than Tom Brady.  Like another University of Michigan Grad (MBA Dave Giannino) entering a club full of fine-looking ladies, Brady completely analyzes the field in front of him and then dissects the competition.  Brady utilizes his various offensive instruments like Keith Lockhart at the Boston Hatshell on the Fourth of July.  The Result – Fireworks!

Brady is the QB that the other three remaining (Ryan, Flacco, and Kaepernick) are all striving to become – a Championship Quarterback.  Therefore, on Championship Week, Touchdown Tommy leads the QB Pack.  A potential Weakness for Brady: possible Overconfidence?  Sometimes on Fourth and 8, you seen the Pats go for the First Down and fail to execute; sacrificing a field goal or giving the opponent good field position.  Does Brady command too much of Belichick’s ear in some of these situations?  Remember Super Bowl XLII – the first Championship Matchup against the Giants?  With the Pats leading 14-10 and within manageable field goal range on Fourth and 8, a possible touchdown lead wasn’t enticing enough for New England.  They went for the First Down and failed.  We all know how that Super Bowl ended, with the Pats needing that field goal as the Perfect Season expired.

 

ErnBlog’s NFL Divisional Playoff Picks

Well, there’s no Vegas Trip this year for NFL Divisional Playoff Weekend – the Best Weekend of the Sports Year.  For anyone who wants to relive the Vegas NFL Divisional Playoff Experience, you can check out the ErnBlog January 2012 Archive.  Good times!

But alas, it is back to reality in 2013.  And just for further reinforce the reality check, Jen’s Cousin scheduled a wedding during this Saturday’s Playoff Games.  I guess he’s more of a hockey fan.  The saving grace is that the wedding isn’t on Sunday and doesn’t conflict with the Patriots game.  I guess we have to count our blessings!

Ern had a rough Wild Card Weekend with regard to Picks, going 1-3.  Let’s just say that the Bengals and Colts did not exactly cooperate.  So ErnBlog is now an overall 15-9 (62.5%) this season.

ErnBlog’s NFL Divisional Playoff Picks:

Peyton Manning eyes another trip to the AFC Championship Game.Source: bleacherreport.com

Peyton Manning eyes another trip to the AFC Championship Game.
Source: bleacherreport.com

Ravens (11-6) at Broncos (13-3) (8.5-pt favorites)    

Saturday at 4:30  (CBS)

The Broncos and Patriots appear to be on a collision course.  The Ravens were able to withstand 2 Ray Rice fumbles last Sunday in their Playoff win over Indianapolis.  They will not be as fortunate in Denver.  ErnBlog foresees the Broncos penetrating defense forcing a couple of Baltimore turnovers in this Divisional Playoff matchup.

Peyton Manning should rely on tailback Knowshon Moreno to help him control the clock.  Joe Flacco will have to make the Baltimore possessions count if the Ravens expect to keep pace with these buckling Broncos.  Manning’s only postseason win over New England took place when his Colts had homefield advantage.  If Peyton can steer Denver past the Ravens, the AFC Title Game will be staged a “Mile High”.

ErnBlog’s Pick:  Broncos 27, Ravens 20

 

Packers QB Aaron RodgersSource: wikipedia.org

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Source: wikipedia.org

Packers (12-5) at 49ers (11-4-1) (3.5-pt favorites)

Saturday at 8:00  (FOX)

ErnBlog projects Packers/49ers to be the best of these 4 blockbuster Divisional Playoff matchups.  In Week 1, San Francisco went on the road to secure a win at Green Bay – representing the homefield advantage they will enjoy on Saturday night.  49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will throw an “Intangible” into this one.  A key fake punt?  An on-side kick?  A fake field goal for a touchdown?  I can’t place the exact “Intangible” that Harbaugh will throw at the Pack, but I expect that it could make the difference.  Remember as Al Pacino’s memorable character Coach Tony D’Amato from Oliver Stone’s film Any Given Sunday so poignantly describes: “Football is a game of inches. … All those inches make the difference between winning and losing, between living and dying!”

Like in Vegas, Harbaugh’s not afraid to roll the dice.  That’s why Colin Kaepernick is there.

