Thursday, October 1, 2009

Week Three Wrap-Up, Thoughts on a Lions Victory, and Week Four Predictions

Lots of stuff for you today, due to the fact that my internet's been down for a few days and I haven't been able to post. First, your week 3 results.

Week Three Wrap-Up

Prediction: Eagles 30, KC 10
Actual Score: Eagles 34, KC 14
Analysis: I nailed this one really close. Kevin Kolb and LeSean McCoy played like veterans, the defense played ferocious and Kansas City played like … well, Kansas City. And as expected, Michael Vick garnered way too much attention for his 7 yards rushing and one incomplete pass.

Prediction; Ravens 35, Browns 17
Actual Score: Ravens 34, Browns 3
Not that this was tough to foresee, but it’s a good sign that the Ravens are killing the teams they’re supposed to kill. That’s what good teams do. And they’re going to need every win they can muster to hold off them Steelers for the division title.

Prediction: Giants 31, Buccaneers 24
Actual Score: Giants 24-0
Ditto what I said about the Ravens.

Prediction: Patriots 26, Falcons 23
Actual Score: Pats 26, Falcons 10
I predicted the Patriots score of 26 with the thought that they kick way too many field goals lately, and two touchdowns and four field goals later, I called their score exactly. What’s going on with their offense in the red zone? Is it the absence of Wes Welker? Is the offensive line too old and too slow to give Brady enough time? Is Tom just out of sync because of the knee and the missed time? Or am I just overreacting? Maybe, especially considering the rain made it tough to pass in this game. Next week they get their third tough game in a row against Baltimore.

Prediction: Vikings 24, 49ers 16
Actual Score: Vikings 27, 49ers 24
Favre was the hero in this game, not Peterson, with an amazing and somewhat lucky play at the end. Frank Gore’s injury reshapes the entire NFC West. Or it just gives Glen Coffee a chance to shine.

Prediction: Bears 28, Seahawks 20
Actual Score: Bears 25, Seahawks 19
Super close on this score. Seneca Wallace played pretty decent. This game was back and forth and intense at the end. It also proved that the Bears are beatable next week by Detroit; their defense was weak against the pass.

Prediction: Saints 38, Bills 24
Actual Score: Saints 27, Bills 7
The Saints did what they had to do to advance to 3-0, but Drew Brees had no TD passes. I guess we’ll have to hold off on pre-ordering the MVP trophy for him just yet … In other news, Terrell Owens had ZERO receptions. Excuse me while I laugh my head off. Saints running game was monstrous in this one and proved that they can be versatile on offense.

Prediction: San Diego 52, Miami 17
Actual Score: Chargers 23, Miami 13
Closer than I thought it would be, but the same result. Miami stinks., and now Pennington is out for the season.

Prediction: Denver 24, Oakland 16
Actual Score: Denver 23, Oakland 3
Still have no idea if Denver is actually good. They beat the Bengals on a hail mary and then beat up the Browns and Raiders. But congrats to them for being unbeaten thus far. Scoring three points is just unacceptable Oakland.

Prediction: Cincinnati 20, Pittsburgh 16
Actual Score: Bengals 23, Steelers 20
Ha Ha Ha Ha !!!

Prediction: Colts 35, Cardinals 27
Actual Score: Colts 31, Cardinals ?
Manning is gunning for a repeat MVP season and has the Colts in excellent shape. Arizona is now 1-2 and looking completely average.

And the games I predicted incorrectly ...

Prediction: Panthers 27, Cowboys 20
Actual Score: Cowboys 21, Panthers 7
Jake Delhomme’s benching is inevitable. The Panthers are 0-3 after going 12-4 last season; meanwhile, the Cowboys are just playing okay, but with their top two running backs injured they’ve got to learn to pass the ball deep to their receivers if they hope to keep pace with the Giants and Eagles in their division.

Prediction: Houston 30, Jacksonville 14
Actual: Jacksonville 31, Houston 24
Jags desperately needed to win and they did. Jones-Drew was a beast.

Prediction: Rams 28, Packers 20
Actual: Packers 36-17
I’m an idiot.

