Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mock Draft- Post-Senior Bowl

1.1 Oakland Raiders: JaMarcus Russell, QB, Louisiana State- The Raiders could pick several offensive players here and make the right choice. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to trade down either. Other options: Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn

1.2 Detroit Lions: Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin- The Lions need help on both sides of the ball, but Thomas is a great prospect at a position they really need. Other options: Brady Quinn, Calvin Johnson

1.3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech- Calvin Johnson is the best player on the board, and the Bucs could use a playmaker on a weak offensive unit. Other options: Brady Quinn, Alan Branch

1.4 Cleveland Browns: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma- The Cleveland running game is severely lacking, and Peterson is a can’t miss RB prospect. Other options: Brady Quinn, Alan Branch

1.5 Arizona Cardinals: Alan Branch, DT, Michigan- With the pieces in place at the skill positions, the Cardinals need to bolster their Offensive Line and defense before they can take off. Other options: Gaines Adams, Leon Hall

1.6 Washington Redskins: Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson- The Redskins were a huge disappointment in 2006, and it’s partly because their pass rush was non-existent. Other options- Amobi Oyoke, Leon Hall

1.7 Minnesota Vikings: Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas- The Vikings desperately need a playmaker on offense, but their pass defense was bad too. Creating a pass rush is a good place to start. Other options: Brady Quinn, Leon Hall

1.8 Houston Texans: Amobi Oyoke, DT, Louisville- The Texans are working to transition to the 4-3, and adding a pass rushing DT can help them take pressure off Mario Williams. Other options: Brady Quinn, Leon Hall

1.9 Miami Dolphins: Leon Hall, CB, Michigan- The Dolphins were a trendy Super Bowl pick, but they obviously didn’t make it. Their secondary needs a lot of work. Other options: Brady Quinn, Reggie Nelson

1.10 Atlanta Falcons: Reggie Nelson, DB, Florida- The Falcons were another disappointment this season, and they need to improve an average secondary. Other options: Dwayne Jarrett, Levi Brown

1.11 San Francisco 49ers: Dwayne Jarrett, WR, Southern California- The defense played poorly, but they need to help the development of Smith with this hometown kid. Other options: Levi Brown, Darrelle Revis

1.12 Buffalo Bills: Levi Brown, OT, Penn State- The Bills played pretty well under new coach Dick Jauron, but their Offensive Line has been awful for years. The defense could use some youth as well. Other options: Darrelle Revis, Lawrence Timmons

1.13 St. Louis Rams: Darrelle Revis, CB, Pittsburgh- Linehan has them going in the right direction, but the defense is still holding them back. Other options: Lawrence Timmons, Quentin Moses

1.14 Carolina Panthers: Lawrence Timmons, OLB, Florida State- The Panthers struggled to finish games, and they could use an improvement to their weak Linebackers. Other options: Brady Quinn, Laron Landry

1.15 Pittsburgh Steelers: Quentin Moses, DE/OLB, Georgia- The Steelers could use Offensive Line help, but they’re in a tough part in the draft to find it. Moses could play in a couple places depending on the defense that’s put in. Other options: Marshawn Lynch, Laron Landry

1.16 Green Bay Packers: Marshawn Lynch, RB, California- The Packers were in the playoff race for an unfortunately long time, but they’re not that good of a team. Ahman is probably gone, and Lynch can help solidify the backfield. Other options: Ted Ginn, Marcus McCaulley

1.17 Jacksonville Jaguars: Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame- The Jaguars are very unsettled at QB, and when a prospect like Quinn falls they have to take advantage. Other options: Adam Carriker, Laron Landry

1.18 Cincinnati Bengals: Laron Landry, S, Louisiana State- They fell just short of the playoffs because of a very inconsistent effort from their defense. Other options: DeMarcus Tyler, Marcus McCaulley

1.19 Tennessee Titans: Ted Ginn Jr. WR, Ohio State- The Titans overachieved a bit late in the season, and they could use a deep threat to build around Young’s strong arm. Other options: Adam Carriker, Marcus McCaulley

1.20 New York Giants: Marcus McCaulley, CB, Fresno State- The defense was absolutely awful again, and they need to improve with the offense likely taking a hit in 07. Other options: Justin Blalock, Paul Posluszny

1.21 Denver Broncos: Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska- The Broncos’ D-Line has been inconsistent and is overall just average. They need to get younger and adding another aggressive end will help. Other options: Sidney Rice, Daymeion Hughes

1.22 Dallas Cowboys: Justin Blalock, OL, Texas- The defense also needs a lot of work, but the Offensive Line is preventing the Cowboy offense from completely coming together. Other options: Daymeion Hughes, Michael Griffin

1.23 Kansas City Chiefs: Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina- The KC receivers have always been lacking, and with Trent Green struggling lately, the receivers will need to provide more help. Other options: DeMarcus Tyler, Daymeion Hughes

1.24 New England Patriots (from Seattle): Daymeion Hughes, CB, California- It seems that Bill Belichick can insert whoever he wants into his defense and still have it be successful, but Samuel could be walking. Other options: Dwayne Bowe, Jarvis Moss

1.25 New York Jets: Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida- The Jets overachieved big time, and their defense could use some upgrades. Other options: Dwayne Bowe, Patrick Willis

1.26 Philadelphia Eagles: Paul Posluszny, OLB, Penn State- The Eagles’ run defense was absolutely awful, and the front seven had a miserable year. Other options: DeMarcus Tyler, Michael Griffin

1.27 New Orleans Saints: Michael Griffin, S, Texas- Despite the rousing success of the 06 campaign, the Saints defense was one of the worst in the league and did not get turnovers. Other options: DeMarcus Tyler, Patrick Willis

1.28 New England Patriots: Dwayne Bowe, WR, Louisiana State- The Wide Receivers are mediocre, and the Patriots could use another offensive weapon. Other options: Ben Grubbs, Patrick Willis

1.29 Baltimore Ravens: Ben Grubbs, G, Auburn- The Ravens are top to bottom very solid, and they can afford to use the BPA approach. Other options: Troy Smith, Patrick Willis

1.30 San Diego Chargers: Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee- The Chargers are another team that have no glaring holes. They’ll probably trade down from here.Other options: Patrick Willis, Tony Sears

1.31 Chicago Bears: Patrick Willis, LB, Mississippi- With the potential departure of Lance Briggs, the Bears look to plug the hole in their defense quickly. Other options: Zach Miller, DeMarcus Tyler

1.32 Indianapolis Colts: DeMarcus Tyler, DT, North Carolina State- The defense was one of the worst in league history, and any defensive player at this spot is acceptable. Other options: Charles Johnson, Quinn Pitcock


Offense- 14

Defense- 18

QB- 2

RB- 2

WR- 6

TE- 0

OL- 4

DL- 8

LB- 3

DB- 7

There’s my first one-round mock of the draft season. There are some picks I’m not happy about, particularly in the middle of the draft, but this is a work in progress that will be sorted out as stuff like the combine, free agency and workouts pass.

This week and next leading up to the Super Bowl, I was planning on doing a position by position breakdown and preview, but because’s playoff stat page isn’t working, I can’t do what I wanted to. It’s pretty pathetic how the website of possibly the most popular sports league in the world can’t even manage a key component of their site.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

No QB Controversy

On that fateful play when Donovan McNabb was shoved out of bounds resulting in a torn knee ligament, there was a large collective groan from the Philadelphia faithful, followed by a stunned silence. Followed by the same questions as the year before and 2002:

“Who’s our backup?”

“How good is he?”

“Who are we going to draft in the top 10?”

