Monday, January 17, 2011

The NFL Divisional Playoffs Losers Edition

I want to take a second and look at the losers this week.  Everyone else is going to talk about the winners and the match ups going forwards but I want to take at the teams that lost this week.  I want to talk about why they lost what will happen to them going forward.

Seattle Seahawks
I want to say something positive about the Seahawks here, but I don't have much.  I didn't think this team belonged to be in the playoffs and they proved that on Sunday regardless of the final score.  The Bears dominated that game, only easing off the gas when they were up 28-0.  Seahawk apologists will hang on to their win over the Saints but that win was all about Richter Scale level home field advantage and the Seahawks didn't deserve home field. No team deserves to make the playoffs if they cant at least get to .500.

I don't expect it to get any better for the Seahawks next year.  Expectations are going to be high because they won their division and a playoff game, but I don't see how they make it back to the playoffs next year.  They don't draft until 25th overall and don't have much young talent that sticks out on the roster.  In addition, the rest of their division will be better next year.  The Rams should be better in Bradford's second year, the 49ers should be better under Harbaugh and the Cardinals can't possibly be as bad at quarterback next year as they were this year.

New England Patriots 
The Patriots loss was the most shocking of the weekend because it came weeks after a 45-3 Patriot beat down of the Jets.  The Jets were out there fired up to win but the Pats looked a little flat.  I blame Belicheck.  He benched Welker for the first series because of the infamous 'foot' conference, a decision I can't support.  I understand the Patriots are supposed to be all business all the time, but these are grown men.  When you're playing the Jets, who never shut up, you can't ask a whole locker room of football players to just sit back and take that lying down.  Welker shot back in a way that felt very Patriot to me.  He didn't call any Jet out, just mentioned feet a bunch in a press conference.  By benching Welker, Belicheck sent a the wrong signal to his players.  Football is played best when you're fired up and emotional.  The Patriots should know this already.  Their best game of the season was probably the Sunday Night Football game against the Steelers where Brady was all fired up because they just got beat up by he Browns. They scored 39 points on the Steelers at Heinz Field that day but could only scrape up 21 at home against the Jets.

Fortunately for Patriot fans, things are looking up for next year.  The defense started off the year bad but got better as the year went on.  They are young all over on defense and at the skill positions on offense.  The guys they have should be better next year.  They have to improve their offensive line next year but with two first round picks and this first pick in the second round of next years draft, the Pats have the ammunition to stock back up.  I expect them to make a big move in whatever free agency happens with the new CBA as well.  They know that Tom Brady will be 34 at the start of next season and Belicheck will be 59, the clock is ticking on winning another title.

Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons lost because of their defensive backs.  There isn't much to elaborate on there.  The Packers love putting four wide receivers on the field because they believe that James Jones and Jordy Nelson are better than your third and fourth corners and because with four receivers they can put Jennings or Driver in the slot and try to get a favorable match up that way.  Brian Williams didn't play in this game and it hurt the Falcons.  Even with him they likely would have lost, but they might have been able to keep it closer.  The Packers targeted Chris Owens all game long and other teams will do the same until the Falcons upgrade the corner position.  Fortunately they have one of the best personnel guys in the business in Thomas Dimitroff as their general manager and will get an upgrade

The Falcons will still likely start next year as the perceived second best team in the NFC after Green Bay because of their Coach/QB combo.  Mike Smith has already proven himself to be a winner and has compiled a 33-15 regular season record.  Matt Ryan has been his QB since Smith has been there and has proven himself to be a top ten NFL QB.  Everyone is going to point at their 0-2 post season record after this game but you can't judge them based on just two post season games.  Peyton Manning started 0-3 and was 3-6 before winning four games in a row for his first Super Bowl.  Eli also started 0-2 before going on to win his first Super Bowl.  Ryan and Smith are going to keep the Falcons contending for years in the NFC.

Baltimore Ravens
The offense was just embarrassing in this game.  They may have put up the weakest 24 points you could score.  Their first touchdown came on a drive that featured a 33 yard pass interference call on a third down that put the Ravens on the Steeler 14.  The second touchdown came on the fluke fumble play where Cory Redding was the only one who realized there was no whistle blown.  On their third touchdown, the Ravens D forced a turnover on the Steeler 16 yard line.  From the 16 it took the Ravens six plays to score.  Six plays to go 16 yards when your team has all the momentum is not acceptable.  The offense was even worse in the second half.  They fumbled on their own 23, then went three and out, then threw a pick on their own 25, and then fumbled again on their own 23.  All three of those turnovers lead to Pittsburgh points.  After getting the ball and punting again, the special teams set them up on the Pittsburgh 29 and they were only able to manage a field goal to tie it. After the Steelers scored the Ravens were given the ball at midfield needing to score that drive to force overtime and proceeded to lose eight yards on the drive.

The Ravens need to make a move this off season for another Wide Receiver.  Boldin is great but the offense needs a serious vertical threat.  They wanted Donte Stallworth to be that guy, but he caught just two passes all year long.  They need someone fast to stretch the field against the Steelers because they need to get past the Steelers in the division to go anywhere.  The Steelers and Jets Defenses are both too good to beat if you can't stretch the field and New England and Baltimore both found that out the hard way this weekend.

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