Prediction: Titans 20, Jets 17
Actual: Jets 24-17
This was probably the hardest game to call and I was close with the score, just not the winner. Is Marc Sanchez really this good? I've been giving this game a lot of thought and this is what I realized: the 09 Jets are the 08 Titans. Off to a surprising undefeated start, led by a great defense, which features a dominant DT (Jenkins=Haynesworth), a beastly and underrated linebacker (Scott=Bullock) and an elite CB (Revis=Finnegan). They are supported by underwhelming quarterback play and a successful platoon of running backs, and a moderate spread-the-ball passing game. The Jets will race out to an excellent regular season start, something like 9-1, and finish 12-4, and then we'll all realized that they peaked too early as they lose their first playoff game. Still, you have to applaud them for being 3-0, and their matchup against the Saints this week will be extremely fun. Andd... the Titans are 0-3.

Prediction: Washington 27, Detroit 24
Actual: Detroit 19-14
You can’t blame me for picking against them. It made sense, and it almost happened. We almost gave the game away at the end. But we didn’t, and I’m glad I picked this one wrong. GO LIONS!

This week: 11-5
Season so far: 29-15


At Last
(my thoughts on the Lions win over Washington)

Well, they finally did it. The Big Blue Idiots finally won a regular season game.

After losing nineteen straight regular season games, including the entire 2008 season, the Detroit Lions are winners once again. Sunday’s 19-14 win over Washington was your proto-typical Lions game: a great first quarter, a two-score lead at halftime, then a huge touchdown allowed, and then an inevitable fourth quarter collapse. Except the oddest thing happened on Sunday. The whole fourth quarter collapse part … never happened.

I kept waiting for it. And fully expecting it. And to be honest, it might have happened if Washington’s quarterback Jason Campbell wasn’t so unbelievable lousy. The referees even tried to engender the comeback themselves, with a phantom offensive interference penalty (which should have been a defensive interference) that negated a 60-yard pass that would have put Detroit on the one-yard line and virtually assured them the win. But with our backs against the wall, the Detroit defense played tough on several key drives at the end of the game, and didn’t allow the big play that would have given the Lions a twenty-game losing streak.

Too much credit for this win is going to go the fat face of the franchise, Matthew Stafford. That’s fine I Guess. Stafford played pretty good – his best game in Honolulu blue by a mile. Actually by more like a marathon. But let’s give credit where credit’s due: the defense, led by our relentless captain Larry Foote. A week after holding Adrian Peterson to under 100 yards and less than five yards in the first quarter, the Blue and Silver completely dominated the Redskins running game, even without Ernie Sims. (Levy played well in his place, don't you think?) Through the first three quarters, Washington had no running game whatsoever; then they took a page out of the Lion’s playbook, and started running the ball with five minutes remaining and down by two scores.

It was like a that all day - a total role reversal. The Lions were making clutch plays, converting on third downs, and calling unpredictable plays that worked at key times. Washington played the part of the loser to perfection, with sloppy plays and turnovers and lazy defense. If I was a Redskins fan, I’d be livid.

But I’m not. I’m a Lions fan to the bone. The ‘Skins have had their day and won their Super Bowls, and if they stink now and for years to come, so be it. I’m the last person who’s going to feel bad for them. In my opinion, every team that has won at least one Super Bowl deserves at least one decade of chronic losing. Make the fans appreciate the good times. “For you know that the trying of your faith develops perseverance,” James tells us, and that’s what Lions fans are made of. Perseverance.

That’s why Steelers fans bug the crap out of me. They win the Super Bowl twice in the past five years, with teams that weren’t even all that great, and act all offended and shocked when they lose one regular season game. If they lose two in the same month, everybody starts jumping off the ship. It’s ridiculous. This is the NFL – you can’t expect to win every game.

So no, I don’t feel bad for all the 0-3 teams still remaining. I don't feel an ounce of sympathy for Steeler Nation and their 1-2 team. And, you know what, if Cleveland or Tampa or Oakland loses their next 50 games, I still won’t feel bad. They should all know what it’s like. To be the brunt of all jokes, to suffer agony after agony, and to still try to hopeful about the future. It’s the hardest job in all of sports, to be a Lions fan. And if I do say so myself, I’ve done an admirable job in the past 20+ years.

