2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Preview

The National Football League’s Elite 8 will take center stage in the 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round.  I am expecting a real old school slugfest when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s team hosts AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, this Saturday afternoon

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The “Elite Eight” round better known as the NFL Playoffs Divisional Round start the “real” games as far as I am concerned.  Most fans and media love the hype of the National Football League’s Conference Championships and Super Bowl.  But you can put my wholehearted vote in for the NFL Divisional Playoffs as the most exciting portion of the league’s now year-round calendar.  The splendor of the divisional playoff round is that the four best teams from the regular season, after a well-deserved bye week, finally get to enter the fracas to take on pumped-up Wildcard Round upstarts.  The NFL Playoffs’ Wildcard round usually does a pretty good job of removing teams that I like to call “Frauds” from the playoff picture.  However if some frauds are still leftover, surely the divisional round will sniff them out.  The final eight usually brings out the best in teams leading to highly competitive games before the suffocating hype, pressure, and “big stage” mentality of getting to the Super Bowl sets in. 

The great thing about the NFL Playoffs divisional round games are that now teams that excelled in the regular season have to “Prove It” when it matters most. For a long time teams coming off byes seemed to automatically advance to the Conference Championship round of the playoffs.  Since the league went to 12 playoff teams in 1990, — gave the top two seeds in each conference first-round byes — the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are 60-20 (.750) in their first playoff game. However since 2005, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are just 10-10 (.500) in the divisional playoff round.  A great example of the non-predictability of current divisional round playoffs was the 2008 NFL Season.  Both No. 1 seeds (Tennessee Titans – AFC and New York Giants – NFC) and the NFC’s number two-seeded Carolina Panthers came off byes and lost in the divisional playoffs. Only the AFC’s No. 2 seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won in the second round of playoffs and then went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.  Remember there are no longer the dynasty bully teams of the past — think of Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns of the ‘50s, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers of the ‘60s, Chuck Knoll’s Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70s, Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers of the ‘80s, Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys of the ‘90s, and Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots of the ‘00s – so parity still rules and all 8 teams have a legitimate chance.

Surprisingly this week, all four home teams are favored by Vegas after a Wildcard round where home teams went 1-3. Yes, last year’s Super Bowl match-up of the Saints-Colts brought the NFL’s first No. 1 seed showdown since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII), but I am not sure if the “Chalk” will fall into place again this season.  The 2010 NFL Regular Season was topsy-turvy – perfection left the door in Week 5  and 48% of regular season games were decided by 7 points or less — and I fully expect the divisional round to be a wide-open affair too.  Somewhere former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell is smiling as the phrase he coined, “On Any Given Sunday” still is reigning true.  Bell’s dream theory of equitability where any team, whether top or bottom, could beat each other on a weekly basis, was majorly driven home last week in the Wildcard round. 

Everyone, including yours truly, gave the Seattle Seahawks – regular season record of 7-9 at the time and the NFL’s first losing record playoff team in a non-strike season —  little chance to beat the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the Wildcard Round (I think I said they would be “Fried like the Colonel’s Chicken).  But in the parity-filled world of the current NFL, the Seahawks, who were a 250 to 1 shot to win the Super Bowl at the start of the playoffs, defeated the Saints 41-36.  Definitely keep an eye on the winners from the Wild Card round as teams advancing from the round have won the Super Bowl six times including the three of the last five champions.  Hopefully Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were paying attention as every favored team coming off of a bye better prepare for the opponent in front of them or there is distinct chance that they will join the Eagles, Saints, Chiefs, Colts and the 20 other non-playoff teams on the sidelines.  Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently said of the playoffs, “After the regular season the Patriots were 14-2, but now the team is 0-0”.

The theme of the 2010 NFL Divisional Playoff round should be the same as one of my favorite ’70s films, “Let’s Do It Again”.  The film starred African-American film icons Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitiere making a killing by prearranging boxing matches with all the marbles riding on a big payday rematch.  The word “rematch” fits perfectly as for the first time since 2008 all four divisional playoff games will be rematches or “rubber matches” from regular-season contests.  Of course having played and beaten a team in the regular season may bring a partial psychological edge in game planning, and dissecting tendencies. But tried-and-true playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Getting off the Field on 3rd Downs Defensively, Scoring Touchdowns rather field goals in the Redzone, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the deciding factors as to which teams move on to the Conference Championship round on the long treacherous road to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, Texas. 

