If you noticed a slight slow down at 18to88 in recent days, you aren't imagining things. I'm on vacation with the family and am limiting my 18to88 time. On top of that, I'm working feverishly on the book about the Colts, so what spare time I do get goes into that. I hope to have the book largely completed by March 1st. Honestly, the project is exciting, and I think every die hard and casual Colts fan will love it. If you've been a fan for 25 years, you'll love that someone remembers the same details you do. If you are a new comer or a young fan, it will fill in the gaps in your Colts knowledge and give you a sense of the heritage of the team and how it has transformed Indiana. I appriciate your patience with me as it will temporarily divert my attention to the site. I'm still reading every comment and email, but if I'm slow to respond, please understand why.
So, in consideration of that, I'm printing the work of a reader today. TJ Thompson picks every game in the NFL before the season, and has had very strong results. During the season, he ran at about a 70% clip. This year he had
7 8 of the playoff teams right before the season Today, he's contributing a breakdown of every game this weekend.
Arizona Cardinals @ New Orleans Saints -- "The Greatest Show On Turf" Revisited?
To Retire, or Not To Retire? That is the question for Kurt Warner. And last week against the Packers, Warner looked like a College QB slinging 5 TD's and completing 29 of 33 passes for 379 yds. Warner and the Cards could almost taste the champagne in last season's Super Bowl, and I think Warner is looking to "Pull an Elway" and retire on top.
Look for another shootout this week in The Big Easy. The Saints and QB Drew Brees are a reflection of Warner's Super Bowl Champion Rams a decade ago. Warner, once again, has a stable of young, quick, enthusiastic talent around him - and the same Sniper Arm.
Keys To Victory:
- The Arizona D needs to create turnovers exactly like they did against Green Bay. Forcing a few punts are also imperative in this mayhem-filled matchup. Warner and the offense are perfectly in sync, and I see no reason for that to slow down.
- Pressure Warner. Pressure Warner. And then Pressure him some more. Kurt Warner has never been the most mobile QB, especially now. Force Arizona into 3rd & long situations. Get Drew Brees comfortable in the pocket and utilize Reggie Bush in the passing game.
Result: Warner Too Tough On Turf. *Cardinals 35 - Saints 31*
Baltimore Ravens Vs. Indianapolis Colts -- Indy Rusty after month in the shed?
Colts Coach Jim Caldwell have been blasted, beaten, & battered in the media for choosing to rest the starters for basically a month leading up to this week's match-up. I believe this is the smartest move Caldwell made all season long. The 2nd String players get the much needed experience to carry with them into the playoffs. This gives the Colts the confidence to make more frequent substitutions to keep both Offense & Defense relatively fresh through 4 quarters of play. Only 2 words need to be said about Indy's team -- Peyton & Freeney. 'Nuff said.
Baltimore is fresh off of a woodshed whipping of the New England Patriots. The Ravens defense is still what we've known for a decade - physical & dangerous. Baltimore's most powerful weapon is a running game that is twice as scary as the Super Bowl XXXV winning combo of Jamal Lewis & Priest Holmes. Tailbacks Ray Rice & Willis McGahee spearhead a backfield that also includes Fullback Le'Ron McClain.
Keys To Victory:
- Do not give Peyton Manning a chance to read your Defense. Keep the D-Line in a 2-point stance and draw linebackers close to line of scrimmage. Offensive Line MUST contain Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and allow RB's to get to the second level. QB Joe Flacco needs to take his time, keep offense on the field as long as possible, to keep Peyton on the bench as long as possible.
- Avoid Ed Reed. Keep passing plays to the 5-10 yard distance and let Wayne, Clark, & Garcon create yardage with their feet. The Linebackers & Secondary are speedy enough to keep deep plays in check, yet still contain the run - maintain Cover 2 Defense. The key is tackling. The Colts have shown poor tackling all year. They MUST wrap up the ball carrier.
