NFC & AFC Title Game Predictions for Sunday January 20, 2013
 
Well, we’re down to the “final four” of our annual NFL Super Bowl tournament.  
 
Last Week’s Picks
 
We did very, very well again with last week’s picks–we picked every game correctly, and only missed the Denver-Baltimore game, which was decided by a FG in a second overtime, 38-35.  But for the Baltimore upset, we would have been 4 for 4.

Taking the prior weekend’s picks into account, we are 6 for 8 or batting .750.  Not too shabby.  
 
The Super Bowl was Named for the Wham-O “Super Ball”.  See Discussion, Below.  I had one of these when I was a kid. As you can plainly see, SuperBalls were made of “amazing Zectron”.
 
 
Before we get to Denver-Baltimore, let’s go over the other games.  SF-Green Bay played out like we saw it in the first half, a very close game.  In the second half, Green Bay seemed to play tired, like a team coming off a wild card round, while SF seemed like the rested team they were, and SF steadily pulled away in the second half.  While it was surprising that QB Aaron Rodgers did not provide more offense in the 2d half, it’s also true that he was slightly missing on some throws while SF seemed to make all the big plays.  Again, fatigue has to play a role in things like that, and Rodgers, for Green Bay to win, has to toss it up there @50 times a game.    
 
The Seahawks-Falcons game also played out like we thought through @ 2 1/2 quarters, with the Falcons in firm control and up twenty points.  Then, the Seahawks, as with last week, mounted a furious comeback, eventually taking the lead 28-27 with less than a minute to go.  This again shows how evenly matched those teams were,and how very good a coach Pete Carroll is–his team never quit, even though they were on the road and they were tired.  You had to love the way Seattle played.  But even better was the way Atlanta responded–by going fifty yards in less than 20 seconds and then kicking the GW FG–showing that Matt Ryan’s experience–something we touted last week–together with the home field advantage–kicking in a dome is FG friendly–would prove very helpful to the Falcons when it came down to it.  So we got that one right.  Barely, but right.
 
Finally, we got the Pats-Texans game exactly right.  The Texans are a fine team, but they can’t keep up with the Pats’ offense, and they can’t hold them defensively.  That was not even a close game, and we didn’t think it would be, so we picked that one correctly and for the right reasons.  
 
So where did we go wrong with Denver?  What is the lesson?  Never pick Peyton Manning against Ray Lewis in a playoff game?  Well actually Peyton Manning was 2-0 vs Baltimore in prior playoff games.   
 
Here’s a stat worth considering:  Jake the Snake Plummer and Tim Tebow each have more playoff wins in a Denver Broncos jersey as starting QBs, than Peyton Manning.  This has to be embarassing to Peyton Manning, whose little brother Eli Manning of the NY Giants has two Super Bowl wins against the NE Pats on his resume to Peyton’s one win in the Super Bowl.
 
Well, we said Ray Lewis was a warrior, and in the end, the Baltimore Defense made Peyton Manning look awful.  They won the game by forcing him to roll right in OT, and make a terrible off balance throw that resulted in an interception, a throw that Peyton Manning never makes, normally speaking.  This results in an INT, Baltimore gets the ball, goes down and kicks the GW FG, game over.  
 
This is really the story.  
 
PREDICTIONS FOR AFC CHAMPIONSHIP AND NFC CHAMPIONSHIP THIS WEEKEND
Ravens at Pats 3 PM Sunday AFC Championship
 
First, we have the Baltimore Ravens at the New England Patriots in the early game, scheduled for 3 pm in New England, in a rematch of last years AFC title game.  There are three games we can look at here.
 
Initially, we have this years game between the two teams, which the Ravens won 31-30 on a GW FG as time expired, in week 3 of the season, back in September, in Baltimore.  The Baltimore defense essentially held Brady in check while Flacco & the Baltimore offense scored 10 unanswered points in the last five minutes of the game to beat the Pats.  Strong stuff.  
 
Second, you have last years AFC championship game, which the Pats won 23-20.   However, as everyone knows, Baltimore had a chip shot FG to tie, which Billy Cundiff missed with barely any time left on the clock, and Baltimore had numerous other opportunities in the 4th Quarter to come back from a 23-20 deficit.  The Pats were very lucky to escape out of that game as victors.  
 
Third, you have the 2009 wild card round game, wherein Baltimore came into New England and soundly whipped them, 33-14.  
 
Baltimore is the one team in the AFC that really gives Tom Brady trouble.  
 
Baltimore will be motivated to win because they lost last year, because Ray Lewis is looking at his last year, and because they know they can beat this New England team.  
 
On paper, this matchup strongly favors the Patriots, and they are at home, but the pick here is the Ravens in an upset.  
 
Ray Lewis is going to the Super Bowl.  
 
49ers at Falcons – NFC Championship
 
This is a very closely matched game on the stats.  Common opponents don’t really say much–the 49ers beat the Saints, while the Falcons split with the Saints, winning one and losing one.  The 49ers split with the Seahawks, winning one and losing one, while the Falcons hung on to beat the Seahawks in the playoff game this past weekend.  All this tells us is that both teams can play against very good opponents like the Seahawks and Saints and beat them on a given day.  It also tells us on any given Sunday either of them might lose to the Saints or the Seahawks, which we probably already knew, and therefore, there’s no 100% probability that if these guys played three games, one team would sweep all three–much more likely that there would be a split and then a deciding game.  
 
However, they only play one, and in this one, we pick the 49ers. The Falcons have much going for them–the home field, Matt Ryan being due, and Atlanta being ripe for a trip to the Super Bowl.  But on the other side you have a very tough SF 49er team, which features the rushing attack of one day HOFer Frank Gore (U. Miami Hurricane), who is 3d among career RBs in career rushing, just behind Adrian Peterson and both trailing Steven Jackson.  Gore is supplemented by a running QB in Colin Kaepernick, and a fervent defense.  
 
David Akers, who is a veteran kicker, should be an advantage, but he presents some weakness from beyond 40 yards, especially compared to Atlanta’s kicker Bryant.  If it comes down to FGs, there is an edge somewhat to Atlanta, though the dome will help both kickers.    The pick is still the 49ers.  
 
Postscript
 
We mentioned great RBs last week–but we forget to mention Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett among the greatest ever.  Smith is obviously among the greatest RBs ever to play the game, and a true champion, while Tony Dorsett, also a Dallas Cowboy great, could also do it all.  Both were great rushing as well as receiving, and both were durable and versatible backs who were at their best in the playoffs and in the biggest games.  No one could possible leave them off their teams.  Another mention has to be made of Franco Harris, the powerful and durable back of the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s.  
 
We were once (several of us) at a Penn-Princeton football game  many years back and sitting right in front of us, was Franco Harris, who was watching his son with the Princetonians.  He looked pretty much as he did during his playing days, and on his fingers were the four Super Bowl rings–quite a sight, mind you.  
 
We were not worthy.  
 
In fairness, you’d want a Franco Harris or an Emmitt Smith or a Tony Dorsett on your team any day of the week.  They were winners, and I can’t count how many Super Bowls, Conference Championships, playoff games, they all won  collectively, but it has to be a ton.  
 
The Name of the Super Bowl Derived from the Wham-O Super Ball, as Shown by This Exhibit in the Pro Football HOF in Canton, OH.  The fact that Lamar Hunt coined the name is recited therein.  The owners had decided to call it the “AFL-NFL Championship Game”.  Well, you see how well that worked.  No .92 resiliency coefficient.  “After watching his children play with a Super Ball, Lamar Hunt, founder of the American Football League, coined the term Super Bowl. In a July 25, 1966, letter to NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Hunt wrote, “I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.” Although the leagues’ owners decided on the name “AFL-NFL Championship Game,” the media immediately picked up on Hunt’s “Super Bowl” name, which would become official beginning with the third annual game.[8][17][18]”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_Ball
 
 
Final PS point:  
 
The Super Bowl was named after the Wham-O toy, the “Super Ball
 
It’s true.  Lamar Hunt and his fellow owners were sitting around one day figuring out what to call the new championship game back in the mid-60s and they got the name from the “Super” of “Super Ball”.  It’s told right here at: http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/blog/shutdown_corner/post/Is-the-Super-Bowl-really-named-after-a-1960s-chi?urn=nfl-317028.
 