Enter Jeff Garcia. Garcia is a veteran who had lots of success under Marty Mornhinweg in San Francisco running the West Coast offense early in his career. He was a Pro Bowl player who enjoyed a three year stretch as good as any other Quarterback ever, with the support of future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens and a decent running game. In the past two seasons, Garcia had one year stints with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions but with little success. He could not adapt to different offensive systems, he was aging, and he had little to no help offensively. Almost forced to make all the plays, Garcia struggled. He made untimely poor decisions and hurt his team.

When it came time to choose a new team in the 2006 offseason, he had two options. He could go to Houston and possibly start on a team that has had no real success in its short existence, or he could go to Philadelphia. In Houston, he would have a shot at starting. In Philadelphia, he would have no shot at starting the season in the lineup, and it would take an injury to McNabb for him to get playing time, but he would be playing for a top notch organization that has been in the playoffs almost every year in recent memory. He became an Eagle.

With the first question out of the way, Garcia took a while to answer the second. After coming in for McNabb against the Titans, he had an awful game. He had a low completion percentage, a pathetic Yards Per Attempt average below 4 and the offense was unproductive. In his first start, after a week of fans and media calling for the well liked A.J. Feeley to take over, Garcia was efficient. The Eagles got destroyed, but Garcia again avoided turnovers by completing short throws and keeping it simple. The Eagles were now below .500 for the first time this season, and the fans, players and organization were growing more and more restless.

Now matched up against the also struggling Carolina Panthers in what then appeared to be a key game in the Wild Card chase, Garcia broke out. On primetime TV in cold conditions in front of a rough home crowd, Garcia took more shots downfield, played a more aggressive game and led the Eagles to a nice come from behind victory. In an environment Garcia was supposed to flop in, he played his best game to date, got the crowd behind him and got the Eagles some leverage in the Wild Card hunt.

However, the true test was yet to come. A wrinkle placed in the Eagles schedule had them playing three road division games in a row before coming home to face Atlanta to close the season. Not only that, but as the season developed, it became clear that the next opponent would be more difficult than the last. Against Washington, Garcia continued to play aggressively, and the team escaped with a win after a late defensive stand.

After a string of good games, Garcia became human. To this point, he had not thrown an interception, generally avoided fumbles and has not hurt the team with mistakes. Against the Giants, he turned the ball over twice, took a crucial penalty that at the time, really cost the Eagles. However, after the penalty+pick sequence, Garcia bounced back to lead a scoring drive that would ultimately lead to an Eagles victory. There was one game left on the NFC East schedule, and it would essentially decide the division. It was against Dallas and Garcia’s longtime friend Terrell Owens.

The Eagles eventually got off to a fast start in this Christmas day showdown. They jumped on top 7-0 early when Garcia connected with Matt Schobel for a touchdown, but on the very next drive in which the Eagles were moving the ball, Garcia threw a ball into the flats late, had it intercepted and returned a long way. Fortunately, the Eagles defense stood strong to hang onto the lead. Garcia was solid the rest of the way, and the Eagles prevailed.

In the playoffs, the extra workload on Garcia started to show. As the season wore on and he had to throw more, things started becoming harder for him. He started out slow, didn’t finish strong, and was spotty all the times in between. The Eagles started out the Giants game with three 3 and outs. Garcia missed on his first three pass attempts including a sack, and finally when he got into a rhythm to close out the first, the Eagles got on the board. Garcia ended up completing 54% of his passes with a weak YPA below 5 and only one touchdown. Even late in the game when the Eagles needed to drive down the field and win the game, they leaned on Brian Westbrook and the running game to get down the field into David Akers range.

Garcia would need to step up his game to beat the Saints. He played average against a bad defense, and even though the Saints defense was not much better, the Saints as a team were a lot more complete than the Giants and Garcia would be counted on to put up points. Again, the Eagles started out slowly. No holes were being created in the running game, they were taking penalties, and Garcia was missing open receivers. Although he did not turn the ball over, Garcia never consistently hit his receivers and the offense had trouble getting into a rhythm all game long. The whole team played poorly, but Garcia’s weak 50% completion was a part of it.

Even at 37 years old, Jeff Garcia brings a lot to the table. He obviously knows the system well. With all of the years he’s played in the league and in the WCO, he knows the routes, the timing and the ins and outs of the offense. At his age, he’s surprisingly mobile. He’s quick enough to elude pressure and scramble for yardage if no one’s open. He has good pocket presence. He has a good idea when pressure is coming, where it’s coming from and how to get away from it, so in the mental aspects of the game, Garcia is golden. However, when it comes to throwing the ball, he’s way past his prime, and could hurt a team if he continues to have to throw the ball a lot. As the season wore on and in games in which Garcia had to attempt more passes, he became less effective. He can get a pass in the Tennessee game because he came off the bench cold and didn’t have any reps in the offense, but the correlation is still there. If Jeff Garcia has to pass too much, and at some point on the Eagles he’ll have to, he is not effective.

Donovan McNabb has consistently been one of the top performers at QB this decade. At 31, he’s no young emerging star either, but that’s still significantly younger than Garcia. McNabb has had several serious injuries in his career, including a broken ankle, sports hernia and a torn ACL, the knee injury being the most recent. The first two are generally considered to be freak injuries that won’t have lingering effects, but the ACL injury is a concern. QB’s don’t have a good track record when it comes to coming back from torn knee ligament (such as Culpepper), and it remains to be seen how Donovan bounces back. Reports are that his rehab is going well and he should be ready to play in the upcoming season, but the health is definitely still a question. McNabb has shown in the past few years that he doesn’t need his running ability to be successful, just that it compliments his passing well and adds to his game. He would be fine without being able to scramble for big yards, when it would be a problem for someone like Vick or Vince Young to have their mobility hampered.

Although McNabb’s skills don’t necessarily fit the West Coast Offense, the Eagles aren’t the textbook WCO anymore either. The WCO relies on getting rid of the ball quick on short and intermediate routes. The receivers traditionally are not always slower guys, but more possession receivers. They catch the short passes, turn upfield and use their quickness and strength to get extra yards after catching the ball.

McNabb’s sometimes a bit lacking in accuracy, but his strong arm fits the Eagles personnel better. Donte Stallworth isn’t the typical WCO receiver, and Reggie Brown is more known for his downfield ability than in the short passing game. When Garcia came into the lineup, Stallworth was essentially taken out of the game. Stallworth, although surprisingly a good player running slants and breaking arm tackles, is one of the fastest players in the league and one of the best deep threats. Garcia couldn’t get him in the ball. Before McNabb got hurt, Stallworth, and the entire offense, flourished. His big arm combined with the speed of all the Eagle receivers created big plays early and often in games and overwhelmed opposing teams. The Eagles offense was moving away from the traditional West Coast scheme to something you would see from Mike Martz. The Eagles by far had the most big plays (in terms of yardage) this season because of the fast start they got off to in the season. By the time Garcia came in, the Eagles had built up so many from McNabb’s games that no team could catch up, and although it’s not significant, McNabb throws a much better screen pass.

The rest of the offense is finally built around McNabb. Fans have been calling for it for years, and it’s here. The receivers are fast and great targets deep downfield to match up with McNabb’s strong arm. The Eagles have backs and Tight Ends that can catch the ball. McNabb has a full array of targets now, and the results are on the field. Lots of yards, lots of points, and lots of frustrated defensive coaches.

There is no controversy. McNabb is the guy. Garcia had a nice run, but that’s over. They didn’t win the Super Bowl with him. He didn’t play better than McNabb; he didn’t even play as well as McNabb. He’s a great leader and it was a great story, but that’s finished now. Garcia is six years older than McNabb, doesn’t have much left in the tank and can’t be relied on as a full-time offense that counts on a big passing game. If Garcia used his stint in Philadelphia to land with another team with a big contract and a chance to start, then good for him. But I wouldn’t expect another miracle from him.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Conference Championship Preview

New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears

From Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, the Saints and Bears battle to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. FOX will broadcast this game at 3 P.M. with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver making the call.

