It's 888 Miles to Chicago...

Wildcard weekend lived up to its name with every game in doubt into the 4th quarter.  The question we need to ask, which of these teams have what it takes to knock off the elite in their conference?  It is rare that all 4 top seeds advance, so where is the upset?  Or is there one?  Or more importantly, do you smell nachos?

This week, we’re going to do a little something different…the plan was to have a Monday post reviewing the Wildcard games, but life got in the way.  My internet was out all weekend…thank you Comcast!  And my daughter started preschool this week, so my plan to have a Monday post got eaten by those two events.  But there is no way I can keep my mouth shut…or my fingers still…so before we get to the picks, let’s do a quick recap of last weekend’s games.

First off, the key to all four games?  Turnovers.  Playoff football always puts a premium on avoiding mistakes, and that really proved true this weekend.  All four teams that went home can all look to losing the turnover battle as a big reason. 

Seahawks 35 Redskins 14

The turning point for the Skins was not scoring after they recovered that funky kickoff.  If they score there, this is a frantic finish.  But once the Hawks stopped them, that defense came alive, and the Skins started pressing.  What looked like an amazing comeback…turned into a quick death.

The Hawks Defense is really good.  They get great pressure…but for some reason they pulled back, they were beating up on Collins, and then the 2nd half started and they let up.  That’s what allowed them to get back into the game. 

As for the Hawks offense…wow, Alexander is horrible.  He was doing his best Cedric Benson impersonation last week.  Doesn’t hit the hole hard, dances around, and goes down on first contact…some advice for the Hawks…Play MoMo…he looked great in there.  And also, Hasselbeck’s play concerned me.  He kept making plays that kept the Skins in the game.  Besides his 2 picks, he also missed several wide open throws that would of led to first downs or points…if he made half of those, the game would have been over at the half.  Can’t make those kinds of mistakes from here on out.

Last thought on the Skins…why hasn’t Todd Collins gotten a chance before?  He looked great out there, when there wasn’t a Hawk hanging on him that is.  Just seems like quite a few teams are in dire need of a QB, and someone should of taken a shot on this guy.

Jaguars 31 Steelers 29

If the Steelers just kick the extra points…the game is tied at the end.  Whenever you leave points on the table, it always comes back to haunt you.  Yes, the card said “go for 2”…but after that penalty, you kick it.  Then the second one would be no brainer kick.  Tough way to lose one.

Now, here’s the next issue…you have a slim lead, you need a first down to really kill the clock.  Your best back is out injured, and the short passing game has been working great all night.  So the game is on the line…and you run Davenport twice, and Big Ben once?  The short passes to Hines Ward were working…the Jags were looking for the run.  I know you take the chance of stopping the clock…but you NEED the first down.  If Big Ben throws a couple quick passes to Ward or Miller…that lead holds up.

Giants 24 Buccaneers 14

Two great defenses slugged it out in this one…

Eli Manning does not feel pressure well.  He doesn’t seem to have that 6th sense that other QBs have about the pocket and when to move and when to throw.  He’s not Rex Grossman bad about it…but it’s a huge hole in his game, and a big reason he is wildly inconsistent.

Do the Giants ever start a game well?  Of all the Giants games I’ve seen this year, they always seem to wait until the 2nd half to really kick themselves into gear.  From here on out, they can’t let that happen.

The Giants offense looks a lot better since Shockey went out.  It would appear that Manning is just finding the open guy, rather than trying to force it to one player.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but something to keep an eye on.

Both the unheralded backs in this one are guys I would take on my team.  Ernest Graham runs with power, hits the hole hard, and is hard to bring down.  He doesn’t have breakaway speed, but so what.  Good solid back.  And Ahmad Bradshaw out performed Brandon Jacobs…he just kept finding room and getting the job done.  Love those kind of guys.

Chargers 17 Titans 6

This game was lost in the first half.  You’re saying, “But the Titans won the first half?”  Yes they did…but they had 3 trips deep into Charger territory and came away with 2 FGs and an INT.  In the playoffs, you need touchdowns…especially against an offense like the Charger that can get going at anytime.

The Titans are a couple of solid WRs and some Vince Young maturity away from being a really good team.  This was a great first taste of the playoff for them, they’ll be back.