The key source for this story on the website is Michael MacCambridge’s “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation.”  (Random House, NY, NY 2004).  It can be located at Amazon.com at:
 
 
Here’s the Yahoo article: 
 
“Is the Super Bowl Really Named After a Children’s Toy?”
It seems too much like an urban legend to be true that the Super Bowl was named after a children’s novelty toy that was popular in the mid-1960s.
But strange as it sounds, it is. The name of America’s biggest sport event got its name from a Wham-O toy called “Super Ball.” The story was recounted in Michael MacCambridge’s book, “America’s Game.”
Once the NFL-AFL merger was announced, discussions began about the inaugural championship game between the winners of the two leagues. A group of seven men were tasked with the specifics. During the course of the meetings, it became confusing when the men referred to “the championship game” because the others didn’t know whether he was referring to the league championship games or the finale, which still didn’t have a name. To end the mix-ups, Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt jokingly referred to the final championship game as the “Super Bowl.” He had come up with the name while watching his children play with the toy pictured above.
“Super Bowl” is how the game was referred to for months, even though Hunt himself said it was “far too corny” to ever be used on the big stage. In the middle of 1966, he wrote commissioner Pete Rozelle and said the group needed to come up with an official name for the game. “If possible,” he wrote, “I believe we should ‘coin a phrase’ for the Championship Game. […] I have kiddingly called it the ‘Super Bowl,’ which obviously can be improved upon.”
Rozelle agreed. The league’s publicity director recalled that the commissioner despised the word “super,” because it didn’t have any sophistication. Rozelle was evidently a “stickler on words and grammar.” The game would be known as the “AFL-NFL World Championship Game.”
That bulky title didn’t last. People caught wind of Hunt’s name and soon everyone, from media members to players, were calling the title game “the Super Bowl.” The NFL was slow to adapt, though. It wasn’t until the third game that the words “Super Bowl” appeared on the official game program and the fourth game when the phrase appeared on tickets.
As mentioned above, Michael MacCambridge’s excellent “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation” was the main reference for this blog post.
citation supra.  
 
The Original Patent for the SuperBall aka “Highly Resilient Polybutadiene Ball” Patented by Wham-O Corp 1965.
 
March 22, 1966 N. H. STINGLEY 3,241,834
HIGHLY RESILIENT POLYBUTADIENE BALL
Filed Aug. 25, 1965
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United States Patent O
.1
3,241,834
HIGHLY RESELIENT POLYBUTADIENE BALL
Norman H. Stingley, Garden Grove, Calif., assignor to
Wham-0 Manufacturing Company, San Gabriel, Calif.,
at corporation of California
Filed Aug. 25, 1965, Ser. No. 432,584
3 Claims. (Cl. 273–58)
This is a continuation-in-part of application Serial No. 462,081 filed June 7, 1965, and now abandoned.
This invention relates to a toy and more particularly to a ball or sphere having extremely high resilience and a high coeflicient of friction.
The resiliency of rubber balls is one of their most important characteristics. This is because the resiliency of the ball material determines the “liveliness” and “bounce” of the ball and hence its utility in various sporting games and attractiveness as a toy for children. The resilient material normally used for making rubber balls is a polymer such as natural rubber or some synthetic analog of natural rubber such as polyisoprene.
The present invention is concerned with a material other than rubber and -polyisoprene as the base polymer in rubber toys and sporting articles. It has been found that this new material imparts some highly unusual qualities to articles fabricated with it. Such articles have been found to have a substantially greater resiliency than those manufactured from more conventional materials. This greater resiliency is thought to be due to the nature of the base polymer used in the mixture and the unique quality -of the mixture which comprises the article of being able to conserve the energy which is imparted to it rather than dissipating a substantial portion of it in the form of heat. The higher resilience means that balls made from the material of this invention have a resilience factor in excess of 90%. This resilience factor is the resilience of the material as measured by the Yerzley method, ASTM D945-59.
Another unusual quality of balls and toys of this invention is their coeflicient of friction. In this instance the coefficient friction is substantially higher than in other
similar items. This quality combined with the significant
ly higher resilience causes a ball to react in an extraordinary and unpredictable manner when bounced or struck. This higher coeflicient of friction also provides a means whereby the spin or “English” on a thrown, struck or dropped ball can be accentuated resulting in unusual reactions by -theball whenever it rebounds from a hard surface. This novel combination of qualities means that one natural application for ‘balls manufactured with the base polymer with which this invention is concerned is in trick ball uses. In addition, as a sports implement a ball of this invention presents -a greater challenge -to the user. As an article of play, the eccentricity of reaction makes the ball a highly entertaining and amusing toy.
The invention in the present case contemplates a molded, vulcanized, highly resilient ball comprising a mixture of polybutadiene, a sulfurous vulcanizing agent and a polybutadiene reinforcing agent.
In addition to the inherent resilience of the base polymer, the degree of cross linkage between -polymer chains is important in optimizing the bounce or liveliness of balls fabricated with it. The -degree of cross linkage is primarily determined by the amount of vulcanizing agent used. By limiting the amount of vulcanizing agent introduced into the mixture to the quantities specified below, a ball having a Yerzley resilience in excess of 90% is obtained. Such a resilience factor is substantially higher than that found in balls manufactured from natural rubber or polyisoprene.
In addition to resilience and cross linkage, the ability
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In the formulation above polybutadiene is the base polymer of the mixture. To produce cross linkage between polybutadiene chains, that is, to vulcanize or cure the polymer, sulfur is added to the mixture. A greater amount of vulcanizing agent is used in this mixture than in such products as tires thereby producing a greater degree of vulcanization. Put another way, the degree of cross linkage relative -to saturation (hard rubber) is increased over tires and the like. The more complete vulcanization is believed to result in the improved resilience of the finished product. The addition of sulfur in the range indicated will result in balls having a Yerzley Resilience in excess of 90%. Oil extended polybutadiene having as much as 50 parts by weight of oil per hundred parts by weight of polybutadiene can also be used as the base polymer.
Because the natural curing rate of a mixture of polybutadiene and sulfur is quite slow, certain other additives are combined with this basic mixture to initiate the curing cycle and accelerate the rate of vulcanization. The zinc oxide and stearic acid are added to the basic mixture to provide this activation function. Acceleration accomplishes two purposes, one, it shortens the length of the molding cycle, and two, it equalizes heat throughout the mixture during the curing cycle. In the preceding formulation, the accelerators are N-oxydiethylene benzothiazole 2 sulfenamide, di-orthotolylguanidine and bismuth dimethyldithiocarbonate. For ease of reference, the trade names AMAX, DOTG and Bismate respectively will be used to designate the accelerators.
The activation of these accelerators occurs as the mixture reaches a specific temperature. For Bismate and DOTG the activation temperature is approximately 230° F. while that of AMAX is -approximately 260° F. By insuring that t-he heat of reaction is equalized throughout the mixture a more uniform rate of vulcanization and improved consistency in the end product is obtained.
Hydrated silica is added to the mixture as a filler. A specific hydrated silica suitable for use in this mixture is marketed under the trademark Hi-Sil 233. This material and certain other materials perform the function of providing tear and abrasion resistance. The basic criteria for selection of the filler material is its ability to improve the durability of polybutadiene without unduly increasing the specific gravity. Carbon black and lithium oxide have also been found to fill these requirements and are satisfactory substitutes for the hydrated silica.

3,241,834
3
In addition to the ingredients just previously discussed, 4 methyl-6 tertiary-butyl phenol is also added to the mixture. This substance has been given the trade name of Antioxidant 2246 and prevents discoloration and staining and inhibits aging of the finished product. Examples of substitutes for Antioxidant 2246 are phenyl B naphthylamine, alkyl diphenylamine, and hindered alkyl phenols. Pigmenting agents for obtaining the desired color of the end product are optional additives.
The mixture and molding of the constituents of this formulation proceeds according to the following steps. The various elements of the formulation are brought together in a mixing machine and agitated thoroughly to insare uniform mixing and distribution of the elements throughout the mixture. The result is a plastic mass ready for insertion in a mold.
To complete the process, the mixture is placed in a nold and subjected to a pressure of between 500 and 3,000 p.s.i. for a period of approximately 10 to 30 minutes. Simultaneously, the temperature of the mixture is raised to approximately 285-340° F. To a certain extent the length of the molding operation, the pressure, and the temperature to which the formulation is subjected are co-variant and one may be adjusted to compensate for a variation in the other. Preferably the time and temperature for the molding operation is 15 to 20 minutes at approximately 320° F. and 1,000 p.s.i.
An alternate formulation to the one outlined above is as follows:
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The above formulation is mixed in the same manner as the preceding formulation. To insure a good dispersion of all ingredients in the mixture, the batch is normally given a two-pass mix. In the above formulation, the zinc oxide and the stearic acid perform the same functions, viz., activation of polymer curing, as they did in the first formulation. Akron 544 Red and Akron 626 Blue are trade designations for organic coloring agents manufactured by Akron Chemical Co. Titanium dioxide is also a coloring agent. These three constituents in combination are the pigmenting agent for the mixture.
Zeolex is a proprietary brand name for a series of precipitated, highly hydrated sodium silico-aluminates and sodium calcium silico-aluminates. Its function is to strengthen the finished product and to act as a filler in the same manner as the Hi-Sil 233 does in the preceding formulation.
Sulfur is the vulcanizing agent. Vandex is a proprietary name for finely ground selenium. Its function is to supplement sulfur as a vulcanizing agent.
As in the first formulation, several constituents of the mixture (AMAX and M. Tuads) are added to serve as accelerators for the polymerization.
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As is normal in molding tehniques, the curing temperature must be carefully selected in order to prevent imperfections in the finished product. Too high a molding temperature will contribute to a condition designated “backrind.” This condition is characterized by an indented fracture around the body of the molded product defining the point where the two halves of the mold are brought together and is due to thermal expansion in this area during and after the molding cycle.
Subject to the proper choice of injection pressure, injection time, and the combination of mixture constituents, preheat, and mold temperature, this mixture can also be molded by means of a conventional injection-molding technique.
Combinations of ingredients of which the two formulations listed above are representative have been found to result in a product with a specific gravity of approximately 1.0 to 1.3. For greatest resilience, it has been found that a sufficient amount of filler should be added to produce a product having a specific gravity of 1.02.
What is claimed is:
1. A highly resilient solid ball in the form of a sphere, the ball material having a specific gravity of from about 1 to about 1.3, and comprising in combination a vulcanized polymer characterized by the use of 100 parts by weight of polybutadiene and 0.5 to 15 parts by weight of a sulfur vulcanizing agent, and further comprising, in addition to any activators and accelerators used for vulcanization, 5 to 15 parts by weight of an inorganic reinforcing material.
2. A ball in accordance with claim 1 in which the reinforcing material is selected from the class consisting of hydrated silica, carbon black and lithium oxide.
3. A ball in accordance with claim 2 in which the sul
‘ fur vulcanizing agent is approximately 5.25 parts by
weight and the reinforcing material is approximately 7.5 parts by weight.
References Cited by the Examiner
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Location: Tampa, FL, USA
PLAYOFF PICKS FOR DIVISIONAL WEEKEND JAN 12-13 2013
 