Last week, the Saints held off the visiting Eagles by the same 27-24 score that they won with earlier in the season. However, the game was not as close as the score indicated. The Saints dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. McAllister and Bush both had great games, and Brees was protected well. The only times he was sacked was when he was trying to extend the play outside the pocket. The Saints offense rolled over an exhausted Eagles defense on the ground and through the air, and had their way almost every single drive. Defensively, they got a lot of penetration to disrupt the Eagles offense. Will Smith had a great game chasing plays down from behind and pressuring Jeff Garcia, and Hollis Thomas collapsed the interior of the line on just about every play. The defense relies on pressuring the Quarterback using the Linebackers and frequent blitzing. They attempt to sack the Quarterback to avoid showing holes in the secondary. The Saints may have to make due without Joe Horn again, but with how banged up the Bears’ secondary is, that might not be an issue. The Saints probably won’t have a problem putting points up on the board. The Bears pass rush has been terrible, and the entire passing offense can thrive when Brees gets lots of time. The Saints O-Line will have to do a good job of getting to the second level for the running game to have success. They need to block two of the best Linebackers in the league if Deuce McAllister is going to find any daylight at all. But if Jeff Faine is willing to give up blocking to take a full-time job of pulling Deuce for extra yards, that can help out their cause.

The Bears survived a test against the Seahawks, and won on a Robbie Gould Field Goal in overtime. Grossman played a very good game, and for the time being, proved his critics wrong. He was careful with the football, knowing when to make big plays and when to sit on it and try again another day. Their defense made plays when they had to, but for the most part, continued to struggle. The Defensive Line has been awful and hasn’t added anything to the defense against the run or pass. This is mostly due to the loss of Tommie Harris, who is one of the best D-Linemen in the game today. The running game left something to be desired. Neither Jones nor Benson could get into much of a rhythm, even against a struggling Seattle Their receivers did a good job of taking advantage of a depleted Seahawk secondary, and they’ll have the chance to make plays again, except this time it’s against a healthy, but equally poor secondary. Their defense will face one of its toughest tests of the season against an offense that can attack you in so many different ways. The Bears should use a heavy dose of Jones and Benson to wear down the Saints defense. Olin Kreutz needs to make Hollis Thomas a non-factor if the Bears want to have any success on the ground. In the passing game, Grossman needs to take chances down the field and exploit a bad secondary. The Saints defense doesn’t get turnovers, and that will help out Rex a lot. Defensively, the tackles need to play better than ever. Pressure up the middle wrecks the Saints offense, and Faine, Evans and company have done a great job of preventing it. defense.

With the inclement weather that’s expected for game time, this game is going to come down to who can run the ball and play defense the best. I think the Bears have the better combination of those abilities. The Bears should be able to stick with the running game, even though it might not work at times and I even think that Grossman can make plays when he has to and win a game for the Bears. Even though they’re known for defense, they can put points up on the board with anyone, and the Saints will be no exception. The Saints defense does not create turnovers, and they don’t do anything particularly well. The Saints won’t have a problem scoring like every other game, but I don’t think a dome team can get it done in the cold and snow. Bears, 27, Saints 24

New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts

From the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, the Colts will host the Patriots for the chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will have the call at 6:30 on CBS.

The Patriots come into this game after a tight, emotional win against the 14-2 Chargers, in which Tom Brady did his thing to get their kicker in yet another position to make a game winner. They played solid defense, and did just enough to come away with the win. They struggled against LT at times, in both the running and passing games, but for whatever reason, the Chargers got away from him. Rivers played a pretty bad game, and his receivers simply didn’t make plays for him. Gates was a non-factor when he should’ve had a big game being covered by guys who can’t match up with him. Offensively, the Patriots protected Brady well. Neither Merriman nor Phillips got to him with any consistency, and Brady had time to look downfield. They made big plays when it counted, and came out with a great win. Belichick has to dial up his Manning scheme one more time to get to another Super Bowl now. Manning has won the last two regular season meetings, but something tells me he has another thing coming to him when it really counts. The Patriots can’t get away from Dillon and Maroney again like they did earlier this year. They got away from the run, forced Brady to do too much and they lost the game. Play physical, run right at them and the Patriots are going to put up points. The Colts defense has played great so far in the postseason, but no one is sure how long that will last.

The Colts scrapped for another win in Baltimore. The defense stepped up and played another great game to support an offense that was again unusually un-explosive. The defense got pressure on McNair, forced mistakes, and most importantly, they tackled and stopped the run. Once again, the Colts defense took the call, stepped up and owned a RB that was supposed to punch them in the mouth and run all over them. Manning struggled again however, and that has to be alarming going into a game against the rivals. At some point, he’s going to have to play better because I don’t see the defensive effort lasting. He’s throwing the ball into coverage, but that’s mostly due to a great pass rush from the opponent. He’s at his worst when he has to move out of the pocket and move his feet. He’s not in his comfort zone. He’ll need to continue to utilize a strong running game to support him and wear down the Patriots defense. Control the clock and keep Brady and company off the field. They need to do a better job getting to Brady than San Diego and New York did. Freeney and Mathis are billed as elite rushers, and it’s time for them to play like it. Brady needs to be hit and forced to make throws he doesn’t want to. Continue to stop the run and play tough. Don’t make mistakes on special teams, don’t turn the ball over and play more physical than the Patriots.

Despite all of that, I think the Patriots have what it takes to get #4. They seem to have the Colts’ number in the postseason, and I think they’ve been playing better. A loud dome isn’t going to affect this playoff tested bunch. Brady isn’t going to turn the ball over as much as he did the last meeting because the Patriots will stick with the run to beat the Colts. Manning won’t play poorly, but it’ll come down to their defense not being able to get off the field and not giving the offense the chance to make plays. Patriots 24, Colts 20

Friday, January 19, 2007

American League Prospects

Here's a brief look at American League prospects from occasional guest writer Kevin Gengler. The National League will be covered as a second part in this series when he gets around to it.

New York Yankees:
Busts: Jose Tabata, OF - That's right, I'm not too high on the wonderkid. I understand he is young for his league, I understand he has the stats, and I know he's still growing, but something tells me he has a down year this year.

Busts out: J. Brent Cox. RP - The Yankees have hardly any depth, so my choice, J. Brent Cox, is actually a pretty decent prospect to begin with. He had a very solid 2006, but look for him to crack the Bombers' bullpen sometime over the summer, and to help immediately.

Boston Red Sox:
Busts: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF - He's got solid stats, but doesn't hit for too many extra-base hits. Look for that to continue as his power continues to lag behind his other tools. Because of his good eye he won't have a terrible season, but it certainly won't be the season everyone expects/

Busts out: Jason Place, OF - A similar situation to the Yankees. Place had a decent year in the Gulf Coast League, but the 2006-draftee will have a monster season.

Baltimore Orioles:
Busts: Radhames Liz, P - You began to saw it at the end of 06 with a 5.86 ERA in AA, but Liz doesn't really have the stuff of a good prospect. He was dominating the Carolins League, but he was also a few years old for the league. Some thing he simply tired out at the end of the year, but Liz won't be turning any heads in 2007.

Busts out: Pedro Beato, P - A draft-and-follow that the New York Mets failed to sign, Beato will overtake Brandon Erbe as the Orioles' top pitching prospect. He has a good frame(6'5", 210) and looked good in the NYP league in 2006.

Toronto Blue Jays:
Busts: Ricky Romero, SP - Romero struggled mightily in 67 AA innings last year, and that was no fluke: He simply doesn't have the stuff to be a top prospect(#3 rated by BA) and his woes will continue.