ErnBlog’s Pick: 49ers 37, Packers 33

 

Seattle's Russell Wilson has been part of the memorable Rookie QB Class of 2012.Source: www.seahawks.com

Seattle’s Russell Wilson has been part of the memorable Rookie QB Class of 2012.
Source: www.seahawks.com

Seahawks (12-5) at Falcons (13-3) (1.5-pt favorites)

Sunday at 1:00  (FOX)

I’m sure Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson will make some more dazzling plays Sunday afternoon at the Georgia Dome.  But with a week of rest, and with and an electric home crowd, ErnBlog expects the Falcons to soar into the NFC Championship Game.  These Falcons had a similar Divisional Playoff homefield advantage against the Packers in 2010, a test which Atlanta failed miserably.  Ern thinks Matty “Ice” Ryan and the Falcons have learned their lessons over the past two years.  I look for a steady combination of Michael Turner running and Ryan precision passing in an Atlanta victory.

ErnBlog’s Pick:  Falcons 23, Seahawks 20

Tom Brady (Source: Jim Rogash from Getty Images)

Tom Brady (Source: Jim Rogash from Getty Images)

Texans (13-4) at Patriots (12-4) (9.5-pt favorites)

Sunday at 4:30  (CBS)

Last but not least, it’s the rematch between Houston and New England.  The Texans capitalized on a woeful Cincinnati offense and sputtering QB Andy Dalton in the Wild Card Round to advance to Foxboro.  But in the cold weather and frenzied postseason environment of Gillette Stadium, what do you expect for a result here?  Some may claim that the Patriots have dropped similar home Playoff games in recent years to Baltimore (2009) and the Jets (2010).  But how often do prognosticators expect those outliers to occur?  New England decimated the Texans, 42-14 back on December 10.  Although ErnBlog projects this outcome to be closer, I think we’re in store for more of the same.  I can envision Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd running free in the Houston secondary.  And when you add the jaugernaut of the Gronk into the mix, the results could be devastating for the Texans.

It seems that Brady vs. Peyton for one more AFC Championship is destiny.  One more time!

ErnBlog’s Pick: Patriots 38, Texans 24

ErnBlog’s FINAL 2012 NFL Report Card

Happy New Year NFL Fans!  The 2012 NFL Season is over and now it’s time to see how the ErnBlog Projections fared this year.  We can also take a look at how ErnBlog currently ranks the League’s 32 Teams.  With 7 Coaching Changes on Monday, there is little question that the 2013 NFL Season will be very different.

The Rankings and Grades below have been assessed against ErnBlog’s December Report from a month ago.

You can also view my original 2012 Preseason Projections for each team.  How did I do?  Pretty well.  I nailed 5 of the 8 Division Winners, with the 3 Exceptions: Steelers, Giants, and Saints (all of which did not make the Playoffs).  I predicted half (6 of 12) of the Playoff Teams with the 3 Other Exceptions (besides mentioned above): Jets, Bears, and Lions.

The Jets (whom I projected at an 11-5 Wild Card Team) finished 6-10 and more shockingly is currently ranked by ErnBlog as the third worst team in the League.  The only reason why the Jets did not receive a failing Final Grade of “F” from ErnBlog (the Eagles and Chiefs received the only two “F’s”) is because they remarkably managed to win 6 games.  The Jets 23-20 WIN at Miami on September 23 and 49-19 loss vs. New England on Thanksgiving are two of the worst games I have seen an NFL team play in quite some time.  Rumor has it that New York’s 7-6 WIN over Arizona on December 2 was even more embarrassing.  My point is: the Jets SHOULD have finished no better than 4-12.  But as their former coach Bill Parcells so eloquently grunted throughout his career: “You ARE what you ARE!”  So the Jets get a passing “D” Grade based on their actual 6-10.

The Lions were another clear miss by ErnBlog (projected to finish 10-6 with an NFC Wild Card Spot).  Detroit finished 4-12 and ranked 23rd by ErnBlog out of the 32 teams.  Coach Jim Schwartz will remain for a fourth season.  Unlike the Jets, the Lions showed signs of competitiveness in 2012, losing close games to Houston on Thanksgiving, Indianapolis, and Tennessee.  Minnesota was the other setback for ErnBlog in the NFC North.  Leslie Frazier deserves serious consideration for Coach of the Year.

