Sunday, June 2, 2013

Miami Heat Vs. Indiana Pacers Eastern Conference Finals - It's Why It's Called a "Series"

The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers currently have NBA fans and the media on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. The 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals is knotted at 3 games a piece with Game 7 looming in South Beach. Neither team has won consecutive games yet which has helped fuel the immediate momentum swings. Interested spectators are on the edge of their seats not knowing exactly which way this ride is going to go but still not hesitating to make "written in stone" predictions.

Far too many times in this series I've read and heard people make quick, hard line predictions based upon just one game's final result. After the Pacers lost a heartbreaker in Game 1, a game they probably should have won, I heard a lot of Miami "sweep" talk. Indy bounced back and won Game 2 and many put them in the driver's seat "tied" but going back to Indianapolis. The Heat responded with a dominate Game 3 victory and folks spouted "oh it's over now". Of course the Pacers rebounded again Game 4 and suddenly the Heat was going to be upset. Some of these rollercoaster feelings and emotions have even taken place within five to ten minute stretches within a game. How could you declare a game over when a team merely has a ten point lead in the 2nd quarter (as I observed some announce)?

This Eastern Conference Finals is the epitome of a "series".  You don't win a best of seven series in a quarter or a game or even a couple of games. Best of seven series are won by winning four games and in the course of trying to grab those victories sometimes a team is going to look their worst and their best. The San Antonio Spurs, who is waiting for the winner of this series to meet in The Finals, won the Western Conference Finals in just four games. Even though they swept the Memphis Grizzlies, a couple of those games could have gone the other way. Though sweeps do occur, they a rare. Most series have momemtum swings back forth and some point and that's why it is a "series". We are now just about at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals "ride" with just one more game to play. I'm sure Game 7 will have a few more steep dips and hard turns before we all unbuckle are seat belts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Baltimore Ravens - Super Bowl XLVII Champions - 2012 NFL Playoffs

Congratulations to the Baltimore Ravens, winners of Super Bowl XLVII!! The Ravens have continued in the pattern of recent Super Bowl winners: they got hot late, navigated the playoffs out of the Wild Card Weekend round, and won multiple games on the road. Having one of the top two seeds in the conferences seems to be a disadvantage now as the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and San Francisco 49ers found out. The Ravens defeated three of those four bye week teams, including the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.

The Ravens came out of the gate hard and fast; they definitely appeared to be the hungrier team. I would have to think that the 49ers were expecting that with the Ravens being the underdog, emotional team trying to seal LB Ray Lewis' retirement party with a championship ring.  All San Fran had to do was withstand the storm, something they had just done in their previous game. Ravens' QB and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco came out on fire, ready to zip the lips of all of his doubters. Flacco had not thrown an interception in the Ravens' playoff run and continued his pick-free ways in the Super Bowl. On his first drive of the game, Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for a 13 yd touchdown pass to start off the scoring in the game. Flacco tossed two more TD passes in the second quarter including a 56 yarder to Jacoby Jones who arguably could have been the Super Bowl MVP himself. Jones made a nice adjustment on the under thrown pass that took him to the ground and then had the mind to get up and out "juke" the secondary to the end zone. That touchdown and following extra point gave the Ravens a 21 - 3 lead.

The Niners stumbled in the first half, but they still did some positive things. Two turnovers and a couple of penalties impeded their efforts. Their first play from scrimmage was erased on an illegal formation penalty - a mistake that wiped out a 20 yard pass play. In the second quarter a fumble by LaMichael James on the Ravens 25 yd line killed a good drive by the Niners when they were only down 7 - 3. The Ravens cashed in on that turnover with a drive of their own to make the score 14 - 3. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's only interception of the game (an overthrow to WR Randy Moss who appeared to not even attempt to corral or deflect the ball) did not lead directly to a Ravens score (a fake FG was thwarted by SF) but it ultimately put them in bad field position for their next possession. A shaky throw by Kaepernick on that drive led SF head coach Jim Harbaugh to get conservative which resulted in a punt. The Ravens scored a TD 3 plays later. Down 18, Kaepernick engineered another good drive that marched the 49ers inside the Ravens' 10 yd line but they had to settle for a FG. Baltimore took a 21 - 6 lead into the half.