Busts out: Dustin McGown, P - I don't think he's considered a "prospect" in the sense that he's not rookie-eligible, but I think 2007 is the year the former #1 Jays prospect(2003 and 2006) puts it all together and emerges as a solid, if not spectacular, piece of the Toronto rotation.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays:
Busts: Elijah Dukes, OF - It pains me to say this(as I am a TB fan), but it's gotta be Dukes. Maybe I'm just really high on our other guys, but Dukes, it appears, will open the season as the Rays' 4th outfielder. Gut feeling says he stirs up some more trouble and is gotten rid of for good.

Busts out: Wade Townsend, P - Remember Wade Townsend? The former top draft pick will be back from TJ surgery sometime in 2007 and I think he'll come back strong, quite possibly in the bullpen. Look for him to have a good 2007 and challenge for a bullpen spot in '08.

Chicago White Sox:
Busts: I honestly don't have a clue. I really like their top 2 guys, Josh Sweeney and Ryan Fields, and I don't think that anyone below them could be considered a "bust" if they have a poor season.

Busts out: This is totally out of the blue and on a whim, but let's say Gavin Floyd, SP. Don't ask me why.

Detroit Tigers:
Busts: Andrew Miller, SP - I think the Tigers will try to rush him, and in turn, he'll struggle. I think he'll put it all together sooner to later, but look for him to struggle in 2007 until the Tigers figure out a solid plan for him. By the way, this space was reserved for Humberto Sanchez, who will have a terrible year.

Busts out: Jair Jurrjens, SP - He gets lost in all the hype of Detroit's flamethrowers(and rightfully so, since Jurrjens isn't quite as good), but he's certainly a solid pitcher. If he can miss a few more bats, he would become a very intriguing prospect.

Kansas City Royals:
Busts: Luke Hochevar, SP - Sort of a random pick, since the Royals also lack depth and Alex Gordon and Billy Butler seem like the real deal to me. It just seems that with the year off(okay, playing Indy ball and then some minor-league), Hochevar will struggle initially.

Busts out: Eek. Uh, Baseball America says this kid "Derrick Robinson" has good speed and is a good athlete, so let's ignore his .233 BA and say he'll have a great year.

Cleveland Indians:
Busts: I don't have one. I like Adam Miller, I like Chuck Lofren, and see below for Trevor Crowe.

Busts out: Trevor Crowe, OF - Sure, he's considered one of their top guys, but no one seems to notice that Crowe brought none of his power to AA and had a pretty dismal season overall. Here's saying he rebounds nicely in 2007.

Minnesota Twins:
Busts: Glen Perkins, SP - I will reluctantly admit that while Garza isn't as good as advertised, he's still pretty damn good. And Kevin Slowey is a guy I really like, so that basically defaults me to Perkins. His height, 5'11", doesn't help.

Busts out: Alexi Casilla, IF - The small middle infielder doesn't offer much in the way of power, but he brings a .385 OBP to the table and an OPS near .800 in what could be considered a down season.

Las Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Busts: Brandon Wood, SS - The Angels have seen their fair share of busts(Dallas McPherson comes to mind, and some other highy-touted guys haven't looked good in the majors. Wood's a great hitter, but he just strikes out far too much for my tastes. I think he'll be a solid player, but not a superstar.

Busts out: Casey Kotchman, 1B - He can absolutely hammer the ball, and I think he gets it together and has a good year.

Oakland Athletics
Busts: Daric Barton, 1B - He's supposed to possess great power and he hit 2 HRs in 147 ABs. Pass.

Busts out: Trevor Cahill, SP - The 2006 draftee saw only a few innings last season. Expect him to emerge as the Athletics top prospect overall heading into the 2008 season.

Seattle Mariners
Busts: Seattle doesn't usually offer much in the way of prospects, but their top 3(Adam Jones, Jeff Clement, and Brandon Morrow) all seem legit to me. Since no one else is very highly regarded, I can't pick a bust.

Busts out: Jeff Clement, C - Okay, okay, he's their #2-rated prospect. But he struggled in the PCL last season(partially due to injury, if I recall), and I have a feeling he'll iron everything out and force the Mariners' hand toward the end of the year(since Kenji Johjima is blocking him).

Texas Rangers
Busts: Thomas Diamond, RHP - A member of the DVD trio who had a decent year in 2006. This is pretty random, but again, just a gut feeling that he struggles in 2007.

Busts out: Kasey Kiker, SP - This is an easy one, I LOVE Kiker. He's small, he didn't win a game in 2006 in 15 starts, but guess what? He'll pass Hurley, Danks, Volquez, and Diamond to become the Rangers' top pitching prospect.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints Game Recap

All good things have to come to an end, and Saturday was time for the Eagles season. They put up a little bit of a fight, and fell just short of the New Orleans Saints again, losing by the same 27-24 score as their earlier meeting. It was a disappointing loss because of how it happened. They had a chance to win the game, but poor execution cost them a great opportunity. I think they could beat the Bears, but I guess we’ll never know.

Offensively, we didn’t do very much. We had a few big plays that jacked up our total yards number, but there was absolutely no consistent attack. Run blocking was awful, and the Saints’ front seven got great penetration on almost every play. Jamaal Jackson in particular disappointed me. We made the switch from Fraley to him to get stronger and improve the interior running game, and he didn’t do a thing. We traded our longtime center to put him into our lineup specifically because he’s a strong guy that could handle big Nose Tackles and guys like Hollis Thomas, and he got pushed around two meetings in a row.

Obviously Shawn Andrews getting hurt did not help. Young wasn’t bad and people are quick to criticize him for the false start, but he doesn’t have much experience working with the 1’s on the silent count, and it’s tough to pick up on fast. Dumb mistake yeah, but that’s tough for a young guy to learn. He should still be a pretty good backup for us in the future.

In the passing game, Jeff Garcia showed why he’s Jeff Garcia and not Donovan McNabb (more on that later in the week). His accuracy and decision making was spotty all game. Sometimes he would try to do too much, particularly late in the game. He missed several open receivers in big spots, and the offense started out really slow in part because he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn until Stallworth’s big play. He doesn’t turn the ball over which is a plus, but he can’t win the game when someone needs him too. He’s just another guy. He’s not the guy like McNabb.

Defensively, I don’t know what to say. They blew it. The Saints turned the calendar back to November on us. The front seven was probably worn out by the end of the first quarter. I can’t really blame them though. The Eagles had one of the toughest schedules to close out the season, and they had to fight tooth and nail to win every game and make the playoffs. They got blown off the ball every play, and if Payton didn’t forget how to call plays at some points, the game would’ve been a lot worse. Darwin Walker is a decent pass rusher and has a good motor when Quarterbacks take a long time to get rid of the ball, but he’s not strong at all. He can’t play the run and is a non-factor on a ton of passing plays too. Patterson had a bad game, and he had to be relieved a few times by Bunkley. He gets tired when he gets pushed around as much as he did, and we desperately need depth at the position to improve.

At end, what happened to Darren Howard? The dude had one good game. I wish we could cut ties with him without taking too big of a cap hit, but I don’t think it’s possible. He’s just not a good player. I’ll give him one more chance with Kearse opposite him again, but he didn’t show me anything this year.

I don’t know where to start with the Linebackers. Dhani Jones didn’t do anything again. Trotter disappeared and was always a step behind. For that matter, Gaither didn’t either. The front seven sucked this year, and big improvements want to be made if the Eagles want to get back to the Super Bowl.

Mike Carey sucks. I would’ve ranted about him in an earlier entry, but I was away and couldn’t recap the Dallas game. He’s an awful official, his crew is awful, they make awful calls, and they don’t deserve to do a playoff game. I’m embarrassed for them. I’m embarrassed for the league, I’m embarrassed that officials feel the need to make calls to get involved in the game whether there are calls to me made or not.

