For the Birds

Well, it was bound to happen when the NFL decided to split the league into eight divisions; it was only a matter of time.  And here we are, with the embarrassment of a 7-9 team hosting a playoff game while two 10-6 teams are sitting at home.  Almost everyone outside of Seattle agrees that this is a travesty, and, unlike some arguments I have heard, this is not an aberration—it will happen again.  When you have nearly as many divisions as playoff spots, you are practically begging for it to happen again.

Even if you want to make the argument that Seattle deserves to be in the playoffs because they won their division (not much of an accomplishment considering that my cousin’s midget football team could win seven games in that division), you can’t possibly believe that the Seahawks deserve to host a playoff game, that the 11-5 Saints should have to travel to Seattle to play this game.  And consider this: if things had fallen a little differently in the last week of the season, it would have been the Falcons with a 12-4 record heading to 7-9 Seattle.  Does anyone seriously think this is good for the NFL?

So what should they do about it?  They’ll never go back to six divisions, so that’s not an option.  Ideally, only the top three division winners in each conference should be guaranteed playoff spots, but the owners would never go for that, either.  At the very least, the owners should agree that winning your division should not guarantee you a home playoff game.  The playoffs should be seeded according to record.  Not only is this the fair thing to do, but it would also make the final games of the regular season more interesting.  Think about how many teams rest players during the last two weeks because their seeding is locked up.  For example, the Eagles would not have been able to rest their starters in last week’s Dallas game under this proposed format because they would have fallen behind Green Bay in the seedings and lost their chance to host a playoff game.  Also, the Bears would have had more to play for in the final week because a loss would have meant falling behind the Saints and losing their first-round bye.  In fact, every playoff team in the league except for the Patriots would have had something to play for in the final week.

The NFL has been searching for ways to make that final week more interesting and this seems like a perfect solution.  Not only would fewer teams be resting players at the end of the season, but the playoff seeding would be much more equitable.  Yeah, you would still have crappy 7-9 Seattle in the playoffs, but at least they wouldn’t be rewarded with a home playoff game against a much better team.  They would be the 6th seed, where they belong.

But I didn’t come here to talk about that 🙂

Time for this week’s picks.  Might as well start with the team in question…

New Orleans at Seattle
Seattle might actually have a chance to win this game . . . if a wormhole swallows up the Saints’ plane on the way to Seattle.  I’m feeling generous, so I’ll give the home team a special teams TD to go with a couple of field goals.  Saints: 31, Seahawks 13.

Baltimore at Kansas City
Kansas City has had an admirable season, but they’re not ready for a game like this against a team of this caliber.  Ravens 23, Chiefs 14.

New York at Indianapolis
This is my slight upset pick of the week.  Manning just doesn’t have the weapons this year and I think the Jets will win the battle up front.  Jets 24, Colts 21.

Green Bay at Philadelphia
This should be the game of the week between two teams with explosive offenses.  Green Bay seems to be the popular pick around the country, but I’m going to be a homer here and pick the Birds to eke one out.  Eagles 28, Packers 24.

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Random Thoughts

In lieu of a new article, here’s a compilation of my sports-related thoughts from this past weekend…

Saturday at 7:07pm
Wanted: Closer. Location: Philadelphia. Job Description: Get people out. Must be willing to travel.

Sunday at 12:01pm
I’m ready for some football!

Sunday at 2:45pm
Can’t ask for a much better first half. Stupid penalties at the beginning, but they more than overcame that. The defense was awesome!

Sunday sometime after 3pm
It’s so nice to see McNabb running again . . . oh no!!!

Sunday at 4:22pm
Today’s game ball goes to Sean McDermott. He answered any questions about the defense without Jim Johnson in a HUGE way.

Sunday at 4:38pm
Fractured ribs! How quickly euphoria can turn to despair. Anybody who watched the offense today with Kolb at the helm better hope that McNabb can return sooner rather than later . . . and I don’t even want to think about having to root for a Vick-led football team. With all apologies to Westbrook (who I love), McNabb is the most irreplaceable player on this team.

Sunday at 5:11pm
It sure looked like an unflagged late hit that caused the injury. McNabb was clearly on the ground and the TD was already called, but the #92 a-hole kept coming and pounced on him. Freakin’ Carolina. They did the same thing to him in the championship game a few years back: pounced on him with a late hit and knocked him out of the game. I hope this one gets fined at least. So much for protecting the quarterbacks.

Sunday at 8:26pm
I’m glad the Phillies won today, but nearly another blown save! What’s Mitch Williams doing these days?