Result: MVP Reigns Over Ravens. *Ravens 13 - Colts 24*
New York Jets @ San Diego Chargers -- QB Battle: Green Rookie Vs. Sparked Veteran
Philip Rivers is a man on a mission. He wants not only a Super Bowl appearance, but he wants to Win it. In 2007, the Chargers were one step away, but lost in the AFC Championship game. Last season, they lost to the eventual Champion Steelers in the Divisional Round.
San Diego is streaking White-Hot coming into the playoffs, and have no intentions of cooling off. However, the Jets "Gang Green" defense infects opposing offenses and cuts off the lifeblood of success - the Run Game. New York will suffocate LaDanian Tomlinson and put the game in the hands of Rivers. To make things tougher for Rivers; Darrelle Revis is one of the best Cover Corners in the NFL.
The Chargers are no slouch on Defense, either. Shawne Merriman will pressure the Jets Rookie QB Mark Sanchez - and as we all have seen, Sanchez is less than stellar under pressure - forcing the Jets fierce run game to take center stage. This game will be 100% SmashMouth Football.
Keys To Victory:
- Give Sanchez time to let play develop and make accurate passes. Establish run game to keep San Diego Defense honest. Stop LT & Darren Sproles, let Revis become a factor.
- Again, establish run game: especially against NFL's Top Defense. Special Teams play might be the game-changer.
Result: Rivers looks to make it 3 for 3 against Peyton in Playoffs. *Jets 17 - Chargers 21*
(Note: Sorry for the posting problems earlier)
Yesterday, a reader felt my comparison between the 2005 Steelers and 2009 Ravens was incomplete because I didn't balance it with a comparison between the 2005 and 2009 Colts.
Before we look at the statistics, there are a couple of caveats:
1. The 2005 Colts entered the postseason reeling emotionally. The 2009 Colts don't.
2. The 2005 Colts rested far more than the 2009 Colts, but the 2009 Colts played far worse when they did rest. That means the 2005 team was deeper, but also that the stats from 2009 are more skewed than the 2005 team's numbers.
3. The 2009 Colts were much worse at #2 quarterback than the 2005 Colts. That will skew the numbers a lot. Sorgi played very well as the backup, completing 68.9% of his passes, leading 3 TD drives and posting a rating of 99.4. Painter...um...wore a helmet. For that reason, I'll only use Manning's stats for the passing totals, not the overall team stats. Still, it does suppress the yards per game and over all DVOA numbers.
|Points||Rush YPG||YPC||Rush DVOA||Pass YPG||YPA||Manning DVOA||Total YPG||Turnovers||ODVOA|
The 2005 Colts were superior in every respect. There is no way in which the 2009 Colts are a better offense than the 2005 Colts. Perhaps the one thing that is different is an intangible. I believe Manning escapes pressure and throws on the move better now than in 2005. The results of the Steelers game moved Manning to improve that part of his game, and the Colts no longer depend on a clean pocket like they did then. In all other respects, 2005 was the superior club on offense.
|PPG||Rush YPG||YPC||Rush DVOA||Pass YPG||Net YPA||Pass DVOA||Total D YPG||Turnovers||DDVOA|
Again, it's hard to argue the 2009 is much superior to the 2005 squad. They do allow fewer yards per pass and rush by a hair. Most of the per game difference is because the 2009 offense isn't nearly as good, and the D is on the field for more plays than in 2005.
So, if we are making comparisons back to 2005, take no comfort in thinking that 'we're better' than we were then. They aren't.
They are worse...in virtually every way.
Now the good news: That means nothing about this weekend's game other than we can't get over confident. Numbers don't do a great job capturing the 2009 Colts. They've been banged up and strategically rested all year. I think the real team is crazy good and is about to debut on Saturday night.