ErnBlog did not see the Falcons winning 13 games in 2012 (tied for the League’s best record with Denver).  I projected Atlanta at .500 during the Preseason.  But the Boston College guys always come through and Matty Ryan is no exception.  Without the remarkable 2012 performances of Adrian Peterson (2,000 rushing yards) and Peyton Manning (11-game winning streak after a career-threatening neck injury); Ryan would have been the clear choice for NFL MVP.

ErnBlog also missed the mark on Seattle, projecting them to mirror their 7-9 record from 2011.  Pete Carroll was able to balance the equation in the Emerald City in 2012 – mixing a quick/potent offense with a tenacious defense.  The Seahawks are a truly dangerous NFC Wild Card Contender.

But, other than the aforementioned (which several experts also missed), ErnBlog was mostly On-the-Mark for 2012.  I foresaw improvements for Indianapolis and Washington.  The ascention of those teams all the way into the Playoffs is a function of the abject failures in Jacksonville, Tennessee, Dallas, and Philadelphia.

I predicted that the AFC North would be a very difficult division, where it turned out that the Injury factor (Ben Roethlisberger) and not Difficulty of Schedule (Baltimore) truly swayed the pendulum toward the Ravens and Bengals.

Take a look at the Final 2012 Rankings to see exactly how ErnBlog’s Projections fared and to acquire a sense of the direction I foresee the NFL Playoffs to take.

Tom Brady (Source: zimbio.com)

Tom Brady (Source: zimbio.com)

 

1. New England Patriots (12-4) (A) (Up 2 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern: 13-3 (AFC East Champs)

There is little question that the Patriots are currently the best team in the NFL.  Las Vegas (assigning them 3-1 Odds) has declared New England the clear favorites to win their 4th Lombardi Trophy in 12 years.  To do so, it appears that the Patriots will have to achieve a “Mile-High” Challenge by herding Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver.  As my father succinctly pointed out yesterday, Bill Belichick owns Manning in the Postseason, defeating him in 2003 and 2004.  Only in the 2006 AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis was Peyton able to defuse Belichick’s scheming formulas.  So, if the Patriots end up in Denver on Sunday night, January 20 for another AFC Title battle, both Erns like the Pats.

Ern also has to consider the Pats performances against Playoff Teams in 2012.  New England dominated possible Divisional Playoff opponent – Houston in December.  New England also convincingly defeated both Indianapolis and Denver at Gillette Stadium this season.  The Patriots dropped a 1-point game in Baltimore in September that has the “Replacement Officials” footnote plastered all over it in very large print.  If the Ravens (losers of 4 of their last 5 games) make the trip to Foxboro next weekend, it does not appear likely for them to disturb the soaring Pats.

I was at Gillette for New England’s 28-0 whitewashing of Miami last Sunday, and despite the analysis of local television viewers, I did not detect any injury symptoms in Pats star tight-end Rob Gronkowski, who caught a touchdown pass.  If Brady and Gronk are “on-the-money” in January/February, the NFL better look out, again!

2. Denver Broncos (13-3) (A) (Up 2 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern: 10-6 (AFC West Champs)

Winners of 11 straight games, Peyton Manning and the Broncos have secured the AFC Top Spot.  Denver has only lost to Playoff Teams in 2012 (at New England, at Atlanta, vs. Houston).  And the Broncos are better than they were 3 months ago when they last played the Patriots.  If I’m an opposing defense, I don’t want to be looking across the line of scrimmage at Peyton Manning next Saturday afternoon in the Divisional Round.  However, as noted above, Belichick and the Patriots have historically haunted Peyton in the Postseason.  Even in the 2006 AFC Championship Game (an Indianapolis 38-34 win over New England), Belichick’s defense forced Manning to throw a “Pick-Six” (interception returned for a touchdown) before Halftime.

The major reason for Denver’s emergence during their Winning Streak is the defense led by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.  It is they who will ultimately be counted on to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots dynamic scoring machine.

3. Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (A) (Down 1 Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 8-8

The Falcons have only lost games in their NFC South Division (where they finished 3-3) in 2012.  Atlanta has Homefield Advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs which should be a major bonus for this dome-oriented offense.  The Falcons didn’t play San Francisco or Green Bay (their 2 most likely opponents in an NFC Title Game) during the regular season.  That is the Big Question.  Will the GeorgiaDome setting be significant enough to tip what ErnBlog deems to be a talent advantage in the corners of the 49ers or Packers?   Let’s say this: ErnBlog would currently favor Atlanta by 3.5 points against either opponent.  Remember, the Falcons crushed the defending World Champion Giants (not in the Playoffs) by a 34-0 score in December.

4. San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) (A -) (Up 1 Ranking, Up 1 Grade)

Ern: 12-4 (NFC West Champs)

Within the view of the NFC Playoffs, the 49ers have defeated the Packers in Green Bay way back in Week 1 and split their 2 games with Seattle (getting belted by the Seahawks a few weeks ago).  Now led by dynamic second-year QB Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh’s Niners have a First Round Bye and a home Divisional Playoff game next Saturday night.  Their most likely opponent is Green Bay, which ErnBlog would currently give San Francisco a 3.5-point edge over.  We also must remember that the 49ers defeated the Patriots in New England on December 16.  Even though San Francisco finally prevailed 34-31, the 49ers dominated the first half in Foxboro and led New England, 31-3 in the third quarter.  Potential Super Bowl matchup?  That’s what ErnBlog predicted back in the Preseason.  Look it up.

5. Green Bay Packers (11-5) (A -) (Up 3 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 12-4 (NFC North Champs)

So the Packers can’t beat the Giants.  Not a problem because the Giants aren’t in the 2012 Playoffs.  The major concern for the Packers right now is their offensive line’s ability to protect Pro Bowl QB Aaron Rodgers, especially against a pending San Francisco defense in the Divisional Round.  But even with the struggles on the offensive line, Rodgers has put up big time numbers in the second half of the season.  ErnBlog projects that the determinative battle in the NFC Playoffs will be Rodgers and the Packers offensive line versus the San Francisco defense.  The winner of that definitive struggle could very well end up in New Orleans for the Super Bowl.

6. Houston Texans (12-4) (B+) (Down 5 Rankings, Down 2 Grades)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 10-6 (AFC South Champs)

Losers of 3 of their last 4 games, ErnBlog stock in the Houston Texans has dramatically declined.  Ern sees the Texans stubbing their toes in the First Round against surging Cincinnati.

7. Washington Redskins (10-6) (A -) (Up 6 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 7-9

If the Washington Redskins were a stock, investors could have experienced huge gains plus dividends in November/December while the Redskins won 7 in a row.  ErnBlog ranks them a field goal ahead of their Sunday opponent – the Seattle Seahawks.

8. Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (A -) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 7-9

The Seahawks possess a swarming defense that has the potential to tip the scales of the entire NFC Playoffs.  The problem is that they don’t have any Home Games, where Seattle is a perfect 8-0 in 2012.

9. Indianapolis Colts (11-5) (A -) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 6-10

What can Big Ern say? Andrew Luck is for real. His 2012 comebacks have been prolific. Wouldn’t it be a treat if Luck and the Colts faced off against Peyton Manning and the Broncos in the AFC Playoffs?

10. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (A -) (Up 2 Rankings, Up 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 7-9

Surprise, surprise. Look who has quietly emerged within the ErnBlog Rankings into the final playoff spot in the AFC. Marvin Lewis’s Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were in the postseason last year when they faced the Texans in the First Round down at Reliant Stadium. This time around, ErnBlog sees QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals advancing past the Wild Card Round and on to Denver next weekend.

11. Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (B) (Down 5 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 10-6 (AFC Wild Card)

Future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis may be playing the final game of his storied career tomorrow afternoon at home against the Colts. If that isn’t a devastating injury, I don’t know what is.  But even with Lewis returning from injury, can the Ravens defense survive the potential offensive fireworks from Andrew Luck and Indy?  ErnBlog doesn’t think so.  I see the Colts moving on to Foxboro.

