NFL Q&A with Allen and The Ace is a weekly Wednesday column featured on TJRsports.com. Allen and The Ace are big time NFL junkies and are Falcon and Packer fans, respectively. Each week the guys will ask questions and TJRsports.com editor-in-chief, John Canton will also ask a question for both guys.
Ace: What a fantastic ending to the 2012 NFL Regular Season this past Sunday. The early game showed the Colts knocking the Texans from the #1 seed to the #3 seed. It showed the Bears holding on to beat the Lions, keeping their playoff chances alive for about 3 more hours and then we saw the Minnesota Vikings grab hold of their own destiny by defeating the Green Bay Packers as time expired. The night cap was RG3 and Alfred Morris showing that they might be the best rookie QB/RB combo in the history of the league. It also showcased Tony Romo being Tony Romo by eliminating the Dallas Cowboys from the playoffs in primetime for the second consecutive season. Let’s dive into it, shall we?
Allen: That’s quite professional of you Ace, despite all your claims that the Packers were going to end the Vikings season. The Vikings-Packers game was probably one of the most emotional games I’ve ever watched. Other than the 49ers-Patriots game, there isn’t any game this year that can top the excitement of Vikings-Packers. Other than that, it was an enjoyable Sunday after the 1 pm games. Based on everything that has gone down from Black Monday, it makes me even more thankful to be a Falcons fan. So many franchises are a mess, its pretty remarkable. That being said, its playoff season and those are the teams that only truly matter.
Ace: I agree, it marks the second consecutive final game of the season which it was truly exciting (Last year Detroit at Green Bay). I tried to see it clear, but I was wrong. Our playoff articles will have a different look from what you’ve grown accustomed to over the last five months. We will talk about each game and also answer a question from John Canton. To continue our ‘Elite Football Mind’ competition from the regular season, we will make our prediction for each game and that will carry over in the standings. We both went 3-2 last week, which means that through the regular season Allen leads me 55-30 to 52-33.
AFC Wild Card: #6 Cincinnati Bengals at #3 Houston Texans (-5) 4:30pm/ET, NBC
Allen: A rematch from last season’s wild card matchup that is actually playing at the same identical time from last year (random blurb). This is probably the least exciting matchup of the week due to Houston starting to get exposed of their flaws and Cincinnati still not standing out. When you look at the Bengals, I don’t see any changes from last season. The front four has improved but other than that, this is the same team that seems to just get by. Andy Dalton hasn’t improved much this season and their still isn’t a second receiver that has shown it can be a consistent threat. Nothing strikes me as special with Cincinnati other than A.J Green and Geno Atkins, who is the best defensive tackle in the NFL in case you haven’t been paying attention. It could get you by in the regular season, but when playoffs come around not having enough playmakers will cost you. They are a solid team that is very disciplined and always plays hard, but that doesn’t mean you’ll win playoff games just for being solid.
Even though they have really played poorly the past few weeks, Houston is too good to not win this game. Matt Schaub won’t be needed to make that many big throws especially after the recent struggles. You’ll see a lot of running with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, with Tate now being fully healthy. I’m expecting the crowd noise to give Dalton problems similar to last year. Then when you look at Houston’s problems in the secondary, can the Bengals really abuse the Texans man coverage with their set of receivers? They’ll use the same method of double covering A.J Green and challenging the Bengals other options to beat them, which won’t happen. The matchups haven’t been good for Houston lately, but this is a great matchup for them.
It’s odd that when I look at this game, everything seems the same from last year. Other than the T.J Yates factor, these teams haven’t changed at all except for the fact that Houston’s defense has lost its elite status. The secondary has been getting thrown on for most of the season and the pass rush has been missing when J.J Watt can’t get to the quarterback. I’m still picking Houston in this game and they’ll have something to salvage from the playoffs.
Allen’s Pick: Houston 24, Cincinnati 17
Ace: These two teams are going in opposite directions entering the playoffs. The Texans were the top team in the AFC for sixteen weeks. On the seventeenth week, the Indianapolis Colts knocked them off that throne and took away their home field advantage throughout the playoffs and took away a much needed week off. This is a rematch of last year’s Wild Card matchup and I remember last year how I was riding the Texans bandwagon, a bandwagon I’ve been on for about 4 years now. My preseason prediction was for the Texans to make it all the way toNew Orleans to the Super Bowl. A bold prediction I made in August was that the Cincinnati Bengals could be a playoff team, and I was mocked and ridiculed. The Bengals were off to a 3-5 start and finished the season 7-1. Their only loss was toDallas on a game winning field goal. The Texans were 3-4 in their final seven games including two overtime wins againstJacksonville andDetroit and losses toNew England,Minnesota andIndianapolis.