They say that he who hesitates is lost, and now I know why. I almost wrote an article last week comparing the Ravens to the 2005 Steelers, but because I was hoping they would lose, I figured I'd save myself the trouble. Now that they've upset the Patriots, I spent last night assembling arguments, only to wake up to find that John Oehser has already beaten me to the analogy. I'll try to add something to the point he already made.
The obvious comparisons jump out at everyone, but when you look at the numbers, they are down right creepy:
2005 Steelers: Points For: 389, Points Against: 258, Expected wins: 11.6, DVOA: 27.9% (4th overall, 8th O, 3rd D)
2009 Ravens: Points For: 391, Points Against: 261, Expected wins: 11.6, DVOA 32.5% (1st overall, 8th O, 3rd D)
You have to admit...that's weird.
There are some important differences:
1. While the 2005 Steelers and 2009 Ravens have nearly identical pass defenses, the Steelers were a better run stopping team
2. The Steelers had Roethlisberger at QB, the Ravens have Flacco, and I've already pointed out that Flacco has been horrid in the playoffs (despite three wins). Big Ben was coming off a great 3 TD, 148 rating game against the Bengals the week before. On top of everything, Flacco is hurt.
3. The 2009 Colts starting offense played extensively in each of the last two weeks and moved the ball effectively. This did not happen in 2005 as the Colts had just 4 drives in the final two games, putting up just one field goal.
4. The Steelers had no player as dangerous as Ray Rice and his 2000 yards from scrimmage. 1300 yards rushing, 5 ypc, and 72 catches are a lot to handle. The Steelers beat the Colts by coming out and throwing the ball early, and running it late. They had that luxury. The Ravens' best player is clearly Rice, so they'll have to run the ball early and often if they hope to win.
All in all, this is the worst of the three possible matchups the Colts could have landed. The Ravens are a capable team, and I think they are markedly better than the Jets, who I've considered the worst team in wildcard contention for weeks. The Ravens just went in to New England and bombed the Pats, the Jets beat Curtis Painter and the dead in the water Bengals twice. I'm not buying them for a minute.
By the way, don't listen to people who say, "If Flacco hadn't thrown a 4th quarter pick, the Ravens would have beaten the Colts".
1. If Tom Santi doesn't fumble at the 3, the Ravens would have been down more than two points.
2. Flacco threw a pick in the red zone because he's not very good. That wasn't a fluke. That's who he is. That doesn't get discounted.
3. There was plenty of time left in that game for the Colts to march down and get a field goal. A field goal would not have decided the game.
The Colts are going to have to come out and play a good, mistake free game on Saturday night. If they don't turn the ball over, I can't see the Ravens generating enough offense to win. If the Colts can get out to any kind of an early lead, the game will be over.
For almost three years now, we've been beating the drum that quarterbacks get way too much credit for wins and losses, especially come playoff time.
Joe Flacco turned in the greatest case study in history today.
The sophomore QB lead his Ravens into Foxboro and scored a stunning upset over the Tom Brady led Pats. Young Flacco raised his playoff record to 3-1 with the win, showing that he's clearly ready to make the leap to the next level of elite QBs in the NFL.
If you believe that QBs are responsible for wins and that playoff wins are an especially good way to judge quarterbacks, then you can take that last paragraph, toss in Flacco's 4/10 for 34 yards a pick and Painteresque rating of 10.0, and smoke it.
Flacco now has posted three postseason wins in the last two years. Here are his numbers just for the games he won:
24/65 (36.9%), for 330 yards (5.1 YPA), 1 TD, 1 pick , rating of 52.7
Seriously. Three wins. Those numbers.
There's no need to throw in his loss numbers (13/30, 141, 3 INT, 18.2 rating), he looks bad enough in games his team prevails in.
This week you may see or read stories about Flacco. Ignore them. He has been an abject disaster in the playoffs. There is nothing redeeming about his play.
The next time someone starts quoting so and so's playoff record...tell them to Flacco off.