Last Week
Well, last week went pretty well as we got 3 out of 4 right. That wasn’t looking so good until Mike Shanahan, who I savaged in last week’s column, decided, after going up 14-0 on Seattle, to leave RG3 out there on one leg and see how injured the guy could get facing the best defense in the NFC.
 
We discussed last week Shanahan’s history of abusing QB’s and going one and done with guys not named Elway.  Last week was a classic batch of evidence of this.  Up 14-0, Shanahan only had to do one thing–sit RG3 on the bench and go with his competent backup and sit on the lead.  Instead, he left a hobbled, injured QB out there too long–who by the time they actually needed him to come back and get the lead in the 4th Quarter, was way too banged up to play.  Had Shanahan rested him for two and one half quarters, RG3 might have had enough for one last drive–or his backup could have gotten it going enough to keep the ‘Skins in the game.  
 
RGIII was left in last weeks game way too long by Mike Shanahan
 
Now the Seahawks march on, Pete Carroll is a genius, Shanahan is a ninny, RG3 may be out for 1/2 of next year, RG3 has LCL and possibly ACL damage that is severe to the same knee he destroyed once already in college, and Shanahan is directly responsible for aggravating the injury for leaving in the  kid in there after the kid worked hard in the first quarter to get a two TD lead.   If I’m a tort lawyer, I’m suing Shanahan for negligence.  I mean, c’mon.  
 
Oh, and by the way, another one and done for Shanahan.  See?  And another playoff win on the road for Carroll, who continues to show his playoff genius.  And makes my pick of last week look like brilliance.  Since I analyzed it as a case of Shanahan will beat himself and Carroll will take advantage.
 
Cincinnati was lackluster in losing to the Texans in the playoffs for the second year in a row (though I have to give a shoutout to our high school QB, Haverford School/Boston College and former NY Giant Michael Mayock, who was broadcasting that game and actually made it interesting).  Mayock does all of the draft analysis for NFL Network and is one of the best prepared and best NFL and college broadcasters in the game, and one of the greatest athletes I ever saw play high school football (he once dropped 26 points in a 12 year old hoops game that was about five minutes long).  Greatest line from Mayock:  the other broadcaster mentions that Arrian Foster runs like Marcus Allen, and Mayock immediately says “Hey, I played against Marcus Allen” and goes on to note the similarities and differences.
 
Marcus Allen, OJ, Jim Brown & Walter Peyton v. Adrian Peterson & Eric Dickerson
Thirty years ago this month I was living in LA, and my good friend E.N. was visiting from NYC, and we scored fifty yard line seats for the LA Raiders-NY Jets playoff game in balmy 70 degree weather.  You may remember that this was the game won by the Jets (barely) using Richard Todd at QB, and with their famous defensive combo of Gastineau and Temple’s own Joe Klecko.  Famous for the fact that until Rex Ryan came along, the Jets had not won a playoff game since that 1983 contest for a long, long time.  
 
Anyhow, Marcus Allen was in that game as a rookie, and not ten rows ahead of us was sitting then world famous actor and sports commentator Orenthal James “OJ” Simpson, a white Bronco ride still ten years away in his future, sitting with his beautiful blonde wife and an equally beautiful blonde on the other side of him.  During the entire game we (meaning the whole crowd) were peppering him with cries of “Juice, Juice”.  After all, we were in the LA Coliseum, the very place he had played college ball for USC, and he was watching his good friend Marcus Allen play ball.  
 
Marcus Allen USC and LA Raider HOF RB
 
 
It seems a long time ago, but this year some running back made an assault on Eric Dickerson’s 16 game rushing record of 2105 yards achieved in 1973 (Adrian Peterson with 2,097).  The only problem being, both Peterson & Dickerson did it in sixteen games, whereas OJ Simpson’s record of 2,003 yards, set in 1973, was achieved in fourteen games.  OJ averaged more than 143 yards per game, whereas Dickerson, in the longer season, averaged only 132 yards per game.  Meaning that had OJ played two more games, it’s pretty safe to say that OJ would have gained 2,289 yards in a sixteen game season.
 
No one since OJ has gained 2,000 yards in 14 games or less, and if OJ were playing today, he’s probably have already broken the 2,500 yard mark for a running back in a sixteen game season with a bye.  Remember, too, he set that record playing in Buffalo, outside, in the snow, without a bye week.  
 
OJ Simpson – the greatest RB of them all?
 
 
OJ had another year two years later in 1975 where he gained 1817 yards in a 14 games season and averaged 130 yards per game.  If he had played 16 games that year, he’d have rushed for 2,017 yards that year.  That would still be 5th on the all-time list today ahead of all but Dickerson, Peterson, and the famous 2000 yard seasons of Jamal Lewis & Barry Sanders.  
 
This was probably the OJ look that launched his “Naked Gun” film career
 
 
Lest we neglect the greatest RB of them all, Jim Brown played 1/2 of his career in a twelve game NFL season.  In 118 games he rushed for 12,312 yards and averaged over his career 104.3 yards per game.  In 1963, Brown rushed for 1863 yards and averages 133.1 yards per game, which means if he had played 16 games in 1963, he would have rushed for 2,129 yards.  
 
Needless to say, Jim Brown would have been the all-time rushing leader and the first to break the 2,000 yard barrier if he had played a 16 game season.  Moreover, Brown’s retrospective 2,129 yards he would have gained in 16 games played with a bye in 1963 would rank first in the NFL overall today, and would only rank behind OJ’s retrospective 2,289 yards which OJ would have carried in 1973 given sixteen games and a bye.
 
Consequently, let’s forget about Adrian Peterson and Eric Dickerson, who are great HOF backs, and concentrate on who were the greatest NFL running backs in history.  That list comes down to three–Jim Brown, OJ Simpson, and Barry Sanders.   And of course, the late Walter Peyton, whose 1977 season rushing for 1852 yards with a pace of 132 yards per carry in a fourteen game season would have propelled him to a total of 2,116 yards in a sixteen game, bye week season.  That would have ranked him third all time in NFL history.  
 
the late Walter Payton – perhaps the most beloved football player of all time
 
 
And I’d take Marcus Allen after them and before Eric Dickerson or Adrian Peterson.  Allen was as good a receiving back as he was a running back, and in his NFL career rushed for 12,000 plus yards as well as caught passes receiving for another nearly 5,500 yards at a nearly 10 yards per reception clip.  If you split him into two he’d be two HOFers, but as a single back, he was a wrecking crew.  In 1985 he totalled 2314 yards from scrimmage, 1780 on the ground and another 555 in reception yards.  Yikes.  Not even Sanders, Peyton, Simpson or Brown were that versatile.  Peyton could catch and run with the ball more than the others–and Sweetness was truly great–but at his peak, Marcus Allen literally destroyed defenses.  
 
In the Super Bowl of January 1984 between the LA Raiders and the Washington Redskins, wherein the Raiders destroyed the Redskins 38-9, Marcus Allen rushed for 191 yards on 20 rushing attempts.  John Riggins on the other side only gained 64 yards on 26 attempts.  The combination of Marcus Allen and Jim Plunkett was, literally, unstoppable, and the Raiders crushed a Washington Redskins team that had won the Super Bowl the very previous year over Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins.  They didn’t just beat the Redskins–they destroyed, humiliated and made a laughingstock of them, so much so that everyone forgot that the Redskins had ever been champions the year before.  
 
Marcus Allen’s 9.55 yards per carry Super Bowl rushing average is second all time in Super Bowl history–to the immortal Tom Matte of Baltimore, who averages 10.55 yards per carry back in Super Bowl III (which the Jets, not the Colts won).  Matte rushed for 116 yards on 11 attempts in that game, but that was in a losing effort.  Matte and Unitas were usually a terrific pair, but Namath and his teammates were just better that day–a lot better.  
 