And now, after more than 20 months of winless football, the perennial losers have come away with a victory. Fittingly, I watched this game unfold with my brother, the only Lions fan who has suffered more than me in the past two years. After the game, it wasn’t as much jumping and fist-pumping as you’d expect. It was a more subdued reaction; shock, joy, like discovering a relative you’d thought was dead for years was actually alive and well. We just couldn’t believe it.

Minutes after the game was over, I kept waiting for some red challenge flag. “Washington has challenged the result of the game…” or some penalty or official rule-change or for Roger Goddell to walk out on the field and announce that another victory was taken from us because Charles Rogers was on drugs or something. But once the clock expired, it was over. There was nothing we could do to lose the game. It was amazing, for lack of a better word. It was unbelievable; it was almost more difficult to accept than a loss.

But make no mistake, the Lions earned this victory. They outplayed a decent Redskins team on both sides of the ball, and they won. Straight-up, fair-and-square. We made the plays we had to make, and the new and improved roster was actually evident in this game. Guys like Foote and Grady Jackson and Julian Peterson made plays that simply were not made in 2008. There’s no question that the 2009 Lions are an improvement over the sad 2008 team, and this game finally proved it.

It was such an emotional win for the Lions and for the entire state of Michigan, which is really quite silly. We’re still a 1-2 team in last place in the NFC North, with less than slim chances of making the playoffs. Teams that are 0-2 don’t usually celebrate home victories with tears and confetti, but this is different. This is special. We needed this. Each and every one of us needed this victory.

I could launch into the more detailed specifics of how this win came to be, the key plays and key performances, but I’ll leave that to the actual coaching staff and players as they prepare for week four against Chicago. I’ll just summarize it succinctly by saying that there were some really good plays and some really bad plays, and we have to continue to work harder and improve and make more good plays. The roster needs to be continually tweaked and certain players are not off the hook just because of one victory. But for now, the Lions are revved up and ready to face the Bears, and so am I. Two wins in a row is not out of the question. Go Lions!


Week Four Picks

Seattle @ Indianapolis
To road to 4-0 is quite easy for Indy as they face a Hasslebeck-less Seahawks team at home. Colts roll 27-10.

Tampa Bay @ Washington
Sunday’s game in Detroit got the Bucs thinking … “maybe we can finally win a game against the Redskins. Apparently, they suck.” But Tampa stinks worse than the Lions, and the Skins have motivation on their side: they are angry and embarrassed right now. Skins 28, Bucs 17.

Baltimore @ New England
There are a lot of great matchups this week and this is certainly one of them. The 3-0 Ravens go into New England to face a Patriots team that was predicted to make the Super Bowl by just about everybody (myself included), but has failed to impress anyone in a 2-1 start. The classic chess match of a great defense against a great quarterback. Both teams are well coached. But the Pats win 21-17.

New York Jets @ New Orleans
Speaking of a great quarterback against a great defense … wow. It doesn’t get much better than this in week 4. Two undefeated teams that have ‘sexy’ written all over them. The league’s best defense (which completely shut down Tom Brady two weeks ago) against the league’s best quarterback (yeah, that’s right, I just said that). Brees has led his offense to 120 points in the first three weeks (the highest scoring offense ever through three games), while the Jets have allowed only 33 points total thus far. To pour gasoline on the fire, Brees offered up some locker-room material recently by saying that the Jets defense is so blitz-crazy that they leave receivers in man-coverage on almost every down, and he thinks that he can find the open guy and the Saints will put up some really big plays. He is right; the Jets do blitz more than 60% of defensive snaps. But beating the blitz is easier said than done – the whole purpose of the blitz is to, you know, make it tough for the quarterback. This is going to be a super chess match between a great offensive coach (Peyton) and a great defensive coach (Ryan), and I don’t want to sound all over-reactive, but this might be one of the most important regular season games in terms of playoff positioning and momentum-building. As for my prediction … well, I said two weeks ago that I won’t be picking against Drew Brees until he loses a game, and so far so good. I’ll go with the Saints in this one, 30-21.

New York Giants @ Kansas City
I wonder what the spread is in this game? Giants by 14? Giants by 20? Giants by 100? I don't even think Matt Cassel is picking the Chiefs to win this one. NY 34, KC 10.

