Peter King of SI picked the Chargers versus the Falcons for the Super Bowl. I have the Steelers versus the Saints. I like it when I am doing better then Mr. King.
I also had the Broncos at 8-8 and out of the playoffs. There is a very good chance that could be dead-on right at 5:30 on Sunday night.
Look, when it comes to football, I had some wretched picks this year. I had the Chargers at 13-3. I had the 49ers at 2-14. I had the Colts at 8-8 and division champions. I had the Vikes winning 7 due to improved quarterback play from McNabb (what was I thinking) and the Pack in the playoffs but only winning 10 because they looked “rusty” in the preseason (and then started 13-0). I had the Chiefs at 3-13 and the Bengals at 1-15. If the latter wins Sunday, they’re “in the tournament” as Buddy Ryan likes to call it. But I did have some pretty good picks:
I had the Raiders at 7-9 and out of the playoff, which San Diego can insure with a win Sunday. I might have picked the NFC North big guns perfectly, predicting Baltimore would sweep Pittsburgh and win their division at 12-4 and the Steelers would finish 2nd at 11-5 (they’ll probably finish 12-4). I picked the Cowboys to win the NFC East, picked the Redskins perfectly, picked the Eagles as out of the playoffs, I might have nailed the Lions record at 10-6 (although I said out of the playoffs), I picked the Top Two seeds in the NFC South in order with the Saints division winners over the Falcons (Bucs and Panthers, different story). I picked the AFC East correctly in order with New England as the number one overall seed in the AFC and the NY Jets as a wild card (the latter is possible, and if it happens, I picked Miami perfectly in last place at 5-11).
As TMQ says, “all predictions right, or no money back.” My last Football post two weeks ago was about the huge tilt between Denver and New England, where I predicted either a close Denver win or a New England blow out. Nice safe pick that, I was 50% dead-on! I also said that the keys to the Broncos winning were good pressure from the defensive front, excellent special teams play continuing and a 100 yard rushing game from Willis McGahee and that the outcome was not all on Tebow. Largely because the Broncos did none of those things, they lost.
The Broncos defensive tackles were playing well until New England and have been savaged the last two weeks. I went so far as to single out Lonnie Paxton before that game for his steady play at long snapper and he went out and muffed his first snap of the game costing the Donks their first extra point (blowing an extra point in the NFL is like not scoring a goal with a 5-3 in the NHL. Name the last time you remember a team blowing an extra point early in a game and still winning?). Willis started out great before reinjuring his hammy. The Broncos had almost 170 yards of rushing in the first quarter alone and had a 9 point lead, but had to abandon the run when disaster after disaster befell them.
The Broncos defense has not been the same since Von Miller got his hand surgically repaired. Von has one sack in the last four weeks and only Dumervil and Bailey have had decent games since they lost the huge play of “Mayhem”. With Mayhem in the line-up but saddled with the big cast, the Broncos have been minus 8 in turnover differential the last two games, and have forced exactly zero turnovers. Good teams like the Steelers can be a minus in turnover differential and still win, and the Saints were minus 2 Monday Night in their shredding of the record books and Falcons. But an average team defined by being young and scrappy cannot afford offensive turnovers, and must shorten the field for the inexperienced offense by creating defensive turnovers. I have said many times that the term “playmaker” is over used when describing offensive players, as defensive playmakers really reset the tempo of a game. If the Raiders get into the playoffs by beating San Diego and the Broncos lose, they should send a fruit basket to Norv Turner’s boys for messing with Mayhem’s thumb. For those wondering, the pins are supposed to be in for a total of eight to ten weeks, which means mid February, which further means that a Broncos Super Bowl run is all the more unlikely.
As a Bronco fan since the days of Red Miller and fullback Dave Preston (#46, think he retired in 1981), December has been an especially cruel month in Colorado the last half decade, and this year looks much like the 2008 and 2009 collapses where Denver lost their last three and four in a row to miss the playoffs, despite controlling their own destiny.
Here is why that won’t happen, and Denver will get a tilt with the Terrible Towels next weekend at home (@wilsoncj14, I’m sorry, but the Ravens will come into sold out Cincy and leave victorious Sunday. ‘Tis true).