12. Minnesota Vikings (10-6) (A -) (Up 3 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 5-11

ErnBlog’s biggest surprise of the regular season, Coach Leslie Frazier has guided Minnesota back to respectability in the NFC. The Vikings are beating more talented teams than themselves. And when QB Christian Ponder struggles, star running back Adrian Peterson carries the Minnesota offense on his back. But, Minnesota has already exceeded the ErnBlog projected Win Total for 2012 and has clearly crossed the gap toward the future.

13. Chicago Bears (10-6) (B +) (Down 4 Rankings, Up 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 12-4 (NFC Wild Card)

 

14. New York Giants (9-7) (B) (Down 7 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 12-4 (NFC East Champs)

 

15. New Orleans Saints (7-9) (B -) (Up 3 Rankings, Up 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 12-4 (NFC South Champs)

 

16. Dallas Cowboys (8-8) (B -) (Same Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 10-6

 

17. St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) (B) (Up 6 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 2-14

Big Ern loves Coach Jeff Fisher. He’s the Man.

18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) (B) (Down 1 Ranking, Down 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 4-12

Greg Schiano is defying the curse of the “Successful College Coach Hitting the NFL Gridiron”. With QB Josh Freeman, running back Doug Martin, and receiver Michael Williams; the skies the limit for Tampa Bay over the next few seasons.

19. Miami Dolphins (7-9) (B) (Same Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern: 8-8

Coach Joe Philbin appears to have a long-term strategy to make the Dolphins competitive in the AFC East.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) (B -) (Down 6 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 11-5 (AFC North Champs)

 

21. Cleveland Browns (5-11) (B -) (Up 4 Rankings, Up 1 Grades)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 2-14

Hey, the Browns aren’t bad. Trent Richardson can run the football. Can Cleveland make a dent in 2013?

22. Carolina Panthers (7-9) (C +) (Up 5 Rankings, Up 2 Grades)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 8-8

When the Panthers won their last 4 games of 2012, it really brought Ern’s Preseason Projection more into focus.  In 2013, the Panthers should be able to compete in the NFC South – which ErnBlog projects to be the League’s most competitive and evenly matched division.

23. Detroit Lions (4-12) (C -) (Down 3 Rankings, Down 2 Grades)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 10-6 (NFC Wild Card)

Ern’s pretty disappointed with the Lions this year, originally projected to earn a Wild Card Spot.  The biggest problem with Detroit in 2012 was its inability to hold on to victories.  There were 3 games this year (an OT loss to Tennessee, an OT loss to Houston, and an early December collapse against Indy) that could have made all the difference for Detroit.  But as Bill Parcells says, “You are what you are.”  And the Lions are 4-12.

24. Tennessee Titans (6-10) (B -) (Down 3 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 5-11

25. San Diego Chargers (7-9) (C) (Down 3 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 7-9

As ErnBlog has projected, “Norv Turner is So Done there.”

26. Buffalo Bills (6-10) (C) (Same Ranking, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 9-7

Not much to say about Buffalo. Their offense and defense both sucked in 2012.

27. Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) (F) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 6-10

I just knew this team was gonna suck. They in fact were horrible. When you watch them play, it’s hard to imagine that they actually won 4 games this year.  Next stop for Coach Andy Reid after a mostly successful 14-year tenure in Philly?  Kansas City.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-14) (C) (Up 2 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 1-15

29. Arizona Cardinals (5-11) (D) (Down 1 Rankings, Down 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 4-12

 

30. New York Jets (6-10) (D) (Down 6 Rankings, Same Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 11-5 (AFC Wild Card)

 

31. Oakland Raiders (4-12) (D) (Same Ranking, Down 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 9-7

Guess the Raiders didn’t go 9-7 this year.  Oops, ErnBlog!

32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) (F) (Same Ranking, Down 1 Grade)

Ern’s 2012 Preseason Projection: 9-7

Guess the Chiefs didn’t go 9-7 this year either.  Oops, ErnBlog!

 

 

ErnBlog’s Wild Card Picks

It’s NFL Wild Card Weekend!  As consistent ErnBlogger – Mike Brown succinctly pointed out this week, Ern is an impressive 14-6 (70%) in Picks versus the Spread for Weeks 15-17.  That overall mark includes a 6-2 mark for Week 17 when some Playoff Teams were in position to rest key players.  Let’s keep this momentum going into the NFL Playoffs!