Two things that should worry Chargers fans though…Rivers’ lackluster play, and LT’s complete absence from the game.  Rivers, as he’s been this year, was all over the map.  With LT, they need to call more north-south runs for him…too many times he was moving parallel to the line, and that’s never good.

Okay, that takes care of last weekend, let’s get onto the coming weekend…and sorry for any and all commercial breaks, they are required by the NFL.  Let’s get to the picks!

Seattle at Green Bay
Saturday on FOX

As with any Seattle game, they showed the shot of the guys throwing fish at Pike place.  They showed a shot of the Space Needle.  They showed a shot of a Ferry crossing Elliott Bay.  They showed a shot of Rainer...and someone drinking a latte.  They showed every shot of Seattle that is on the books as a textbook Seattle shot...but the one that got me?  When they zoomed out over the stadium, and I saw the ramp onto 99, and where 1st Ave runs passed the a road I traveled many times, and it took me back.

In March of 2001, my brother Jake and I loaded up my 1987 Chevy Cavalier, and made the drive from Chicago to Seattle.  As we got over the Cascades, and made our way towards the Emerald city, the first thing that hits you...everything is so green.  Everywhere you look, there is green...and it’s March, most of the country is still white and icy or at least brown and gray...but not Seattle.

And then you hit the bridge, and you cross over Lake Washington...and you get this great view of the city.  Around every corner there is a view of the mountains, or the water.  Every block has a coffee shop.  And for 3 months of the year, during the summer, the skies are clear blue, and the weather is perfect.

I grew up in Chicago, but I made a home in Seattle.  And sure it’s not perfect...the other 9 months are gray and filled with mist...the cost of living is outrageous...buying a house is nearly impossible...and they can’t make up their minds about the Monorail...but man, a large chunk of my heart misses that place...and wishes I was still there.

And come Saturday, the Hawks will be having these same thoughts.  This is a team that is 7-1 at home this year...a team that is 20-4 at home over the last 3 years.  And while they are 32-16 overall over that same period...well...that means 12-12 on the road.  Ouch.  Going into Qwest field is a death sentence...but get this team away from its home, and you’ve got a fair fight on your hands.

The Seahawks defense looked great this passed weekend...but they had 2 huge things in their favor.  A crowd that is so loud, a player can’t even think...and a QB that is was making his first playoff start.  They won’t have either in Green Bay.

Favre and his boys carve up Holmgren’s crew.  The Pack get the win, and the Hawks head back to Seattle.  Trust me, there are worse things then headin back to least there are gorgeous views, good coffee, and some of the best beer you’ve ever had.  Yep, there are worst things...

Jacksonville at New England
Saturday on CBS

Due to sponsorship requirements, we need to break for a few announcements…

Claritin Clear – Let me get this straight, the guy is a rock sculptor, has bad asthma, and he doesn’t wear any sort of mask while sanding rock?  Here’s an idea…maybe you should layoff the drugs, and invest $20 in a mask so you don’t get stone dust in your lungs…just a thought.

Coors Beer – When the beer is ready, the Mountains turn blue….why is this needed?  Does anyone have a problem knowing when a beer is cold?  It’s called a sense of touch…it’s one of our 5 senses.  But I’m so glad Coors has spent all this money on their packaging…instead of…oh…I don’t know...improving their product?

EAS – They do know that Brady Quinn rides the bench on a non-playoff team…right?

American Gladiators – The best song they could think of was “Tomorrow” from Annie?  Yes, I get that the showed debuted the next day…but that’s the best they could do?  Doesn’t really fit the image…and isn’t wacky enough to be funny…just jarring.

Knight Rider – Yep, its official, there isn’t an original idea left in Hollywood.

Pepsi Max – Ginseng and Caffeine?  Yep, if I need an energy boost, I’ll reach for a Pepsi.  Whatever happened to Jolt?  And is there really a need for Americans to get more Caffeine?

Wal-Mart – “Save money, Live better”…just love this response to all the bashing they’ve taken.  They are one of the dirtiest companies in the world, practicing all kinds of underhanded business techniques…and when presented with this, they say, “Hey, we’re keeping prices low to make the world a better place”…um, but you also pay your employees a ridiculously low wage…seems like something isn’t working there…

Subway – “Can I just photo copy my butt?”  This commercial just kills me every time…especially the “Hoo-chie-mama!” line.  Instant classic and both are great lines to work into random conversations.

