Late November I wrote my snotty predictions for the playoffs and, to be honest, I was pretty accurate. But so were most sports pundits. It wasn't too hard to predict by then.
Then: the four major players in the NFL were the Eagles, the Patriots, the Steelers and the Vikings with the Saints as the number one wild card team.
Now: The four major players have proven to be: the Patriots, the Saints, the Steelers and the Vikings.
Sorry, Philly fans, as soon as your QB1 went down in week 15 your fate as a one and done playoff team was sealed.
On the other hand I think every football fan was shocked to see the Tennessee Titans snatch a victory away from KC with their 18 unanswered points. KC fans were probably sick about that.
And speaking of the Chiefs - what idiot breaks news that you are open to trading your star quarterback hours before your playoff game? You know, your star QB that led the fucking NFL in passer rating, averaged almost 6 yards per rush and wins your division for you?
Yeah, let’s get rid of that guy. And let’s tell the world about it a few hours before he plays for us in the Wild Card playoff match.
But I digress. We have eight teams left in the playoffs:
NFC (National Football Conference)
Atlanta (11-6) vs. Philadelphia (13-3) and New Orleans (12-5) vs Minnesota (13-3)
AFC (American Football Conference)
Tennessee (10-7) vs. New England (13-3) and Jacksonville (11-6) vs. Pittsburg (13-3)
Tennessee Titans vs. the New England Patriots
Let’s get the easy one out of the way. The Tennessee Titans are worst team in the line up. Through sheer determination, luck and the “Chief’s can’t win a fucking playoff game to save their lives” curse - the Titans barely squeaked into the Divisional round but that’s where their season ends.
Prediction: New England will crush the overwhelmed Titans.
Atlanta Falcons vs. The Philadelphia Eagles
The second easy one. With Carson Wentz injured the Eagles are no longer a Super Bowl contender with QB2 Nick Foles leading the team. Foles has had a long decent, though inconsistent career. He’s a fine QB. He is not the man that will beat the Falcons.
Prediction: Atlanta Falcons -- but the game will be a closer than most suspect.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. The Pittsburgh Steelers
This is little more difficult to predict. “Big Ben” Roethlisberger is on fire and the Steelers put up the number three offense in the league behind only the Patriots and the Saints. But Jacksonville put together the most uncanny defense the league has seen in a while. Seriously. My roommate had Jacksonville for defense on his Fantasy Football team and he told me about it every week for the entire season:
“The Jaguars got me another fifty points on defense! Fifty points! That’s more than Tom Brady!”
By comparison the Steelers have the 5th ranked Defense and Jacksonville has the 6th ranked offense. Though, that #6 rank for Jacksonville has mainly been because of the Jag’s excellent running game. In fact, Jacksonville’s QB1 - Blake Bortles had a rather mediocre year being ranked 17th in passing offense - 3,687 yards, 7 yards per throw, 230 yards per game, 21 TD / 13 INT.
I just don’t see Bortles cutting up the Steelers defense and I expect Pittsburgh’s pass rush to keep Bortles on the ground. A lot.
BUT - if Jacksonville’s crazy, madman defense shows up healthy, I can see Jags eeking out a win over the Steelers.
I think this game could go either way but I’m giving the edge to the Steelers.
Prediction: The Steelers in a moderate to low scoring game.
New Orleans Saints vs. The Minnesota Vikings
Finally. The game of the week. Maybe the most evenly matched game the playoffs will see this year.
Hey, remember up above when I talk about that crazy awesome defense the Jag’s put up? Well, the Jag’s ended up with number two defense of the year. The best defense of the year belongs to the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings are first in per game points allowed (15.8), first in per game yards allowed (275.9), second in per game pass yards allowed (192.4) and second in per game rush yards allowed (83.6). The Vikings are crushing opponents on critical third down plays. Case Keenum is having the season of his career. Adam Thielen is a wide receiving super star. The front line is healthy and the running game is solid.