1.) Captain Neck Beard and The Two-Way Street. Much has been made of Kyle Orton’s knowledge of the Broncos playbook and tendencies. All media attention has been casting Kyle Orton as a Jason Bourne-type super-hero with superior knowledge of the inner workings of the Denver playbook. Did all that media forget that the Broncos defense lined up against him every day for 2.5 years and never had the pleasure of live fire drills? Kyle Orton is a brilliant practice quarterback and plays well when he has the lead. Kyle Orton like a well-defined pocket and takes what Trent Dilfer likes to call “good sacks” and makes “smart throwaways” to “preserve field position and get his team a field goal.” Kyle Orton and Trent Dilfer are actually one and the same person I think, except Trent was lucky to spend a season or two with the most voracious defense since the ’85 Bears when he won a Super Bowl with the 2000 Ravens. It was hard to play from behind with that defense. Neckbeard never enjoyed such luxury. Without good tight ends in KC right now, or good third down tailbacks as check downs, the way you get after Orton is to release the wolves. Dennis Allen comes from New Orleans and the Gregg Williams school of mad dog blitzes. Ryan Fitzpatrick had more weapons at his disposal last week then Orton will enjoy this week. After Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin, Orton has few choices. Orton has been great between the 20’s in KC just as he was in Denver (599 yards passing in two weeks, or two months worth of Tebow-yardage), but his team has settled for six red zone field goals. Last week he threw two red zone picks. Just as Orton knows the Broncos playbook, the Bronco defense knows his hot buttons. He is immobile. He likes check downs. He has great difficulty converting 3rd and long. The Bronco defense never had the chance to lay the wood to Orton in practice, and I have to imagine Dennis Allen is salivating at the chance to send five and six constantly given Orton’s limited offensive arsenal.
2.) Tebow was due for a wretched game. Tebow’s best game of the year so far was actually New England, when he had high command of the offense and passed with great effectiveness. He was tomahawked on his fumble and contributed to the second quarter deluge, but played well throughout the game. Last week, he was wretched. He was worse than he was against Detroit. Some of that was play-calling, as the Broncos got away from running the ball in the 2nd quarter when they didn’t have to. A lot of that was Tim airmailing balls all over the place. The game plan in both the Detroit and Buffalo games called for a lot of pocket passing and put the offense on Tebow’s shoulders. Denver chose not to patiently wear out the opposition. Tebow is not yet, and may never be, a pocket passer. He looked a lot like Jake Plummer early in his career. The entire Tebow train is officially derailed, just like it was after Detroit and going into Oakland. The time has come when conventional wisdom says “I told you so” and that’s exactly the time when Tebow and the Broncos show up and find a way to win.
3.) Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins. Much has been made of the Broncos young safeties and their long-in-the-tooth veterans in their secondary. Raheem Moore has had a lousy rookie year, Chris Harris has been inconsistent, David Bruton is average. But there are two wily vets in Bailey and Dawkins that I think will turn the game. Bailey is one of the smartest defensive football players in the game, and is the best tackling shutdown corner in decades. Dawkins is hurt, but there is no way he will miss this game. Bailey almost left Denver in the offseason because the McDaniels era chapped him so badly, and John Elway’s first order of business was getting Champ back. Elway is given very little credit for that move. The man who was leading the cheers from the sideline during Tebow’s first big comeback in Miami was none other than Champ. And if you ask Tebow which guy he looks up to the most on the Broncos, it is Dawkins. Champ has a couple more great years left in the tank, but if the Broncos lose, this is probably Dawkins last game. One of these two, or both, will likely address the Broncos Saturday night. In a game where emotional edges are hard to manufacture, I like that one a lot. The Chiefs by contract have an interim coach, an interim quarterback, three Pro Bowl players on IR, and a penchant for getting blown out.
I can see the Broncos losing a heart-breaker. Bronco fans have come to expect little of this team, and so it wouldn’t surprise me at all. But I think the Broncos win, and by more than two scores, 23-14.