Both quarterbacks haven’t been electric the past few weeks, but Cincinnati’s defense has been fantastic. Andy Dalton has had a great sophomore season in the NFL. He’s increased his completion percentage (58.1% to 62.3%), passing yards (3,398 to 3,669), touchdowns (20 to 27) and passer rating (80.4% to 87.4%). The tandem ofDaltonto A.J. Green has become one of the most feared go to combos in the NFL. No question that defensively this team has stepped up, but one big time move that will help propel this team to the next level is the addition of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis ran for 1,094 yards and 6 touchdowns this season. He’s been another added threat that could help this team against the Texans, if his hamstring injury allows him. Speaking of the Texans, Matt Schaub has been the reason for this team’s inability to score the last four weeks. In the last four week’s he’s thrown for 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. It’s not a matter of weapons, he has one of the best receivers in the league as a target, he’s just struggling and I cannot figure out why. This game will come down to defense. I have no doubt in my mind that the Bengals will play tough defense, but will they be able to score on the Texans? In my mind, I think they’ll do enough and a late touchdown or field goal will seal the deal. I’ll update my Super Bowl Pick at the end of the article.
The Ace’s Pick: Cincinnati 23,Houston 20
NFC Wild Card: #6 Minnesota Vikings at #3 Green Bay Packers (-7.5) 8:00pm/ET, NBC
Ace: Where do I start? The crow I’ve been eating for the last 72 hours has been disgusting. I wasn’t worried when the Packers were down 13-0. I wasn’t worried when Rodgers fumbled on a sack. I wasn’t worried when Jordy Nelson picked up Mike McCarthy’s challenge flag. Hey Jim Schwartz, how you doing? When Blair Walsh came in for the game winner, I was not worried that he wouldn’t miss it. I knew he was going to make it. The Vikings had everything in the world to play for. The Packers were playing for a first round bye. I won’t get a head of myself by saying that it would have been nice to have San Francisco come to Lambeau for the Divisional Round because this Vikings team could do the unthinkable and take down my beloved team twice in 6 days.
For the Vikings to come out on top here’s what needs to happen. First, Christian Ponder needs to duplicate his performance from this past Sunday, in fact, he might need to add to it a little bit more. Adrian Peterson needs to have another big game as well. The difference maker in this game, however, will be the kicking game. I’m not talking about Mason Crosby, I’m talking about Blair Walsh. Walsh grew up in Florida and played college football at Georgia. He’s never played in conditions like he’ll see on Saturday. (As of Tuesday Night projected forecast Cloudy 14 degrees with Wind Chills around 0)
For Green Bay, they’ll be getting Randall Cobb and Charles Woodson back. I don’t think thatGreen Bayplayed a bad game on Sunday, they were beat by a team that needed to win. I’m not bashing the Vikings by any means. I just think the atmosphere will be flip flopped. The Lambeau crowd will be just as rockus as the Metrodome was. The Packers will know that they need to win this game and do not want to be humiliated by the Vikings for a second time this season and a second time in the playoffs at Lambeau Field. The X-Factor for the Packers will be Aaron Rodgers. Keep this in mind: Rodgers has never won a playoff game at Lambeau, yes he’s only played 1 playoff game there, but 0-1 or 0-10, still feels like the same thing. He needs to put the team on his shoulders and carry them to San Francisco for a rematch against the team that beat them in Week 1.
The Ace’s Pick: Green Bay 38, Minnesota 24
Allen: You have to love the NFL committee for putting the intense rivalry game on primetime. At first I would think there is a chance for a blowout, but I can’t see that happening based off last week. I’m aware of Christian Ponder having to play in cold weather and that will probably affect him, but the Vikings have to feel confident about their chances. This is a team that has nothing to lose after going 3-13 last season and has the best running back in the league. When you look at cold weather games with possible weather issues, there is nothing better than having a great running game. The Packers front seven did play well at times during the game last week, but Peterson still had his moments of exploding and still had far too many big gains (that 2nd and 27 comes to mind). They are still one dimensional with no major wide receiver threats, but with a player of the caliber of Peterson you can’t rule them out. The defense has been solid, but the secondary is going to have to cover and tackle far better than they did on Sunday. There were plays that should have been made, but due to sloppy technique they weren’t able to make them.
Green Bay should be going into this game with confidence as well being at home. The issue is that they could have really used the bye with how beat up they’ve been all season. I’m not sure if there was ever a point during the season where the team was fully healthy. It seems like one of their top receivers Jennings, Cobb, or Nelson seem to get injured. It has been tough and playing in the first round against a physical team like the Vikings decreases their Super Bowl chances for me. It doesn’t matter how good your offense is, eventually a bad offensive line will be too much to overcome and that’s the Packers problems. They had numerous problems against Minnesota despite Rodgers having another fantastic game. It may not come yet but Green Bay isn’t as good as they were from the past two years.