I could not believe my eyes and ears during the second quarter and halftime. On my timeline on Twitter many people had called the game over. Many folks had trashed Kaepernick and a few even suggested the Niners go to backup QB Alex Smith. Even more surprising was the analyst on the broadcast saying the same things. The Niners were only down 2 scores...just TWO. How could the game be over?? Plus Kaepernick and the offense showed they could move the ball and they have had spectacular second halves throughout the playoffs. I thought the suggestions to replace him was crazy and the notion that the game was over equally as crazy. Then the worst possible thing that could have happened to the Niners happened. It was the play of the game in my eyes, which was set up by the call of the game. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh elected to defer and receive the ball at the start of the second half after Baltimore won the coin toss. The Ravens held the 49ers to a three and out on the opening drive, got the ball back and scored a TD on their opening drive and they was about to score the trifecta. Jacoby Jones took the second half kick off 108 yards for a touchdown. That play ultimately was the back breaker and put the cream on top of the call to defer receiving the ball to start the second half. Now down 28 - 6, the Niners were indeed in trouble. Though they had enough time for a comeback, what ever momentum they looked to gain early in the 3rd quarter was gone in 11 seconds. And then IT happened.

One of the most bizarre things ever to happen at a Super Bowl occurred right after Jones' kickoff TD return. The power in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans was disrupted. It knocked out lights beaming onto the field momentarily and then they came back slowly to full power. Both teams lost the ability to communicate from the sidelines to the coaches boxes. Even the main announcers for the game had their power source disrupted as the images of the half lit Superdome was accompanied by silence initially. The delay of play from the power disruption took 34 minutes. Some believe the power surge that caused the disruption also sucked momentum from the Ravens. I believe that the 49ers would have come back regardless but many folks felt the Niners benefited from the hiatus. San Fran went on to score 17 unanswered points in the 3rd quarter to close the gap to 5. Kaepernick had his offense clicking again and this time they were finishing.

The Ravens had a couple of great drives in the 4th quarter. They clearly had lost all of the momentum but hung in there. An early 19 yd FG by K Justin Tucker stemmed the tide briefly. The Niners offense answered that score with a 76 yd drive capped by a 15 yd TD run by Kaepernick. Now down 31 - 29, the 49ers went for the two point conversion. The Ravens squashed that attempt with strong pressure by Ed Reed on Kaepernick, though it did appear that Reed was off sides. Baltimore then went on a 5:34 drive that culminated in a 38 yd FG by Tucker. With the score now 34 - 29 the stage was set. Could the Niners go on a four minute drive and finish it off with a TD, leaving the Ravens barely any time to retaliate? Boy did they come close! Starting at their own 20, the Niners drove the ball down to the Ravens 7 yd line. First and goal from the 7 with 2:39 left. On first down James ran for two yards. Then for some reason the Niners tried to pass on their next 3 plays, all to WR Michael Crabtree. I thought they should have run the ball, especially on 3rd and 4th downs. All three passes fell incomplete and on the fourth down, I felt Baltimore got away with a hold and/or pass interference on Crabtree. No flag was thrown though and the Ravens took over on downs. They killed the clock all the way down to 4 seconds, taking a safety to improve P Sam Koch chances of a better punt (and decreasing the odds of a good return) making the score 34 - 31. The subsequent punt could not be returned for a TD by the 49ers as time expired and the Ravens became the new champs!

This Super Bowl will be remembered for the Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other, the power outage and what effect it may or may not of had on the game and the Ravens last "goal line" stance. But mostly I think it will be remembered for the beginning and the end of a Ravens' story. The beginning is the emergence of Super Bowl MVP Flacco. He now has that ring and that SB MVP trophy so a lot of the noise about his ability will now have to quell some. Will this be the first of multiple Lombardi trophies Flacco will bring back to Baltimore? Will he also now emerge as the new leader of the Ravens? Lewis, the now former leader of the Ravens represents the end. What more can be said? The heart and soul of the team who was an original Raven retires on top after 17 years (and two championships). Obviously his Canton call will only be five years away.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

2012 NFL Playoffs - Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers

And then there were two............ the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers have survived their OTA's, training camp, pre-season, regular season and conference playoffs. Now they square off in New Orleans for all the marbles, the Lombardi trophy and the right to be called "Super Bowl Champs"!

