It's time for our weekly Q&A session with a blogger who covers the Patriots next opponent. However, we have absolutely no idea who the Patriots' next opponent will be since they've earned themselves a first round bye. We decided to fill the void this week, by touching base with Xtra Point Football, a fantastic blog that covers the great sports of football in general. I asked the site's lead blogger, Mike Cardano, a series of questions about the Pats and the NFL playoffs. Here's what he had to say...
1. - The Big Patriots' question: Do you think this defense is good enough to win the Super Bowl this year? Why or Why not?
As Asking if the Patriots defense is good enough to win the Superbowl is like asking if Robin could have kicked the Joker’s ass without Batman. If the defense played on another team the answer would be no, but they don’t they play for the Bill Belichick coached, Tom Brady led Patriots. The defense merely has to slow the other team down enough to give Brady and Co. the opportunity to do their thing. And while I would consider the defensive unit poor by a 14-2 team’s standards, they are certainly opportunistic.
2. - Who is the biggest threat to New England's quest to make it to Dallas? Colts? Ravens? Steelers?
The Ravens clearly match-up best against the Patriots, better than anyone in the NFL. You only need to rewind back twelve months and the proof is in the pudding.
3. - What is the most intriguing matchup of Wild Card Weekend?
The most intriguing match-up on Wildcard weekend is the rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. Rex Ryan’s mouth vs. Peyton Manning’s arm will have the biggest hype and most drama. Hence the prime time scheduling.
4. - What are your thoughts on Seattle hosting a playoff game at 7-9? What do they have to do in order to keep it competitive against the Saints?
Seattle hosting a home game is a joke, but that’s the rules and the NFL knew that was a possibility when they made the rules, so it is what it is. The Saints would have to turn the ball over 5-6 times to lose this one. The Saints are favored by 10.5 on the road, if they were playing at a neutral site it would be at least two TD’s. The Seahawks best chance is to let their 12th man help them win the game. If they can play well on special teams and get a few turnovers entering the 4th quarter with a lead or keeping it close, the fans will be into it and that’s one tough place to play when Seattle’s fans are going berserk. If the Saints jump out to more than a two TD lead, the fans will be drinking Starbucks instead of beer and the fat lady will come out and sing at half time.
5. - The Packers have been red hot as of late. Does this team have a 2007 Giants feel to it especially after hanging with New England with their backup QB?
The Packers only finished with a 10-6 records, but virtually all their losses were nail biters. On Xtra Point Football we ran a Net Points Power Ranks post each week, and the packers ended up as the second ranked team behind the Patriots. How did we rank them? Net Points. The Packers scored 148 Net Points on the year bested only by the Patriots absurd 205 Net Points. The packers are a much better TEAM than the 2007 Giants.
6. - Rex Ryan said its personal about finally wanting to beat Peyton Manning. Speaking of the Jets, does the loss of Jim Leonhard at safety affect their defense against the good QB's they could see if they advance through the postseason? How far can Sanchez take them this year?
Ah, a subject I'm extremely well versed on. My favorite team, the NY Jets. The loss of Jim Leonhard doesn’t affect the Jets now nearly as much as it did prior to the second Patriots game. Leonard was the “quarterback” of the defense and without him able to make the appropriate reads and calls on the fly the Jets were sitting ducks that night. Playing without him for the past month has forced them to learn how to play without him. The Jets strength in the passing game is their cornerbacks and their weakness is there linebackers. While the cornerbacks have the ability to cover anyone in the league, the line backers couldn’t cover you or I and a good QB would be well served to throw the ball over and over to his tight ends and slot receivers (both which are areas of particular strength of the Patriots btw.) The fact that the Jets have to bring the blitz because they can’t get pressure with their lineman is the biggest problem the defense faces. If you look closely you’ll find that they have given up an inordinate amount of 3 and +15 yard first downs over the middle of the field. The linebackers and safeties just can’t hold their coverage’s for that long. When they bring the blitz and force the QB to get the ball out quick, it results in either an incompletion, a turnover or a short catch and tackle, but when they bring the blitz and it gets picked up, they are very vulnerable over the middle.
As for Mark Sanchez, first and foremost he needs to stay healthy. So far in his young NFL career he’s been a bit brittle. Last year it was the knee, this year the throwing shoulder. He’s quite mobile and is a small version of Ben in the respect that he takes many plays that appear to at first glance be sacks and plays street football getting himself out of the situation and making a play. The difference however is that Roethlisberger seems to always make a good decision at the end of the play resulting in a positive where as Sanchez while definitely doing quite a bit of that will also throw the ball places he shouldn’t resulting in a turnover. Frankly, it’s amazing how many balls defensive backs have had in their hands this year that they have dropped.