It's not innate of anything, but Tom Brady's career playoff passer rating now stands at 85.5. Peyton Manning's is now 85.0. Interesting.
(Note: I wrote this yesterday, but forgot to post it to the main page)
The fun part of Wildcard weekend is that you don't have to decide on both games up front. What happens today at 4:30 could alter what we want to have happen tomorrow.
Jets at Bengals
I've been saying for weeks that the Jets were the worst team in the playoff hunt. Rex Ryan can shove his "Defense and Run game" crap. Passing wins in the NFL now, and the Jets have the worst QB in the playoffs. I absolutely desperately want the Colts to play them in round one because I'm convinced Indy will stomp them. Remember that the only reason the game two weeks ago was close was because of a long kickoff return (something the Colts haven't given up many of this year).
The Bengals wouldn't be a bad opponent for Indy either, but I trust Carson Palmer ever so slightly more than Mark Sanchez. The interesting thing about the Bengals is that they gave the Chargers fits a few weeks ago, and if not for a bizarre 20 yard bounce on a fumble, might have beaten San Diego. So if the Bengals beat the Jets, and I expect them to, it could affect how I see the second game. If the Jets win, I'll be pulling all the harder for the Pats. If the Bengals win, it becomes a lot easier to talk myself into the Ravens.
Ravens at Patriots
I want the Chargers to be tested. I think the best test for them is the Patriots. Until the Welker injury, I was convinced the Pats were still the #2 team in conference. There's not much point on breaking down the relative merits of the Pats verses Chargers until next week. I expect the Pats to win comfortably, though I obviously won't shed any tears if they don't.
The Ravens are a weird team. Their point differential is almost identical to the Chargers. It's also way better than Indy's, but those last two games threw all Colts stats for the season totally out of whack. The Ravens, not unlike the Colts, have massive problems at kicker, as Billy Cundiff hasn't been any better than Hauschka who he replaced. The Ravens were outscored by winning teams 204-173 on the year (2-7), but CRUSHED losing teams (and 8-8 Denver) finishing 7-0 and out scoring them 218-57. Beating up on bad teams is actually a good indicator of team strength, so it may very well be that the Ravens are good. Still, they have a weak secondary, and good teams had little trouble scoring on them, averaging nearly 23 points a game. Indy only put up 17, but remember that Santi fumbled at the goal line. A touch down there would have changed the complextion of that game dramatically. I won't be worried if they come to Indy, but I'd just as soon avoid them. If they do win, I'll take comfort only if the Bengals beat the Jets and play San Diego.
I can't say that any of us are surprised by the results. I'm not as excited as I was last year for reasons I've already gotten into. Drew Brees finished second, Rivers a distant third and Favre got one vote. It wouldn't have mattered at all in this particular contest, but I would still like to see the AP go to a weighted vote system where writers get to vote for their top five players.
Still this year was all about Manning. Week 14 was pivotal for a lot of people as Manning hit Wayne on a bomb to beat Jacksonville and Brees failed to rally the Saints past Dallas just two nights later.
So without further ado, I bring you
18 Things that are Better in Fours...
6. Leaves on a clover
8. More years
12. Horsemen of the Apocalypse
14. Cardinal directions
18. MVP Awards
Manning's Four MVP Seasons:
While we all eagerly await the MVP announcement that should come today (CORRECTION: Apparently it will be announced Sunday, though I can't find that verified anywhere), I thought I would post a plea for a "Research Intern".
I'm currently working on a book about the history of the Indianapolis Colts. As many of you know, I live in Argentina, and that makes certain research I need for the book hard to come by. There are certain game details and box scores and attendance figures that aren't readily available on line (especially for games that took place 20 years ago).