That’s it. That’s it for the 2006 season. I’ll start talking offseason in a few weeks after the Pro Bowl. Until then, I’ll be talking about the rest of the playoffs, some Eagles-related things and maybe even another sport.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints + Divisional Playoffs Preview

After a first round bye, the New Orleans Saints (10-6) will host the Philadelphia Eagles (11-6) after a first round playoff victory over the Giants. From the Superdome, FOX will broadcast the game at 8 P.M., with Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnson and Tony Siragusa making the call.

Jeff Garcia vs. Saints’ defense- Garcia had a decent game against the Giants, but he’ll need to play a lot better against the Saints. Last week, the entire offense came out very flat, and Garcia was a huge part of it. He couldn’t make accurate passes and the offense took a while to get going. That can’t happen again. Garcia needs to come out firing early and get on track much quicker. In the regular season, Garcia only had two games with a QB rating lower than last week’s playoff game (one of which was his three passing attempts against Atlanta,) so he figures to play better than he did last week. Although the Saints defense is one of the best in the league when it comes to passing yards, they’re among the league’s worst in giving up passing touchdowns, so Brown and Stallworth shouldn’t have a problem finding the endzone. New Orleans has a pretty good pass rush, so the Offensive Line is going to have a better week than they did last week. They’re led by Will Smith, a great Defensive End who can play the run as well as he gets to the QB. With solid contributions from the rest of the line and Linebackers, Garcia could see some heat. Eagles *

Brian Westbrook vs. Saints’ front seven- Despite stomach cramps that could’ve hindered his performance, Westbrook ran for a career high 141 yards against the Giants and almost single-handedly put the game away late in the 4th. With the possibility of not having Thomas Tapeh, who has emerged as a very good lead blocker for Westbrook, the running game could be hampered a little bit, but I don’t expect it to take much of a hit. If Correll Buckhalter has to step in and play Fullback, it’ll open up more chances to get both involved in the game and create more problems for the defense, which has enough to begin with. In the previous meeting, Westbrook had a decent game, but wasn’t really too involved. With the increased dedication to the running game, Westbrook and Buckhalter should have chances to run all over a defense that has been more than generous against the run. The Saints are tied for second last in the league in YPC against, but what’s saved them this year is their offense. They force teams to play catch up and throw the ball and get away from the run, so the weakness hasn’t been fully exploited. Eagles **

Eagles’ WR/TE vs. Saints secondary- Donte Stallworth was injured the first time these two teams met, and Hank Baskett had to start in his place. Naturally, Baskett did not have a single catch and was in a slump which resulted in several dropped passes. With Stallworth in a rhythm and Baskett playing better in addition to Reggie Brown, the Eagles have a bunch of weapons for Jeff Garcia to utilize. In the first meeting, Brown showcased his big play ability, catching six passes for 121 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The Saints could have trouble defending all of these targets with a relatively weak defensive backfield. McKenzie is a solid player, but other than that, the unit is inconsistent. They don’t make many big plays, and the Saints were near the bottom of the barrel in interceptions this season. Eagles **

Eagles’ Offensive Line vs. Saints’ Defensive Line- After having a great season, the line a slow start against the Giants and will need to pick it up a bit against the Saints. They got off to a slow start in the running game, and they really got no movement off the line of scrimmage to open lanes for Westbrook. At times, they also struggled in pass protection, both with technique and with defensive schemes, and they need to be more prepared. The Saints are better at getting after the Quarterback than the Giants are and blitz their Linebackers frequently, so they have to communicate and set up schemes to make sure everyone gets picked up. Tra Thomas needs to play with better technique blocking Will Smith. Against the Giants last week, he was often standing straight up without bending the knees at all, which I’ll admit is a tough thing for someone as big and banged up as he is to do. Against Smith, he’ll be blocking a big end with great athletic ability, and standing up won’t cut it on Garcia’s blind side. Hollis Thomas will be back, and that’ll bring a boost to the New Orleans’ line. He improves the play of those around him, and will be a key player in the game. He both rushed the passer and stopped the run the first meeting, so Shawn Andrews and Jamaal Jackson need to prove how great they are this time around. Eagles *

Drew Brees vs. Eagles’ defense- Drew Brees had a great season resurrecting New Orleans football after a serious shoulder injury he suffered in his last game as a Charger. He drew consideration for MVP after leading the Saints’ turnaround, but in the end, fell well short of former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson. Brees is in a great situation. Sean Payton has done a brilliant job designing an offense for him and his weapons, and it’s led to them almost overachieving. Brees is one of the best Quarterbacks at making reads and decisions, and he does it so quickly. The team utilizes a lot of three step drops to keep Brees clean and put pressure on the defense. In the first meeting, the only time Brees was touched was when the Eagles had 12 guys on the field, and he had no trouble completing nearly ¾ of his passes along with 3 scores. The Eagles need to get a push up the middle to disrupt his timing and tip some passes. Brees is a smaller player and has a low release point, so the Defensive Linemen need to get their hands up and make it difficult to make throws. In the backfield, the Eagles should consider tighter coverage to try and mess up the timing of the quick drops, or the Saint receivers will be running free again. Saints **

Deuce McAllister vs. Eagles’ front seven- Finally staying injury free, McAllister broke the 1000 yard plateau again this season, and re-established himself as a great dual threat. McAllister has always had success against the Eagles, even though in the last meeting, he had a pedestrian day. Slowing down this versatile running attack will be tough. Deuce is a tough inside runner who can wear down a defense. He hits the hole hard and is tough to tackle. For a change of pace, the Saints will bring in Reggie Bush. He’s playing much better than he was in the last meeting, and the Eagles are going to have to work a lot harder to stop him too. On the Eagles side, the front seven went back to November form against the Giants, after several weeks of looking strong against the run. Tiki Barber ran over the Eagles’ defense all game long, just as he has his entire career. Tiki is better than Deuce and Bush are, but they’re still difficult to stop, and it’ll be a huge challenge for Jim Johnson. Saints *

Saints’ WR/TE vs. Eagles’ secondary- With the status of Joe Horn up in the air (and early indications lean towards him not playing), things get a bit more even. The Eagles will be without Lito Sheppard, so Rod Hood will once again step into the starter’s role, where he hasn’t really performed like people may have expected after last season. The attention will turn to Marques Colston, a big rookie with big talent. He has great size and great hands and really knows how to get open. The Eagles need to do a better job against him than Plaxico Burress, but fortunately for them, Colston hasn’t developed a mystique about him where he draws PI every time he doesn’t catch a ball. Devery Henderson will once again be in the starting lineup. He’s a great deep threat and is one of the fastest players in the league, but he’s pretty inconsistent. He drops too many passes and can’t really be counted on. Copper is a solid slot guy, and the Saints get little from their Tight Ends, due to injuries and lack of talent. Brian Dawkins needs to have a big game. He’ll have to both keep an eye on Colston if he starts catching a lot of balls, but he’ll probably see a lot of duty over the top on Henderson’s side to prevent the big plays. Saints *

Saints’ Offensive Line vs. Eagles’ Offensive Line- The Saints came into the year with a questionable line, but they emerged as a solid unit in 06. Jamaal Brown played at an All-Pro level, Faine did a fine job of replacing LeCharles Bentley, and Jahri Evans was a pleasant surprise at guard. They do a very good job of protecting Drew Brees, and knocking D-Linemen’s hands down on quick pass attempts. That’s critical to a three step drop offense. Batted passes have to be avoided, and it starts up front. In the running game, they’ve been solid. McAllister and Bush have had success this season. The Eagles Defensive Line needs to get off the ball quickly and get penetration. They have to get in Brees’ face and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. They have to clog running lanes and cause Deuce and Bush to run laterally, where our athletes like Gaither and Dawkins can run them down and clean up. They need to play much better than they did against the Giants, in all facets of the game. Push

Saints’ Homefield Advantage vs. Eagles- This isn’t as much of an edge as people think it is. The Saints are only 4-4 at home, and they’ve dropped 3 or their last 4, not counting the game where they played all of their backups. It’s only an advantage because playing at home in any playoff game is. There’s nothing special about it. It’ll be loud, the fans will be excited and they’ll want to play well in front of their fans. Saints *

The Bottom Line- I’d really like to avoid making the homer pick here, but I can’t pass up the chance. I don’t think the Eagles are going to come out flat this time, I think they’re going to get off to a fast start which will allow their defense to try and get after Brees a bit. Eagles 27, Saints 24

Indianapolis Colts @ Baltimore Ravens

From M+T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland, Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf will broadcast this AFC Divisional Round playoff at 4:30 Saturday on CBS.