That was how good Marcus Allen was.  And as good as OJ, Peyton, Jim Brown, and all the rest were, only Walter Peyton won a Super Bowl, and Jim Brown an NFL championship.  Marcus Allen didn’t just win a Super Bowl–he dominated it.  
 
PICKS FOR THIS WEEKEND
 
Saturday’s Games:
 
Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos:
 
I’m getting this out a little late, so really I shouldn’t be picking so late on this one, but I’m going with the conventional wisdom and picking Denver, at home, over Baltimore.  Ave atque value, Ray Lewis.  Those about to do NFL combat for the last time salute you, you are a true warrior.  
 
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers:
 
This is a very close matchup.  Green Bay has a better offense with Aaron Rodgers, but SF has a superior defense, and one has to like the Niner’s coaching scheme.  Also, the Niners have the home field, which is a big difference from playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.  I like the 49ers in a close game.  
 
Sunday’s Games:
 
Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta Falcons:
 
On paper, you’d have to like the Seahawks.  However, Atlanta is very tough at home, they have the bye week, and Matt Ryan is a much more veteran and savvy QB than rookie RGIII, and will play for the long haul.  Atlanta has a good rushing attack with Turner and Rodgers to go with the passing attack of Ryan, and Atlanta also has an excellent defense.  Think about Atlanta’s 34-0 smackdown of the NY Giants in the Dome, and you get the idea of how good Atlanta can play at home, and their 13-3 record is nothing to sneeze about.  I pick Atlanta.
 
Houston Texans at NE Patriots:
 
This is a rematch of last year’s playoff game, wherein the Patriots pretty much destroyed the Texans.  As much as one would like to see a different result, the fact is that Tom Brady and the Pats are really good at home, they scored the most points of any team in the league, and their defense is pretty darn good also.  And their QB is very good.  The Texans won last week, but in one of the most boring games ever, and other than Arrian Foster, they just don’t have the offensive weapons to keep up with the Patriots, and their defense will not shut down Tom Brady for an entire game–the Patriots scored 557 points this season.  
 
Footnote:
 
The Canton Bulldogs, which featured Jim Thorpe, and played in the NFL only during the 1920s (my late grandfather lived in Canton OH for two years and watched Jim Thorpe play football), won two NFL championship.  That is more NFL championships than the Seattle Seahawks, the Houston Texans, the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Minnesota Vikings (all of which have zero NFL or Super Bowl championships), and more than the Baltimore Ravens, the New Orleans Saints, the Tampa Bay Bucs, the NY Jets or the San Diego Chargers (all of which have one Super Bowl or NFL/AFL championship).  The Broncos, Bills, Chiefs, Titans, Dolphins and most embarassingly, since they’ve been in the league since 1920, the Chicago/St Louis/Arizona Cardinals, are all tied with Canton with two championships.   So much for NFL parity.  18 teams have won the same number or fewer NFL championships as the Canton Bulldogs, a team that last played during the Coolidge Administration.  Even the Philadelphia Eagles have three NFL championships (1948, 1949 and 1960).  
 
Art Kyriazis, Philly
http://arthurjohnkyriazisgoogleblog.blogspot.com/2013/01/playoff-picks-for-divisional-weekend.html

 

The Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst franchises in recent NFL memory, shocked me and perhaps the entire world yesterday, by upsetting the battle-tested and road-tested NFC East worthy Philadelphia Eagles 32-25 in the NFC Championship Game yesterday. I simply cannot believe that the Cardinals managed to win this game, even though it was a trap game in many respects–a road game after two tough road games, a revenge game for the Cards, and a warm weather game for a warm weather team, as well as an emotional let down game for the Eagles coming off a big win against the Giants. Nonetheless, the Eagles should have won this game, for many reasons. The Eagles nonetheless had a terrific season, and for me the high points of the season will still be crushing the Giants last week at the Meadowlands, as well as Donovan McNabb’s incredible double fake roll out and 80 yard throw to DeSean Jackson to take the lead in the NFC Championship Game in the 4th Quarter on a 62-yard bomb that was magnificent in execution and brilliantly thrown. It was everything and more that we as fans could ever have hoped for from our Eagles.

Nonetheless, the Eagles, as well as they played, came up short. I see three main factors.

Factor one – The NFL’s System for Assigning Home Games is Faulty When it Comes to Back-End Division Chapions with Poor Records and Easy Schedules vs. Wild Cards with Better Records and Harder Schedules

First thing, this game had no business being played in Arizona. Arizona was 9-7 in the regular season, the Eagles were 9-6-1. The Eagles had the better regular season record. Second, the Eagles trouced the Cards 48-20 in the only game between the two clubs. Third, the Eagles were 4-0 against the NFC West. Fourth, the Cards were 0-4 against the NFC East. The NFL’s official explanation for the seeding was that the Cardinals, as NFC West Division champs, were official the 4th seed in the playoffs, while the Eagles were the sixth seed as the wild-card.

However, it seems to me, that once you get to a head to head match-up between two teams where one team clearly has a better record, a stronger schedule and has beaten the other team head to head as well as beaten the common opponent, you have to throw out the brackets and assign the home game based on record and head to head competition.

The proper thing to do here would have been to break brackets and give the Eagles the home game. After all, Arizona did not really earn their home game in any sense of the word. Nor did they earn their bye week with a weak 9-7 record. While I give Arizona credit for beating Carolina on the road last week, there is simply no way that Arizona as NFC West Division champs deserved a home game with a weak 9-7 record.

The NFL playoff rules need to be amended such that division winners should only get home games if 1) they are division winners and 2) of the remaining two teams playing, the division winner has the better record of the remaining two teams playing, taking strength of schedule into account.

i know this is a loser’s beef, but a fair one. If this game had been played in Philly, the Eagles could have played more their style of ball.

Factor Two – David Akers cost the Eagles lots and lots of Points

David Akers came up small in the biggest game of the year. With the score 7-3 in the first half, Akers shanked a 45-yard field goal attempt badly to the right. Akers had the shanks all game long–he shanked a kickoff, an extra point, and the 45 yard FG attempt to the right during the game–all to the detriment of the Eagles.

If Akers makes that FG, the Eagles are at 7-6, one point down, and they kick off and pin the Cards deep. Instead, the Cards took over at about their own 30, and immediately they did the flea-flicker play to Larry Fitzgerald that went for 70 yards and a TD, making it 14-6. That’s a ten point swing right there.

So that sequence cost the Eagles ten points, maximum, three points minimum, and Akers was kicking in a dome, remember.

Next, Akers missed an extra point in the second half, costing the team another point, and forcing them to go for two on another TD, which the team didn’t make, costing them another two points, which in essence cost them three points. If Akers makes the first extra point, they kick another, so really it’s two points.

So Akers cost the team another two points in the second half.

As I see it, Akers cost the team six points, and possibly ten. So on account of Akers, and only Akers, the final score could have been 32-30 Cards, or better yet, 30-25 Eagles, which is what I think the score would have been if Akers had simply done his job.

Moreover, if Akers kicks the field goal in the first half and kicks his two extra points in the second half, and even assuming that the Cards score 32 points, the score is only 32-30 with three minutes to go, and the Eagles are on the 47 of Phoenix needing only about 20 yards to kick a game winning FG, instead of needing to go 47 yards to get a TD. As I see it, that changes the whole complexion of the game.

David Akers needs either to be replaced, or supplemented by a long-distance kicker. He no longer has the range or distance from past 40 yards.

Akers, and Akers alone, arguably cost the Eagles this football game.

Factor Three – The Eagles came out Flat in the First Half

The Eagles were thoroughly out played in the first half of the NFC Championship game, and obviously came out very flat. Most surprisingly the defense played badly and allowed 24 points, probably the most number of points allowed by the Eagles in a half in many a week.

The Eagles offense actually did not play so badly in the first half. While they didn’t score TDs, they played well enough to get in position for three FG’s, but Akers missed one, so they should have had 9 points, and arguably one of the Card’s TDs came about because of the FG miss, so the score could have been 17-9 at half.

However, to the Eagles everlasting credit, and quite unlike the Tampa Bay and Carolina NFC Championship Games, where they basically lay down and gave up, the Eagles mounted a ferocious comeback in the third quarter and second half of this game to come all the way back and actually take the lead, 25-24, in the fourth quarter, and make this and exciting and truly great NFC championship game.

During that third/fourth quarter stretch, the Eagles scored three straight TDs, stopped the Cards on every offensive possesion and stifled them defensively, and looked every bit like the Eagles of the last two weeks. I had given the Eagles up for dead after the first half, personally. I was surprised to see their comeback. It was the comeback of a great team with great character and a great will to win.

This years Eagles were nothing like the Eagles of other years. They were a great team that had a great will to win, even until the end.

Even Arizona’s final drive (and I suspect the home team was shaving time off the clock, incidentally), which consumed 7 minutes and went for a game winning TD and two point conversion, did not mask the greatness of the Eagles defense, which resisted them every step of the way, and pushed them to 3d and 4th down repeatedly, and nearly made a big goal line stand to force them to a Field Goal.

And McNabb made a great run at a final two minute drive to win the game and just came up a couple of passes short.

The final stats show that the Eagles actually outplayed the Cards–McNabb threw for many more yards, and was a terrific passer on the day. McNabb’s second half was far better than the Card’s Kurt Warner’s first half.