Sunday at 11:10pm
A month ago Pedro was pretty much an afterthought . . . not anymore.

Monday at 8:15pm
I like the Garcia signing. He’s a veteran and knows the offense. If McNabb is going to be out for the next two games, which is highly probable, I’d much rather have Garcia in there than Kolb or Vick, though unfortunately Kolb will still be starting this week. Here’s hoping he proves me wrong.

Tuesday at 9:30am
Good first week for my fantasy team, The Untouchables: 162.5 points, thanks mostly to Brees and the Eagles defense/special teams, who combined for about 90 of those points. Good first week for me in the pick’em pool as well: I went 13-3; could have been even better if I had gone with the Jets as I had been tempted to do.

Tuesday at 2:56pm
So Andrews is done for the season. It doesn’t look like this guy is ever going to live up to his talent. Apparently, at least one medical doctor thinks he may never play again. Justice played well this week, but it’s time to bring back Runyan.

On Vick and the Eagles

Damn you, Andy Reid. Damn you, Jeff Lurie. Damn you both for putting me in the position of rooting for a team with a dog murderer on it. Let me make this clear: I don’t want Vick on my team. As a dog owner, I abhor him and the horrific things he did. Anyone who gets off on torturing helpless animals has something wrong upstairs. What Vick did was the behavior of a sociopath, plain and simple.

I would be all for second chances, even for a thug like Vick, if I truly believed he was remorseful. However, I don’t think he regrets what he did; I think he just regrets getting caught. I don’t see how the Eagles can justify signing Vick after firing T.O. because of his character. Reid always talks about having character guys but I guess his standards have significantly lowered. As much of an a-hole as T.O. is, he has never been a criminal like Vick. And as others have pointed out, if they’re so big on second chances, why not rehire Dan Leone, the handicapped employee who had the audacity to criticize the Eagles on facebook for not resigning Brian Dawkins?

And I won’t even get into why I thought this signing made no football sense, that’s for another article.

That being said, I am going to watch and root for the Eagles this Sunday. A lot of people have said they will never watch another game, and a lot of people from other towns have said that if their team had signed Vick, they would have stopped rooting for them. Well, that’s easy to say when you’re not actually faced with the situation, and even easier to say if you live in a city with multiple teams to switch your allegiance to. It’s also easy to say if you were only a casual fan of the team to begin with. But for those of us who have bled Eagle green our entire lives, it’s not such an easy thing to abandon the team you love and grew up with. And Eagles fans are not alone in this: nobody in New York stopped rooting for the Knicks when they signed Latrell Sprewell after he tried to strangle his previous coach to death, and nobody in Philly stopped rooting for the Phillies when Brett Myers beat his wife.

Why? Because the team is bigger than any single person. You can hate certain members of the organization all you want, but in the end, when it comes down to game day, they’re still your team. You’re not going to suddenly start rooting for the Cowboys. The Eagles are bigger than Vick or Reid or Lurie. This football team was around long before those guys got here, and it will be around long after they’re gone. For me, the Eagles are Jaworski, Montgomery, and Bergey. They are Cunningham, Quick, and White. They are McNabb, Westbrook, and Dawkins. These are the players I have rooted for my whole life. I have never rooted for the coach or the owner, so there’s no reason I can’t continue to follow my football team in spite of my disgust with Eagles management.

Does that mean that all is forgiven? Hell no. I don’t think I will be approaching this season with the same gung-ho enthusiasm that I have in the past. Maybe the disgust will wear off at some point, but it will take time. I definitely will NOT cheer when Vick takes the field. Does that mean I will boo if he makes a big play? I can’t honestly say, but if I had my wish, he would never set foot on the football field in the regular season. When Vick is on the field, do you hope he gets sacked even if it means the Eagles lose? Once again, damn you Reid and Lurie for putting me in this position.

I won’t go to the games this season and I won’t buy merchandise, but I will watch on TV. Some of you may say that still puts money in Vick’s pocket, and while the Eagles do get revenue from television broadcasts, it is a deal in which all NFL teams share equally, so anyone who watches ANY football game on television is technically putting money into Vick’s pocket. But I’m not here to argue about the nuances of NFL finances. I’m just here to declare that the Eagles are still my football team, and I intend to continue rooting for them to win on Sunday afternoons. I’m going to root for McNabb and Westbrook and Cole and Jackson and everyone else on the team who deserves my loyalty.

