NFL Playoff Games Are Sudden Death No Longer.

FINALLY!! The NFL was the only league of any kind that had an overtime rule where it was not only possible, but probable, one of the two teams battling for the win in sudden death might not even see the ball on offense. The stat was true 60%  of the time since 1994.  Six out of 10 teams that won the overtime coin-toss, either, returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown to end the game, marched down the field to score a touchdown to end the game, or marched about 40 yards down the field to kick the game-winning field goal.

THAT WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN………at least during the playoffs.

The sudden death rule was ridiculous, especially when you consider both teams battled hard to the stale-mate and one team would be denied to match, or beat, the coin-toss winning teams score.

Here’s the new overtime playoff rule agreed to by 28 of the 32 owners Tuesday:

  1. Both teams must have the opportunity to possess the ball once during the extra period, unless the team that receives the opening kickoff scores a touchdown on its initial possession, in which case it is the winner.
  2. If the team that possesses the ball first scores a field goal on its initial possession, the other team shall have the opportunity to possess the ball. If [that team] scores a touchdown on its possession, it is the winner. If the score is tied after [both teams have a] possession, the team next scoring by any method shall be the winner.
  3. If the score is tied at the end of a 15-minute overtime period, or if [the overtime period’s] initial possession has not ended, another overtime period will begin, and play will continue until a score is made, regardless of how many 15-minute periods are necessary.

That works for me. Consider last year’s NFC Championship Game. Tied at 28 after regulation, the eventual Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints won the coin toss and marched about 40 yards. Saints kicker Garrett Hartley sent New Orleans to the Super Bowl connecting on a 44 yard field goal dropping the Minnesota Vikings, 31-28. Brett Favre and the Vikings offense, who had double the yardage of the Saints in regulation, never saw the ball again. Had this new rule been in effect, Favre would’ve had the opportunity to tie or win the game. A shot the Vikings earned.

I’ve got to agree with ESPN NFL analyst Mike Golic. He says this is quite an improvement over the old sudden death rule. But, according to Golic, not good enough. Golic suggested  a complete 15 minute quarter should be played until the final gun. The score at the end of the overtime period is the final…..unless both teams are still tied. In which case, you continue playing overtime periods removing three minutes for each extra quarter played until a winner is decided. In other words, after the initial 15 minute overtime is still dead-locked at its conclusion, the following O.T. quarter is cut to 12 minutes….and so on until a winner is clearly decided. If after five O.T. periods both are still dead-locked, then you go to sudden death. I like it.

Talk about “edge of your seat playoff excitement”. That sounds like the ultimate. Maybe, down the line that’ll be the O.T. rule. Now, at least both teams will have a shot.

Only thing I don’t like about the rule change is that it isn’t part of the regular season. Games tied after regulation will still be decided by the old “sudden death” format. That’s going to be a huge flaw if a teams playoff chances hinge on the one game decided in “sudden death”. That is, essentially, a playoff game.

Modify the new rule for the regular season. Have a complete, 15 minute overtime period. If both teams remain tied after the O.T. quarter, then go to the “sudden death” format with the first team scoring, be it a field goal or touchdown, winning the game. Maybe, down the line. We’ll see.

By the way, one of the four teams to vote against the new playoff overtime rule, the Minnesota Vikings. Go figure.

Super Bowl XLIV (44)

Sun Life Stadium – Miami, Florida

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NFC 15-3) +5 vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (AFC 16-2) OVER/UNDER 56.5pts

Plenty of story lines in this one. New Orleans’ “First Family of Football”, the Manning’s, will be pulling for Indianapolis and the Colts second Super Bowl Title in four seasons because, of course, quarterback Peyton Manning is Archie’s son. Archie, of course, is the former Saints quarterback who’s been with the Saints organization for 39 years, now as a broadcaster. In case you were wondering, he won’t be in the radio booth Sunday.