Speaking of familiarity, the AFC’s two divisional round match-ups (Ravens-Steelers and NY Jets-Patriots) are also divisional games.  To football fans there is nothing better than putting on your team’s colors and rooting against a hated rival.  Players usually try to keep a lid on emotions, but when a familiar foe is across the line — play twice a year and sometimes three times, if both teams make the playoffs –- you can save the handshakes for the offseason.  NY Jets CB Antonio Cromartie fanned the flames of one the NFL’s biggest rivalries by saying, via the New York Daily News, about what kind of guy Patriots QB Tom Brady is, “He’s an asshole…(Bleep) him.”  In retort, Brady took the high road by saying that he had been called worse in the past.  But the J-E-T-S better be wary as Brady usually does his talking on the field and sometimes after games too.  Back after the Patriots shellacked the NY Jets 45-3 in Week 13, Brady had an additional message for Gang Green.  “We don’t listen to the hype,” Brady said. “I don’t think we ever have. We really take after our coach (Bill Belichick), and he says ‘When you win, say little. When you lose, say less.”’

Other than the playoff tenants that we discussed earlier, “Great” playoff teams that usually advance far in the postseason win the battle in Adjustments and Turnovers.  The NFL is a copycat league where teams can catch-up quickly and adjustments are the only way to stay ahead of the pack and combat falling behind.  With the Wildcard Round behind us, it is time for the “great” coaches to make the adjustments necessary to get their teams to the next round of the playoffs – think Saints head coach Sean Payton calling a surprise successful onside kick after halftime of Super Bowl XLIV.  However we all know that nothing goes as “planned” in the NFL. It is all well and good to look at old tape and previous games against your opponent to prepare a dossier.  But during the course of a game, plans can quickly go out the window.

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson used to always say before a fight in his classic lisp voice, “Everybody has a plan, until they get hit.”  That quote is so true in the NFL too as former Super Bowl winning coaches in this year’s playoffs (Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin) have been known to make in-game adjustments to their original game plans that have led to playoff victories.  As important as adjustments are, plain and simple nothing is an important factor in wining playoff games than “turnovers”.  Nothing can put a dagger in a team’s playoff hopes quicker than giving away the ball, especially turnovers that go to the house for points.  A prime example was in last week’s Wildcard Round where the Kansas City Chiefs turned the ball over 5 times in their lopsided loss to the Ravens.  And of course who could ever forget the worst turnover game in recent memory, where the highly favored Carolina Panthers lost at home 33-13 in a whitewash to the underdog Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFL Playoffs Divisional round.  Panthers QB Jake Delhomme (17-34, 205 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT and 1 fumble) accounted for six turnovers by himself and the Cardinals scored 23 of their 33 points off of those takeaways.

The operative phrase for all the teams remaining in the single-elimination NFL Playoffs is “Moving On”. Because winning the battle on the stat sheet means nothing as getting “W’s” are all that matter.  Style points are out the window as an “ugly” win is just as good as an offensive highlight reel win – Just ask the 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens who won ugly all the way to a Super Bowl title.  Sadly the season will be over soon so enjoy this weekend’s slate of four quality matchups.

Before we turn our attention to our individual game capsules, here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for the 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round

Being #1 Seed is not what it used to be — Attaining the No. 1 seed in your conference and home field advantage used to mean something back in the day, but in today’s parity-laden NFL there are no guarantees to Super Bowl entry.  Since 1990 only 20 of the 40 (50.0 percent) No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl, with nine No. 1 seeds being crowned champions (22.5 percent). However some good news for No. 1 seeds are that they are a combined 30-10 in the divisional playoffs since 1990 (NFC: 18-2 and AFC: 12-8)

The Year of the Tight End Continued – With teams playing more zone defenses and quarterbacks looking for “good” match-ups in the redzone, tight ends are more in vogue than ever in the NFL.  Some tight ends that will be showcased in the divisional round are Bears TE Greg Olsen, Ravens TE Todd Heap, Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez, NY Jets TE Dustin Keller, Steelers TE Heath Miller, and Seahawks TE John Carlson plus Patriots emerging rookies Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Last week Heap was one of the biggest stars of the Wildcard round producing 10 catches for 108 yards (10.8 ypc)

The Ravens are tough on the road — Baltimore loves “Us Against the World” games on the road. This Saturday’s game will mark the 15th playoff game in Ravens’ history and the club’s eleventh on the road.  Baltimore holds a 7-3 playoff record away from home, which stands as the top road winning percentage (.700) in NFL playoff history (minimum five games). 