Tennessee @ Jacksonville
Both of these teams are the definition of desperate right now. Tennessee is 0-3 but still has a glimmer of hope at the playoffs; if they lose this one its all over. Jacksonville needed a win last week to stay alive, and they just barely got it. Now they need another. This game is going to be physical and grueling from the first snap on. Titans win 20-14.

Oakland @ Houston
Amazing that both of these teams are 1-2, considering how superior Houston is. They take the game in dramatic fashion, 35-14.

Buffalo @ Miami
Chad Henne gets his first start against a feisty but ultimately non-threatening (and heavily-injured) Bills defense. It’ll be interesting to see how the play-calling changes with Pennington now out for the season. More Wildcat or less Wildcat? Between the 'Cat and the no-huddle Bills, this game should be very interesting. Not important in the grand scheme of things, but still fun to watch and talk about. Especially funny if TO continues to not catch the ball. We're going to see some crazy fireworks explode in Buffalo. Which makes me wonder ... what is the next step for Terrell Owens? First, he told everyone that Jeff Garcia was gay (when in fact he is married to a woman) ... then he said that the Eagles would have won the Super Bowl if they had Brett Favre instead of McNabb, basically blaming the whole loss on McNabb ... And then last year, he accused Tony Romo of having 'secret meetings' with his best friend Jason Witten and leaving TO out. The guy obviously has some serious emotional and mental problems. So what's in store for Trent Edwards? What can TO possibly do next to destroy this franchise and Edwards' career? I'm hoping for something completely unprecedented and/or illegal. It wouldn't shock me if TO carried a pistol in his sock and after an incomplete pass he turned and shot Edwards dead on the middle of the field. Or shot himself. Wouldn't shock me at all.

Anyway, back to the game ... I think the Fins finally get in the win column and Henne plays a very poised game. Miami 27, Buffalo 14.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland
The Bengals are very close to being 3-0. The Browns are 0-3 and playing worse than anyone in the league, and now are benching their ‘franchise’ quarterback for Derek Anderson. I just don’t get it. It took Eric Mangini about six months to make the decision to play Quinn over Anderson (which seemed like a no-brainer to the rest of us) and then after three weeks, he benches Quinn for Anderson?? I know they’re 0-3, but it’s the fault of the defense, not Brady Quinn. He’s a kid. Let him learn the game on the field, not from the sideline. Derek Anderson is not an improvement. Bengals win 27-13 and Mangini is one step closer to unemployment.

Dallas @ Denver
I know Denver is 3-0 but I’m not giving them any respect until they beat a real team. Dallas is pretty good, and then they play New England, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, the rest of the NFC East, and the Chargers twice – that’s eight tremendously difficult games remaining, and only four easy-ish games. From a 3-0 start, the Broncos could easily finish 5-11. Now that would be funny. Go Dallas!
(I don’t know why exactly I hate the Broncos so much this year. I really have no good reason. McDaniels just really bugs me and I always want him to lose. Also I knew an annoying kid in college named Mark who absolutely loved Denver, and I guess I want him to suffer.) Cowboys win, 31-24.

St. Louis @ San Francisco
After losing on the last play of the game last week, San Fran has a bitter taste in their mouth, and now they match up against the hapless Rams. I tried to pick St. Louis last week and it made me feel like a moron. This week it’s all Niners. SF 40, STL 10.

San Diego @ Pittsburgh
This is probably the third most exciting game of the weekend, after Pats-Ravens and Saints-Jets. Both of these teams probably thought they would be undefeated or in Pittsburgh’s case, at least 2-1. But these Super Bowl hopefuls are a combined 3-3 and not playing all that well to be honest. Polamalu’s injury has hurt the Steelers defense in two straight losses and won’t help them any here, playing against a Charger offense with plenty of weapons. LT may be back on the field this week, but even if he is he’s a non-factor. I’m willing to write his career off as effectively finished as of today. He’s just a wuss, plain and simple. He stubs his toes and misses four games. I’m sick of it. Sproles is simply the better running back right now and everybody knows it. As far as the Pittsburgh offense is concerned, they might just be the worst rushing team in all of football. The offensive line can’t do anything; “Fast” Willie Parker is, ironically, extemely slow, Rashard Mendenhall is a total bust, and Mewelde Moore is a nice little third down back but that’s about it. Their whole offense consists of bad running plays and desperate passing plays. It starts with lousy blocking, then Roethlisberger improvising, then receivers playing back-yard football and trying to get open, while Roethlisberger improvises some more and does a few pump fakes and scrambles around with DTs wrapped around both ankles, and finally he launches the ball to a semi-open Ward or Holmes for a big play. It’s the sloppiest, stupidest, ugliest offense in the NFL, but it’s effective. Roethlisberger is a pretty good football player. This game is going to be exciting and an AFC Playoff preview of sorts. I want to pick San Diego but Pittsburgh’s not going 1-3, especially not at Heinz Field. Steelers 27, Chargers 17.