The Saints will be making their first Super Bowl appearance in the 43 year history of the franchise. Just five years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the “Big Easy”, quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints are carrying, not just a team, the entire city of New Orleans and surrounding areas that were devastated by the storm.

OK. Let’s look at the numbers because this game could be like a “pinball machine” going crazy with bells ringing and points flying. The Saints have the league’s top offense averaging just under 32 points per game. Brees was the league’s top rated passer throwing for 4,388 yards and 34 touchdowns. The Colts ranked seventh overall in offense scoring 26 points per game. Manning was right behind Brees throwing for 4,500 yards and 33 touchdowns. The advantage could go to the Saints because their running game ranked sixth in the league while the Colts’ ranked dead last. The Saints averaging about 131 yards a game using a trio of backs featuring former USC Heisman Trophy winner, Reggie Bush. The Colts only averaged about 80 yards a game on the ground featuring LSU product Joseph Addai who was effective in the “Red Zone” scoring 10 TD’s off the run putting him sixth in the league. So far this post-season, Indy hasn’t scored on the ground relying on Manning’s golden arm while the Saints have totaled three TD’s from land in the playoffs.

Defensively, both teams are classic “bend, but don’t break” teams allowing yardage between the 20’s and tightening up when opponents get in that red zone.  The Colts have been impressive during the playoffs after ranking eighth in scoring defense during the regular season giving up an average of 19 points per game. They’ve pretty much shut down both the Baltimore Ravens and, after allowing yardage and two touchdowns in the first half, dominated the New York Jets in the AFC Championship shutting them out in the second half.  But, all-pro defensive end Dwight Freeney is going to be hampered because of a severely sprained right ankle that occurred against the Jets.

The Saints ranked 20th in the league during the season allowing 21 points per contest.  The Saints like to gamble on defense and are opportunistic having forced 39 turnovers during the regular season and seven during the playoffs. New Orleans Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams likes to go after the quarterback. They knocked a couple of future hall-of-famers out forcing Arizona QB Kurt Warner out of the divisional playoff game and into retirement, then ganging up on Minnesota’s Brett Favre. The Vikings amassed double the yardage the Saints totaled in the NFC Championship. Five turnovers were the difference.

It’s hard to go against Peyton Manning and the Colts because Manning is a surgeon on the field cutting up the league’s best defense for 377 passing yards and three TD’s in the AFC Championship. But Brees and the Saints can light it up as well. So, it’s about the defenses. Because Freeney, the Colts monster pass-rusher, will be much less than 100%, I think the Saints’ opportunistic defense might have the edge and will come at a third straight future hall-of-fame QB with a bull-rush causing turnovers which, ultimately, will be the difference in the game. That plays right into New Orleans’ hands. This game will be something like, 43-38. A Colts turnover or two will be the difference. SAINTS, 43-38.

MISSED PLAYOFFS: LOS ANGELES*
*15 years, 22 weeks and counting.  Expect a big announcement in the next week or two about Los Angeles returning to the NFL as early as next season.

Remember, use my picks to wager $$$ at your own risk. If you lose, I had nothing to do with it. If you win beaucoup $$$, a 10% tip would be cool.  But, I’m realistic. This is just for your entertainment…or not, and for me to keep my sports “mojo” going until “I’m back in the saddle”. Remember the league’s unofficial motto…“ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, MONDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY OR SATURDAY“…………

“Bloop Singles”

What an incredible Hall-of-Fame class that will be inducted in Canton, Ohio in the Summer. The “Magnificent Seven” features two of  the greatest who ever played the game.  San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, who also played for Oakland, Denver and Seattle in his 20 year journey to three Super Bowl Titles and becoming the all-time leading  receiver in history. Dallas Cowboys running back Emmett Smith, who finished his career in Arizona, won three Super Bowls as well and is the all-time leading rusher in league history.

