Before I get to the games, can we do a quick segment on the Jeff Fisher bidding war? It seems like Miami and St. Louis are both killing themselves to get this guy. I have a feeling he’s going to sign a ridiculous contract. The exact kind of contract Andy Reid will get whenever he rolls out of Philly. And, OK, Jeff Fisher is a good coach. I can cop to that, but he’s hardly the lynch pin to turning around one of those sorry franchises. Here’s the way I look at NFL coaches. If you have a bad one–you’re likely screwed unless you have overwhelming talent and great coordinators. I’m thinking vaguely of Barry Switzer’s run. If you have a good one, it helps but you still need him to land in a spot with the right mix of players. Bill Belichick wouldn’t have been able to save the Colts this year. Don’t kid yourself. I will say, the one thing that Fisher has going for him is that he HASN’T won a Super Bowl. In the NFL, hiring a guy that’s won has almost always been a mistake. And, yet someone will eventually back up the truck for Cowher, Gruden, and Dungy. Look at what coaches do after they win the big one….
Mike Ditka: 15-33 in 3 years in New Orleans.
Bill Parcells: 32-32 in NE (1 super bowl appearance), 29-19 in NY (1 playoff appearance), and 34-30 in Dallas (no playoff wins).
George Seifert: 16-32 in 3 years in Carolina.
Joe Gibbs: 30-34 with 1 playoff win in 4 years in 2nd stint with Washington.
Jimmy Johnson: 36-28 with 2 playoff wins in 4 years in Miami.
Mike Shannahan: 11-21 in 2 years with Washington.
Mike Holmgren: 86-74 in 10 years with Seattle (1 Super Bowl appearance, 4 playoff wins)
Dick Vermeil: 44-36 in 5 years with Kansas City (0 playoff wins)
So, you can see it’s a mixed bag at best. Some were downright awful. Others proved they were solid coaches, but never won the big game. You’re talking about guys that were at the top of their profession who managed to come up with 2 Super Bowl appearances and no wins in a combined 42 seasons with their new teams. The point is, what’s the rush to sign a guy who’s already won?
Cincinnati @ Houston: Line, Texans (-3). O/U: 38.5
Obviously, this game would be the “contraction special” if we were still in the regular season. It’s not that much worse than the other AFC game (shock), but it’s definitely the worst game on the slate. The bad news is, T.J. Yates sounds like he’s ready to go, which means…no Jake Delhomme. Delhomme is a great argument for “clutch” players. Some people think they don’t exist. Well, can’t you prove there are clutch players by proving the opposite exists? Jake Delhomme in a big spot will absolutely ruin your season. So, let’s hope Yates gets pulled at some point. The Bengals will start their own rookie QB in a game that seems destined to end at 13-10, possibly in OT.
Star of the Game: A.J. Green
Best Case Scenario: Delhomme (in for an injured Yates) takes Houston across mid-field late in the 4th quarter trailing 14-13. Really, anything that happens after that will be amazing.
Pittsburgh @ Denver. Line, Pittsburgh (-9). O/U: 34.
Take a second and look at those odds. It’ll tell you how bad Denver is. In a game where the Steelers are expected to win by double digits the over/under is about as low as any we’ve seen all year. Translation: Denver has very little chance to crack 10 points in this game. It’s a shame that Pittsburgh is so banged up, because you’d really like to see Denver get the full treatment here. But as is, I’m worried about their offense. No running game and Big Ben in a state of flux. Is it possible that Denver could stick around in this thing? I think it is. The Broncos are going to need everything to go their way though, a busted coverage, some turnovers, about four 55-yd Prater bombs…something.
Star of the Game: Antonio Brown
Best Case Scenario: I think this one is pretty obvious. You want Tebow with the ball down by six points in the 4th quarter. It can’t be 2 or 3 points, because like I said earlier, they’ll get one first down and Prater will kick the ball the length of the stadium. I want Tebow to have his chance. And, if we can orchestrate some open-field scenario with him and James Harrison…all the better.
Atlanta @ New York Giants. Line, Atlanta (+3). O/U: 47.
Finally a game with some offense? In the year of 5,000 yard passers the AFC might go ahead and bore us to death, but I’m pretty sure that’s their slogan. The AFC: Boring football since 1965. What do I like about this game? The QB match-up. It’s a huge game for Ryan and Eli. Ryan needs some post-season success. The Falcons do as a franchise as well, but especially Matty Ice. His two playoff efforts (a loss to Arizona and a blowout loss to Green Bay) were both very mediocre. If a leap is going to be made…time to make it. And, Eli needs to validate. He’s won a Super Bowl. He’s coming off perhaps his best regular season. It’s time to carry a team for a while. His only playoff appearance since the Super Bowl (loss to the Eagles) was abysmal. The good news for both chuckers? They have mad, mad WR talent to throw to.
Star of the Game: Matt Ryan
Best Case Scenario: Have you seen what Julio Jones does in warm-ups? He runs patterns into the endzone and Ryan lofts the ball up about 11 or 12 feet over his head and he jumps up and catches it with one hand, or tips it to himself, or some other circus like trick. I think it’s time for him to make an acrobatic game-winning catch.
Detroit @ New Orleans: Line, New Orleans (-11). O/U: 59.
This is the opposite of the Denver/Pittsburgh game. Detroit is a decent team. I don’t think anyone thinks they can win the Super Bowl, but there are worse teams in this post-season tournament. For them to be getting 11 points is pretty shocking. That’s how hot the Saints are right now and since Detroit has proven they can’t stop anyone…the line has to be this high. In fact, the line is telling me that New Orleans is going to win by about 3 TDs. Your standard 42-21 affair. Detroit hung around with New Orleans for a while during the regular season and then totally imploded…as they are prone to do. To beat the Saints you’ve got keep it together and keep it clicking for 4 quarters. Can Detroit do that? Eh. I do expect about 800 yards passing in this game. That’s conservative. I’d be tempted to pick New Orleans right now to win the whole thing and if they cruise by Detroit, it’d just make me more confident. I’d lock them in now at 4/1.
Star of the Game: Drew Brees.
Best Case Scenario: Somehow Detroit has to keep this game close. This is perhaps the most appealing game of the week on paper. We’ll have just suffered through the Cincy/Houston debacle…if this thing gets out of hand early, it’ll be a big disappointment.
Over/Under Lock of the Week (Regular Season Record, 8-4): New York/Atlanta Over 47.