I’m still picking Green Bay because the Packers defense will make enough plays this time. If Christian Ponder escapes this game without turning the ball over, I’ll be shocked. It should be close with Adrian Peterson continuing his super human form but there is too much to overcome for the Vikings when it comes to how their secondary can’t handle Aaron Rodgers, who is one of the best quarterbacks against pressure. Green Bay will prevail on a 4th quarter surge and hold bragging rights once again against the Vikings.
Allen’s Pick: Green Bay 31, Minnesota 17
AFC Wild Card: #5 Indianapolis Colts at #4 Baltimore Ravens (-6) 1:00pm/ET, CBS
Allen: This is a pretty diverse matchup with the Ravens having a down season by their standards and the Colts being rejuvenated with Andrew Luck leading the way. Baltimore is clearly in win now made based on all the veterans on the team but they aren’t the same Ravens that were feared. The defense has taken some hits due to injuries but nobody is really afraid of them anymore, which really hurts Baltimore. They became yearly contenders based off forcing turnovers and teams refusing to throw the ball because of threats like Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed. Now along with the fact that their cornerbacks getting beat consistently, they aren’t the same players they once were. It has been difficult along with Joe Flacco not progressing like he should be at this stage of his career. Then they have issues on how to use Ray Rice effectively, which is ridiculous since he’s a top five running back. It has been a really odd year for Baltimore with a lot of personnel issues that has made them just a playoff team instead of a championship caliber team.
Similar to the Vikings, the Colts have nothing to lose. They are the feel good story of the year with Chuck Pagano going through leukemia then coming back to coach and how this was a franchise that seemed to be in complete rebuilding mode. Somehow they’ve managed to make the playoffs despite a below average offensive line and a young defense with a few remaining veterans like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis from the Peyton Manning era. They are dangerous with how opportunistic they are from Andrew Luck not showing any fear in throwing deep and scrambling to the defense dialing up different defensive formations with the 3-4. The issue with the Colts is that they aren’t that good on the road going 4-4 along with Andrew Luck’s tendency to turn the ball over on the road. They don’t have much of a running game either so it will rely on Luck not only making plays but also not turning the ball over.
I’m looking forward to this game to see if the Ravens actually have a possible shot to beat the Patriots or Broncos or if the Colts are actually more than just dangerous. Indianapolis were helped by a weak AFC conference this year, which is odd to say since the AFC has been filled with good to great teams for years. I’m not sure what to expect from the Colts but they will have their moments. If they can win the turnover battle, that will be huge for their chances. In the end, Baltimore sneaks away with a win with Ray Rice having a field day against the 29th ranked Colts run defense.
Allen’s Pick: Baltimore 20, Indianapolis 17
Ace: Of the four teams playing on Sunday, three of them will have rookie quarterbacks starting. I’m very interested to see how this game goes. The Colts won two games last year and improved by nine wins this year. Heck, if they could have knocked off the Texans three weeks ago, we’d be talking about the AFC South Division Champion Colts. Looking at both AFC games this week, both home teams aren’t playing great the last month or so. If it weren’t for the Ravens knocking off the Giants, they would have been winless in December and the Bengals would have been division champs. There are a few things to keep your eyes on during this game. The Colts must stop Ray Rice. Rice will be the key to winning for the Ravens. On the defensive side of the ball the Ravens aren’t the same team that took the field Week One. They are injury riddled and it definitely explains going 1-4 in December.
On the Colts side, it will be the tandem of Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne that advance the Colts to the divisional round. If there’s any rookie quarterback that can go into Baltimore to win a playoff game, I’ll put my money on Andrew Luck. One of the biggest stories, like you mentioned has been around head coach Chuck Pagano. I love how the entire league has embraced Pagano and shown an amazing amount of respect towards him and the Colts. With that being said, I’m not sure how long the Colts can ride the momentum of playing and winning one for the coach. This team has gone above and beyond. Do I think the Colts can win? I do. Do I think the Ravens can win? I’m not sure. Much like the other AFC matchup with two teams going in opposite directions, this matchup is the same way.
The Ace’s Pick: Indianapolis 17, Baltimore 16
NFC Wild Card: #5 Seattle Seahawks (-2.5) at #4 Washington Redskins 4:30pm/ET, FOX
Allen: I’m not sure how anyone can hate on a rookie versus rookie matchup. It’s things like this that has pretty much ended the habit of coaches starting veterans over first round rookies. The success of rookie quarterbacks has been high over the past years dating back to 2008 with Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan. He has proven me wrong lately, but I’m still not sold on Russell Wilson. He’s an incredible athlete with a great arm and doesn’t turn it over, but he tends to have accuracy issues. I’m aware of his 64% completion percentage but he tends to check down a lot. If the Seahawks were home, I’d have a lot more confidence but the issues on the road have made me skeptical along with the lack of receiving options. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate have their moments but they don’t exactly strike fear into opposing teams’ eyes. If Marshawn Lynch isn’t having a good game, the offense will struggle. Seattle’s defense has been the main key to their success and has become a top 3 defense in the league. They are pretty complete all around and have kept Seattle in games on more than one occasion this year.