Packers QB Aaron RodgersSource: wikipedia.org

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers
Source: wikipedia.org

Vikings (10-6) at Packers (11-5) (7.5-pt favorites)   

Saturday at 8:00 (NBC) 

The Packers are looking to reconcile last Postseason’s bitter disappointment – a Divisional Round home loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants.  The Vikings run to the Playoffs has been inspiring as Coach Leslie Frazier and QB Christian Ponder have outperformed their expectations.  With their season on-the-line last Sunday, Minnesota squeaked out a 3-point victory over the Packers at the Metrodome.

But now, the scene shifts to frosty Lambeau under the lights.  While the Packers defense is not prepared to stop Minnesota’s MVP candidate tailback Adrian Peterson, the Green Bay offense continues to demonstrate that it can consistently score against anyone, anywhere.  ErnBlog looks for the Packers to control the Time of Possession at home and therefore control most of this game.

Ern’s Pick: Packers 34, Vikings 24

 

Bengals (10-6) at Texans (12-4) (4.5-pt favorites)

Saturday at 4:30 (NBC)

Sometimes you have to look at 2 Playoff Teams and not necessarily ask yourself which team is better, but rather comtemplate which team is Playing Better Football Right Now?  In the Wild Card Rematch between Cincinnati and Houston (the 2 teams also squared off at Reliant Stadium in the 2011 First Round), ErnBlog sees the Bengals with the upper hand.  Cincinnati has won 7 of its last 8 games, including big ones (vs. the Giants and at Pittsburgh).  2nd year QB Andy Dalton is throwing the ball confidently, especially to stud WR A.J. Green.  BenJarvus Green Ellis quietly complements the Bengals offense with a respected running game.

Houston, on the other hand, is playing poorly, losing 3 of its last 4 games (all to Playoff Teams: New England, Minnesota, and Indianapolis).  ErnBlog expects the consistently strong production from Matt Schaub and Arian Foster; but in the end, I don’t see the Texans matching Cincinnati’s overall quality of play in this one.

Ern’s Pick: Bengals 27, Texans 24

Andrew Luck will try to direct the Colts into the Divisional Round.Source: usatoday.com

Andrew Luck will try to direct the Colts into the Divisional Round.
Source: usatoday.com

Colts (11-5) at Ravens (10-6) (6.5-pt favorites)

Sunday at 1:00  (CBS)

Baltimore is another AFC Division Champion that is flat-out playing poorly, having lost 4 of its last 5 with 3 of those games to Playoff Teams (Washington, Denver, and Cincinnati).  Meanwhile, Indianapolis is moving the ball extremely well on offense being star rookie QB Andrew Luck.  Reggie Wayne looks like he’s catching balls back in the Colts  2006 Super Bowl Run.  If the Ravens are going to stay with Indy, they will need a steady serving of Ray Rice.  I just don’t think that Baltimore’s offense is going to convert enough third downs to keep Andrew Luck off the field.

Ern’s Pick: Colts 27, Ravens 20

 

Seahawks (11-5) (2.5-pt favorites) at Redskins (10-6) 

Sunday at 4:30  (FOX)

This is the best matchup of the weekend: the showdown between 2 sensational rookie QBs – Russell Wilson of Seattle and RG3 of the Redskins.  This game will reinforce to everyone the vital significance of Homefield Advantage in the NFL Playoffs.  The Seahawks finished just a Half-Game behind the 49ers in the NFC West – a difference that represents not only Homefield Advantage, but also a First Round Bye (both of which have been awarded to San Francisco).  Now, Seattle (playing some of the best late-season football in the League) must compete in a wild Hog Den against a team that has won 7 games in a row.

ErnBlog anticipates a thrilling matchup in DC to conclude Wild Card Weekend.  Both QBs can run, both QBs can pass, both defenses can apply pressure and throw an opposing offense off-rhythm.  A field goal makes the difference.

Ern’s Pick: Redskins 23, Seahawks 20