Rematch after a shellacking – The NY Jets-Patriots playoff game will be their next game since New England’s 45-3 pasting of the J-E-T-S in Week 13.  The match-up will be the third time in NFL History where teams have a playoff rematch after a regular season game where one team won by 42 + points.  The others were Washington-Detroit in 1991 and Minnesota-Cleveland in 1969.  BTW:  The Patriots should be happy as both the Redskins and Vikings won again in playoffs after posting a big victory over their overmatched foes in the regular season.

2010-11 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Games

Saturday January 15, 2011

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) (CBS, 4:30 PM ET)

 Broadcast Team: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf
Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (FOX, 8:00 PM ET)

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

Sunday January 16, 2011

Seattle Seahawks (8-9) at Chicago Bears (11-5) (FOX, 1:00 PM ET)

Broadcast Team: Darryl Johnston, Kenny Albert, and Tony Siragusa (Field Reporter)

New York Jets (12-5) at New England Patriots (14-2) (CBS, 4:30 PM ET)

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

 

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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A Glimpse at the 2009 NFL Season according to a so-called expert

Troy_Polamalu

Taking It to the House’s Lloyd Vance is predicting a big year for Safety Troy Polamalu (Defensive MVP pick) and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers

Once again it is time for me to get out my crystal ball and see if I can prognosticate the upcoming NFL season. As all of my friends can attest to, I have never been totally right or wrong and I have never gotten the Super Bowl match-up or champion completely right.

The 2008 NFL season was evidence that in the league’s almost 90-year history that nothing is predictable. I am still looking for the person that could have predicted events like the long downtrodden Arizona Cardinals going to the Super Bowl led by retread quarterback Kurt Warner, New England Patriots superstar quarterback Tom Brady getting hurt on the first series of the Pats’ first game of the season and rookie quarterbacks Joe Flacco (Baltimore Ravens) and Matt Ryan (Atlanta Falcons) leading their respective teams to the playoffs. 

Maybe this year I will be the envy of my doubters — Big V, I am specifically talking to you.  However you know I will probably have to eat some crow later this season from the predictions that I am about to make.

My annual reading of the NFL’s tea leaves is all in good fun, so with the season almost ready to kickoff –Thursday September 10th with the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers hosting the Tennessee Titans — we can all rejoice and say “Hallelujah” as the 2009 NFL Season is finally here.

NFC

NFC East

New York Giants 11-5

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 8-8

Washington Redskins 6-10

NFC North

Chicago Bears 10-6

Minnesota Vikings 10-6

Green Bay Packers 7-9

Detroit Lions 3-13

NFC South

New Orleans Saints 10-6

Atlanta Falcons 9-7

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 6-10

Carolina Panthers 5-11

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals 11-5

SF 49ers 9-7

Seattle Seahawks 6-10

St. Louis Rams 5-11

Division Champions: Cardinals (Bye), Giants (Bye), Saints, Bears

NFC Wild Cards: Eagles, Vikings

AFC

AFC East

New England Patriots 12-4

Buffalo Bills 9-7

Miami Dolphins 7-9

New York Jets 6-10

AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers 12-4

Baltimore Ravens   10-6

Cincinnati Bengals   6-10

Cleveland Browns   4-12

AFC South

Houston Texans 11-5

Indianapolis Colts 10-6

Tennessee Titans 8-8

Jacksonville Jaguars 5-11

AFC West

San Diego Chargers 11-5

Denver Broncos 8-8

Oakland Raiders 7-9

Kansas City Chiefs 4-12

Division Champions: Patriots (Bye), Steelers (Bye), Chargers, Texans

AFC Wild Cards: Colts, Ravens 

Playoffs

AFC Wild Card Round: Colts over Chargers, Texans over Ravens

NFC Wild Card Round: Eagles over Bears, Vikings over Saints

AFC Divisional Round: Patriots over Colts, Steelers over Texans

NFC Divisional Round: Giants over Eagles, Vikings over Cardinals

NFC Championship: Giants over Vikings

AFC Championship: Steelers over Patriots

Super Bowl XLIV:   Steelers over Giants

Awards

NFL Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

NFL Offensive MVP: Minnesota Vikings Running back Adrian Peterson

NFL Defensive MVP: Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Troy Polamalu,

NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year:  Minnesota Vikings WR/KR Percy Harvin

**Also keep an eye on Denver Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno and Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: Miami Dolphins Cornerback Vontae Davis

** Also keep an eye on Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing and Washington Redskins DE/LB Brian Orakpo

NFL Comeback Player of the Year: Pittsburgh Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall

** Also keep an eye on Jacksonville Jaguars WR Tory Holt

NFL Breakout Player:  Pittsburgh Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons

First Pick of the 2010 NFL Draft: Florida DE Carlos Dunlap

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

2008 NFL Playoffs – Conference Championships Round Review

(Philadelphia, Pa) – The 2008 NFL season themed, “Believe In Now”, continued to roll on toward an oh-too-fast ending. But one thing is for certain when the epilogue for this season is written, it will be titled, “One Crazy Season”.  I don’t think anyone’s crystal ball registered the Cardinals against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII way back in September — remember I picked the Colts over the Saints, so what do I know ;) — however we are now set to enjoy a rivalry game on February 1st in Tampa, Florida between too coaching staffs that know each other very well. 

To me both Conference Championships games were enjoyable and the interesting part from the games’ results is that the sanity of home field advantage was restored with the Steelers 23-14 win over the Ravens and the Cardinals 32-25 win over the Eagles.   With both home teams winning, the playoff history-defying streak of 5 out of 8 road teams winning thus far in the playoffs was ended.  The NFL’s Final Four round produced two games that definitely had two different NFL flavors.  The Philadelphia Eagles – Arizona Cardinals game featured a pinball machine type offensive explosion in a perfectly conditioned indoor dome environment, while conversely the Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game was an old-fashioned black-and-blue rivalry game that featured several players limping to the sidelines of cold, snowy, and muddy Heinz Field.

In both Conference Championships our keys to success in the playoffs — Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, and Limiting Penalties – were all very prevalent for the winning teams (Cardinals and Steelers).  

  • Super Bowl XLIII will pit two quarterbacks, in the Cardinals Kurt Warner and the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, that have already won a Super Bowl against each other.  The Conference Championships brought out the best in the two signal callers as Warner was efficient in getting the ball down the field to superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald (see Game Balls) and in picking up the blitz while Big Ben made a key deep throw to receiver Santonio Holmes and did not turn the ball over.
  • The Steelers (+3) and the Cardinals (+2) both won the turnover battle in their games and it was a huge difference.  The Cardinals produced 3 turnovers by the Eagles while only giving the ball up once (defensive player) and the Steelers were a little better producing four turnovers by the Ravens, including Troy Polamalu’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown, to only one giveaway.  The Cardinals and the Steelers also got pressure on the quarterback producing three and two sacks respectively.
  • The Steelers and Cardinals both had more rushing attempts than the Ravens and Eagles respectively (PITT 28 to 25) and (ARIZ 29 to 18).  The key was the final four winners never abandoned the run even when they lost their lead or the other team was within a couple of points.
  • An often overlooked factor in games is penalties, but the Steelers and especially the Cardinals made sure they were not hurt too bad by penalties in their wins.  The Cardinals only had three penalties to seven for the Eagles while the Steelers and Ravens were knotted at six apiece.