Joining them for induction August 7th at the Hall, former New Orleans Saints linebacker Ricky Jackson, former Washington Redskins offensive lineman Russ Grimm, Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little, Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle and Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Two glaring names didn’t make this year’s cut. Wide receivers Tim Brown of the LA/Oakland Raiders and Chris Carter who played for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings. Sure shots for the class of 2011.

No Kobe. No Bynum. No problem. Remember. Lakers coach Phil Jackson calls the 82 game regular season the “marathon” that prepares you for the “sprint” that is the playoffs. No worries.

I don’t know about you. But, to me, Super Bowl Sunday is the TRUE end to the Holiday Season. ENJOY!!

Eric’s NFL Conference Championship Game Picks

LAST WEEK: 1-3 (4-4 overall)

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#5 NEW YORK JETS +7.5 @ #1 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (over/under 39 points)
-Safe to say the Colts won’t “tank” this re-match while Jets players should hug every Colts player prior to kick-off for this opportunity to play for a shot at the Super Bowl. The Christmas Gift was delivered December 27th when, with a 14-0 record, home-field secured for the playoffs and a 15-10 lead over the Jets, who needed to win to keep post-season hopes alive, Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulled all his starters in the third quarter. Jets jumped at the opportunity scoring 19 unanswered points for a 29-15 win.

Don’t be fooled. The Jets belong. They’ve won seven of their last eight including the two playoff wins thanks to the league’s best defense and top running game anchored by that monster offensive line. Over the last eight games only the Colts have scored more than 14 on New York. Rookie Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan has his team playing patient football, evident in last week’s division win over high-powered San Diego. Aided by some Chargers missed field goals, New York’s defense surrendered just seven points through three quarters frustrating the Bolts. Meanwhile, on offense, the Jets rookie tandem of Sanchez and RB Shonn Greene “broke” through a worn-out Chargers defense scoring 17 straight on their way to a 17-14 win. In the two playoff wins, Greene’s carried the rock 44 times for 263 yards and two touchdowns while Sanchez has completed 24 of 38 passes for 282 yards, two scores and a pick.

QB and MVP “St. Peyton Manning” and the Colts are 3-0 in the post-season against Rex Ryan defenses beating the Baltimore Ravens the previous two post-seasons with Ryan as their defensive coordinator. Ironically, the Colts beat Baltimore, 20-3 last week to get to the title game against Ryan’s Jets and will be much more patient against the New York’s “D“ than the Chargers. Looking at stats, the Colts should be the logical under-dog in this one ranking last in the league in rushing, 7th overall offensively, and 24th against the run, 8th overall defensively. A little deceiving because those stats are reflective of what happens between the 20’s. The Colts rely on the pass to get to the end zone but once they get inside the “Red Zone”, they can punch it in with RB Joseph Addai who ran for 10 scores during the season tying him for sixth overall. Obviously, Manning’s Golden Arm and speedy receivers are thee “WMD‘s” for the Indy Offense. Jets all-pro DB Darrelle Revis can only cover one guy per play. Colts defense can play the run when it has to. They only gave up 87 rushing yards to the Ravens last week, after Baltimore ran all over New England the week before, and 307 total points during the season, 7th fewest in the league. They have to stop New York’s ground game and make Sanchez beat them. Colts have one of the top pairs of all-pro defensive ends in Dwight Freeney (13.5 sacks) and Robert Mathis (9.5 sacks). Jets better be able to run or Sanchez will be in trouble.

Anyway, did you know this is the first time a conference championship game features a Super Bowl Re-Match? Yup. Before the AFL-NFL merger in 1971, the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts represented the NFL losing to Joe Nammath’s AFL Jets, 16-7 in Super Bowl III in Miami. In another ironic twist, the winner of Sunday’s AFC Title Game earns a trip to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV. Did you, also, know Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has as many playoff wins as Nammath did his entire career (2.…Nammath’s Super Bowl win‘s counted as a Championship game win). Sanchez will have to wait and win at least two, if not three, more playoff games to have a shot at a Super Bowl.
COLTS, 16-7 (just for fun).