Edgerrin James, though, did have a great day, and was a big factor in the Cards’ final drive.

This game was quite reminiscent of the Rams-Eagles game of 2001 where Warner and McCutcheon came back to beat the Eagles in the second half. that was a great game, too.

People will say that this tarnishes McNabb’s and/or Reid’s legacy. No, no, no.

The Eagles are truly a great team. Five NFC Title games in eight years, and a terrific performance in this last one, an exciting performance, and nearly a win against all odds.

Only the 1990s San Francisco 49ers appeared in five NFC championship games in one decade, and I would remind everyone that that team, also, made it to just one Super Bowl appearance in those five games under coach George Seifert, were 1-4 in NFC championship games, and thought they won the Super Bowl they appeared in, their record of accomplishments in the 1990s is not dissimilar from the Eagles. Also, the Niners were up against a powerful Dallas Cowboys team piloted by Troy Aikman in those years. The Eagles have faced similarly talented teams within their own conference.

The Eagles have been playing with house money the whole way through. They nearly made it to another super bowl in a year that no one expected anything of them.

Now, they are in a position to sign a kicker and a running back (LaDainian Tomlinson?) and make another run next year at the title.

The dynasty continues. Another great year of pro football comes to a close in philly.

Oh, and by the way, GO STEELERS! (hey, we love PA teams).

–art kyriazis philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies
Happy New Year 2009

The NFL, FOX and other major media claim that the Arizona Cardinals have never hosted an NFC Conference Championship Game. Technically, that is correct, because the NFC and AFC only came into existence after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, but the NFL existed and had playoffs and championships and divisional playoff games for forty years or more before that date.

Before they were the Arizona Cardinals, they were the St. Louis Cardinals, and before they were the St. Louis Cardinals, they were the Chicago Cardinals.

And in 1947, 61 years ago, on December 28, 1947, the Chicago Cardinals hosted the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL Championhip. The box score of that game can be found at http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/194712280crd.htm. The Cardinals beat the Eagles 28-21. The Cardinals boasted Charlie Trippi at halfback and Ray Mallouf at QB.

That was a great Eagles team. It boasted Steve Van Buren, a 1000 yard rusher; Tommy Thompson at QB; Pete Pihos at end; Allie Sherman and Bill Mackrides at backup QB; and Bosh Pritchard at the other running back. It came back to win the NFL title in 1948 and 1949.

On December 19, 1948, the Eagles hosted the Chicago Cardinals in a rematch of the previous years title game, only this time at Philadelphia, and the Eagles defeated the Cardinals for the NFL title 7-0.

The Cardinals after 1948 never made the playoffs again while they were in Chicago. In 1960, they departed to St. Louis. In 1964, they had a 9-3 season, but finished second and missed the playoffs. But in 1974-75, they did finally make the playoffs again after a 26 year drought, under Don “Air” Coryell as their coach, with Jim Hart at QB and Terry Metcalf in the backfield and the outstanding Jackie Smith at tight end. Although they lost their opening round playoff games both years to the Vikings and Rams, those were two outstanding Cardinals playoff teams. Unfortunately, that was it for that team. The St. Louis Cards got in again in 1982, a strike year, but again lost the opening round playoff game.

In 1988 the Cards moved to Phoenix. In 1998, the Cards with Jake “the Snake” Plummer at QB went 9-7, made the wild card, and beat Troy Aikman and the Cowboys on the road in the wild card round, 20-7. Even though they lost to the Vikings in the Divisional Round, that would have to be counted as a very succesful season for the Cards. Unfortunately, it wasn’t repeated, and Plummer would soon make his way to Denver. It would take until this year for the Cards to again make the playoffs.

In 1925, the Chicago Cardinals won the NFL Championship, although this is disputed by some, since the Pottsville, PA Maroons had nearly the same record and defeated the Cardinals 21-7 in head to head play. There is a long ongoing controversy as to whether the Maroons or the Cardinals were the 1925 NFL Champions and I can’t get into the details of that here, except to say that both claim the championship, and the NFL record books apparently give it to Chicago’s Cardinals.

Suffice it to say that the Cardinals won at least one undisputed NFL championship on the field, and it was in December, 1947 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The same two teams played each other the next year and in December 1948, the Eagles beat the Cardinals for the NFL championship.

So actually, there’s a little bit of history between these two clubs, although you have to dust it all off to find it. And this coming weekend’s game is in fact a rematch of the 1947 and 1948 NFL championship games. It’s old school. These are two ancient franchises locking horns for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Even though the game is in Phoenix, which didn’t have an NFL franchise in 1947 or 1948, the history of the game is clearly there nonetheless. These two teams have both been in the NFL a long, long time and they have some history of losing to go along with their winning records.

Throw in the fact that Kurt Warner faced the Eagles as a St. Louis Ram in the NFC Championship Game not so long ago (2001) and the fact that Arizona was humbled and schooled 48-20 on Thanksgiving day by the Eagles, and you definitely have some rivalry issues on both sides for these clubs.

The Eagles, to justify their entire existence as a truly great team of the decade, must make it to the Super Bowl, and indeed, must win the Super Bowl.

The Cards, and Kurt Warner in particular, need to win to save face from the humiliation of thanksgiving day, though to lose in a close game would be enough.

On the whole, the synergies are such that I like the Eagles to win in a close, hard fought game.

The Eagles have the better defense, and on the whole, the better offense as well.

Warner is a very immobile QB,and will be a good target for the Eagles defensive blitz packages.

McNabb is healthy, can run his way out of trouble, and the Eagles have had success running the ball as well as passing.

I look for an Eagles win, though in many respects it’s a trap game on the road.

–art kyriazis philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies
happy new year 2009

The Philadelphia Eagles continue to shock the world. Yesterday they did what no one thought was possible—they marched into the Meadowlands and defeated the defending Super Bowl New York Giants in a divisional playoff round game 23-11. The game was close, hard-hitting and was up for grabs as late as the fourth quarter. The two teams went into the halftime with Philly up 10-8 after McNabb engineered a two-minute drive for a field goal by Akers. The two teams traded field goals in the third quarter and Philly was up 13-11 when the Eagles finally put together a touchdown drive to go ahead 20-11. Then the Giants stalled out at fourth and inches and the Eagles made a big defensive stop. The Eagles went three and out but the Giants again got to their own forty and got to fourth and around two and went for it again—and the Eagles stopped them again. This time the Eagles offense converted a long pass play to DeSean Jackson and while they didn’t make the TD, they converted another Akers FG to go up 23-11 with a little over four minutes to play in the fourth quarter. This pretty much iced it. Manning on his next series threw a pick and Philly again wasted clock with another offensive possession.

The Eagles won by controlling the second half with defense, by running the football about as often as they passed, and by controlling the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense. After a while, with the Giants defense out there so long, you could see the Giants defense getting tired, as great and awesome as they are. The Eagles had a 2-1 edge in time of possession in the second half. They simply dominated the Giants in the second half.

This was a terrific win for the Eagles, one of the finest wins in the playoffs in the Andy Reid era, perhaps the finest. A win over an NFC East rival on the road in the opponents stadium as a wild card having played the week before is a tall order, but Andy Reid dialed up a good game plan and won with it. Again, the keys to the game were a sound McNabb, a healthy Westbrook, a great DeSean Jackson and an awesome Eagles defense.

We should stop for a moment and appreciate what Andy Reid has now accomplished—five NFC Championship round appearances in eight years. The chance of doing this randomly in anyone year is the chance of making the playoffs (six out of 16) or .375 (37.5%) times the chance of winning at least one more playoff games (.5 or 50%) which aggregates to .1875 or 18.75% in any single season randomly. Leaving out the combinatorics of doing it five out of eight seasons (56 ways), assuming you had to do this five straight seasons would be .1875 times itself five times would would be .00023 or .023% chance of this happening randomly. That’s 23 chances in 10,000 seasons. The odds improve a bit when you stretch it over eight seasons, but still, it’s an impressive accomplishment. Andy Reid is clearly staking his claim for the Hall of Fame among NFL Coaches.

Of course, I’ve already gone out on that limb and said the Eagles would go to the Super Bowl this year. That prediction is looking better after Arizona knocked Carolina out of the playoffs. The Eagles knocked the stuffing out of Arizona on Thanksgiving day. Not that Arizona will lay down and die at home during the NFC championship game. Kurt Warner is an experienced quarterback who has won the Super Bowl, and who has defeated the Eagles in the NFC Championship round with St. Louis back in 2001, though he had Marshall Faulk back then to do it with and a pretty good defense. But he does have a renewed Edgerrin James, who has been enjoying a renaissance in the playoffs, and the Cardinals running game has been respectable enough to give their passing game some respectability. Moreover, the Eagles may have a letdown after their emotional win over the Giants. They may underestimate the Cardinals.

A historical note: The Eagles last met the Cardinals in a playoff game in 1947, for the NFL title. The Chicago Cardinals defeated the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFL title in that game. The Eagles came back to win the NFL title in 1948 and 1949. It’s taken 61 years, but this is the Eagles time for revenge and payback. Besides, what kind of crazy person would leave a great town like Chicago for St. Louis or Arizona?

