Saturday, January 13, 2007
The Clarion could hardly be more excited for a slate of football.
We like the Ravens and the Eagles. The Ravens have the look of a Super Bowl team, the Eagles are on a roll, playing a team and a coach with very little playoff experience.
The Clarion lover the Simmons’ playoff football theory of pick the team with the better QB. Unfortunately, today’s match-ups are not the best of exemplars of why to go that way. The Colts Payton Manning is almost a push for Steve McNair. In fact, at this point in their careers on a regular season Sunday in September, Manning is clearly the superior quarterback. Manning is well on his way to chasing down Dan Marino and John Elway as the best regular season quarterbacks of all time. McNair is a guy who took a very good Tennessee Titans team to within a yard of a Super Bowl victory. (Assessing blame about whether the route was run too short or the pass thrown too soon, or what not is specious. It was good an almost as you can get.)
Simmons next line of reasoning is turn to the coaches. Who has the better coach? Certainly, Brian Billick has one a Super Bowl already and Tony Dungy has the reputation fair or unfair of a perennial playoff loser. Perhaps, only his QB has it worse for that moniker in the entire NFL. (Depending on how it goes for Marty-ball tomorrow. More on that later.)
Those things aside, the Clarion firmly believes this game comes down to two other big Ravens advantages, home field and their defense The Ravens defense is big and fast. Ed Reed challenges Shawn Merriman for the title of best defensive player in the playoffs. Ray Lewis is still annihilating people, if a half a step more slowly. Their hybrid defensive lineman are crushers. Joseph Addai learns the real meaning of playoff football today. Manning, Harrison and Wayne are never as a effective on a grass track. And finally, lest you young guys forget, the Colts and Irsay’s abandoned one of the most loyal fan bases in the NFL on Mayflower trucks in the middle of the night. The Baltimore fans scorned like that are madder than a hornets nest hit by a lawnmower. They are going to everything in their power to unnerve Manning and the Colts. Playoff nerves were never Manning and Dungy’s strong point, anyway. ‘Nuff said.
The other game is a much tougher call. The Eagles are on a terrific roll. The QBs are once again a push. Drew Brees is terrific, coming of a great season, know for making great decisions, utilizing all of his weapons. He is a winner. The Clarion expects great things in the future and would even concede, it is possible that future could arrive today. On the other side of the line, Jeff Garcia is a mighty, mighty warrior we have always admired. Exiled to the CFL by the NFL GMs who thought he was too short. He did five years in the cold dark north before staging a comeback. He put up with T.O. in San Fran. Stared down and beat Brett Favre in playoffs one year. He is a tough guy, who has suffered more than his share of personal familial tragedy. Garcia knows at his age and with Donovan McNabb waiting in the wings to take back over the wheel next year, the time is now.
As for the coaches, much the same could be said. Excellent, young, up and comer (Payton of the Saints) against seasoned, old-hand, a winner who has never gotten all the way to the pinnacle. (Andy Reid, leader of the winner’s of the NFC East five out of the last six years.) Payton’s strength is the game day play calling. Reid strength is managing a roster and a season. If T.O. isn’t blowing up his season, Reid can wade through just about anything else. This is Payton’s first experience as a head coach in the playoff. Reid after getting demonstrable out-coached in the playoffs, earlier in his career, most notably by Tampa Bay, has improved.
Home field goes to the Saints and the entire city of New Orleans, will surely be behind them. But somehow, the Clarion feels like things have peaked for the Saints and their dream season. Surely, they will be back. But in this era of much bigger tragedy in New Orleans, the feel good, young Saints have done what they can for this year. They have lots of young weapons, Bush, Colston, Terrence Copper. Deuce McAllister is also an excellent every down back, but it says here that the Eagles defense, led by future Hall of Famer, safety Brian Dawkins, will have just enough. Jeremiah Trotter and D’Hani Jones are excellent and experienced playoff linebackers. There has been much ado made about Eagles’ corner Lito Shepard’s dislocated elbow. He is a Pro Bowl corner and he will be missed. But this is just the kind of thing Reid and the Eagles excel at building and preparing for, they are deep. Roderick Hood is a capable back-up. Says here, the Saints will miss Joe Horn more than the Eagles miss Shepard. Rookie wideouts like Colston and Cooper are always in danger of getting the drops in the first playoff action. Now there is no doubt, as good as Brian Westbrook is, the one X-Factor that could turn this whole game on a dime is Reggie Bush. Faster and more elusive than Michael Vick? How will Payton and the Saints utilize him? It is almost a guarantee that he breaks one play of greater than 50 yards. He’s just that good. (Sorry Texans fans.) The question is will he break two, plus 50 yard plays. If he does the Eagles are in trouble. Philadelphians do specialize in getting their hearts broken, but the Clarion thinks that for today the dramatic tension continues to build, now is not yet the Saints time, nor have the Eagles reached enough of a pinnacle from which to leap from to truly crush their faithful.
Back tomorrow to discuss the Patriots-Chargers and the yawner of the weekend Bears-Seahawks.
A rebuttal to King George Bush the II’s Iraq policy to follow soon…