Toyota Trucks – Well, after 12+ hours of football this weekend, the only thing I’m sure of?  I need to buy a Toyota truck, seriously, every other commercial was a Toyota truck commercial…just nuts.  They all started to blend together…must buy a truck…

Through all this annoying ads, and commercials…there was football to be played, and enjoyed.  And even with the constant bombardment of ads, the football game was still the main focus for me, and kept my rear glued to the couch all weekend…much to my wife’s annoyance.  No matter how hard the NFL and the networks try to bang us over the head with ads, the game still holds our attention.

Now you have a brief glimpse into the Pats season.  No matter how much scandal, pressure, media hoopla, perfect season stories, and guarantees that come out…this team has stayed focused on the game.  They have a coach that won’t let them rest on their past accomplishments, and a group of vets that have been there, and done that.  They all admitted that the perfect season was a great accomplishment, but in the same breath said “but it’s nothing if we don’t win 3 more.”

To paraphrase one of the greatest movie lines ever…the Pats are on a mission from Belichick.  They can’t be denied…they won’t take no for an answer…and these same vets will throw their bodies in front of a train to get this team over the top.

That being said…this Jags team is a good first game.  They are going to play a tough game, and are built to play in poor weather conditions.  They have a game that travels well…good D, good running game and mistake free football…but they are lacking one thing…a QB that can win the game through the air.  Garrard made a great game saving run last week…but his passing numbers were horrible.  You have to bring a complete game to beat these Pats…and the Jags don’t have it.

Pats win…and goto 17-0.  New England thumps it’s chest and tunes into the Colts-Chargers game…rooting for the Colts for the ultimate showdown.  The Jags?  Job well done, you took a huge gamble to start the season, and it paid off.  Now find a #1 WR, and get Garrard more comfortable in the offense, and you might make it further next year.

San Diego at Indianapolis
Sunday on CBS

As stated earlier, my daughter started preschool this week.  She had met her teacher twice already, and on Monday my wife took her in to see the classroom with kids in it, and get a feel for things.  Wanted to break her in slowly, as this is the first time she’ll be under the care of someone that is not a family member…and the first time she’ll regularly be away from my wife.

She did great with all those visits, and kept talking about going to school.  On Tuesday, I got her up, and we got her ready for her first day.  She was all excited…she got to go in Daddy’s car…something that doesn’t happen often.  We listened to the Jungle Book soundtrack…her new love of the world…and sang along.  Trust me; I do a mean Bare Necessities.   And then we got to the school….

Her teacher came out to the car, greeted her, and asked if she was excited.  My daughter first hid in her hands…then after I unbuckled her car seat, she got up and said “Dad, I need you.”  I braced for tears.

I gently said, “Why don’t I give you a big hug and a kiss, and then you can go with your teacher.”

She gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said “I love you daddy.”  My heart melted.  She then got out of the car, and I waved and said “Bye sweetie”.

No response.  Her teacher said, “Do you want to say bye to your dad?”

“Bye Sweetie,” I tried again.

No response.

She grabbed her teacher’s hand, and they started towards the school.

“Bye Sweetie, have a good day,” I took one last stab.

She turned to her teacher and said “I want to carry my slippers”.  And then they disappeared inside.  I laughed to myself, and started to drive away.

Channeling my best Vince Vaughn, I muttered ”My little girl is all growns up” as I drove away.

Before this goes any further, this story is not being used to imply that either the Chargers or Colts are little girls.

The Chargers won their first playoff game since 1994, and the first playoff game for this particular group of Chargers.  That’s a huge hurdle for them, and a big step forward.  But they were at home…and playing against a very young Titans team that is still a year or 2 away from being a real force.  And they didn’t have a running game…and Rivers…well…can you imagine how good this team would be if Drew Brees was still the QB?  A QB that really understands a game plan, and can make plays out of nothing…instead of a guy who seems to get flustered when things don’t go his way.

