Daily Blog • Sunday, January 10th


AFC WILDCARD • Sunday 1:00 ET • CBS



The Ravens #13 offense underwent a surprising change for '09 after leading the NFL in rush attempts (592) last year they dropped to 7th this year (468). Cam Cameron put the onus on Flacco in his 2nd year to speed up his development. Flacco finished in the top half of the NFL in comp %, yards, yards per attempt, TD's and interceptions which is promising for 2010 as the third year is when QB's make their biggest jump. Baltimore has a mediocre at best receiving unit as while Mason continues to impress with his toughness the Ravens lack deep speed and depth. The leading receiver is Ray Rice who leads the NFL in receptions by a RB (13th overall) and TE Heap who has climbed out of Harbaugh's doghouse with a good season. Rice finished sixth in rushing this year and was the first RB in 33 games with 100 vs Pittsburgh. In December Baltimore averaged 212 yards per game (5.9) rushing going back to power football. Baltimore has fielded five different OL combos this year with Michael Oher (legit Rookie of the Year candidate) doing a great job flipping back and forth between RT and LT.


The Ravens #3 defense is a bit misleading as they've allowed 335 yards per game vs playoff teams. Baltimore's #5 rush defense has held up well despite DE Ngata (ankle) missing 2 games. The secondary is very thin especially at CB. SS Reed has missed the last 5 games with hip and ankle injuries and the loss of his range in the back has really cost Baltimore vs the elite QB's. Baltimore was 11th last year in sacks (1 every 15.5 pass attempts) but this year they fell to 18th (1 every 16.7 pass attempts) as LB Suggs missed 3 games with an ankle injury and hasn't fully recovered yet. Baltimore finished 6th in our special teams due to their KR units allowing 20.5 but the loss of Webb (ACL) who had a 26.2 avg is a big blow.


When reviewing the Patriots for '09 it's important to keep in mind they're in transition. NE saw many key defensive players leave prior to the season and the lack of leadership really hurt the #11 defense at the start of the year and in a few big games (Indianapolis, New Orleans). New England's #13 rush defense (111 yards per game, 4.4 ypc) has given up nine games of 100 or more yards which is decent considering that none of the three starting DL including NT Wilfork have played all 16. The leader of the LB unit is now Jerod Mayo and unheralded Gary Guyton is the only LB to start all 16. Last year New England was 14th in sacks and they look to have dipped this year (23rd) but it's a bit misleading as both last year and this year their sack rate is approx 1 every 15 pass attempts. Banta-Cain is the leading sacker for New England (9.5 ypc) validating his return to New England after spending the last two years with San Francisco. New England's #12 pass defense started the season slow as they adjusted to life without SS Harrison allowing 218 yards per game (64%) with a 7-2 ratio in the first 5 games and not including Houston when they rested, they allowed 197 yards per game (55%) with a 16-15 ratio.


Brady quickly put an end to concerns about his knee as he avg'd 290 yards per game (66%) with a 15-4 ratio prior to the bye. This being despite the injury of Fred Taylor who returned at the end of the year and lack of impact again by Maroney who has just one 100 yard game this year (Tennessee). Moss has been publicly criticized especially after the Carolina game for his efforts but the fact remains that he tied for 12th in receptions and 5th for receiving yards this year. New England did struggle early in the season rounding out a 3 WR package when Welker was hurt. Now that Welker is out for the year the Patriots are better prepared to make adjustments for his loss and Julian Edelman is a younger clone of him who had 10 receptions vs the Texans. TE Ben Watson was phased out of the passing game this year as he’s improved his blocking and he’s been slowed by injuries. New England's OL has been beaten up this year as Center Koppen and LG Mankins are the only ones to start all 16 games this year and the OL had 68 of a possible 80 starts. NE's special teams finished 28th in our rankings due to Hanson's net (34.1) and allowing 24.7 on KR's.


The loss of Wes Welker was a huge blow to the Patriots offense as he & Moss were the 6th pair of teammates in the NFL to have 3 straight 1,000 yds receiving in a season. Edelman will have to step up here to balance out the Patriots passing packages but now he has a full year of experience in the system vs earlier this year. Brady is 8-0 at home in the playoffs & he hinted that the offense would evolve immediately after last week's loss. Belichick is the best game planning HC in the NFL (Sean Payton is best offensive planning coach) & he is at his best at taking away what an opposing team does best. NE will have 24 players who haven’t been in a playoff game (some will be inactive) but 10 players have at least 10 playoff games under their belt & Brady’s 17 games are 2nd only to Favre’s 22. Baltimore has a great weapon in Ray Rice who will test NE’s #14 rush defense early & often. However the Patriots will field their entire starting DL rotation of Warren, Wilfork & Green here who have been hit & miss starting together due to injuries. Flacco has continued to mature as a QB but his receiving weapons aren’t explosive enough to test NE’s avg secondary. Weather isn’t expected to be a factor here & I think the Patriots will come out the victors in the end.  