Sanchez success is 100 dependent on the play calling. When Brian Schottenheimer get him in a rhythm early, he is a very effective quarterback. Sanchez is an extremely accurate thrower of the ball that can make all the throws and throws the deep ball especially well, it’s his decision on when and where to throw it that can sometimes be problematic, not his ability. The importance of winning two playoff games on the road in his rookie year last year can’t be understated and he played some of his best games in those hostile conditions.
The Jets scored over 25 points per game on the road this year, take out the New England awful performance by the entire team and they scored over 28 points per game. The Jets have the talent on paper to play with anyone and if they are a quick out I expect it to be because of the defense, not Sanchez and the offense. If the Colts, the Pats or anyone else they might play doesn’t put them away early they will be a very dangerous team in the playoffs this year. If someone lets them hand around and get their swagger, they are capable of running the ball well late in the game with Shonn Greene and have shown the ability to steal a game at the end. I can see the Jets either getting blown out by Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or getting their grove on and going all the way, it’s truly 50/50.
7. - Are you a believer in the Atlanta Falcons in terms of making the Super Bowl?
Matty Ice has been melting a bit of late as he’s seemed to have tightened up down the stretch. Personally, I think the Packers have the best chance to make it to the Super Bowl, but it’s hard to argue with the success they have had playing at home, and that’s where they will be playing. My best guess is that the Saints or Packers pick’em off, but they’ve had a great year and I wouldn’t be surprised in hindsight to find out that I didn’t quite give them the respect they deserved.
8. - With the Charlie Weis situation in Kansas City, will it be a distraction to this young team as they play the Ravens on Sunday? Pats fans know how much Cassel can do, but how far can he carry KC if the run is not effective?
The Charlie Weis issue is a not issue. Matt Cassell isn’t going to be thinking that Weiss isn’t going to be there next year as he fades back to pass and Weiss isn’t going to not prepare for what might possibly be his last NFL job ever. Matt Cassell is the number one rated passer in the NFL this year against the blitz and as you know is quite mobile. I would expect the Ravens to play more coverage than blitzing and have Cassell try to beat them that way, something he has not really proven he’s been able to do. Unless they get behind big I would be surprised if the Chiefs abandon the run. Even if it’s not working early they will stick with it because Cassell will need for his play action to be effective in order to succeed. You may even see them TRY THIS!
9. - AFC Champ? NFC Champ?
My AFC Champ prediction is Ravens. Anyone on this earth that has not been formally introduces to Ray Rice will know him intimately after this year’s playoffs as one of the best backs in the game. In the NFC, the Packers. And as we’ve seen, even if their starting QB goes down, they concede nothing. The experience that Matt Flynn got against the Patriots (and the team with him) may prove valuable before this year is over. I would submit that if you gave Flynn another chance to play that last minute of the game over again, Pats fans might not be too happy about the outcome.
10. - Who is hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February?
Many people may be surprised that I'm not choosing the Patriots but I'm not. I think many people have been persuaded by the last couple of blowouts that they are unbeatable. They are in fact firing on all cylinders now and that's definitely what you want, they probably would have been better off playing this week though instead of sitting home and letting that momentum subside. I think people forget that the Packers back-up young QB had them on their heals and messed up the clock at the end of the game. Peyton Manning was already in field goal range and would have tied the game when he threw a ball he shouldn't, the Jets bat them early on, and the Browns embarrassed them pretty badly. If you look at it that way, they are definitely not unbeatable.
If I had to choose today who will hoist the Lombardi trophy Trophy in February I would say the Packers. The Packers may be the only team in the NFL that was literally in every single game. When you consider that their six losses are by a total of 20 points, you can see no team in the NFL was ever really able to get their number. There isn't any other team in the NFL we can say that about. And considering some of the injuries they dealt with during the season, that was a remarkable feat.
11. - How do you think the new overtime rules will affect these playoffs?
That’s kind of a tough question to answer the way it’s asked. If there are no overtime games, the answer is obvious. If there are any OT games however, even if the rule does not come directly into play, unless the team getting the ball first runs the kick back for a TD, the fact that the rule is there will affect both the play calling and perhaps the way the players on the field execute the plays that are in fact called. You may have a situation that occurs that does not involve a field goal and chance for the other team but that doesn’t mean the play calling and execution would have been the same if the rule were different.