Saturday, January 3, 2009

In Retrospect and Pre-retrospect...

Everyone should learn from their mistakes, a tenet that applies to The Common Man just as much as it applies to you. And when The Common Man prepared his NFL preview, he made many, many mistakes.

Sure, he predicted the success of the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots (though The Common Man is just as surprised as you they didn't make the playoffs and that they were this successful without Tom Brady behind center), and Indianapolis Colts. But he was blindsided by the success of the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers, and Tennessee Titans. And he significantly overestimated the strength of the Chargers, Raiders, Jags, Browns, Bills, Packers, Seahawks, Saints and Cowboys. In fact, The Common Man only picked five of the twelve playoff teams to get to the tournament.

It was a poor performance. In retrospect, The Common Man relied too much on the previous success of teams, underestimated the ability of first-year quarterbacks to step into the NFL and succeed, and discounted the importance of competent leadership from coaches and front office types.

So, given The Common Man's poor performance during the regular season, why should you trust him in making his playoff picks? Really, the answer is that you shouldn't. Or rather, you should trust him to choose poorly. The smart money is on the opposite of what The Common Man says. Remember that going forward.

Atl at AZ (Atlanta is favored by 1.5)
The Common Man feels bad he didn't trust rookie QB Matt Ryan and free agent Michael Turner in their first season together. But really, who could blame The Common Man, since the last QB to do anything worthwhile in their rookie year was Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. And before that Peyton Manning in 1998. So The Common Man was supposed to know that both Ryan and Joe Flacco (Ravens) were going to be able to step in and contribute from day 1? Come on. We don't know much about how these rookies will perform in the playoffs, so The Common Man is listing both of them as question marks (especially since both are on the road).

This game offers a great contrast in styles, as the Cardinals air the ball out and the Falcons are great at grinding the ball out on the ground. However, while the Cardinals run defense is decidedly average, the Falcons defensive secondary ranks in the bottom third of the league (directly in front of the Cardinals, actually). The Common Man thinks that the Cardinals, aided by their home crowd, will stop the Falcons ground attack often enough that Ryan will have to throw it to keep drives alive. He isn't likely to do that with consistency, especially if he starts slowly. Meanwhile, Kurt Warner will pick the Falcons' DBs apart all day.

Final: Phoenix 24, Atlanta 16

Indianapolis vs. San Diego (Indy is favored by 1)
These teams meet every year, and Peyton Manning has struggled. However, the Chargers are overconfident following their victory over Denver this week, they are poorly coached, they have a banged up RB and TE. And their passing defense ranked 31st in the NFL last year. Against a healthy Colts team, headed by Tony Dungy, and a lean-pass offense run by the NFL's best player, the Colts are going to win this in a walk, even though they're playing in San Diego. It's going to be a long day on the SD sidelines.

Final: Indy 24, San Diego 17 (with SD scoring a TD in garbage time to make it look close)

Baltimore at Miami (Baltimore is favored by 3)
The Ravens have already beaten Miami in Miami this year, taking them down 27-13 in week 7. Little has changed since then. The Dolphins appear to be held together with baling wire and duct tape, succeeding despite a middling offense propped up by an efficient Chad Pennington and two good, but not spectacular backs. Their defense has been in the top third of the league, but bends to the air attack. Meanwhile, the Ravens have one of the league's top rushing attacks, don't turn the ball over much, and have a ball-hawking defense that led the league in turnovers (the team was +13) and still allowed the third fewest points in the league. The Ravens will grind it out against the Dolphins, trusting their defense to contain Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams, and to get a pick or two off Pennington. Their offense will struggle to score, but will control the ball most of the game. If you don't like defensive battles, don't watch this game. As for betting on it, I wouldn't. The low score will make it too close to call, especially with the Ravens already laying 3.

Baltimore 13, Miami 9

Philadelphia vs. Minnesota (Eagles are favored by 3)
Quick, bet on the Vikings. Seriously. This isn't based on any particular analysis, but on the feeling that The Purple Jesus (Adrian Peterson) is going to use this game as his personal coming out party. Sure, everyone's heard of him. And most have seen him run. But this is his first playoff game. Expect him to run like he's possessed. And speaking of possession, his concentration-level should be high, and he won't suffer from the fumblitis that has plagued him over these past few weeks. Mark The Common Man's words, the Philadelphia Eagles do not comprehend what is about to happen to them (though to be fair, QB Donovan McNabb didn't comprehend that games could end in a tie, and Andy Reid still doesn't comprehend how to manage the clock, so it's not clear this team comprehends much).

Meanwhile, The Vikings defense will do well to stifle Brian Westbrook on the ground (especially since Pat Williams is back from a fractured shoulder), but will allow a lot of yards through the air. Peterson's big day (did The Common Man mention the pain that was coming?) should open up the playaction (which is something otherwise-shaky QB Tarvaris Jackson does exceedingly well), allowing Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe to exploit the sideline and the middle of the field respectively against a shaky Philly secondary.

Final: Minnesota 28, Philly 20 (Minnesota jumps out to a big lead, and Philly passes their way back in it only to squander a good chance to tie by mismanaging the clock and their timeouts, and getting flustered by a deafening Metrodome crowd.)

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