The Colts come in to Baltimore looking to get that monkey off their backs. After an opening round win against the Chiefs in which Peyton Manning struggled at times, the offense will have to bounce back against one of the best defenses in the league. The running game was a key factor for the offense in beating the Chiefs, and Joseph Addai will have to have another good game to make sure the Colts have a balanced attack. The Colts tend to struggle against the 3-4 defense, which allows coordinators to bring a larger variety of blitzes and give the offense a lot of different looks. The problem is the Offensive Line often times has trouble picking up the blitzers and identify where the pressure is coming from. The Ravens don’t quite run a 3-4, but they have several unique formations that really make the O-Line think before the ball’s snapped. Communication will be critical.

The Ravens will look to have success against what’s usually a bad defense. The Colts played great against the Chiefs, holding Larry Johnson in check and forcing Trent Green to beat them downfield, which they failed to do. Offensively, the Ravens can run the ball just well enough for it to make a difference. The team leaned on Jamal Lewis once again, who finally reached the 1000 yard mark against after an off year. He didn’t have a very good YPC, but he’s a strong runner between the tackles, and the prototypical back that can beat the Colts. For a few carries a game, Lewis will be relieved by former Denver back Mike Anderson and Musa Smith, who is decent at catching passes out of the backfield. These two run well after Jamal has worn the defense down a little bit. In the passing game, the Ravens rely on a lot of short passes, and hope Steve McNair completes a high percentage and doesn’t turn the ball over. Mark Clayton is emerging as a tough guy to stop, and he’s great getting yards after the catch. Defensively, the Ravens are a great unit. They’re strong, physical and athletic. They have so many formations and so many looks that it’s going to be tough to prepare for even Peyton Manning.

The Bottom Line- The Ravens are great at sacking the Quarterback and protecting their own. Peyton will lose this one, and it’ll be unfortunate when people call it a choke. Ravens 20, Colts 17

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

From Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver make the call of the #1 team in the NFC at 1:00 PM Sunday on FOX.

The Seahawks should consider themselves lucky to be alive after a botched field goal attempt by Dallas allowed Seattle to hold on to a 1 point margin. Seattle’s banged up on both sides of the ball, and they really didn’t play well in the first round. They developed no rhythm in the passing game and could never really establish the run until they were killing the clock late in the game. They were fortunate to have a turnover in Dallas’ endzone and they were able to take advantage of great field position the next drive. Seattle’s offense is going to have to play better. They’ll be going up against a much tougher defense that won’t be forgiving to a team that can’t move the ball consistently. Hasselbeck and his receivers have to get on the same page quickly this week and they have to get out to a fast start. They need to play much better against the same Bears who destroyed them earlier this season and force them to pass. The Seahawks defense will need to apply a lot of pressure to Rex Grossman and force him to make mistakes. Even he can tear up a defense if he has time to throw, and Seattle will need to get in his face.

The Bears will be fresh and ready to go after mailing it in week 17 and having the bye week. As the #1 seed in the NFC, they’re going to be expected to perform like it, even though they’re not playing as well as they were earlier in the season. The Bears defense, which has been relied on by the team for two years now, is hanged up and not playing as well as they’re capable of. They’re giving up a lot against the pass, mostly because their best pass rusher, Tommie Harris, is on Injured Reserve. Their ends will have to play much better to disrupt the timing of Hasselbeck and prevent him from taking advantage of the depth they have at the WR position downfield. Against the run, penetration will be the key, which will allow stars like Urlacher and Briggs to make plays in the running game like they’ve done all year. After Devin Hester gets the ball back to the offense, the Bears will look to hit the Seahawks with a steady dose of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. The Seahawks have been weak against the ground game this year, and Chicago hopes they can play their typical game and run down the clock and defense with their tough runners. If they fall behind early, it could get ugly though. Rex Grossman cannot be relied on to bring a team back, and the Bears should hope to limit his attempts deep downfield.

The Bottom Line- There’s a reason they were so great in the regular season, and there’s a reason the Seahawks struggled to win the NFC West. Bears 24, Seahawks 14

New England Patriots @ San Diego Chargers

From Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms broadcast what should be the game of the week, at 4:30 PM Sunday on CBS.

The Patriots played a great game against their rivals in the first round, and really looked impressive on opening weekend. They were efficient on offense, took advantage of most of their opportunities, and only allowed one big play through the air. Against the Chargers, they’re going to have to do a great job of keeping Brady on his feet. He’s been hurting a bit, so it’ll be even more important to make sure the Chargers don’t get free shots at him. They have a great pass rush led by All-Pro Shawne Merriman, and also have several other key contributors. The Chargers have a great defense, and every point against them will have to be earned. The Patriots defense is nothing to sneeze at as well. They boast one of the best points per game against averages in the league, and they’ll have to contain the best RB in football, as well as a solid passing game that can beat you if you’re paying too much attention to the run. The Patriots will have to play almost a mistake-free game to win, and they have to really play their best football of the season.

The Chargers are sitting with the best record in the league at 14-2. They’re hot riding into the playoffs on the back of the league MVP. In his first year starting, Philip Rivers played just as well as Drew Brees ever did. He was efficient, effective and mistake-free. He did not turn the ball over, which was a Drew Brees staple for a couple years. He eventually began developing chemistry with his great Tight End Antonio Gates and has also been working well with second year receiver Vincent Jackson. Of course, the focus is on LT. He can do it all. Between the tackles, on the outside, catching, throwing, he’s unstoppable. The Patriots will be lucky to contain him. On defense, the focus has to be on pressuring Tom Brady. He’s great at hitting open guys when he has time, and Merriman will have to be his usual self. I’d like to write more, but I’ve gotta get to work.

The Bottom Line- The Chargers are so good they’ve reached the point where people only criticize them. Chargers 28, Patriots 24

Sit back, and enjoy a great weekend of football. Go Birds.

Friday, January 12, 2007

New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles Game Recap

It wasn’t pretty at times, but a win is a win, especially in the playoffs. They’ll have to play better than that in New Orleans on Saturday.

- Jeff Garcia continues to be solid. No more, no less. His QB rating was probably below the league average, but he didn’t have to do more than that against the Giants. He started out flat with the rest of the offense and played well when we needed him to.

- Westbrook is a Pro Bowl player. I don’t care what the fans, coaches or other players think, he is. It’s a joke that he wasn’t selected, and I hope that someone drops out so he can get to go. He ran for 141 yards on only 20 carries, swung momentum to the Philly side on his long touchdown run and basically won the game for us on the last drive. He had a great game with a stomach problem and fought through it. There’s nothing more you can ask for.

- The Offensive Line, particularly Tra Thomas, needs to play a lot better against the Saints. I don’t know if his back is bothering him or what, but he played with almost no leverage against Osi Umenyiora and got beat on a bunch of plays. Will Smith is stronger and a more complete pass rusher. The line as a whole needs to do better in blitz pickup.

- The Eagles didn’t get anything out of the Defensive Line. I wouldn’t normally be surprised by this, but they’ve dominated the Giants the past two meetings. They need to step it up big time.