The keys to this upcoming game are that Warner is a stationary QB vulnerable to the blitz; and the Cardinals weak defense. Also the Eagles good secondary has to maintain coverage on the fleet-footed Arizona receivers. The Eagles must maintain the same kind of game plan that resulted in a blowout from Thanksgiving while making adjustments in light of Arizona’s last two big wins.

I believe the Eagles will win at Arizona, though it will not be a blowout as before. I also think that the Steelers will finally knock Baltimore out of the playoffs, though Baltimore is playing very, very well. And we will finally have an all-PA Super Bowl of Steelers v. Eagles in Tampa, where there are a lot of ex-PA people living as snowbirds.

–Art Kyriazis Philly/South Jersey
Home of the World Champion Phillies
Happy New Year 2009

The clash between Eagles head coach Andy Reid and his former assistant coach (and now Minnesota Head Coach) and good friend Brad Childress in the playoffs yesterday highlights a new trend in the NFL—the Philadelphia Eagles family of coaches in the NFL. First, there are the Buddy Ryan assistant coaches—Jon Gruden, formerly of Oakland (where he went to the Super Bowl) and now of Tampa Bay (where he also went to the Super Bowl, and narrowly missed the playoffs this year) and Jeff Fischer of Tennessee, the NFL’s longest tenured coach, who is the AFC’s top seeded team this year, a regular playoff contender, and a former Super Bowl coach and AFC champion. Former Eagles head coach and Buddy Ryan assistant coach Ray Rhodes continues to work as an assistant coach in the league. Buddy Ryan’s two sons now are assistant coaches in the league. Second, there are the ex-Eagles—such as Herm Edwards of Kansas City, and former head coach Dick Vermeil, who used to coach at St. Louis, and won a Super Bowl there. Ex-Eagle John Bunting was a college head coach at North Carolina. And then you have the Andy Reid connections–Harbaugh at Baltimore, who used to coach special teams with the Eagles, and all the connections of Reid through Green Bay as well as Philly like Childress at Minnesota and Holmgren in Seattle.

There are probably many more connections to the Eagles that could be found, but it certainly is illuminating how many coaches and assistant coaches in the NFL (and in the college ranks) now have philly ties. And we used to think this was a college hoops town with a lot of college and pro hoops coaches everywhere. Who knew we were a spawning ground for college coaches. Guess it’s a spawning ground of football coaches as well for the NFL.

–art kyriazis philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies
Happy New Year 2009

The Philadelphia Eagles played another outstanding game yesterday in defeating the Minnesota Vikings 26-14 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota in a nationally televised NFL wildcard playoff game. Coming off their destruction of Dallas 44-6 the week before, the Eagles might have been expected to lower their guard somewhat, but quite to the contrary, the Eagles played well and with intensity, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Minnesota boasts Adrian Peterson, who since his rookie last year and his second year this year, was and is the finest running back in all of professional football. Peterson has gained more than 3,000 yards on the ground in those two seasons and has moves, quickness, speed and power reminiscent of all the great Hall of Fame running backs of yore. The Maxwell Club Award winner this year, Peterson is a spectacular running back who can run and score almost at will against nearly all defenses. Against the Eagles yesterday, Peterson was held to 83 yards rushing on 20 attempts. Morever, Peterson had only one breakaway run for a touchdown late in the first half for more than ten yards—a forty yard TD sprint that accounted for almost half of his rushing yards for the game. The Eagles defense didn’t stop Peterson, but they contained Peterson sufficiently that the Eagles offense could win the game. Limiting Peterson to one breakaway run, a short TD run and a long TD run, and 83 yards on the ground, was in effect, stopping the prodigious Minnesota running game. This was one giant key to the Eagles win yesterday.

A second giant key was stopping the Minnesota passing game. Asante Samuel made a spectacular interception which he returned for a defensive touchdown for the Eagles, thus demonstrating why the Eagles signed him for big free agent money in the off-season. Samuel is a big-play man in big playoff games. The defensive touchdown came at a critical juncture, when the Eagles were ahead by just two points, 9-7, and gave the Eagles some needed breathing room.

Third, the Eagles offense was steady all day. While they didn’t score touchdowns, they got into the red zone and gave David Akers the chance to kick field goals, which in the wind-free Metrodome was an easier than normal task—and Akers booted three in the first half, and another in the second half. Akers was a fourth key to the Eagles win.

The final and fifth key to the Eagles’s win was Brian Westbrook, who played well all day, and finally broke a big play open late on a screen pass call that was brilliantly executed just when Minnesota had nearly all of its men committed to the pass rush, leaving Westbrook free to run downfield for 71 yards and a game-breaking touchdown that gave the Eagles a 23-14 lead late in the game that held up.

With this win, the Eagles now get their rematch date with the New York Giants in the Meadowlands, and while the Giants have to be favorites as the home team and the defending Super Bowl champions, no one should count the Eagles out. If the Eagles win against the Giants, they would have either Carolina on the road or Arizona on the road for the NFC Championship Game, and a shot at their second Super Bowl in this decade. The Giants continue to be without Plaxico Burriss and their middle linebacker continues to be a subject of investigation in that matter.

Now, onto another more important question: how great is Andy Reid as a coach? First, Reid has made the playoffs now seven of ten seasons as Eagles coach, made the playoffs five years in a row his second through sixth seasons, and won four NFC East titles. Reid has also reached the NFC Title Game four times, and won once to get to the Super Bowl once. Reid has the third highest winning percentage of all active NFL coaches. And Reid has won seven opening round playoff games in a row in each of those seven seasons that he has made the playoffs. In other words, every year he gets a ticket to the dance, he dances a little longer than all the other teams combined.

Compare that with Dick Vermeil or Buddy Ryan. We all loved Vermeil, but Vermeil had his problems with opening round games. Buddy Ryan had terrific defenses and outstanding regular seasons, but never won a playoff game in Philly, even when he had the homefield advantage (the Redskins) or the lead on the road (the fog game in Chicago). Losing first round playoff games led to Ryan’s demise in Philadelphia.

And what of other NFL coaches? We all love Tony Dungy, but increasingly, his record reflects, whether in Tampa Bay or in Indianapolis, a record of first round playoff exits, despite having superior talent and outstanding regular season records on his ballclubs. One would have to think what an Andy Reid would do if he was coaching Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. A first round exit on the road at San Diego would not be in the cards for Andy Reid, who NEVER loses first round playoff games.

To understand how difficult it is to win seven straight opening round playoff games in a row, is, let’s look at some basic statistical or probability theory. Initially, let’s assume that winning the playoff game is just a 50-50 shot (it’s less than that, but we’ll get to that in a second). If that were the case, winning one would be 50% probability—winning two in a row 50% times 50% or 25% and so on.

To win seven in a row randomly would be a chance of .0078% or approximately a 1% chance. One in a hundred. Those are the odds randomly of winning seven games in a row of any kind. But playoff games are of a different kind—much more difficult—the odds are somewhat less than fifty per cent—so you have to think that those odds are less than 50% each time—and consequently the odds of randomly winning seven playoff games in a row are consequently somewhat less than 1%.

In any event, to win seven playoff games in a row represents a substantial deviation from the norm. A great NFL coach would win about 50% of his playoff games—Reid has won 100% of his first round playoff games, and has an overall winning record in playoff games. This is a remarkable record, and one which argues that Reid is as good a coach as a Vince Lombardi or a John Madden. In point of fact, John Madden lost plenty of playoff games before he got his Super Bowl ring, but no one disputed that John Madden was a great coach.

Again, to win one NFC east title in a row, with three other teams in the division, would be a 25% random probability. But to win four NFC East Titles in a row would be 25% times 25% times 25% times 25% or a .0039625 probability—about one-half a percent chance of randomly making the NFC East Championship four times in a row randomly. That means about four times in a thousand years, randomly. That would be the lottery ticket odds. But again, the odds are less than that-the other teams in the NFC East are good, spend a lot of money and are competitive—and second, Reid’s success is a marked deviation from the norm. Also, the NFL has a high degree of competitive balance due to the draft and free agency.

Now, what are the odds of making the playoffs seven out of ten years and five straight years? Six teams in the NFC make the playoffs each year of sixteen teams in the NFC, or 37.5% of the teams in the NFC. Making the playoffs five straight years randomly is therefore 37.5% multiplied by itself five times in a row, or a .00742 probability, or again, just about 1%.

Here Reid has substantially deviated from the norm and the odds again in making the playoffs five times in a row from 2000-2004.

But the odds of making it seven out of ten years (2000-2008) are even less—on the order of 3.83 to ten to the minus eighth, a negligible sum (I’ll leave out the combinatorics). Here, it’s not even possible that this is a random accomplishment. This is an amazingly rare accomplishment–and here Reid starts to join the company of coaches like Tom Landry, John Madden, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, the true greats who find a way to win year after year, even after rebuilding and retooling. This year’s Eagles defense might be Reids’ best ever.

