Scroll down for my playoff picks against the spread. But first, in memoriam:
RIP, The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles lost to the Saints last week. What a travesty it is to lose to a Super Bowl winning quarterback destined for the Hall of Fame. How dare a QB making his first career playoff start lose by a FG with time expiring after he drove them down to take the lead with 5 minutes to go. What unmitigated gall the Eagles have, to think I’ll lay down and accept that the youngest defense in the league should hold the Saints to only 26 points!
Due to the loss, my life has become a mostly empty void, with the exception of hopelessness and misery. The Eagles, and by proxy, their players, coaches and fans are terrible and will never amount to anything. Or so people tell me.
In the real world, however, there’s a lot to look forward to with this team.
Evan Mathis and Jason Peters are AP All Pros, and anchor an offensive line that stayed remarkably healthy and dominated the LOS (for the most part). LeSean McCoy is the best back in football, and is locked down contract-wise for the foreseeable future. Desean Jackson (bitching and moaning about his contract excluded) had his best season as an Eagle, and even when he’s bracketed in coverage, draws a significant amount of attention to assist the other receivers in getting open. Riley Cooper had some spectacular catches and was Nick Foles’ security blanket. Jeremy Maclin will be healthy next year. Zach Ertz is going to be a stud one day, and Brent Celek can still move like a young man when he needs to, as evidenced by his play in the screen game.
The front 7 improved dramatically, and is one of the youngest in the NFL. Mychal Kendricks and Fletcher Cox are both monsters. Connor Barwin had flashes of brilliance, and at times resembled his former Houston Texan cohort JJ Watt with his swatting of passes (yes, I know Watt is a better overall player.) Demeco Ryans was a consummate team leader. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher added a physical element to the secondary. Trent Cole took a while to get used to the 3-4, but picked up his game as the season went on, along with the defense as a whole.
Nick Foles’s game has been dissected ad naseum for about four months now. For a kid that just threw 29 touchdowns and 2 picks over a full NFL season, he sure seems to be getting an unfair amount of criticism. Every time I listen to WIP or 97.5, or read comments on message boards, I feel as though he’s getting ripped by every other fan from Delaware to South Jersey. Why do people like to assume that Chip Kelly NEEDS a mobile quarterback? He’s been assuring us all for months that all he needs is a QB with functional mobility who makes smart decisions with the football. Which Foles does. And he does it better than anyone in the league. He finished third all time in passer rating for a single season. Will his numbers repeat next year? Probably not up to that level. Nobody can do that consistently. But to think he’d just fall off a cliff is absurd, and there’s nothing to suggest that will happen.
And Chip Kelly? The man is a walking contradiction. In a good way. According to some, he’s the new breed of NFL coach, a “Charlie College” style guy making up his own rules as he goes. He runs the spread, runs the hurry-up, goes for 2 on swinging gate plays, goes for it on 4th down too much, feeds his players smoothies, adapts sports science to suit his needs, and so on and so forth. But there’s a strange dichotomy with Chip Kelly, though; yes, all those things are true, but he’s much closer to the classic, no-nonsense football coach than we like to think he is. He studies film constantly, and dissects the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses just like any other quality coach. And he’s not slinging the ball all over the field, a la Graham Harrell at Texas Tech or Colt Brennan at Hawaii- the birds led the league in rushing. He likes to ground and pound, with 3-yards-and-cloud-of-dust, eat-you-alive style football with bullying, athletic linemen just like Tom Osborne or Vince Lombardi- he just likes to do it faster.
But because I’m an Eagles fan, and because it’s illegal for Eagles fans to be too optimistic about the birds (look it up, it’s Pennsylvania law), I have to acknowledge the negatives.
First of all, Patrick Chung does not belong on the football field. I don’t know what he studied at Oregon, nor do I care- he belongs in some other line of work. We need safety help, immediately. The same can be said about Alex Henery. I really don’t want to be one of those hacks who can’t get his point across without writing in all caps, but humor me, because I feel it’s the only way I can encapsulate my feelings on the matter: if you’re a professional kicker, and you’re highly paid to do just that, YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO KICK A GOD DAMN TOUCHBACK. I’m weary of watching the Eagles drive down the field, methodically move the ball, score, and then IMMEDIATELY give the ball back to the opponents on the 35+.
Or the 50.
After a horse collar tackle.
When you’re up by one in a playoff game with five minutes to go.
But I digress. The Eagles have a bright future, and I’m excited to see how a full offseason of Chip Kelly goes. With the contract situation of seemingly every Eagles receiver not named Na Brown at a crossroads, it will be interesting to see how they approach it. Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin both can become free agents this year, Desean is whining as usual, and Avant should be cut before they give him that $1M roster bonus. The draft will be right around the corner, and the Eagles will be looking for secondary and pass rushing help.
And I can’t wait for next season.
On to the picks for the Divisional Round, home team in caps, you know the drill:
DENVER -9 1/2 over San Diego
To me, this game is going to go one of two ways. Option one: the Chargers keep it close and frustrate Peyton into adhering to his perennial playoff failure routine. Option two: Petyon goes into full annihilation mode like he did in a few playoff games in Indy and the Broncos blow the Chargers out. I like option two better. SD just doesn’t have the horses to keep up with Denver. I like Danny Woodhead and all, but I just don’t see it happening.
SEATTLE -8 over New Orleans
Drew Brees showed he can actually function when the weather drops below 40. Who would have guessed? But he didn’t have a good game against a suspect Eagles secondary, despite the win. Two ugly interceptions by the Birds makes me wonder what Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and co. will do in an arena where they blew out the Saints a few weeks ago. A team that is near unbeatable at home vs. a team that is notorious for struggling on the road? I don’t think the Saints will keep this close.
Indianapolis +7 over NEW ENGLAND
The Patriots should win this game. But they didn’t put teams away all season, with close shaves against Houston, Buffalo and Cleveland, among others. The Colts should ride the wave of momentum to at least keep it close. NE to win, Indy to cover.
CAROLINA -1 over San Francisco
San Francisco is a sexy pick right now to go to the Super Bowl. Sexy picks usually flame out. After a brutal game in the cold against the Packers, the 49ers will fly to the east coast to play a team that is stacked on defense that’s going to play with a chip on their shoulder. Kaep should struggle against Luke Kuechly and co. As long as the Panthers put a spy on him, he should be kept under wraps. Remember that Carolina went into SF and won in November.