The Vikings are a solid football team.
Of course, the Saints have Drew Brees. They also have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara - the duo backs who have crushed defenders this year and became the first ever combo to surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage in the same season.
The Saints are also, a solid football team.
On the other hand, the MN Vikings have Harrison Smith. Now, even if you’re a casual fan of the NFL you’ve probably heard of him. And you’ve probably heard he’s good. Or maybe you even think he’s really good.
And so did I. But someone recently convinced me he might be the best current player in the NFL. And that’s not hyperbole either.
Well, I mean - I’ve always thought Smith was an elite player and believe he was a total snub for the Pro Bowl this year. But, I mean - best player in the NFL? Come on!
And then someone went and put together Smith’s numbers for the year and posted, “No matter how good you think Harrison Smith is, he’s better than you think he is.”
From the article:
“Harrison Smith had a passer rating allowed of just 22.0 this season … Just to be clear, that’s not normal. Earl Thomas, arguably the best coverage safety in the NFL, had a passer rating allowed of 80.9 this season. Smith was four-times better than that. Throwing the ball into the dirt on every snap would grant a quarterback a passer rating of 39.6. And yet that would still be nearly twice as good as throwing the ball at Harrison Smith.”
“Smith didn’t give up a touchdown in coverage all season, and he had five interceptions and 17 pass deflections. Smith was targeted 42 times on the season, giving up just 23 receptions for 140 yards. For comparison, Earl Thomas gave up more yards (160) on less than half the amount of targets. Smith’s 0.25 yards allowed per coverage snap is among the lowest of any player at any position in the NFL, and his passer rating allowed is absolutely unprecedented.”
Bloody hell! That can’t be right! Right? Let me Google some more Harrison Smith information and see if that above information is accurate.
Google. Google. Google.
Dear God! It is! A QB could throw the ball into the dirt and have a better passing rating than throwing the ball to a receiver covered by Harrison Smith! Holy, insane!
Here is what the Pro Football Focus (PFF) has to say about Harrison Smith:
“There has been no better player across all positions than Minnesota’s Harrison Smith, who has been the field general for the league’s best defense over the course of the year. Smith’s overall PFF grade of 98.8 was the best mark in the league not only among safeties, but at any position, and is the highest mark we have ever given a safety in over 10 years of grading. His ability to play all over the defense for the Vikings – lining up at both free and strong safety on more than a third of his defensive snaps and even covering the slot against both tight ends and receivers – allows that defense to scheme up virtually anything they want, knowing that they have the moveable chess piece to make it happen and get the right players in the right spots.”
Fair enough. I’m sold. (Read the above ”No matter…” link for even more unreal Harrison Smith statistics).
Which brings us to:
Drew Brees. I’ll go out on a limb and say the Vikings are the more rounded, better team but the Saints have Drew Brees. You know what I’m talking about.
It’s like being a fan of a team that has to go against Joe Montana, or Dan Marino, or Tom Brady, or Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers. And sometimes you have to go against those QB’s twice per year!
And that’s what brings us to the game of the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints met in week one with the Vikings taking that game 29-19 but that was seventeen weeks ago. Both teams are radically changed and more mature.
If this were a pure numbers game I would say the Vikings have the edge. But there’s that ol’ “clutch” word that gets thrown around the NFL basically meaning, “when it really, really matters - you come through in the clutch.”
Drew Brees is serious clutch.
But then again, so is Harrison Smith.
Prediction: The Vikings in much too close game for my nerves to handle. But, I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints win. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised because - Drew Brees.
Second prediction: Whoever wins the Viking / Saints matchup will win the Super Bowl.
UPDATED: This is an archived story and may be out of date. Peterson has since been traded from the Saints to the Cardinals.
Karma rears its lovely head.