Green Bay @ Minnesota
Monday night, Brett Favre against the Packers. Wait, Brett Favre against the Packers? This is too big for words. This is epic. Prepare yourselves. I don’t even want to make a prediction because that would take away from the magnificent scope of this phenomenon. (I’ll just say ... Packers 28-24 to get it out of the way.) Oh man. Get ready. This is it. This is the reason Favre un-retired five million times. For this very game. Just imagine what’s going to happen in a few weeks when Favre goes to Lambeau. It’s safe to say that that will probably be the last day of John Madden’s life.

Lions @ Bears
Now, just because the Lions won one game doesn’t mean I’m ready to pick them to beat a good team on the road. The Bears are balanced and solid, but not quite as good as the first two teams we lost to this year. Urlacher is of course out for the season, which does impact their defense, even though he is wildly overrated. He’s still their leader and his absence means something. Hunter Hillenmeyer (Urlacher’s replacement) hurt himself last week and might miss this game, which would seriously weaken the Bears linebacking. Matt Forte is also hurt, but likely to play.

The Bears’ offense doesn’t seem to be clicking thus far and the meshing between Cutler and Forte doesn’t seem to be smooth (predictably so). Cutler loves to sling the ball and be the hero, but the Bears team isn’t built that way. Forte’s a great runner but thus far he’s had very little success this season. The Lions are the type of team that Cutler loves to take advantage of, because defensively we don’t put up much resistance. Gunther Cunningham is going to have to send the house at Cutler early and often, because he’s the type of quarterback who will make mistakes if you pressure him. He’s not your typical ‘cool, calm, poised’ kind of guy; he’s a ‘gunslinger,’ which is code for ‘he throws interceptions when he’s under pressure.’ I’d like to see some of those creative blitzes that Cunningham is allegedly known for, because so far the only blitz packages I’ve seen are Foote up the middle or Peterson around the end. Send Delmas or Henry; they’re the kind of hard-hitting secondary players who can blitz and make things happen. Not sure if Ernie Sims is going to play or not, but DeAndre Levy looked plenty good in his stead and if he starts again, I’m not going to cry about it.
The big story of this game will be on the other side of the ball, where former Lions coach Rod “Crowbar Up My Ass” Marinelli is coaching the Bears defensive line. In theory, he understands the Lions offensive line better than anyone and will coach his D-linemen to exploit them this week. In reality, Marinelli is a colossal moron who’s hubris outweighs his stupidity, so if he’s on the other sideline, I like our chances. The entire Lions team will be geared up to avenge the pathetic coach who “led” us to an 0-16 disaster a season ago. I’d love to see Louis Delmas run full speed and deliver a helmet-to-helmet blow to Marinelli, who, of course, would not be wearing a helmet. With the Bears injuries and general overrated-ness on defense, I hope to see the Lions run the ball as effectively as they did last week, even though Smith may not play. Mo Morris and Aaron Brown can share the load with success. And maybe, just maybe, this will be the game where the Lions actually get the ball to their playmaker. Calvin Johnson is unguardable. And Matthew Stafford, who by the way has drawn a lot of comparisons to Jay Cutler, is coming off his first ever good NFL game. ((I can’t believe I just said that)). The Stafford-Cutler comparisons are warranted; both guys are overrated, throw a lot of interceptions, and are undeniably ugly. Let’s hope our guy has another solid outing and keeps us in the game for win number two.

Prediction: Unfortunately, I’m still not sold on picking the Lions. I see this as a long, drawn-out suffering to remind us that we are still the Lions. Bears win 34-20.

Enjoy week four everyone. Go Tashard Choice, and as always, GO LIONS!!

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