NFC WILDCARD • Sunday 4:40 ET • FOX

The Packers entered 2009 with the youngest roster for the 4th straight year with only 4 players 30 or older. They exited the season as the 1st NFL team in history with a 4,000 yard passer, 1,200 yard rusher and two 1,000 yard receivers in back-to-back seasons. This is despite Rodgers having been sacked an NFL high 51 times. Injuries blasted the OL in the 1st half of the season as they went thru 6 different combos allowing 37 sacks. The Packers turned their season around in the Dallas game and Rodgers has enjoyed the same starting 5 OL in the last 7 games with 9 sacks. Since that game Rodgers has passed for 284 yards (66%) with a 14-2 ratio and he leads the NFL in rush yards by a QB. RB Grant has been overshadowed by the passing game but set a career high with 1,253 yds (4.4) this year. The Packers made a savvy move in resigning Ahman Green this year as while he offers very little on the ground he is a solid 3rd down RB in passing situations. Jennings has long surpassed Driver as the #1 WR here but Driver remains an elite #2 (both top 35 avg yards after catch). Second year TE Finley who missed 3 games with a knee sprain has become a dangerous WR/TE hybrid that is popular in the NFL now and all 3 are in the top 55 for rec's this year.


The most dramatic change here is the improvement of the defense under Dom Capers. Last year Green Bay finished 20th in total D and all'd 132 yards per game rushing (4.6) which was 20th. This year in a new 3-4 scheme with a pair of rookie OLB's in Clay Matthews and Brad Jones starting Green Bay finished 2nd in defense and allowed a franchise low 83 yards per game (3.6) rushing. The Packers also lead the NFL with +24 TO's and lead the NFL with 27 int. Woodson is playing at a Def MVP level this year with 9 int and had an ultra rare combo of 2 FF's, int and sack vs Dallas. The special teams are the Packers biggest weakness as they are 30th in my rankings as Kapinos has a poor net (34.1) and the return units are bad on both sides of the ball.


The Cardinals earned their first back-to-back division title since the 1974 and 1975 seasons and are just the 3rd Super Bowl loser to return to the playoffs in the last ten years. The Cardinals first 10 win season since 1976 went thru the arm of Kurt Warner who is the 2nd QB in NFL history to pass for 100 TD's with 2 different teams (Tarkenton). Warner's #'s are down vs last year (286 yards per game, 67%, 30-14) as defenses refused to let the duo of Fitzgerald (four 1000 yard seasons in first 6 years) and Boldin (five 1000 yard seasons) make big plays and kept them in front of the defense. The Cardinals improving run game also had Whisenhunt dial back the pass attempts (40 in 1st 9, 33 in next 6). In the first 7 games Arizona averaged 65 yards per game (3.3) on the ground but as RB Wells adjusted to the NFL, Arizona averaged 123 yards per game (4.7) over the next 8 games prior to resting for the final. The Cardinals OL has been outstanding this year allowing 26 sacks (1 every 23 pass attempts) and had 27 straight games with the same 5 starters prior to LT Gandy (sports hernia) landing on IR.


The Cardinals released its DC after the Super Bowl loss and the #20 defense is clone of the Steelers but with less freelancing in the secondary. They remain a high risk/high reward defense as while they are 5th in sacks by (1 every 14 pass attempts) they are 23rd in pass defense with a respectable 27-21 ratio. CB Rodgers-Cromartie's 6 int are the most for an Arizona player since 2003 and Adrian Wilson is just the 10 player in NFL history with 20 sacks and 20 int in his career. The Cardinals 3-4 differs from the Steelers as the DL provides pressure and 9 players have at least 2 sacks which diffuses the offenses ability to focus on just 1 key pass rusher (ie: Dallas's Ware). Dockett is a highly active player that can play inside or outside in 4-3/3-4 snaps and leads the team in sacks and is the leader of the front 7. Whisenhunt has taken great pains to upgrade his special teams and they are a solid 3rd in our rankings thanks to their outstanding KR defense (20.5) and Ben Graham's 40.6 net punting (7th).


When Minnesota thumped the Giants 44-7 the Cardinals had no chance to move up in the seedings & had little interest beyond padding stats & staying healthy. They did get beat up though as Boldin (ankle) is a gametime decision but the Cardinals are 5-1 without him. Also dinged up was CB Rodgers-Cromartie & FS Rolle but Whisenhunt expressed confidence that they’d be available here. Green Bay was locked into the #5 seed but McCarthy played for momentum & wanted his players to know they could win here. While Arizona has a big edge in playoff experience especially with Kurt Warner here they haven’t taken advantage of their homefield edge going 4-4 at home & the yardage has been even as well. Green Bay is one of the most improved teams over the 2nd half of the season with the #6 & #5 units (+14 TO’s) vs Arizona who has the #13 & #22 units (-1 TO’s). The Packers have the weapons on offense to compete in a shootout with their WR unit or slug it out with their Ryan Grant vs a defense giving up 132 yards per game (5.0) in the 2nd half of the season. While the offenses will get all the attention here I really think the difference maker in this game will be Dom Capers who has much more experience in these games than 1st year DC Billy Davis for Arizona. The Cardinals are a quality team but I think Green Bay has played a tougher schedule, is used to playing on the road & in domes (3-1 this year). Green Bay is a very young team & with the win puts the NFL on notice that they will be a team to contend with.