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)
The Ravens ride into New Orleans as the number four AFC seed with playoff victories over the Colts,  Broncos and Patriots. To some people, their wins in Denver and New England were improbable and impressive.  But the truth about Baltimore is the core of this team has been battle tested and quite frankly, it is their time to be in the big game. For the number two NFC seed 49ers, their road was a little shorter. Playoff wins over the Packers and Falcons propelled San Fran into the Super Bowl. Both the Ravens and the 49ers have a lot in common starting with the sibling relationship between their head coaches John and Jim Harbaugh. Both teams knocked on the Super Bowl door last year only to be denied access in their respective conference championships. Both teams have strong playmakers on both sides of the ball. Both have the capability of lighting up the scoreboard as well as shutting the opposing team down. I honestly think either team can win this game but I have a feeling the 49ers will prevail. On defense the Niners should  "contain" the Ravens run game but I think they will bend a little with the pass game.  Joe Flacco should have some success passing to his talented receiving tandem as well as to Ray Rice out of the backfield.  Anquan Boldin or Torrey Smith are capable of torching  the 49ers secondary like the Falcons' WR Julio Jones did in the NFC Championship game but I think SF will prevent the deep ball. In order to do so they must get real pressure up front on Flacco, which I think they will. If they don't and give him any kind of time, it could be a long day for them. The Ravens defense has been inspired in the playoffs by the return of their leader Ray Lewis. They have played light years better in the playoffs than they did during several stretches in the season. But this defense can give up yards and can be scored upon. I still think the Broncos let them off the hook by not going "no huddle" late in the game. If a team "fast breaks" the Ravens defense I think they can be cracked. No better weapon to do that than 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick's ability to run and pass could cause headaches for the Ravens. He is quick as a cat when he's on the run in the "pistol" and when he gives the ball away, RB Frank Gore can do some damage. Also RB LaMichael James can cause issues when he's in the "pistol" due to his amazing speed. When Kaepernick passes (and does he have a strong arm!)  he can count on Michael Crabtree, Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis and the veteran Randy Moss to make some plays for him. I think the Ravens will attempt to shut the run game down to put it all on young Kaepernick's arm. I don't think they will be successful though. The 49ers will wear out the Ravens defense  - they will go uptempo on Baltimore and the game will get away. I'm taking San Francisco to stay undefeated as an organization in the Super Bowl and they will cover the points. For the 49ers sake they better hope it doesn't come down to them kicking a field goal though. K David Akers doesn't look healthy at all.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