Adrian Peterson wanted out of the Vikings franchise. His contract with the Vikings would have netted him several million dollars and, probably, a decent amount of playing time. But that wasn’t good enough for him. So he moved on. Peterson was the face of the MN Vikings for almost a decade and I was sad to see him leave, but it really was time for him to go. A few months ago I wrote about that very thing in an Open Letter to Bridgewater, Bradford and Peterson.
Even at the age of 332 (which is like 55 in running back years) Peterson thought he had a few more 1,500 yard seasons in him. He also though, as a free agent he would command nine to twelve million dollars per year.
And so he left the Vikings. He left the franchise that stood by him for nine season. He left the fans that adored him. He went elsewhere.
Okay. Well, this is the NFL and players move on. It happens.
So AP took a chance as a free Agent and the Vikings took a chance on second round draft pick Dalvin Cook.
Peterson's journey went exactly how everyone, except for Adrian Peterson, expected -- no one wanted to hire a 32 year old running back. Especially, not one that has had two reconstructive knee surgeries. And, of course, they most certainly did not want to pay him -- nine to twelve bloody million dollars!
The few meetings Peterson had with NFL coaches or owners went nowhere. Calls from interested teams were virtually non existent. The Patriots passed. The Seahawks may have been interested but -- no, never mind, they passed too.
It was kind of embarrassing. Peterson should have retired. But then, suddenly -- the New Orleans Saints offered Peterson a roster spot for about one tenth of his asking price and all NFL fans everywhere went, “Wait --- what? Who? Why? Peterson will never take a job with the Saints. He'd rather retire!”
Except -- nope. He would indeed take a job with the Saints.
But ... but .... but .... (you say).
I know! The Saints have built their offense on the throwing arm of Drew Brees. The Saints don’t run the ball! If they hire Peterson it will just be to use him as a play action decoy -- so Brees can pass.
As a New Orleans player, Peterson must know he’s only going to touch the ball about six or eight times per game, right?
Peterson has now played four games as a Saints running back and he is firmly set in place as the third string running back. That’s right, “third string.” Behind starter Mark Ingram and second string rookie back, Alvin Kamara. In four weeks as a Saint, Peterson has produced 81 running yards on 27 carries. That’s 3 yards per carry. So, obviously he's frustrated. But to be honest, both Ingram and Kamara are more productive than Peterson. And both Ingram and Kamara can pass protect -- which has always been one of Peterson's universally known weaknesses.
Peterson has politely voiced his concern to the press with his now infamous, “I didn’t sign up for for nine snaps (per game)” interview.
Well, Mr. Peterson, I don’t know what the New Orleans Saints staff told but, yes -- you most certainly did sign with Saints to get nine snaps per game. And you should be lucky to get that.
On the flip side of things, over the same four games, the MN Vikings started rookie running back Dalvin Cook. Cook amassed 354 yards on 74 carries for 4.7 yards per carry. Sadly, Dalvin Cook was injured in week four and will sit out the remainder of the season.
I’m almost certain Peterson could be far more productive in future games with the Saints, but he will never get the game time to develop into the threat he was in MN. Peterson is not an "out the gate" type of running back. Peterson is a slow burn. His uncanny endurance is legendary. He gets stronger as the game goes on. He needs twenty snaps per game in order for his per average carry to increase because he tends to pick up speed, vision and yards in quarters three and four. Peterson needs time. He needs snaps.
But they just don’t do things that way in New Orleans.
For now, Peterson is a non productive team member for the team that headhunted him and, at the time in 2009, his teammates -- The New Orleans Saints Bounty Scandal.
In closing, Mr. Peterson, if the only team that offers you a contract is the very same team, with the very same owner and the very same head coach, that offered players additional bonus money to injure star quarterbacks including, Mr. Peterson -- your QB1 at that time-- perhaps retirement is the better option.
But Peterson didn’t retire. He became a New Orleans Saint.
A New Orleans Saint with 81 yards on 27 carries.
Again -- something about karma and its ugly head.
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