Yes, the Chargers beat the Colts in the regular season…but it took the worst game of both Peyton Manning and Adam Vinatieri’s careers to take that one.  The only issue for the Colts is how many players are going to be healthy?  But they’ve had an extra week of rest to get ready…

The Colts come out firing, and blow right past the Chargers.  Colts get the win, while LT struggles for yards.  Manning works his magic in the pocket, and keeps the INTs to a minimum.  This game won’t come down to a last second kick, it won’t be a blow out, but the Colts will be in command the whole way.

NY Giants at Dallas
Sunday on FOX

Many years ago, when my head still had all its hairs, but my face had none.  Back when Y2K was still a scary idea…the White Sox hadn’t won a World Series in forever…my family was on a camping trip.  We were in Yosemite, with my dad’s family.

Late one night, we were sitting around the camp fire, and my uncle Jim, who had already pitched his tent firmly in Drunkville, leans in towards the fire and says, “So this American, Brit and Mexican are stranded on an island…”

Of course what follows was a terrible joke.  What made it worse, it was of course borderline racist…and no one was quite comfortable with it in the first place.  But he didn’t stop there…he had a million of them…and he kept right on telling them.  One right after another…no matter if we were listening or not.

My brothers and I were a little off from the rest of the group, sitting on a picnic table.  My uncle was telling the jokes so loud that half the campground heard…but more importantly, he wouldn’t hear us….

My brother Jake leaned over to me, and starts in on a joke….

“So this American, German and French guy are stranded on an Island.  And a genie appears.  He says he’ll grant each of them anything they wish.  The American wishes for a boat, the German wishes for a plane, and the French guy wishes for a dozen donuts.  Just then Spiderman swoops in, kills all three and eats the donuts.”

It makes no sense, but we busted out laughing.  And a series of jokes were spawned…all ending with Spiderman appearing, and all involving donuts in some way.  We kept going for like 2 hours…laughing so hard that I think we all wet our pants.  And even though the premise doesn’t make complete sense…

Every once in awhile I get a call from one of my brothers, and before I can say anything….

“So this Mechanic, Wal-Mart greeter and Dick Cheney are stuck in a VW Bug…”

And no matter how stupid it is…we both die laughing.  My wife doesn’t get it.  I’m assuming anyone reading this is looking at it saying…”What?  Why Spiderman?  Does Spiderman have a thing for donuts?  Wait, Spiderman doesn’t kill people…why would the French guy wish for donuts?”  But it doesn’t matter if it makes sense to you, it cracks us up.

Which brings us to the Giants…I just don’t get these guys.  Their season seemed to be on the brink several times.  They seem to start slowly in every game…but then find a way to win late.  Eli will go from looking like the next Rex Grossman to the next Peyton Manning in the course of a game.  They rotate running backs…and none of them really scare anyone…but yet they all seem to take turns looking good.  The only constant is their defense…but at the start of the season, that looked to be the weakness of the team.  And then to top it all off, they seem to have hit their stride once Shockey went down with injury…just bizarre.

And on the other side of the ball, there are the Cowboys…it seems they peeked with the Packers game.  And it’s never a good thing when the most vocal veteran that’s been to the mountain top is also crazy as a loon TO.  This team has the most talent in the NFC…but not sure if they have a real leader…could be wrong…just get that feeling.

Don’t really get either of these teams.  This is a game that has been stared at for hours on the screen…and still don’t have a sure feeling on it.  But there is this nagging voice in my head…and when in doubt, listen to the voices in your head…it keeps saying “Giants win”.  But then again, after that my mind keeps saying, “And then Spiderman shows up, buys the Cowboys donuts, and then takes all the donuts and eats them.”  Yeah, I don’t get my brain either.

Well those are the picks.  If you’ve made it this far, just read a little further…

On Sunday, I turned on the Giants Bucs game.  My daughter was eating lunch and heard football come on the TV.  She got very excited, and asked…

“Are we going to watch the Bears game, Dad?”

After smiling with pride, I explained, “No sweetie, the Bear didn’t make the playoffs.  They won’t be playing for a long time.”

And as I finished that, my face sunk at the realization that I would have to wait about 6 months to watch a Bears game with my daughter.

She saw that I had a bummed look on my face, and went straight into her cheer up voice…

“Maybe tomorrow they’ll play again!”

My mouth curled into a smile, and then quickly into a laugh.  And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the line…it’s a perfect playoff line…every team in the playoffs goes into the next game…and… 

Maybe tomorrow they’ll play again…


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