2012 NFL Playoffs - Road to Super Bowl XLVII - Conference Championships

WOW!! Now that was some "good football"!!!! Last weekend's exciting Divisional Round more than made up for the boring slate of Wild Card Weekend games. High drama in the Seahawks vs. Falcons game kept us on our seats until the very last second. And the Ravens vs. Broncos game had so many twists and turns that it took two overtimes to settle. We are now down to the Final Four: Conference Championship Weekend. Three of the four teams return to the conference finals from last year (Patriots, Ravens, 49ers).  The winners will head to New Orleans to play for the coveted Lombardi trophy.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots (- 8)
The AFC Conference Championship game is a rematch from last year's matchup. The Ravens return to the scene of where their season came to a very disappointing end last year, Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. On their final drive in that game, Baltimore had a chance to beat, and then at the very least, tie the Patriots but a dropped TD pass and a missed chippy field goal sent them home. The Ravens did beat the Patriots earlier this season 31 - 30 at home, but this is definitely the game that they want as their "revenge game". The Patriots are cruising into this matchup after soundly defeating the Texans last week. Although they lost their dynamic TE Rob Gronkowski early in the game (and for the rest of the playoffs), the Pats offense still clicked pretty well. With a good balance of run and pass it is expected that New England will take advantage of a "tired" Ravens defense. I've been hearing all week about how many snaps the Ravens' defense has taken, particularly in the double OT game that they won over the Broncos last week. Baltimore showed a lot of heart in that game and although their defense wasn't stellar, they made plays when they had to. The Ravens' D only gave up 3 of the 5 touchdowns scored by the Broncos (2 of them were made on special teams). The defense also intercepted Peyton Manning twice: one for a "Pick 6" in the first half and one in double OT that set up the game winning field goal. One thing that Denver did offensively that was positive against the Ravens was the "no huddle" offense. For some reason the Broncos went away from it late in the game after having a lot of success with it. I expect QB Tom Brady and the Patriots to do a lot of "no huddle" and even without Gronkowski, they still have a lot of other weapons who can execute. Baltimore's offense must be feeling pretty confident too after having success on the ground and in the air last week. I think another game plan of feeding Ray Rice the ball and Joe Flacco going deep to Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin on play action will serve Baltimore well. They certainly can take advantage of the Pats defense. I think this game is going to be high scoring and close. The Ravens exact AFC Championship revenge on the Patriots and take the Mr. Ray Lewis retirement tour to the Super Bowl. They will obviously cover the points with the win.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons (+4)
The Falcons finally "got the monkey off of their back" when they defeated the Seahawks in the Divisional Round. They were a determined unit and I think it showed by their play on the field. Despite that, they still almost lost the game and they probably would have if it were not for some rare coaching errors by Seattle. As a matter of fact, the Seahawks took the lead with less than a minute to go in the game. But the Falcons did an excellent job led by QB Matt Ryan to get the ball, drive down the field and get into field goal range. K Matt Bryant connected on a 49 yard FG to seal the comeback victory for Atlanta and save them from what would have been increased media scrutiny about their playoff failures. The 49ers had a little drama of their own in the Divisional Round but it was early in the game. A "Pick 6" thrown by QB Colin Kaepernick on the team's opening drive made some folks wonder whether he would be able to handle the playoff pressure. Kaepernick quickly responded by taking the 49ers on their following possession straight down the field on a drive that was capped by a 20 yd touchdown run by the QB. Though Aaron Rodgers and the Packers tangled with San Fran through the first two quarters (they were only down 3 at halftime), Kaepernick and the 49ers imposed their will on them in the second half. The Niners pulled away by scoring 21 unanswered points. Even though the Packers scored a late TD to make it a little close, the game was essentially a blow out. Kaepernick was outstanding, passing for 263 yards (2 TDs) and rushing for 181 yards (2 TDs). When he travels east to face the Falcons, he'll need to bring a little of that great balance with him. Atlanta's defense is good and opportunistic but I feel the 49ers will have the ability to move the ball on them. The Falcons must really feel disrespected being that they are the number 1 seed in the NFC, hosting this championship game but are still underdogs. Ryan & the offense I think will be able to make some plays but not enough against the 49ers stingy D. I don't think Atlanta will be able to run the ball on the 49ers the way they did against Seattle last week. I think the 49ers pass rush will be more effective as well. San Francisco, like Baltimore, had the conference championship slip through their hands last year. This year they will not let that happen. Niners beat the Falcons for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and they will cover the points.

Well the way I see it, Super Bowl XLVII will be a "family affair". Brothers John Harbaugh (Head Coach of the Ravens) and Jim Harbaugh (Head Coach of the 49ers) will bring pride to their family name and garner a ton of attention on the fact that they are siblings. It should make for a great Super Bowl matchup - but the Patriots and Falcons will be in no mood to help facilitate a Harbaugh family reunion in New Orleans.

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012 NFL Playoffs - Road to Super Bowl XLVII - Divisional Round

We are now down to the Elite Eight (the Divisional Round) in the NFL Playoffs and let us all hope that the games are better this weekend than they were last weekend. Outside of the Seattle Seahawks vs Washington Redskins game, Wild Card Weekend was a bit of a "Bore Fest". With a trip to the Conference Championships on the line and the inclusion of the top seeded teams, I think we will see more competitive and exciting games.


Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos (- 9.5)
The Ravens (#4 seed) are riding into Denver high off of their emotional victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Though they didn't look their best, the Ravens still kept the Colts in check. Ravens RB Ray Rice uncharacteristically fumbled twice, something he just can not afford to do against the Broncos (#1 seed). Denver, who has been riding high in the "Mile High" themselves, come off of a bye and 11 straight victories. During that streak, led by MVP candidate QB Peyton Manning, the Broncos have won by at least a touchdown in each contest and has scored an average of 31 points a game. That spells trouble for the Ravens' defense which has been porous this season. Cold temperatures and an emotional lift surrounding the impending retirement of LB Ray Lewis may help the Ravens' defense but I think that Baltimore will need to run the ball a lot (and execute their short passing game) to limit Mr. Manning's touches. QB Joe Flacco & Co. had better take their sweet time out there on offense, unless of course, they are down quickly. When the Ravens' offense is right, it can have explosive games with Flacco. Also, this squad is a road playoff, battle tested team. But I don't think it's wise for them to get into a shootout with Denver. Besides, the Broncos defense is one of the most underrated in the NFL. The divisional round is hard to predict at times because of the teams coming off a bye and it's possible the week off my derail the Broncos stride. But I don't think the bye, the Lewis factor or anything else will get in Denver's way. The Broncos end the Ravens' season and Ray Lewis' career but they will not cover the 9.5.
Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots (-9.5)
The Texans (#3 seed) roll into Foxboro off of their Wild Card Round win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Texans did what they had to do to win that game but they weren't impressive at all. Houston is a talented team but something has gone awry with them starting with the Week 14 beatdown they endured at the hands of the Patriots (#2 seed). The Pats undressed the Texans on Monday Night Football, yet another high stakes nationally televised game that they wilted. That game prompted me to give them the nickname "SNL" for Saturday Night Live. SNL's original cast members were once known to be the "Not Ready For Primetime Players".  SNL has a chance to begin to ditch that nickname with a "revenge" win against the Patriots. Like Baltimore, Houston should rely on their run and short pass game to eat clock on offense. The less time New England QB Tom Brady has with the ball, the better for the Texans. Also I thought the Bengals ran successfully against Houston but didn't stick with it for some reason. I doubt Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick will let that opportunity/advantage slip away. Like the Ravens, when the Texans offense is clicking they can be very dangerous. But their switch seems to be "off" and I can't see how they will flip it "on" in New England. The Patriots have been vulnerable at home in the playoffs in recent years but I don't see them losing this week. "Live from New England, it's Saturday Night!" and the Not Ready For Primetime Players will hit the stage (even though it's actually Sunday). The Patriots will run RB Stevan Ridley wild and open up the play action to hit their talented receiving/tight end ensemble down field. Patriots win and cover.