On getting to the NFC Title Game, there are a number of probability factors. First, you have to make the playoffs, and second, you have to win at least one and possibly two playoff games. Let’s take the minimal scenario, that the Eagles win the NFC East, have a bye, and have to win just one playoff game to make the NFC championship round. The chances of both of these happening four years in a row are, from above, .39% for winning the NFC East four years in a row, and 6.25% for winning four playoff games in a row to get to the NFC East finals. Multiplying those two probabilities, you get a random probability of .00024 or .024% chance of this happening randomly—about 24 times in 10,000 years. Suffice it to say that Reid is way, way better than the norm and the odds here. Thus his run from 2001-2005 was unbelievably great.

A few weeks ago, the Eagles were 80 to 1 underdogs against them making the Super Bowl. In retrospect, that’s not a bad wager. The Eagles under Andy Reid both in the regular season and the post season over the past nine years have substantially outperformed the market and the competition. They are among the best “investments” in pro football. They substantially outperform the random odds and the random prospects for any given football team. They make the playoffs far more than average, they win division titles far more than average, and when they do make the playoffs, they always win the first game of the playoffs, and sometimes additional games as well.

In winning this years 2009 first round playoff game against Minnesota, Reid in ten years as an Eagles coach is now 7-0, undefeated in seven seasons, in opening playoff rounds, and is slowly cementing himself a place in the Hall of Fame among football coaches. Owner Jeff Lurie is correct to keep Andy Reid around as long as possible. In fact, Lurie should give Reid more money to keep him put.

This is clearly Andy Reid’s best Eagles team since the 2004 Eagles that reached the Super Bowl. The main reasons for this are 1) McNabb has stayed healthy all sixteen games of the regular season and through the playoffs, along with Westbrook 2) a devastating defense helped by Asante Samuel and Brian Dawkins and 3) the amazing play of rookie wide receiver and return man DeSean Jackson, who has put up receiving numbers like TO and return numbers that are amazing. He came up big in yesterday’s playoff game, and continues to amaze all of us with his speed and football talent.

Berman on ESPN has already come out and said this Eagles team will reach the Super Bowl. Of course, he also picked the Colts in the AFC, but on this one, I think he might be right. I really like the Eagles to go to the Super Bowl. Naturally, the party may come to an end in New York next weekend, but this is truly a great Eagles team no matter what happens next weekend.

Art Kyriazis Philly/South Jersey
Home of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies
Happy New Year 2009

Today was a terrific day if you were a Philadelphia sports fan.

First, in order for the Eagles to make the playoffs, the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to lose their one pm EST games. Tampa Bay in particular was favored by 13 at home against the supposedly hapless Oakland Raiders. And Chicago was matched up against the Houston Texans at Houston.

Well, I sat down to watch the Tampa-Oakland game at around 3 pm today, and Tampa was up by ten with less than a quarter to play. It looked pretty bad for the Eagles playoff scenario. Then Oakland got the ball. They ran a play. Then they ran another play, and pass interference moved them about fifty yards downfield. The next play, they were in the end zone for a TD. Bingo, three point game, Tampa Bay 24, Oakland 21.

Tampa gets the ball, and they drive into Oakland territory. On 4th and 3 from around the 35, they go for it and don’t make it.

The very next play, Bush gets the handoff for Oakland and rumbles almost 70 yards for a touchdown to put the Raiders ahead. Just like that, 14 unanswered points for Oakland. Now Oakland is up 28-24.

Oakland stops Tampa again, and for good measure, knocks the clock down to two minutes and adds a field goal to make it 31-24. Now Oakland has scored 17 unanswered points, and Bush has more than 175 yards rushing. Cadillac Williams has been taken off the field hurt, along with two other Tampa key players. Garcia does his best in the two minute drill, but at the Oakland 35, he’s sacked and time runs out as Tampa has no more timeouts.

Oakland pulls out the upset, come from behind win. I’m so happy, I want to send Al Davis a christmas card. I even think the ghost of Kenny Stabler has come back to haunt the Bucs.

Meanwhile the Bears have dropped a close one to Houston, in Houston, 31-24.

Which means that Dallas and Philly are now playing for the last playoff spot. Which is loudly proclaimed by FOX as “WIN AND IN” in large letters.

And do the Eagles respond?

Well, yes they do–they play a perfect first half of football, decimating the Cowboys 27-3. Everything that can go right for the Eagles goes right, and everything that can go wrong for the Cowboys goes wrong.

The Cowboys come out from halftime with a couple of offensive drives, but after a long drive, a fumble is returned for a TD by the Eagles defense, and then a longer drive results in another fumble returned even longer by the Eagles defense for a TD. Now the score is an embarassing 41-3 and the party has started.

Akers tacks on a field goal later to make it 44-3, and the Cowboys later manage a field goal as well, but that’s the ball game, Eagles 44-6 over the Cowboys.

How bad was it? Not since Sunday, October 23, 1961 had the Eagles (with Tommy McDonald at wide receiver and King Hill at QB) beaten the Cowboys so badly, 43-7 in Dallas. Today’s win is the biggest margin of victory by the Eagles over any Cowboys team in a game played in Philadelphia in the entire history of the Dallas-Philadelphia franchise rivalry, going back to 1960 when Dallas entered the league, and interestingly enough, the same year that the Eagles last won the Super Bowl.

This game had a very interesting tone to it–a tone of destiny. Now I don’t know how the playoffs will turn out.

But I know these facts. The Eagles are a veteran club, that have been to the playoffs multiple times and the Super Bowl at least once. All of them know this is probably their last dance in the big dance. They’ve been outstanding at times this year, beating the NY Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers and humiliating the Dallas Cowboys this past week, as well as destroying the Arizona Cardinals, a division winner. The Eagles also defeated Atlanta, the other wildcard.

And to beat the Cowboys as badly as they did since 1961–when they were last defending their NFL title–that’s destiny at work. That’s a magic number–1960 and 1961–that’s almost saying that the Eagles are as good now as they were when they last captured the NFL championship by defeating Vince Lombardi’s Packers at Franklin Field in 1960. Perhaps this will again be the year. Who knows? The way the Eagles have played recently, this could be their year.

They’ve also laid some eggs, but their record is 9-6-1, and they’re going to play Minnesota, a team they can definitely beat.

Speaking of balance, in addition to having rushing and passing balance today, the Eagles also scored as many points by the defense as they did by the offense it seemed–14 by the defense, 9 by akers, and 21 by the offense. That’s amazingly good balance from all three portions of the team–defense, special teams and offense. The Eagles ran for more than 150 yards and passed for more than 150 yards. They controlled the ball for more than 30 minutes of the game. They made all the big plays and they made all the little plays.

The Eagles in yardage are 2d in the NFL in defensive yards allowed, and 6th in the NFL in offensive yards gained. In short, they are one of the best teams in the NFL statistically. When they put it all together, as they did against Dallas and against Arizona, they are a frighteningly good team–and I mean Super Bowl Champion good. Good enough to roll the Giants, the Panthers and whoever comes out of the AFC.

The NFC playoffs, as I had potentially projected a couple of weeks ago, will now be these:

Eagles at Minnesota Vikings

Falcons at Arizona Cardinals

If everything plays the way it should, one would expect the Falcons and Eagles to win those games, setting up the Falcons to play at Carolina the following weekend, and the Eagles to play the Giants at NY.

Both would be terrific, excellent playoff games.

the Falcons will probably lose to Carolina, but the Eagles can beat the Giants in a rubber match after splitting the first two games. If Atlanta upset Carolina, the Eagles could get Atlanta in a rematch, which the Eagles could win, having defeated Atlanta already this season. But Carolina will probably win.

That would bring the Eagles to playing the NFC title game in Carolina, and how sweet it would be to get revenge for the NFC title game loss of Jan 2004 when the Eagles enjoyed the home advantage but lost to Carolina 14-3 in embarassing fashion. But Carolina, like the Giants, are a dangerous experienced foe.

It’s hard to know who will come out of the AFC; the Steelers are very good, but so also are the Ravens, the Patriots, the Colts, the Titans and the Dolphins. The Jets would have been very dangerous but Miami has knocked them out and sent Brett Favre home for the holidays.

So the Eagles have earned their ticket to the dance. But there’s nothing to boo about today.

As for Donovan McNabb, I’m ready to vote for him for Governor. Heck, let’s make him the next Senator from Illinois. I understand he keeps a residence from Chicago. It would give him something to do in the offseason and help him transition to his next career after football, which would probably include running for president one day after giving all Philadelphia fans the one christmas present they have always craved;

an utter and total destructive humiliation of the Dallas Cowboys in a game that mattered on national TV, in front of the home fans. 44-6. A game that will live forever.

Donovan, we forgive you, we love you, you’re our guy. There’s nothing to boo about in Philly today.

–art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies and playoff-bound eagles

“The Dream is Over” sang John Lennon once, mysteriously, at the end of one of his solo album songs, giving rise to a host of speculation as to what he meant. The dream of the beatles reuniting? the dream of sixties utopianism? the dream of peace? the dream of civil rights? No one knew quite what he meant, and after he filed that one away, he went on a five year alcoholic bender with Harry Nilsson and May Pang in LA, followed by five years of living at home under the watchful eye of Yoko Ono, followed by releasing Double Fantasy to overwhelming accolades in the fall of 1980, after which Lennon was famously martyred in front of his apartment building in New York City in December of 1980, the Dakota.