What I need is a volunteer willing to give up one or two afternoons over the next few months to go to the library for me and look up old box scores and newspaper articles. There are lots of old games that I remember, but have grown hazy as to specific details. To be honest, it's been so long since I've been to a public library in Indy, that I don't know where and how they keep old archives of the Indy Star or News (yes, children. There used to be a paper called the Indianapolis News. I delivered it in elementary school. Yes, there used to be a thing called a "paper boy", too. Also, there used to be "newspapers", but that's another topic). I assume they still have them on microfiche. The Star online only dates back to 1991, but I need some game info from years 1984-1990 too.
Anyway, if you are a high school or college student (or adult with too much time on his or her hands) and want to contribute to what I jokingly refer to as "18to88: the book", drop me a line, and I'll give you more specifics for what I need.
Shutdown Corner on Yahoo.com has arguments for all the MVP candidates. Personally, I find the guy who wrote the case for Manning to be compelling. He's an articulate and thoughtful man, that one is. By the way, the reason I left Chris Johnson off my discussion yesterday is because he isn't a viable candidate. His team finished just 8-8 and out of the playoffs. He's a running back in an age when running the ball has little causation on winning. Offensive Player of the Year? No question. MVP? No chance.
Meanwhile, our old buddy Big Sexy has some thoughts on the playoff format. There's lots to talk about in his piece, but I found his MVP ballot particularly interesting.
My MVP ballot: 1. Peyton Manning; 2. Philip Rivers; 3. Chris Johnson; 4. Drew Brees; 5. DeSean Jackson.
That’s right. After spending the first half of the season campaigning for Brett Favre, the Minnesota QB didn’t crack my top five. He still had an incredible year. He still proved his critics, including me, wrong. I love watching the dude play.
Wow. I never saw that coming. He voted Peyton first AND bailed on Favre? Whitlock is getting it done. Now about those Ravens...
You may have noticed that we've been fairly subdued in our trumpeting of Peyton Manning as the NFL MVP this year. As we've mentioned before, last year the Manning MVP campaign was the emotional highlight of the season. This year has consistently felt like the best is yet to come, so focusing on a regular season award has seemed unnecessary.
Beyond that, however, I've felt like this season was just 'typical Peyton' rather than 'holy crap Peyton'. Sure, he's carried the team the way he always does, but 2009 was NOTHING like 2008 where he freaking willed them (along with 98 and 93) to 12 wins with 8 win talent. Coming off of last year, it's been hard to get too fired about just another "ho hum, he's the best in the league" kind of season.
Now, it's the bye week and there really isn't anything else to talk about, unless you want to discuss the Jets game again... no? Nobody? Are you sure? Ok then...
So without further ado, here is the case for Peyton Manning as 2010 NFL MVP:
First we begin by defining the debate.
- The award is going to be given to a QB or RB unless 1986 Lawrence Taylor happens to emerge from a time machine.
- The Offensive Player of the Year Award goes to the player with the most outstanding statistics almost every year, so we know there must be a difference between the criteria for MVP and OPY. The same people are voting on both, and they are often given to different players. Because almost all MVPs are offensive players, the distinction is more than just OPY is the MVP off offenses, while the MVP can be from defense or special teams. It doesn't work like that.
- The candidates I've selected were picked because they are the players most likely to get votes. If you have a serious suggestion I've left off (I mean you honestly believe this guy is the real MVP and should win the award), let me know and I'll break him down too.
- This list is my real opinion and real reasoning. In the past, I've tried to read the media's mind. This is what I really think.
1. Peyton Manning
Pros: 2nd in Completion %, yards, and TDs.
Ultimately, this race comes down to 5 quarterbacks all with similar stats. Each one is a little better or a little worse in this one or that one. This rate stat is higher or that volume stat is lower. I don't think any of the QBs set themselves apart enough to judge the race only on stats. For me, it comes down to 7 game winning drives in the fourth quarter, and the fact that no team has a bigger drop off from #1 to #2 QB in football than the Colts. Manning CARRIES the Colts and the city of Indianapolis emotionally in a way that only a few guys in football can match (Brees, Brady, Roethlisberger). He replaced two of his top receivers from last year on the fly. He played in the tougher conference and dominated it. Manning played biggest in the biggest moments and kept his team in every game. Every time he had the chance to win a game, he pulled it off. Bill Belichick was so terrified of him that he went for it from his own 28.