Green Bay Packers vs. San Francisco 49ers (-3)
The Packers (#3 seed) come into this game against the 49ers (#2 seed) after dusting off the Minnesota Vikings (who played their 2nd string QB due to Christian Ponder's injured arm) last week. The "backup" quarterback they will be facing this week though will be a little more prepared than Vikings QB Joe Webb was last week. Unlike Webb, 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has taken several snaps this season. In fact Kaepernick isn't really the backup QB anymore; he has started the last eight games of the season for San Fran. Though he has had some struggles, Kaepernick has also looked quite dynamic at times. The 49ers have averaged 26 points a game since Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith behind center. The offense still relies on a steady run game with RB Frank Gore but has now opened up the downfield threat with WR Michael Crabtree. The Packers pass offense is as dangerous as ever with QB Aaron Rodgers leading the way. But the name of this game I think will be defense and the 49ers have one of the best units in the NFL. San Francisco's defense is stout; they play mean and they tackle well. If they get the Packers into a one dimensional passing offense, Green Bay could be in for a long day. Ultimately, I do think the 49ers defense will neutralize the Packers offense. The Packers defense will have to deal with that balanced Niners offense and I think San Fran will have some opportunities to score some points against them. This game could be close but it has the makings of getting ugly too. Niners rush into the NFC Championship game by sending home the Pack and they cover too.
Seatlle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons (-2.5)
The Seahawks (#5 seed) fly into Atlanta soaring after their defeat of RGIII and the Washington Redskins in the Wild Card Round. Seattle has become the so called "sexy pick" of a lot of prognosticators to win the Super Bowl because of their tough defense, excellent run game and the unflinching leadership of rookie QB Russell Wilson. Wilson was the only rookie QB to survive Wild Card Weekend. But he and the "Hawks will face a Falcons (#1 seed) team who has a LOT to prove. Atlanta's quick exits out of the playoffs the last 3 years has placed doubts in the minds of scores of folks outside of the 404/770 area code. Despite their 13 - 3 record and home field advantage, many people expect the Falcons to nose dive again in these playoffs. I have to admit that I am one of those people. I took a chance on the Falcons last year and picked them to win Wild Card Weekend even though they had to go on the road to play the New York Giants. They flew north and laid an egg. I'm not jumping with them this time around. This team has good talent on both sides of the ball. Roddy White and Julio Jones are arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. Out on routes with them is future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez. RB Michael Turner has seen his touches drop over the last couple of years but is still capable of getting the job done. QB Matt Ryan is a good quarterback but is he your championship QB? You rarely hear his nickname "Matty Ice" any more....... On defense, the Falcons also have some really good players like Sean Weatherspoon, John Abraham, Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud. But for some reason come playoff time, it doesn't happen for the "Dirty Birds". After seeing how the Carolina Panthers handled the Falcons this year, (they split games but the Panthers should have won the game in Atlanta early in the season) I think the Seahawks can beat them. Although Wilson is not exactly like Cam Newton, their attributes are similar. With the help of RB Marshawn Lynch, Wilson should be able to find some holes in the Atlanta D on play action. This game I think will be close. Boy, Atlanta has a lot of pride on the line and a huge monkey on their back. That monkey will get even bigger when the Seahawks win the "Battle of the Birds". Seattle wins outright and have the spread to spare.
The playoff intensity should really pick up this weekend as these matches will determine the Final Four. Will we see another Brady vs. Manning playoff matchup? Will the Seahawks and 49ers meet for the third time this season, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line? We shall indeed see but you better believe the Ravens, Texans, Packers and Falcons all have different ideas about the Conference Championships! Let's just hope these games truly are more entertaining than last week's set.

Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 NFL Playoffs - Road to Super Bowl XLVII - Wild Card Round

The NFL playoffs for the 2012 season ramps up this weekend. As normal under the current playoff format, twenty teams did not qualify for the post season and have been sent home to watch with the rest of us.  The Atlanta Falcons (#1 NFC seed), San Francisco 49ers (#2 NFC seed), Denver Broncos (#1 AFC seed) and New England Patriots (#2 AFC seed) all have received byes for Wild Card weekend and we will see them compete next week. That leaves us with eight remaining squads, ready to battle it out for the right to move on to the divisional round.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans (-4.5)
Classic matchup of teams heading in opposite directions. The Bengals (#6 AFC seed) come into the game winning 7 of their last 8 games. The Texans (#3 AFC seed) have lost 3 of their last four games and have looked pretty bad in a couple of those defeats. Worse for the Texans is that they lost the firm grip that they had on the AFC #1 seed; sliding to the #3 seed and forcing them to play Wild Card weekend. These teams faced off in the playoffs just last year and I picked the young upstart Cincy team to upset the Texans. This year, despite how poorly they have looked recently, I think the Texans will regroup and rebound to defeat the Bengals. The Bengals defense may be the most underrated in the NFL but the Texans should have enough offensive fire power and pride to put some points up. JJ Watt is a stud on defense for Houston but their backend could be vulnerable to Andy Dalton hooking up with AJ Green & Co. I still think the Texans will find a way at home to get some momentum and cover.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Baltimore Ravens (-7)
This is a very compelling matchup for varies reasons but most notably it could be the last game or the start of the last charge for the Ravens (#4 AFC seed) future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis. All eyes will be on the Ravens to see what emotional impact Lewis' retirement announcement will have on the team. The Ravens, who came "oh so close" to going to the Super Bowl last year will have some pressure on them to get back to the AFC Championship game. The Colts (#5 AFC seed) who had the worst record in the league last year and started a rookie QB this year (Andrew Luck) wasn't expected to win but a handful of games this season. But to most of our surprise, the Colts banged out 11 wins with Luck running the offense and their head coach Chuck Pagano away from the team battling cancer most of the season. Pagano is now back and Indy can be a very dangerous team because they truly have nothing to lose. Outside of their locker room there is not much expectation on the Colts. Their offense can be hot and cold but the Ravens defense, even with Lewis, is "torchable". I could see the Colts pulling off an upset but I don't think they will. I will give this game to the Ravens because of their talent, experience and emotions for their undisputed leader (Lewis). But if Baltimore's offense doesn't click, which has occured too often, it could be a disappointing day for them. Ravens QB Joe Flacco's performance will be under scrutiny. Ray Rice and Ravens send a message at home and cover.


Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers (-7.5)
One of the teams I'm most interested to see play these playoffs are the Packers (#3 NFC seed). The last three years they have been "miss, hit & miss". Knocked out in the 1st round three years ago, ran the table to the title as a wild card two years ago and last year was one and done again after just losing one game in the regular season. Green Bay has looked sharp at times and vulnerable at other times this season. Unfortunately for them, an early exit from the playoffs will start some louder talk about the validity of the current Packers teams. The whispers are already there about them getting "lucky" & "hot at the right time" during their Super Bowl run a couple of seasons ago. The Packers just lost last week to their opponent and division rival Vikings (#6 NFC seed) but I think it will be different this week. The Vikings beat the Packers in the comfort of their home dome with a playoff spot on the line. This week they play at frigid Lambeau Field and I have a feeling the Packers are ready to light it up. Minnesota is led by superhuman, and in my opinion league MVP, Adrian Peterson. The Vikings will be looking to kill the clock with Peterson and keep the ball out of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers' hands. But if the Pack jump on the Vikings early and often, Minny doesn't have the passing game to come back. Green Bay makes a statement and covers.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins (+3)
RGIII vs. Russell Wilson - a dream matchup of rookie QBs who have absolutely dazzled this season. The Redskins (#4 NFC seed) come into this game riding high after defeating the Dallas Cowboys last week to clinch a playoff spot and the NFC East crown. That win also was their sixth straight, an improbable run after starting the season 3 - 6. The NFL overall #2 draft pick and Redskins QB Robert Griffin III has shown tremendous leadership as a rookie and has really shined on the field. His read option and play fake skills are magical to the eye and weary on the defenders knees and egos. The Seahawks (#5 NFC seed) have their own dynamo rookie QB in Wilson who was picked 75th overall in the NFL draft. Like RGIII, Wilson has shown tremendous leadership as a rookie and his play on the field has become more and more impressive with each passing game. But this game will come down to the biggest strength of the Seahawks which is their defense. Can the Hawks defense contain the Redskins #1 ranked rushing offense featuring rookie RB Alfred Morris? If they do, Wilson & Company on offense should do enough to win the game. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is a stud himself and should be able to do some damage against the Redskins defense and open up the play action for Wilson. Seattle travels across the country to FedEx Field, beats the Redskins and covers.
The "wild card" for this Wild Card playoff weekend are the number of rookie and 2nd year players in key positions. As great as the trio of rookie QBs who made the playoffs have played this year, would it be unrealistic to think that one, two or all three of them can bomb? Not really. And lets not forget that Dalton (and Green) for Cincy and Christian Ponder for Minny are just 2nd year players. How will they hold under the pressure?  Soon enough we will see but one thing is for sure: something that we all will predict will certainly and unquestionably not come to fruition. That's the NFL.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Child Sex Abuse Victims, Penn State, Joe Paterno & Jerry Sandusky

Recently the NCAA handed down an extremely harsh penalty on the Penn State football program due to the absolute abhorrent handling by university officials of child sex crimes committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Caught in the fray of this disaster is the late legendary Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno. Many have debated whether the NCAA's punishment was too harsh and also many have debated what will become of Paterno's legacy. One thing that should not be in debate is the seriousness of child sex abuse and the damage it can cause its victims.

No doubt the $60 million fine, reductions in scholarships, four year ban from post season play and now sullied reputation will hurt Penn State football for some years to come. Unfortunately there will be a lot of innocent people directly and indirectly involved with the program that will be negatively affected. There are scores of people who have jobs and businesses who count on the success of Penn State football. I can only hope that their negative impact will be limited. At least for the current PSU football players, the NCAA is giving them a free pass to leave for another program if they choose to do so without having to lose any time or eligibility.