Game Notes

Arizona Cardinals 32, Philadelphia Eagles 25

This year’s NFC Championship Game, titled the “Why Not Us” Bowl was played out in the cozy confines of University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  If nothing else, this game between two improbable NFC lower seeded playoff teams was enjoyable.  The Cardinals came out of their locker-room full of emotion as they put their 48-20 Week 13 loss to the Eagles behind them by going on a 80-yard nine play touchdown drive culminated by Fitzgerald bullying his way into the endzone.  From there it was all Cardinals in the first half as they built a 24-6 halftime lead mostly on Warner finding Fitzgerald over and over (finished with 6 receptions for an NFL record 113 first-half yards and 3 TDs) as the Eagles either had to punt or settled for field goal attempts (the Eagles were inside the Cardinals’ 30-yard line three times in the first half and came away with only six points).  The Cardinals even brought out a beautifully crafted flea-flicker 62-yard touchdown pass from Warner to RB J.J Arrington back to Warner then down the field to Fitzgerald.  However the 3rd quarter it was all Eagles as the Cardinals got a good look at why Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb is one of the NFL’s best.  McNabb led the offense in scoring 19 unanswered points to erase an 18-point Cardinals lead.  McNabb threw touchdown passes to TE Brent Celek of 31 yards and 6 yards.  But his finest throw was a 62-yard bomb that rookie DeSean Jackson juggled then took to the house giving the Eagles an improbable 25-24 lead.    While the Eagles were scoring in bunches in the 3rd quarter the Cardinals were limited to two three-and-out possessions.  However veteran quarterback Warner and the Cardinals had one more drive left in them.  The former two-time NFL MVP led the Cardinals on a chain-moving 72-yard, 14 play drive that took 7:52 minutes off the clock and culminated with a perfectly executed Warner 8-yard screen pass to rookie RB Tim Hightower.  The rookie from the University of Richmond also had a key play earlier in the drive converting a 4th and 1 play with a tough 2-yard outside run.  For good measure Warner also completed a two-point conversion to backup TE Ben Patrick to make the score 32-25.  Given one more chance, the McNabb and the Eagles moved the ball to the Cardinals 47-yard line.  But on the game’s defining four downs for the Eagles, McNabb could not connect on last four throws (Basket (receiver slipped), Jackson (overthrow), Basket (threw behind receiver), and Curtis (slipped/tripped and dropped pass).  The Eagles defense stopped the Cardinals leading to a poorly executed hook-and-lateral that was intercepted by the Cardinals to end the game.  The Eagles duo of McNabb and head coach Andy Reid are now a disappointing 1-4 in NFC Championship Games leaving many to wonder if this veteran Birds team will get another precious shot in the near future or has their window of opportunity closed. The Cardinals now become the final NFC team to make the Super Bowl in the history of the Big Game and they are the second 9-win regular season team to make the Super Bowl (other team was the 1979 Rams).

Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Baltimore Ravens 14

If you liked a hard-hitting defensive football in bad weather conditions then this was your type of game.  The Steelers, in their NFL leading 14th AFC Championship Game, early on were content to play solid defense and allow their offense to secure three points (two Josh Reed 2 FG’s).  But a 65-yard Roethlisberger to receiver Santonio Holmes touchdown pass broke the game open putting the Steelers ahead 13-0 and sending their home Terrible Towel waving fans into a frenzy.  However the Ravens kept hanging around at the end of the first half as running back Willis McGahee pounded his way to his first touchdown making the score 13-7 at the half.  Even though the Steelers were nursing a 16-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, you never sensed that the veteran team would panic.  The Steelers were never afraid that Ravens rookie quarterback  Joe Flacco (Lloyd’s Lackey) could beat them even when another McGahee touchdown cut the Steelers lead to 16-14.  All of everyone’s apprehensions about Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to the Super Bowl were confirmed with less than five minutes left in the game.  The Steelers pass rush caused Flacco into an overthrow that safety Troy Polamalu picked off and zigzagged his way 40 yards into the endzone for the game-sealing score for the Steelers.  The game was not without injuries as this was probably the hardest hitting game, I have seen in some time as Steelers WR Hines Ward tweaked his knee missing the 2nd half, Ravens CB Frank Walker left in the 2nd quarter causing him to not return, and in the game’s scariest moment Pittsburgh S Ryan Clark drilled McGahee causing the former Miami Hurricane to be taken off on a stretcher (later had movement in his extremities). The Steelers are the 12th team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to defeat an opponent three times in the same season. And the Black-and-Gold will make their seventh Super Bowl appearance, second most all-time behind the Cowboys’ eight. Kudos should go out to Steelers 36-year old head coach Mike Tomlin, who validated Steelers owner Dan Rooney’s belief in him when the savvy owner handpicked the relatively unknown defensive coordinator as his headman.  Now Tomlin will be able to face the two men, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm, who thought they had a leg-up on the competition to replace Bill Cowher back in 2007.