Another team that goes into this is the Washington Redskins. Sure they won the division and it would be great to see them win at least one game, but this is a team that hasn’t had a home playoff game since 1999. Everyone talks about Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, which is well deserved, but the major reason they went on a seven game winning streak is the defense. You saw Griffin and Morris have big games during the first nine games where they went 3-6 but it was the defense that constantly let them down. The defense has allowed 20 points a game during the streak and forcing turnovers on a consistent basis. The run defense is 5th in the league with London Fletcher still playing at a high level and Perry Riley having a breakout season. The defense deserves more praise for how they stepped up despite losing Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker for the season in Week 2.
This game is easily the hardest game to pick this week, but I’m going to pick Washington, which may be considered an upset. Many people are hopping on the Seattle bandwagon and they should because this team is really good, but I’m not convinced if they are good on the road. Russell Wilson playing in a hostile environment with a rejuvenated Redskins defense is going to lead some mistakes. Alfred Morris will continue to carry the load and have another productive game with Robert Griffin being more of a game manager this game due to the Seahawks top notch secondary.
Allen’s Pick: Washington 24, Seattle 20
Ace: This will be another interesting matchup on Sunday. Rookie vs. Rookie. I can’t even predict how this game will go because we’ve all seen how the Seahawks play when they’re not in the cozy confines of CenturyLink Field. We’ve seen Washington start off slow and finish strong.
On Seattle’s side, for them to win they need to stop the run, what makes that a little tougher than normal is they have to worry about Alfred Morris and RG3. If you can shut them down, they win.
On Washington’s side, it’s simple. You’re two best players are rookies, they cannot play like it. They need to be smart and aggressive and they’ll win this game. There’s not a lot of insight on this matchup because I cannot disagree with anything that you say. No question this will be the toughest game to pick of the week. Neither starting quarterback will make a mistake, but I have a feeling that Marshawn Lynch will be the difference maker. I could easily see him go for 165 yards and two scores. I think he’s your X-Factor and he is why Seattle travels to Atlanta in what should be an amazing contest.
The Ace’s Pick: Seattle 26, Washington 19
John Canton: With Black Monday passing by, we’ve seen many coaches fired. Have any of the firings surprised you?
Allen: I’m not completely surprised with this one but if I were in charge, Ken Whisenhunt would still be coaching the Cardinals. The past few seasons have been disappointing for Arizona but he has proven to be a good coach for years and he deserved another year. If anyone should have been fired, it should have been general manager who is Ron Graves. They haven’t made good free agency and draft decisions with no running game for years now and the quarterback situation still being a mess. Some people consider Lovie Smith being a surprise, but Ace and I saw it coming. You can’t have one playoff appearance in the last 6 years when you are coaching a team that is talented like Chicago. He was on the hot seat last season for not making the playoffs and now he must deal with the consequences.
Ace: While I agree with you on Ken Whisenhunt, I also disagree with you. When you start off 4-0 and finish 1-11, you’ll get axed. We saw it clearly on Lovie Smith and a lot of the other firings. Nothing really surprised me on that end. I am surprised how quickly some teams move towards hiring a new coach. There’s talk that Andy Reid is all but in as the new head coach of Arizona. Wouldn’t you just want to wait a bit and see how these playoffs finish up? Anyway, we’re in for a great treat this weekend with an encore at Lambeau Field, a game I would be going to, but financially, it’s a little too much for my blood. I’m excited for the rematch and I know that the outcome will be a little different than Sunday. Check out Macho Men Radio tomorrow night as we’ll break down the game with our buddy Chris and you as well, Allen and from FM 100.3 KFAN in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, The Head Cheese himself, Dave Sinykin! We disagree on 3 games. If I go 4-0, we’ll be tied atop the leader board in our picks challenge. If you go 4-0, it gives you a six game lead with seven left to play. Well, maybe we’ll pick the Pro Bowl.
Allen: Wild card weekend is always enjoyable, even though last year I still get terrible flashbacks of the Giants-Falcons game. I’ll try staying in the present and realize that this is a stress free weekend with football. I’m really looking forward to the NFC matchups with those games being pretty even and many exciting players on all four teams. The AFC matchups are pretty lackluster and it seems very realistic that will see Broncos versus Patriots in the championship. Good luck to your respective teams Sunday, if your team has a bye well enjoy it. Thanks for reading.
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