Paterno's legacy, built on decades of numerous positive contributions such as raising the visibility of Penn State, teaching countless boys how to be men, and bringing in millions (if not billions) of dollars to the university, in an instant has been wiped away. Though "Joe Pa" was not the man committing these heinous crimes, at one point he did know about Sandusky's behavior and he (along with other university officials) all but looked away seemly to protect the stout and profitable football program. Paterno (and others) tried to prevent the football program from getting a black eye; instead his actions (or lack thereof) has placed the program on life support. And much worse, Paterno's "actions"  potentially placed many more children in harm's way.

I am no psychiatrist and I haven't conducted any scientific studies but sexual child abuse is a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM; it happens way more often than we think and the effect that it has on its victims is immeasurable. It makes my stomach literally turn when I think about what happens to these innocent kids and makes my blood boil when I think of the predators/perpetrators. As an adult male I cannot tell you the amount of adult female friends and acquaintances that have shared their painful stories of being sexually abused as children. Every kind of sexual abuse from having someone exposing themselves to them, to touching their private parts to actual sexual intercourse. The abusers are generally from a wide range of folks within these victim's inner circle: biological fathers, stepdads, mother's boyfriends, uncles, cousins, neighbors, family friends and more. They all "abused" their authority over the children. Almost every single one of them threatened the child, usually by telling them their mother and other loved ones would be harmed if they spoke about what was happening. And yes I say "happening" because most was being abused on a consistent basis.

These selfish despicable predators don't comprehend the sometimes lifelong damage they create for their victims. Most victims I know never told anyone. The guilt and shame of being abused prevents a lot of them from having healthy relationships with other people. As kids, most blamed themselves somehow for it all happening. A couple of them even thought it was normal behavior and that everyone was doing those acts. But once the victim gets older and they understand more fully what has happened to them, how they were abused and taken advantage of, how do they reconcile that alone?  Depression, confusion and lack of trust are just a few things victims may wrestle with as adults. And what compounds the issue is when an enabler is involved. A couple of victims I know, in the situation where it was the mother's boyfriend who was the abuser, did tell their mother what was going on, AND THE MOTHER DIDN'T WANT TO BELIEVE THEM. These mothers, apparently so worried they would lose their "man", made a "business/emotional" decision to look the other way. As a victim, how do you reconcile that? Paterno and other university officials essentially became these type of  "mothers"; sacrificing the health and safety of children to protect something they valued. The enabler is ALWAYS A LOSER too because they contribute to the destruction of lives and that is never worth what it is they try to protect.

In the Penn State scandal, all of the victims I heard about were boys. I personally can't say that I know any males that were abused but today I am convinced that I actually do know some, they just haven't spoken up about it. The stigma of being abused and raped is harsh and for a male that has been abused by another male....well lets say that more likely than not those actions are never ever discussed. We have had some celebrity men discuss their ordeals in recent years, notably former NFL wide receiver Laveranues Coles and R&B singer Rahsaan Patterson, but many males have and will continue to remain silent. They will never tell a soul, not even their spouses. But this silence and these stigmas are part of the problem. The silence of the victims and the silence about the victims is no match for the deafening and piercing internal torture that they face.

The truth is as vile as Sandusky's actions were (and as irresponsible as the university's response was) it is just a mere drop of what goes on daily in the lives of children across the world. Again, I have not conducted a scientific study but if you are reading this more than likely you may have been abused yourself or you know someone that has. That is shameful. We have to be better. We have to do better. Silence has created an environment for these predators to roam. Maybe if we spoke up more about these tragedies, less of them would occur. If we spoke more about them, other victims who feel shame and guilt may feel more comfortable to speak up. Maybe they will feel some alleviation knowing that they are not alone. We have to teach our kids to speak up and let them know we will be there for them. As I mentioned, an overwhelming amount of these predators are people that victims know and trust. Sandusky had a foundation for underprivileged kids; it appears he used it as his personal playground. Those vulnerable kids needed his help not his abuse. And while he pays for his crimes in jail for the rest of his life, what type of "payment" will his victims make for the rest of their lives? I don't know what lasting effects this situation will have on the Penn State football program or on Paterno's legacy but I don't think it will be as harsh as it will be on Sandusky's victims.