 Game Balls

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – The NFL’s best receiver was on display again as Fitzgerald was spectacular against the Eagles.  First he set an NFL record with 113 first-half yards on six catches including 3 TDs.  Then he helped close the game out with two big receptions on the Cardinals game-winning drive.  The former University of Pittsburgh All-American finished with nine receptions for 152 yards and 3 TDs. The Pro Bowl bound receiver also set a single playoff record with 419 receiving yards, surpassing the great Jerry Rice and did I mention that Fitzgerald has one more game left in Super Bowl XLIII.

Honorable Mention

Philadelphia Eagles QB Donovan McNabb –– I don’t care what the McNabb bashers will say (missed some early throws, an interception, fumbled by getting sacked by Adrian Wilson and could not lead the Birds back in the 4th quarter), this man had a great game in the NFC Championship.  McNabb led his team back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead when it mattered and lets face it the defense let him down.  He set a career-high with 375 passing yards and was an incredible in the second-half completing 17 of 28 passes for 266-yards and 3 TDs. His final numbers were 28-47, 375 yards, 3 TDs, and 31 rushing, but I guess that will not be enough for the “Haters” who want the Kevin Kolb era to begin.  To everyone yearning for another quarterback than McNabb, you better take a good look around the NFL because there are not many quarterbacks better than Big 5.  Just image what McNabb could do with some real weapons — Did you see Greg Lewis drop that potential bomb??

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu — Finished with four tackles and led a Pittsburgh defense that held Baltimore rookie QB Joe Flacco to 141 passing yards.  Put the Steelers win on ice sending them to their 7th Super Bowl with his 40-yard interception touchdown return.

Other Honorees: Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (Drilled 3 FG’s in tough conditions and finished with 11 points); Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner (In going to his 3rd Super Bowl he was spectacular throwing for numbers 21-28, 279 yds, and 4 TDs); Philadelphia Eagles TE Brent Celek (In a game where franchise TE LJ Smith struggled, Celek had a career-high 10 catches, gaining 83 yards and two touchdowns); Pittsburgh Steelers LB Lamar Woodley (The Steelers “D” was stifling against the Ravens and Woodley was everywhere producing 7 TKLs, and 2 sacks);  Arizona Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson (The perennial Pro Bowl safety was spectacular finishing with 7 TKLs, 2 sacks, and 1 forced fumble); Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley (Kept the Eagles Defense off-balance the whole game mixing the run and pass well and how about the 14-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that was a game closer)

Lloyd’s Lackey

Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco – In the biggest game of his career, “The rookie quarterback, played like a rookie quarterback”.  Flacco entered the game with no interceptions or sacks in 45 postseason pass attempts, but he threw three interceptions and was sacked three times by the Steelers.  Finished with terrible numbers 13-30, 141 yards, 0 TDs, and 3 INTs

Other DishonoreesEagles safety Quintin Demps (The rookie safety, was beaten for a 62-yard touchdown by Larry Fitzgerald and he also cost the Eagles 15 yards on a dumb late hit on Kurt Warner); Eagles kicker David Akers (“Just a Kicker Being a Kicker”… lost his consecutive field goal streak on a missed 47-yarder, missed a point-after and sent a kickoff out of bounds right before halftime); Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson and the Eagles Defense (Too many blitzes with little results and overall the defense got pushed around…so much for this unit being better than Reggie White’s group.  Gave up 24 first-half points and couldn’t prevent a game-winning 14-play scoring drive at the end.  BTW: Why was two-time Pro Bowl player Lito Sheppard barely on the field); Eagles TE LJ Smith (The franchise-tagged tight end produced 1 catch for 5 yards as backup Brent Celek had a great game);  Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin (Played with a hamstring injury producing four catches for 34 yards, but his sulking and arguments with Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley on the sidelines were bush-league.  Yo Q… your team is going to the Super Bowl, so put a smile on your face and grab a NFC Championship t-shirt and hat).

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)