Rage Against the Machine, Arizona Concert Watch, 2015 New Millennium Homes
Our first game of the weekend takes place in the House of Pain of Football (hold the Everlast), Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. New England is the serious favorite to win it all. No one is taking Batlimore seriously this year except the cast of The Wire.
This is a "Not Again" game. These teams have faced each other four times in the last six years in the playoffs, for God's sake! The Pats lost the AFC Championship in 2012 to the Ravens (ultimately leading to a Super Bowl championship for Baltimore), and they haven't forgotten it. It's going to take a special team to go in to blindside the Pats after a first round bye. Is Baltimore that special team? Well, basically they're the same team they were in 2012 minus two Rays of sunshine: Lewis and Rice.
Joe Flacco: good quarterback, bad date. He is going to sling it to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Steve and Torrey), and that will lead to the key battle in this game, ultimately deciding the victor. If Baltimore's wideouts can win the outside and deep matchup against the New England secondary, they have a good chance to win. The only problem is New England's secondary is rested and ready for the test. Can't wait to see the matchup between Darrelle Revis and Steve Smith, Sr., two borderline future Hall of Famers that find themselves in a massive game trying to outduel one another.
Tom Brady is going to go into this like it's his game to lose. Well, it really isn't. Baltimore's defense knows who Brady is, and are not going to let him beat them. They are going to clamp down on the deep ball, make their tackles and force New England's odd four-headed monster at running back to win a battle against their front four to gain yards.
Also, for the record, I've been having a recurring vision of Stephen Gostkowski missing a big field goal at some point during these playoffs.
This game is a tough one to pick. Avoid it if you can.
I won't, I'm sure.
Baltimore +7 over New England
The Fraiser Theme Song
I loved the Carolina Panthers last week, and they made good like any home team in the playoffs playing against a team with a third-string quarterback should. Good work, guys. Well done!
I'm not sure if any of you actually watched that game, but Arizona basically should have won, which is disturbing. They had two significant turnovers in that game, including an interception in the red zone and a fumble at the goal line. If you're relying on boneheaded mistakes to win playoffs games, good luck.
The only chance Carolina has is if their run game of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton click massively against Seattle's D-Line, which, believe it or not, is the weakness of their defense (haha). It for sure isn't Seattle's secondary, which is the best in the league, and will be responsible for containing Newton's only legit receiving threat, Pro Bowler Greg Olsen.
Right now, Carolina is trying to put the game in the hands of their defense, which is stout and lead by the new Brian Urlacher, LUUUUUUUUUKKKKKKKKKKEEEEEEE Whathisname. When you're playing a team as mistake-free as Seattle with Russell Wilson at the helm, though, defense-forced mistakes are few and never between.
Flannel will fly on Saturday night.
Lane Staley -9.5 over Ric Flair
Boys Will Be Boys. Bad Boys. Bad Boys.
Now, I know I've said something rude about the Packers, well, literally every week since this column started. I apologize for that. When a person in a Jordy Nelson jersey shows up outside my condo at 2 a.m. leaving a burning stuffed dummy with "Eddie Gobbo" written on it, what do you expect me to do?
I know who the Packers are: a well-rounded machine who's been there and done that. They love playing a noon (thanks, NFL scheduler from hell), they love playing against unproven teams, and they love watching reruns of Jeopardy they've already seen with friends, to make themselves seem smarter than they actually are.
Their Texas opponent this week is unproven, weird, has a weird owner, and is led by a guy whose spinal discs are like chocolate gold coins on a hot day.
That said, you guessed it, I'm picking Dallas in this one. They did something unbelievably dumb last week and survived: They let Detroit run up a big lead on them, and they had to claw back. If they do this with the Pack this week, they lose. They know this, and won't let deja vu happen. Dallas is going to come out, run the ball, show the Pack they aren't scared, and keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.