That was a long time ago. How long? Well, the Phillies were reigning World Champions, the Eagles were about to play in their first Super Bowl, having vanquished the Dallas Cowboys, led by Dick Vermeil, Ron Jaworski, Harold Carmichael and Wilbert Montgomery and an incredible defense led by Bill Bergey, the Sixers still were great with Dr. J and company, and the Flyers were still the class of the league.

This weekend played out perfectly for the Eagles playoff scenario. Dallas lost. Tampa Bay lost. Each of them went to six losses. All the Eagles had to do to make the playoffs was to beat Washington in Washington, and then beat Dallas next week, and they were in.

But the Eagles failed. They failed mainly due to Brian Westbrook being injured and ineffectual, somewhat due to DeJean Jackson dropping two key catches in the fourth quarter, one in the end zone that would have tied the game, but mainly because they just didn’t bring their “A” game this past week to Washington. An offense that scored so many points the past three weeks mustered just a field goal in sixty minutes against Washington, looking even worse than it did against Cincinnati.

Since the Bears pulled out their game against the Packers last nite, in order for the Eagles to make the playoffs now,

1) the Eagles must beat the Cowboys at home next week and finish 9-6-1
2) Tampa Bay must lose their last game and go to 7 losses
3) The Chicago Bears must lose their last game and go to 7 losses.

Last night, the Bears were losing all night, then tied the game in the 4th quarter and won in overtime. It would have made a large difference to the eagles flickering playoff hopes if the Bears had lost.

Instead, it is now Dallas that can make the playoffs simply by winning at Philadelphia, so Dallas has all the momentum and rationale on its side. If Dallas wins, Dallas is in.

If the Eagles win against Dallas, and they finish 9-6-1, playoffs or not, they would finish 2d in the NFC East, and you’d have to say they had a successful season in certain respects.

But if the Eagles lose against Dallas, and they finish 8-7-1, then they would finish 3d in the NFC east, and would have been swept by Dallas and Washington, and only beaten the Giants once.

The real key to the Eagles not making the playoffs this year has been their inability to beat NFC east opponents, particularly the Redskins, who have beaten the Eagles twice, and the Cowboys, who beat the Eagles in an offensive shootout earlier this year.

In the past, when the Eagles were NFC East Division champs four straight years, they beat their division rivals. When Buddy Ryan was coach, he made sure they beat division rivals and had his team stoked for those matchups.

NFC East games count for more than just a game. They are the heart and soul of what makes for winning football in the NFL.

The Eagles cannot be seriously considered as contenders so long as they can’t beat Dallas, Washington or NY on a regular basis. After all, it is Dallas and NY they will see again in the playoffs, or have to beat to get to the playoffs.

And teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay are the same teams that the Eagles have had problems beating in the past in the NFC playoffs, losing to those two teams at home in successive NFC title games in years past.

So there’s nothing new here. The Eagles know what teams they have to beat.

Andy Reid and management perhaps need to take a step back and decide how they are going to beat Coughlin in NY, Fox in Carolina, Gruden in Tampa Bay, and so on. Because right now, it looks like those coaches are doing a better job.

Maybe the answer would be to bring in Holmgren from Seattle as the GM for the Eagles and relieve Reid of his GM duties. the two work well together and are friends.

But the Eagles whiffed on Tony Gonzalez earlier this year, and their drafts have not been great.

The Dallas game should be a good one.

We’ll see which team comes out to play.

–art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies

The Philadelphia Eagles defied all reasonable expectations and defeated the New York Giants decisively 20-14 this past Sunday, December 7, 2008, the 67th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day. The final score was not indicative of how decisively the Eagles controlled this game, especially in the second half; Brian Westbrook rushed for 133 yards on the ground, went for approximately 75 more passing/receiving yards, and essentially destroyed the Giants by means of a ball possession offense that denied Eli Manning and the potent Giants offense the ball for much of the second half.

When the Giants did get the ball, the Eagles defense was up to the task, shutting the Giants offense down until less than a minute to go in the game when the Giants’ offense scored their only touchdown.

The only breakdown in the game for the Eagles came on a short field goal attempt at the end of the first half, which would have put the Eagles up 13-0 going into halftime; the kick was blocked by the Giants’ powerful defense, and returned the other way for a Giants defensive TD, making the halftime score 10-7 Eagles. This made the game much closer than it should have been.

Had that special teams breakdown not occurred, the Eagles might have been winning the game 20-0 until the final Giants TD, and won the game 20-7 in the end. The Eagles also had another short field goal attempt blocked by the Giants, or they might have scored three more points; in all, the two blocks and the returned defensive TD costs the Eagles a swing of 13 points or they would have defeated the Giants 23-7 in this game.

There is no question that the Eagles benefited from the long layoff after their Thanksgiving match against Arizona. There is also no question that the New York Giants were hurt by the legal brouhaha over the gun possession charges and the self-inflicted gunshot wound incident surrounding Plaxico Burriss and their middle linebacker, and the grand jury, etc.

What is really interesting about all this is the involvement of Mayor Bloomberg, calling for imposition of the mandatory minimum sentence of 2 ½ years on Burriss. This is not exactly a Republican stance, is it? I don’t foresee the NRA supporting Mayor Bloomberg anytime soon for election to any higher offices.

Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to recall the U.S. Supreme Court recently holding that the District of Columbia’s regulation of handguns was unconstitutional in light of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, and that this was a landmark ruling. That applied to Northeastern large cities, or maybe Mayor Bloomberg didn’t read that decision. Perhaps Mr. Burriss’ attorneys would be smart to certify their case for constitutional appeal to the New York Court of Appeals and thereafter for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that Mr. Burriss’ Second Amendment right to bear arms in self-defence have been infringed. The individualist reading of the Second Amendment has finally made its way into Constitutional law, and the Plaxico Burriss case may well be the second significant ruling on the subject.

Turning to the playoff race, with Carolina having defeated Tampa Bay last night in Monday Night Football, that now makes Carolina the division leader at 10-3 and Tampa Bay the leading wild-card at 9-4. The next two wild cards in the standings are the Dallas Cowboys at 8-5 and the Atlanta Falcons at 8-5. Dallas, who lost to Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh by giving up 17 points in a dreadful fourth quarter collapse after initially leading by ten points with fifteen minutes to go, now faces the New York Giants at home.

The Cowboys have beaten the Giants, so the Cowboys still only have five losses; Meanwhile, Tampa Bay lost in overtime to Atlanta at Atlanta this week, so Tampa Bay is now two games behind Carolina for the division lead and had now dropped to five losses along with Atlanta and Dallas, tied for the wild card.

The Eagles at 7-5-1 will have a chance tonight and the next two weeks to work their way into the playoffs. They host the Cleveland Browns at home tonite; if they beat Cleveland and go to 8-5-1, they will be a half game off the wild card pace. At that point, the Eagles would then control their destiny for the rest of the season; they play the Washington Redskins on the road and host Dallas the last two games of the season, and if they can defeat these two division rivals, both of whom have been in recent decline, the Eagles will make the NFC playoffs if Tampa Bay or Atlanta simply lose one more game and go to six losses.

Assuming the Eagles make the playoffs as the sixth seed, assuming the standings hold approximately as they currently are, the Giants and either Tampa Bay or Carolina would get the first week byes, and the Eagles would get a road game against either Arizona or Minnesota, whichever division winner ends up being the third seed division winner. Meanwhile Carolina/Tampa Bay would get a road game against either Arizona or Minnesota. In this scenario, it is likely that the Eagles might actually advanced in the playoffs, having defeated Arizona decisively during the year, and being a better team than Minnesota as well.

The same could well be said of Carolina/Tampa Bay.
This could well bring about in the second round of the NFC playoffs a rematch of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles in New York (1 and 6 seeds) and a rematch of the Carolina/Tampa Bay teams (2 and 5 seeds), two grudge matches of division rivals that would make for compelling playoff football. All four of these teams have been to the NFC championships and the Super Bowl in the last few years and all are playoff experienced. I very much expect that the Giants, Eagles, Carolina and Tampa Bay will end up in the second round of the playoffs for the NFC eventually.

The only other team I give a chance to upset this parade is the Dallas Cowboys, who by defeating the Giants and Eagles can make the sixth and last seed, get the road game against Arizona/Minnesota, win on the road and get their rematch with the Giants in the second round of the playoffs.

So in my view, this will all come down to the Eagles and the Cowboys vying for the last playoff spot, which in light of the weak first round opponent, is a very valuable wild card seeding this year.

As for who will prevail in those second round games, I would tend to favor the Giants in a third game between the Eagles or Cowboys against the Giants; and whoever has the home field in a Tampa Bay-Carolina rematch, though I give a slight edge to Tampa Bay due to Jon Gruden’s coaching abilities.

Finally, if we see a Giants-Tampa Bay or Giants-Carolina NFC final, in New York, the Giants should be favored to return to the Super Bowl.

–art kyriazis, philly/south jersey
home of the world champion phillies