Saturday, January 23, 2016

PIGSKIN 2015: Championship Sunday



American Football Conference

New England Patriots
Denver Broncos

In terms of lengthy bodies of work (i.e., Tom Landry, Chuck Knoll, Don Shula, etc.), the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots are the most expertly drilled, well prepared team since Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, if not all-time.

What their opponents, the Denver Broncos, have going for them is Any Given Sunday.

Don't get me wrong ... John Elway has been an exceptionally good executive.  But he's up against the guy who's first ever poop in life was shaped like a tiny brown football.

You're reading me right - I don't think this game will even be close.

Denver's defense is legit.  They can account for many things, but, not everything.  Lucky for them, Gronk, Amendola, and Edelman are all questionable.

Yeah right!  Don't make me laugh...

In fact, I have a hunch Belichick will attempt to open with a classic, punishing running game, and dare the Broncos to stop it playing straight up.  If and when he gets a reaction out of Gary Kubiak, the game of adjustments will belong to Belichick = check mate.  If I'm wrong, I still think New England's versatility on offense will create weaknesses in Denver's defense.

Remember Rex Ryans' years as Jets coach?  Well .., those were actually New England's rebuilding years.  That's when Bill Belichick was in the midst of trading assets, and drafting defensive players. He knew then, one more rebuilding was in order to maximize the latter years of Tom Brady's seemingly indefatigable career.  Then last year happened ... right on schedule.

Peyton Manning is now a rich man's version of Chad Pennington.  The Patriots will effectively dare the future HOF'er to throw deep (because he can't anymore).  Otherwise, Belichick will be delighted if the Broncos tried running the ball, and balanced that with a short passing game across the middle.   New England's young, and playoff tested defense will be up to the challenge.  Bend/Don't Break will have a fine day.

Patriots -3 (BRONCOS)

National Football Conference

Arizona Cardinals
Carolina Panthers

Before factoring in their respective quarterbacks, we are essentially talking about two very evenly matched teams.  The statistical advantages Carolina amassed over Arizona during the regular season are marginal (inconsequential..) at best.

Carolina was the lone NFL team to post (exactly) 500 points during the regular season.  Arizona was a close second with 489 points.  Defensively, Carolina allowed 308 points, while Arizona nearly matched them with 311 points allowed.

Carolina is additionally undefeated at home this season, while Arizona lost just once on the road.

... all too close for comfort, which ever team you're rooting for.

Now bring Carson Palmer and Cam Newton into the equation and the conversation changes.

Palmer's playoff inexperience was on display last week, evidenced by two near catastrophic INTs against Green Bay.  Then again, so was his potential to be a difference maker, demonstrated by 349 passing yards and three TDs.  That said, he'll be playing in the biggest game of his career.  Palmer and Arizona have been a good fit together, but a week after Larry Fitzgerald miraculously put Arizona in this position, Carson Palmer must now seize the moment.  The Cardinals need a smart, effective performance befitting a 36-year old, former #1 overall draft pick, and whom posted a career year with 4,671 passing yards, and led the NFL in QB rating.

Easier said than done.  Seattle did a piss poor job of defending their QB against Carolina's pass rush. Arizona needs to keep Palmer upright, and he in turn must spread the ball around to keep Carolina honest, and set up Larry Fitzgerald for a knockout.  That's what they do best.

Cam Newton, if you recall, was involved in a car accident roughly 13 months ago in which he broke two bones in his lower back.  Amazingly, we're now talking about the probable league MVP of the 2015 regular season.

The man is seemingly too much to handle.  He threw 35 touchdowns, and rushed for 10 more.  As they say, you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.

So here's the thing...  It's up to Arizona's defense to win this game.  If they keep Cam Newton in the pocket, and relegate him to being a traditional QB ( Carson Palmer), I like their chances to win. Why?  I like Arizona's defensive discipline in so far as maintaining their lanes, and not over-pursuing.  They're strong in the box, and equally capable in the secondary = balanced.

Carolina?  They're favored to win, and rightfully so.  Their second half performance last week against the Seahawks simply proved they are human ... like the rest of us.  But, it also brought their adjustments into question.  Seattle's loss no doubt provided Arizona coaches with invaluable information.

I'll reiterate ... I believe these teams are dead even.  Each team also has their own motivations. Carolina is in the midst of a great (great) season.   Arizona, on the other hand, has been banging on the door for a few years now.  This is essentially the same unit that paid their dues against the Niners (before the fall) and former SB champion Seahawks.

Cam Newton ultimately remains the X-factor.  If he is allowed to run wild, it will be like 11 Cardinals laying against 12 Panthers.  So, be warned, this is a sentimental pick.  I've been high on the Cardinals since the pre-season, and I'm not about to go cold turkey now.

Cardinals +3 (PANTHERS)

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