Saturday, January 31, 2009

Better Than Advertised Super Bowl

It’s been awhile, so I apologize for the four week hiatus, but my dad is running for governor which means my priorities have changed lately.

But, I couldn’t let the Super Bowl get away without having a few words about a matchup that is better than it’s cracked up to be in our part of the country.

I’ve heard a lot of locals complain about the fact that both the Titans and Falcons were ousted early on, as well as East Tennessee’s favorite son Peyton Manning. Some hardcore Manning fans even pinned their hopes on younger brother Eli, but his Giants faltered in their first round game as well.

And just up the road in Knoxville others were anxious to see hometown hero Chad Pennington’s Cinderella story continue into the postseason. That didn’t happen either.

But for all of you southern sports fans who feel like there is nothing to see and no one worth rooting for, I suggest otherwise.

You’ve got on the one hand a great sports franchise on the brink of winning its record sixth Super Bowl. And on the other hand you’ve got the oldest, continuously run football team in America with tradition dating back to the 19th century, yet they haven’t won squat in 62 years.

The Cardinals may be steeped in tradition, but it’s a losing tradition.

After they won that 1947 NFL Championship who would have guessed that the proud Chicago Cardinals wouldn’t land on their feet again for 62 years and by that time they would have been shunned to play their football in the Arizona desert.

The story gets better.

The Cardinals have landed on their feet with a 37 year old quarterback named Kurt Warner who
was deemed “over the hill” and no longer good enough to start in the NFL just two years ago. Not to mention Warner is one of the all-time “good guys” in the professional sports world, an outspoken Christian and devoted family man.

His supporting cast includes the NFL’s most talented wide receiver duo in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and former Colts’ running back Edgerrin James, whose comeback season rivals Warner’s. Those are guys who have seen their fair share of tough breaks.

Boldin had part of his face shattered in a collision earlier in the year that caused his quarterback, Warner, to consider retirement. Fitzgerald left the University of Pittsburgh with the potential to be one of the greatest receivers ever, and has performed as such, but has never had a significant stage to display his talents. Until now that is. And James, who starred alongside Peyton Manning for all those years but never won a ring, temporarily lost his starting job this season to a rookie.

Then the story gets even a little better because those long forgotten Cardinals played their hearts out all the way to a Super Bowl showdown with the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are known to have one of the country’s largest fan bases, a loyal bunch of black and yellow clad, Terrible Towel waving football fans that supposedly spread far and wide.

Yet, national polls showed that 60% of the country favored the underdog Cardinals in the Super Bowl.

However, Vegas still crowned the Steelers the heavy favorite.

Almost the same exact thing happened last year when the New York Giants had to play the odds on favorite New England Patriots. America’s heart was with the underdog Giants, but Vegas’ brain was with the juggernaut Patriots.

The Giants played harder and tougher with grit and determination, and won Super Bowl XLII. The Cardinals seem primed for a repeat performance.

Don’t bet against the heart of America’s underdog. That’s my prediction.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

NFL Playoffs Preview

What may have been the greatest regular season for the underdog in NFL history is about to get even better as the NFL playoffs get underway this weekend.

Four of the eight teams in action this weekend finished the 2007 season in last place in their division, and better yet, the two most highly touted teams coming into the season, the Patriots and the Cowboys, will be at home watching the playoffs on TV.

You can forget about what was supposed to be one of Jerry Jones’ finest engineered teams ever. Terrell Owens pouted their way out of the playoffs, and Tony Romo chipped in with plenty of untimely interceptions of his own to help send the Cowboys’ much anticipated season down the tubes.

Instead you get to enjoy watching the scrappy “last-to-first” Baltimore Ravens led by rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who was playing here in Chattanooga just last year for Delaware in the National Championship game.

Also, go ahead forget that Matt Cassell filled in admirably for Tom Brady and kept the Patriots in the playoff picture all season. Even with an 11-5 record the Pats’ season has already ended at the hands of the unlikeliest of foes, last year’s cellar dweller Miami Dolphins.

 Instead of the Patriots you get the reinvented Miami Dolphins, just one year removed from a 1-15 season and currently thriving under the leadership of nine-year NFL veteran and Knoxville native Chad Pennington, who was dumped by the Jets before the season started to make room for Brett Farve.

However, no team contributed to this year’s upside down regular season quite like the Atlanta Falcons, who were once thought to be most dreadful team in the NFL this season, yet turned out to be one of the league’s most exciting attractions as the season progressed.

Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan, MVP runner-up Michael Turner and breakout receiver Roddy White made Michael Vick’s troubles a distant memory for Falcons fans and they’ll look to add another chapter to their storybook season with a win today against the Cardinals.

  • Atlanta Falcons (11-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-7)

The Falcons seem to be peaking at just the right time, whereas the Cardinals more or less stumbled to the finish line during the regular season. Cardinals’ receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald test cornerbacks like no other duo in the NFL can, but consistency has been an issue in Arizona all season long. There is always a possibility that quarterback Kurt Warner finds his rhythm with Boldin and Fitzgerald and the Cards put points on the board in a hurry, but I expect the Falcons to come out on top with an inspired effort defensively.

Unlike the other three games this weekend, this came could turn out to be a blow out either way if one of the offenses starts clicking.

Falcons 27, Cardinals 21                     

  • Indianapolis Colts (12-4) at San Diego Chargers (8-8)

First of all, you’ve got a poor home field advantage system when a 12-4 team is traveling halfway across the country to play an 8-8 team. Earlier in the season the Colts edged the Chargers by a field goal in San Diego, but that was before the Chargers hit stride and this time the result could easily be different.

This one is tricky because both teams are on a roll, but still have areas of weakness that can be exploited. The game should go down to the wire where NFL MVP Peyton Manning will have an opportunity to be the difference maker for his team once again.

Colts 24, Chargers 20

  • Baltimore Ravens (11-5) at Miami Dolphins (11-5)

This game has the potential to be one of the most exciting of the playoff season because both teams play hardnosed defense and conservative game management offense. The team that scores a touchdown will likely win the game. Because of their playmaking defense and much improved offense, I expect the Ravens to have a better chance at putting a touchdown or two on the board in this one.

Ravens 13, Dolphins 9

  • Philadelphia Eagles (9-6) at Minnesota Vikings (10-6)

The resurgent Eagles are coming off of one of the most impressive wins in the NFL this season after thumping the Cowboys 44-6, but the Vikings have yet to go down without a fight this season. The Vikings masterfully control the flow of every game by running the ball hard on offense and stopping the run on defense as evidenced by the fact that Adrian Petersen has been the leading rusher in all 16 of the Vikings games this season. Five of the Vikings six losses this season were by a touchdown or less and they have won five games by four points or less, so it’s safe to assume that this one will be close all the way

The Eagles can match the Vikings defensive toughness, but have more versatility on offense.

Eagles 21, Vikings 17