At the end of the day, his team never lost when he was in the game in the fourth quarter.
That's an MVP.
Cons: The ONLY knock on Manning this year was the 16 picks. He threw some bad ones down the stretch. His first pick of the year almost cost them the Jacksonville game. Both picks in NE were bad, he had a bad one in Baltimore. There were ducks in the Denver game. Even that pick in Buffalo last week was ugly (though Tamme fell down on the play). 16 is the 4th highest total in his career and the most since 2002. It could also easily be argued that this wasn't in his top 5 best seasons. I would put it behind 2008, 2007, 2004 right off the top of my head. It's almost identical to 2006. His defense is way better than people realize.
2. Drew Brees
Pros: Best stats in the NFL. He broke the completion % record, threw the most TD passes, and had the highest rating. I have zero problem with anyone who voted for Brees. He was every bit the leader Manning was.
Cons: That drive at the end of the Dallas game just haunts me. When it comes to choosing between Manning and Brees this year, we are just splitting hairs after all. He threw 1 more TD than Manning. Manning threw for a few more yards. Brees had a better rating and YPA. On paper, I cannot argue with Brees as MVP. The problem is that I keep seeing that final drive against the Cowboys, and I put that up against the fear of Manning in BB's eyes, and I vote Manning. He's an assassin now. Brees is still something of an unknown quantity. He doesn't have that 'been there before glow' to him. It's an utterly emotional, non-quantitative thing, I know, and I won't put up a fight with anyone who says Brees was the MVP.
3. Phil Rivers
Pros: Lead the NFL in the most important stat there is: Yards Per Attempt. Never had a rating below 80 in any game. Took a team more one dimensional than the Colts and made them a serious Super Bowl contender. Had a better rating than Manning and fewer picks than Brees.
Cons: Volume stats were good, but not quite as good the other guys. He played in a very easy division. I don't think he carries the city of San Diego on his shoulders at all times the way Brees and Manning do. In all honestly, there isn't much to say against Rivers. He had a monster season. I think he's a notch below the other two men on the list because of the burden they carry for their teams and communities. I know Rivers is a leader in the San Diego locker room, but he doesn't quite have the pressure the others do.
4. Aaron Rodgers
Pros: Huge numbers, few picks, team finished hot. He had a lot of pressure on him this year, and played outstanding football.
Cons: Played very uneven under heavy duress against the Vikings. The Packers played the 2nd easiest schedule in the NFL (according to Footballoutsiders).
5. Brett Favre
Pros: 2nd in TDs, 2nd in fewest INTs, 2nd in rating, 3rd in completion %. He had a huge year and played his best against his old team, which helped seal the division for the Vikings.
Cons: The MVP doesn't have his coach try to pull him in the 3rd quarter of a meaningful game and then turn the whole thing into a screaming match. The Vikings also played an easy schedule (4th easiest), and only finished 2 games better with Favre than they did without him last year.
I haven't written this column before because it is unsatisfying. I hate saying, "The stats don't tell the whole story". It goes against my nature to disbelieve the numbers. Like I said, Brees has a rock solid case, and Rivers' is respectable as well. Last year, I would have battled all day for Manning as MVP. That team was crap without him. This team would have been crap with
Matt Curtis Painter, but perhaps someone like David Garrard could have gotten 10 wins out of it. Peyton Manning is going to win his fourth MVP award, and it will be well deserved. In 10 years, some Saints fan will write an angry blog post about how Brees deserved to have won the award, and he'll be right. I wish the NFL used the 'points voting' system (like MLB). They only do first place votes however. It may look like a landslide in the end, but shouldn't be. It's a close contest.
But the right guy is going to win.