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

#2 MINNESOTA VIKINGS +3.5 @ #1 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (O/U 52.5 pts)
-THE BIG EASY’S GONNA BE ROCKIN’!!! The season’s two highest scoring teams going at it for a berth in the Super Bowl.

Vikings QB Brett Favre became the first 40 year old QB to win a playoff game in Minnesota’s 34-3 win over Dallas last week. Here’s what’s even more incredible. In his storied 19 year hall-of-fame career, that was the first time Favre threw four touchdown passes in a playoff game. He’s loving life because he’s got so many offensive weapons. Favre throws to Sidney Rice, who caught three of those four TD’s last week, NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Percy Harvin (barring a migraine) and TE Visanthe Shiancoe who caught 11 TD’s during the season. Oh! I forgot. Favre can also hand it off to 1,000 yard rusher Adrian Peterson who tallied a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns this season. He’s the difference to me because Peterson can take pressure off Favre’s shoulders by taking off against the league’s 25th ranked overall defense. That’ll open up the passing game.

Defensively, the Vikings are maliciously quick and fast. DE’s Jared Allen and Ray Edwards combined to sack Cowboys QB Tony Romo six times last week and were in his face for 25 of his 42 pass attempts. The Vikings led the league with 48 sacks during the season with Allen topping the league with 14.5. That’s key.

Saints QB Drew Brees also has some incredibly potent weapons. WR’s Marques Colston and Robert Meachem both scored nine TD’s during the season. He’s also got TE Jeremy Shockey from THE U. He’s got running backs Reggie Bush, Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas who all scored at least five TD’s as well during the season. Brees is going to have to pass quickly to these guys to avoid the Vikings pass rush. Bush had a stellar game in last week’s 45-14 win over Arizona. But that was against a Cardinals defense that became the first team in playoff history to allow 45 points in consecutive post-season games. Vikings “D” is a different story.

As for the Saints “D”, they were able to disrupt immobile Cardinals QB Kurt Warner last week with a bull rush because he’s a “stay at home pocket passer”. Not Favre. He creates on the run and can kill you in or out of the pocket…even at 40 (BTW, if I were Favre, I‘d picked up the option on the second year of his contract and come back next year. I say, let him play as long as he can and has fun). If Saints DT Sedric Ellis can stop Peterson and force Favre to make bad throws, which he’s done before, then the Saints secondary, led by Favre’s ex-Packers teammate Darren Sharper (also a former Viking) can take over. 11 different Saints secondary defenders combined for 26 interceptions during the season. I see Adrian Peterson having a huge day opening up the Vikes “O”. But, the Saints are at home in the SuperDome, so they’re going to be able to work some quick passes for big gains.

Anyway, Brett Favre won his only Super Bowl ring in the SuperDome leading Green Bay to a Super Bowl XXXI win over New England. The “Big Easy’s” hosted nine Super Bowls. But, this will be the first time it’s hosted the NFC Championship game. This will be the Saints second NFC Title Game appearance in four years having lost to the Bears in Chicago in 2006. Sticking to my NFC pick and score.
VIKINGS, 30-27 in OT.

That means it’ll be INDIANAPOLIS against MINNESOTA in the Super Bowl February 7th. But, wouldn’t be too surprised if the JETS and/or the SAINTS were headed to Miami. I’ll just stick with the VIKINGS and COLTS.

MISSED PLAYOFFS: LOS ANGELES*
*15 years, 20 weeks and counting. Expect a big announcement the week after the Super Bowl about Los Angeles returning to the NFL as early as next season.

Remember, use my picks to wager $$$ at your own risk. If you lose, I had nothing to do with it. If you win beaucoup $$$, a 10% tip would be cool. But, I’m realistic. This is just for your entertainment…or not, and for me to keep my sports “mojo” going until “I’m back in the saddle”. Remember the league’s unofficial motto…“ON ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, MONDAY, THURSDAY, FRIDAY OR SATURDAY“…………

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