This game will be tight, and eventually the third quarter will bring some separation by Dallas. If Dallas is still in it by the fourth, it's going to come down to having to a few pivotal defensive stands with Rodgers in a no-huddle, and eventually a hurry-up.
It's going to be colder than a Green Bay girl this week at Lambeau. Dallas won't like this. However, the only offensive weapon that travels well in cold is the run game, and Dallas is lucky they have a great one.
Dallas + 6.5 over the statistically-placed dummy burners
Denver, the Last Dinosaur
You ever try to tell an old guy that "times have changed" and that he's "worthless" and "should just die already"? They usually don't like that.
Well, this week, Andrew Luck is going to have to go in to Denver and do that. If there's one guy who can go into Denver, reference age and skills, and mean it, it's the Lucky Man. Actually, he'll probably just send Adam Vinatieri to do it, who is hitting 52-yard field goals at the age of 53.
If I were playing the Colts this week, I'd be DEATHLY afraid of them. They looked the best out of any team that played last week, even with mistakes in tow. T.Y. Hilton dropped some passes in the first half, and Boom Herron did have a big fumble in the first half. But once the cobwebs were out, Indy was in. Unfortunately for Indy, they don't play Cincy this week.
Denver NEEDS to commit to the run game early, grind out clock, and set up TE Julius Thomas for a good game, like the kind he's had in his sleep the last two years.
If they do this, Denver wins easy. If they don't, Denver still probably ekes it out.
I love the Colts and am a better man knowing Andrew Luck breathes the same air as me. But screw him.
Denver -7 (sad face) over Indy
Daily Affirmation, With Stuart Scott
And finally this week, I wanted to address something extremely heartbreaking that happened this past Sunday. Stuart Scott, longtime ESPN anchorman, passed away after a long battle with cancer.
When I was a kid, I used to get up super early to watch an hour of SportsCenter before heading off to grade school and zoning out in a desk made by a Polish woodsman in 1955 for eight hours. Scott was arguably the flagship narrator of said program.
I grew up in the '90s. A transitional decade, if you will, where people started respecting intelligence. The '80s was filled with two types of people: smart people and cool people. Motley Crue could barely form a sentence. Tom Snyder could form many sentences. But there was never any doubt as to who you'd hang out with if given the chance.
Enter people like Stuart Scott: the smart, sassy, urban-centered sports genius of ESPN. He knew everything there was to know about sports, articulating everything like the University of North Carolina graduate he was, and at the same time had the foresight to realize who his demographic was: us kids. He'd talk to us not like a dad, but an older cousin. He'd slip a reference to Martin or Tupac, and would yell out one-liners at the top of his lungs, sort of like everyone's favorite comedian at the time, Chris Farley. I liked Phil Anselmo growing up. I like Ric Flair growing up. Stuart Scott was without a doubt cut from that same fearless and boisterous cloth.
In 2002, a friend came up to me at college and said that Scott had injured his eye really bad. He had got hit with a football in the eye during a New York Jets mini-camp. We both looked at each other super bummed, but we knew he would overcome whatever injury it was. From then on, Scott did the majority of his broadcasts wearing a pair of spectacles, diverting attention from his injured eye.
I just assumed the same thing would happen when I found out Scott had cancer in the late 2000s. It would be an inconvenience for us, and certainly for him and his family, but ultimately he'd persevere and die of natural causes in his 80s. Much like this eye injury, the cancer battle brought Scott a modified look. He was noticeably thinner for the last several years. But that said, he was always there, working in some shape or form, until this Sunday.
As kids, we all are forced in to sports by society. Most of us think we're going to go pro the first time we pick up a basketball. Then we realize we suck and that playing sports are not going to be part of our lives past grade school. We then find ourselves at a crossroads: Do I enjoy sports enough to support this, even though I truly won't be able to experience this in the way I have my whole life up to this point? Because of a guy like Stuart Scott, I never questioned whether my love of sports would carry on in to my adult life.
Bye for now, Stuart.