If you are among those who will never watch a game again, I respect your feelings. I just ask that you respect mine as well.

Battle of the Birds

It’s hard to believe we’re sitting here talking about the Eagles in the NFC Championship game after the season they had. On at least two different occasions I was convinced the season was over. The first time was after the Ravens debacle, when McNabb was pulled and the team imploded. How did the Eagles respond? By coming back four days later and destroying the Cardinals on Thanksgiving, kicking off a three-game winning streak that put them back in the hunt . . . until the second occasion when I (and almost everybody else) thought the season was over: the Washington game. We all know what happened after that: the Eagles bounced back to annihilate Dallas and Tampa Bay lost at home to Oakland. Absolutely improbable, but here we are, and through two playoff games, the Eagles have proven that they belong here.

Not too many people gave them a chance to beat the Giants, but the game played out pretty much how I thought it would. I knew that if the Eagles contained the running game and forced Manning to beat them, he would fold, and that’s exactly what happened. The Eagles were actually fortunate to have the lead at halftime as the offense had not done much, but once again, the defense came up huge and kept them in the game until the offense found its rhythm. And like the Minnesota game, the Eagles took over and dominated the second half. The defense allowed nothing but a field goal, and McNabb fought through the fierce wind to lead the Birds on three more scoring drives, making several key third down throws in the process.

So here we are, in an NFC Championship game that NOBODY predicted: the Battle of the Birds. It’s only a shame that the higher seed automatically goes to the division winner, because the Eagles, having the better record, could have hosted the game, and there’s no way the Cards would have won in frigid Philly. I still believe the Eagles will win, so do most experts (as the Eagles’ road favorite status will attest to), but this game will not be as easy as people think, primarily because the Eagles have played two brutally physical playoff games while the Cardinals have had a relatively easy time of it, but also because we will not see the same Cardinals team that the Eagles blew out in November. They will be at home, on eight days of rest, and brimming with confidence after two impressive victories over Atlanta and Carolina. Also, they are no longer one-dimensional after discovering that Edgerrin James is still on the team, so as I said, this will not be easy.

Still, this game, like most games this time of year, will come down to defense, which is where the Eagles are the far superior team. It’s no coincidence that the top three defenses in the league are still playing on Conference Championship weekend. The lone exception: the Cardinals, whose defense was in the middle of the pack. Meanwhile, the Eagles defense has given up 14 points or less in six straight games. The last team to score more than that on them? Arizona. So I’m expecting a fairly high scoring game in this one. Both offenses are capable of putting points on the board, but the red-hot Eagles defense will hold Arizona down enough to secure the win. Eagles 28, Cardinals 20.

As for the AFC Championship, another team of birds, the Ravens, travels to Pittsburgh, where their season will end. I just can’t see Baltimore staying in this game unless Pittsburgh completely self destructs, like the Titans did last week. Flacco has had a nice rookie season, and even though he has already seen the Steelers twice, I don’t think he has any idea what he’ll be walking into on Sunday evening. Baltimore’s great defense may keep it close for a while, but Pittsburgh’s defense is even better, as is their offense, which will eventually pull away. It would not surprise me if Baltimore fails to score a TD in this game, but I’ll give them the benefit of a defensive touchdown. Steelers 20, Ravens 10.

And on to the All-PA Super Bowl I predicted at the beginning of the season!

Rant of the Week

Once again the NFL is the subject of my rant. Last week, I criticized the playoff seeding; this week, it’s the scheduling.

Normally I couldn’t care less about the Baltimore Ravens, but they are getting shafted by the league as the only team in the divisional round of the playoffs being forced to play on six days of rest. This is a subject close to my heart because the NFL did the same thing to the Eagles two years ago when they forced the Birds to travel to New Orleans on six days of rest. And like the Ravens this year, the Eagles were the only one of the eight remaining playoff teams forced to play that week on six days of rest. If you don’t think that extra day makes a big difference, especially this time of the year after a season’s worth of bumps and bruises, then you don’t know football. The short turnaround was definitely a contributing factor to the Saints being able to rush for so many yards in that game; the Eagles just looked spent.

It would be one thing if there were other teams playing on six days of rest, but to force only one team to do this is blatantly unfair, especially when the scenario is so avoidable. Instead of letting the 8-8 Chargers play on eight days of rest tomorrow, the NFL could have scheduled the Pittsburgh/San Diego game for today, so that both the Chargers and Ravens would be playing on seven days of rest. All they needed to do was adjust the scheduling after the matchups were known last week. Would that have been so difficult?