- Was anyone else as surprised as I was to see Dhani make a nice play? It was the only highlight from our Linebackers.

- The Lito injury is going to hurt big time. Hood didn’t impress me at all, and even though Brown had a decent game, our DBs are going to be hurting.

- I loved the flying tackle from Dawkins.

- That’s why we brought back Koy Detmer. I’m glad it worked out. I don’t know what would’ve happened if we had a Tony Romo situation.

- Reno Mahe sucks. He has no athleticism, and without that, what purpose does he serve as a kick returner? He makes dumb plays, doesn’t make good ones, and adds nothing to the team. Good luck next year, I just hope it isn’t with us.

- Eli did well to try and shake the choker label, he had a good game. His Offensive Line gave him support, he had a strong running game and the defense wasn’t that bad for most of the game. He had a few spotty throws and a couple bad decisions, but he wasn’t that bad.

- Even though he killed the Eagles, I’m going to miss Tiki Barber. He was a great guy, a great player, and it’s going to be tough to see him go so early. I will enjoy Brandon Jacobs being an every down back though.

- I hate Plaxico Burress. I’m sick of him. I’m sick of his face, his number, his touchdowns, his whining, and especially all the penalties he draws. It’s completely ridiculous. He throws Sheldon Brown down by his facemask and Brown gets the penalty? It’s a joke.

- I have to really respect Jeremy Shockey for playing through pain. Wait, no I don’t.

- Not playing Bob Whitfield is the best decision Coughlin ever made. The entire Offensive Line played better without him, and it definitely helped out Eli.

- Umenyiora had a lot better game than he did last time, as did the interior of the Giants defense as a whole.

- Who is that Chase Blackburn guy and how could he dominate Runyan?

- I wish FOX would stop showing Gross Punting Average stats when they talk about punters. Feagles is last in the league in that, and he’s definitely not the worst punter.

That wraps up an extended Giant week, and I have to get Divisional Round stuff up tomorrow. I’ve been planning a trip, that’s why I haven’t really updated.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles + Wild Card Weekend Preview

I’m going to try a different format for the Eagles game. It’s a bit more in-depth and if I did one in the old format again, it would be pretty much the same as the last one I did against the Giants. This is more matchup based. If it says “Push” after the matchup that means it’s even. If I have one star, that matchup is slightly in favor of the team I list. If I have two stars, that matchup is heavily in favor of the team I list. Here we go.

The Philadelphia Eagles (10-6), returning to the playoffs after a one year absence, will host the New York Giants (8-8), who are looking to improve on their miserable showing from last season. The game will be at Lincoln Financial Field, broadcast on FOX at 4:30 PM on Sunday, with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Pam Oliver making the call.

Jeff Garcia vs. Giants’ defense- Since filling in for Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia, in addition to improved defense and an emphasis on the run, has led the Eagles back into the playoff race and got the team their 5th division title in six years. With a 5:1 TD:INT ratio, a 60+ completion percentage and decent yards per attempt, Garcia has kept the passing game playing at a high level. This season, the Giants’ D has been getting beat up through the year, and are among the league’s worst in passing touchdowns allowed and passing yards allowed. Throw in an already weak pass rush missing their best player in Michael Strahan, Garcia should have lots of time to find open receivers downfield, even though one of his worst games came against this same team earlier this month. Eagles **

Brian Westbrook vs. Giants’ front seven- Westbrook had a career year this season and was snubbed in the Pro Bowl selections. He set a career high in rushing yards, yards from scrimmage and tied his career high in touchdowns, and figures once again to be a big part of the gameplan against the Giants. Westbrook has averaged 25 touches per game against New York this year and had 137 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting. The Giants have been getting burned on the ground as of late and have given up touchdowns frequently all season. In addition to Westbrook, the Eagles hope to again use Correll Buckhalter effectively again, as they did in the first half of the last meeting. Eagles **

Eagles’ WR/TE vs. Giants’ secondary- Despite the player moving onto Dallas, the Eagle receivers filled the void and put up good numbers in 06. Despite dropping passes frequently, Reggie Brown is emerging as a young star and a big playmaker. In the last meeting, Brown caught a big TD near the end of the game to give the Eagles a lead they wouldn’t let go. Donte Stallworth, when healthy, has made big plays all season long, even though his impact has slightly diminished since Garcia entered the lineup. The New York secondary has struggled all year, as it has in past years, due to both injuries and poor play. Madison is banged up, Webster will be missing and R.W. McQuarters will once again be relied on. Although safety Gibril Wilson is a young star, his backfield mate Will Demps has been underwhelming, but if the last meeting is any indication, he’s saving his best plays for games against the Eagles. Eagles **

Eagles’ Offensive Line vs. Giants’ Defensive Line- The Eagles are building one of the best lines in the league, while their counterparts are thinning out and weren’t strong up the middle to begin with. All five of the Eagle starters had legitimate Pro Bowl seasons, but only the Big Kid was honored. In the last meeting, the interior had a great game driving the Giant tackles back and getting to the second level to block Linebackers. Westbrook and Buckhalter gouged the middle of the Giant defense all day to the tune of 145 yards, and look to have the same success as last time. In pass protection, the Eagles gave up just two sacks, to a Linebacker and Safety. A little film study should help them pick up the blitz packages better and improve on that. On the Giants side, Osi needs to improve his technique if he wants to beat Tra Thomas to get to Garcia. In the first meeting, he flew upfield and took himself out of the play several times. He needs to get to the inside quicker and get to the Quarterback if he wants to be an impact pass rusher. The Giants need to continue to use Kiwanuka to rush the passer from several different places to create different looks and try to confuse the offense, although Strahan’s injury limits their flexibility. Eagles **

Eagles’ defense vs. Eli Manning- The Eagles have seen the best and worst from Eli. In the big comeback victory in September, Eli had a career game, throwing for over 370 yards and 3 TD, and only turning the ball over once (despite being sacked a ridiculous amount of times.) In December, it was a slightly different story. He was only sacked once, but was under a large amount of pressure. He committed two key turnovers, and was not able to throw any touchdowns on a day where the running game was for the most part, a non factor. Eli has to step up now. He has to shake off the choker label and play big in a big game. He can’t fade away when the pressure’s on, and he has to make this the game that defines his career and gets him on track. If he can get rid of the ball quickly and find Plaxico, who has been dominant in the series this season, he could have a big game, but the pass rush might be too much to overcome. Eagles *

Eagles’ front seven vs. Tiki Barber- Although the Eagles have just about dominated him all season long, they can’t count on being able to do it a third time. Barber has always demolished the Eagles, and his past performances should be in the back of the mind of every Eagle player. The Eagles defense has had an awful time trying to stop the run this season, but they’ve been getting better as of late. The key for the Eagles is to continue to get penetration from the interior, which they’ve done a great job of doing in the series so far, and bring run blitzes to eliminate gaps. They have to tackle well, and especially when Jacobs is in, go low, gang tackle and try to strip the football. The Giants need to lean on Tiki and Jacobs to win this game. The game cannot be in Eli’s hands. We’ll see if Tiki goes out with a bang, or if he’s still lacking focus and finishes his career with a dud. He’s always ready for Eagle week though, so this game should be no different. Giants *

Eagles’ secondary vs. Giants’ WR/TE- Plaxico Burress. This guy is not an elite receiver. He’s not Canton-bound. Hell, he wouldn’t even make the satirical Hall-of-Very Good. Yet for whatever reason, he dominates the Eagles. Dominates. He matches up well against the Eagle corners because of his size and his ability to win jump balls, but he beats them on any route at any position on the field. It doesn’t hurt that he gets every call in his favor, and he’s also a Pro-Bowl whiner who has his way with officials. However besides Burress, who will once again be a huge factor, the Giants don’t have many weapons. Shockey is a playmaking Tight End, but he may not be too effective with the injury. He was involved in the game early and often last meeting, but he also dropped a critical pass in the second half. Besides those two, the Giants are pretty thinned out. Shiancoe is not useful in the passing game, and after Toomer’s injury, Carter, Moss and Tyree have had trouble stepping in and filling the void. If the Eagles can somehow manage to take Burress out of the game, the Giants’ passing game will be a non factor. Giants *

Eagles’ Defensive Line vs. Giants’ Offensive Line- For some reason, the Eagles’ DTs, particularly Darin Walker, seem to have success against the Giants. I’m not sure if it’s necessarily personnel on the Giants’ side, because O’Hara, Diehl and Snee are good players. The Giants made an improvement on their line in the last week by benching Bob Whitfield and inserting Grey Ruegamer in at LT. This can only be a positive, even though Grey has not played much over the past few seasons. Whitfield is a revolving door in pass protection, took dumb penalties and was prone to false starts, something the Giants can’t have if they want to win a playoff game. Overall, the Giants O-Line is a mediocre unit and against an above average unit that seems to burn them every time. In the first meeting, not only could the Giants not establish any sort of running game, Eli was sacked a ridiculous amount of times. Instead of being a complete liability the second meeting, they cut down on their poor pass protection and held the Eagles to just one sack, but still couldn’t open any holes for Barber. I don’t see them getting any better, they’re just not good. Eagles *

Eagles’ Homefield Advantage vs. Giants- It’s a pretty lame matchup to talk about, but I think the Linc could play a part in this game. The Giants are frequently penalized and are prone to false starts. The noise should help affect that. Eli seems to get worse under pressure, and a tough environment could help rattle him. And no, I’m not just saying this to pump up the Eagles’ chances of winning, it can go both ways. If the Giants score early, the crowd can easily be deflated. It has happened before, and it’ll probably happen again. The Eagles can’t fall behind early, or there will be no advantage, and the Giants will have momentum. Eagles *

So with all of that, I think the Eagles have the advtange. Right now, they’re playing better football, they’re at home, and the Giants are in complete disarray. They may have quit on their coach, they’re not focused, they backed their way into the playoffs and have a ton of injuries. However, it’s still the third meeting between these teams. They know each other very well, and the Giants are as prepared to stop the Eagles as anyone. However, my prediction is Eagles 27, Giants 20

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts

From the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Tom Hammond, Cris Collinsworth and Bob Neumeier will make the call on Saturday on NBC at 4:30 PM.

The Chiefs won and got a little help in Week 17 to make the playoffs, despite losing 3 of their last 5. Despite being the lowest seed against a perennial AFC power, the Chiefs match up very well against the Colts. Hoping that Larry Johnson is not worn out after setting the single season record for most carries, the Chiefs will look to ride their workhorse one more time to extend their season against one of the worst run defenses in NFL history. The Colts are getting gouged to the tune of 5.3 yards a carry, and a league worst 173 yards per game, 28 yards worse than their closest competitor. However, if they get into a shootout and have to get away from the run a little bit, the Chiefs could be in trouble. Trent Green has been inconsistent at best since returning from his injury, and he cannot be relied on to win a playoff game.

The Colts, no longer the AFC favorites will look to finally reach the promised land from the underdog role. They have a tall task ahead of them on Wild Card Weekend, and they have to shut down a premier back in the league. They have to find some way to hold LJ down to like, 6 yards a carry. He can’t control the clock. The Colts need to get on offense, put up points and make KC light up the scoreboard with them. They can’t do it. No team can put up points with the Colts. Peyton Manning had one of his best years becoming only the second Quarterback to throw for 30+ touchdowns and fewer than 10 INTs (9, a career low). Harrison and Wayne each had stellar seasons, and even Addai ran for 1000 yards and took over the starting job. The offense is possibly the best in the league, and if the defense somehow manages to put together a good game, they can beat any team. However, since that’s so rare, they’re unlikely to make a run.

The Bottom Line- The Chiefs won’t be able to keep up with the Colts, and lose a high scoring game, like last time in the playoffs. Colts 35, Chiefs 31

Dallas Cowboys @ Seattle Seahawks

From Qwest Field in Seattle, Al Michaels, John Madden and Andrea Kremer make the call on NBC’s Saturday nightcap, at 8 PM.

The Cowboys threw away a chance to lock up the division, and back their way into the playoffs after losing to the hated Eagles at home on Christmas, and following that up with a loss to the lowly Lions at home in Week 17. The offense is strong, but Tony Romo has struggled as of late. After getting off to a great start, he’s hit a wall, and is not as effective as he was in November. TO is dropping passes, and Glenn almost seems uninvolved, and hasn’t seen as many passes come his way since the QB switch. Despite the drops, TO still caught his passes, got his yards and found the endzone, more than any other receiver in the league. However, he clearly loses focus at some times and that could cost the Cowboys. Their offense will lean on a solid running game from Jones and Barber, who will be relied on to wear down a Seattle defense that was weak against the run. The Cowboy defense, which appeared to be a great defense early on, has been getting killed in December. They’ve given up a ton of points in the air and on the ground, but not as much in the running game. They need to bounce back immediately against Hasselbeck, Alexander and a deep receiving corp.

The Seahawks aren’t looking too powerful either, but they still won their division to earn a home game. Although they struggled against divisional opponents down the stretch, they took care of business and locked things up. Suffering from numerous injuries all around, the Seahawks hope that Hasselbeck and Alexander, two experienced playoff competitors can put up the points they need to win. Against an up and down Dallas defense, they’ll need to play some of their best football to aid a defense that is not nearly as effective as the Super Bowl unit from a year ago. Because of numerous injuries to their corners, they’ll be relying on their first round draft choice and other depth players to cover great receivers, and they may not be up to the task. The run defense needs to shape up against an effective Cowboy ground game, otherwise Dallas will control the clock, keep the Seattle stars off the field and advance to play in the second round.

The Bottom Line- Seattle has homefield advantage, and that’ll be a deciding factor of teams that backed their way into the playoffs. Seahawks 28, Cowboys 24

New York Jets @ New England Patriots

From Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms call CBS’ wild card game at 1 PM on Sunday.

The Jets made a miracle return to the playoffs under new head coach Eric Mangini. After being riddled with injuries and poor play all around, the Jets went 4-1 under former head man Herm Edwards. Mangini made it a priority to improve the offensive line and did so by investing two first round choices in D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. Although Ferguson has struggled on Pennington’s blindside, Mangold has been great, and looks to be one of the best Centers in the league very soon. The Jets will rely on Pennington to do his thing: complete high percentage passes and don’t turn the ball over. Pennington has done a good job of getting the ball to Coles and Cotchery all season, and they both had very good years. The running game is inconsistent however, and that’s a no-no in the playoffs. The Jets have one of the better scoring defenses in the league, and they need to keep this game low scoring to win.

Although they lost for the first time last season, the Brady and Belichick postseason magic could still be there. Brady has not been himself this season because of an ongoing injury, but he still leads a solid New England offense into battle. The receivers are mediocre, and this game will rest heavily on the shoulders of the Patriot backfield. Brady will need to make accurate throws and put his guys in a position to make a play. Dillon and Maroney should be able to have a good game on the ground, and the Patriots should be able to put up points. The Patriot defense, despite suffering numerous injuries, is once again among the league’s best. They’re second in the league in scoring defense, but they’ll need to make due without secondary leader Rodney Harrison. Asante Samuel has been great at corner, and is finally developing into a top player like they hoped. They shouldn’t have a problem stopping the Jets’ usually inconsistent running game.

The Bottom Line- Despite losing at home to these same Jets earlier this year, the Patriots take care of business in the playoffs, period. Patriots 20, Jets 10