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Division Round Observations

The Ravens-Steelers game was a joke. Yes, I had a half on the Ravens with the spread and another half on the moneyline, but my own personal rooting interests are beside the point. The Steelers got their first touchdown on a phantom pass interference call, the Ravens got their second because of a fumble that everyone stood around and watched, and the refs took away one of the more electrifying returns of the year on an inexcusably bad holding call. Not only wasn't it holding, it was textbook A+ blocking, and ref who threw the flag just assumed it was a hold because the defender fell down. In a game of that magnitude to disallow a touchdown based on something you didn't actually see is beyond failing at your job - it's failing at life and in so doing, destroying whatever slim hope there was for humanity prior to Saturday.

Moreover, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had unforgivably bad drops, and these are veteran receivers who can't outrun Jeff Erickson, so what good are they if they can't hold onto the ball?

And Steelers fans, please spare me the indignation. Yes, you're in the AFC title game, and you're obviously happy about that, and yes the game was close and dramatic, but it was totally arbitrary and borderline suspicious like the Seahawks-Steelers Super Bowl. I have to believe the NFL is too big to be susceptible to undue influence, but it happened in the NBA finals, so who the hell knows? A truly faith-shattering game in the beauty of the NFL.

The Falcons-Packers game was enjoyable to watch because Vanilla Ice was exposed as the uninspired caretaker he so obviously is at this stage of his career. The kid plays in a dome and has 6.5 YPA? But somehow he's being put in the Philip Rivers/Aaron Rodgers tier. Let's put it this way - I'd take Jay Cutler or Mark Sanchez now and going forward over Ryan, who belongs in the Joe Flacco/Matt Cassel tier.

Despite being right handed, Aaron Rodgers, not Michael Vick, is the true heir to Steve Young. Rodgers is dangerous in the pocket, can scramble for big yards and destroyed the Falcons by throwing with incredible accuracy on the move. I have no idea why Troy Aikman thinks Mike McCarthy should win Coach of the Year, or that Green Bay has such great receivers. To me, the team is Rodgers and a top-3 NFL defense, led by the second best cornerback tandem in the NFL.

The Bears won decisively which is what should have been expected, and I don't think we can take too much from this game except to note that Matt Hasselbeck turned out to be quite a solid pick in playoff drafts, certainly much better than anyone on the teams guaranteed to play two games (Saints and Pats). The Bears match up pretty well against the Packers with two close games against them, and Jay Cutler is a poor man's Rodgers who could outplay him on any given Sunday.

The Jets-Pats was easily the best and most interesting game of the weekend. New England's track record over the second half of the season (8-0, 31 or more points in every game, 13-point win @PIT, 42-point win vs. Jets, 4-point win vs. GB, 29-point win @CHI, i.e., they swept the final four teams, three of them in blowouts) made it appear they were an all-time great team like the 1984 49ers or 1985 Bears. But after the first two drives, the Jets were no longer fooled, and the reality of New York's superior personnel on both sides of the ball became insurmountable.

Tom Brady was either under pressure or had nowhere to throw, and New England was forced to run the ball down 10 points in the fourth quarter, chewing up valuable time and eventually stalling as the field shortened in Jets territory. Just like Peyton Manning who chose to run the ball on 3rd and 7 inside the 15 down 4, Brady had no good options, as his receivers lacked the physical skills to separate or make plays without getting separation (when Brady threw the ball to a covered Deion Branch, Darrelle Revis was able to reach around and force the ball out of his hands).

On the other side, Braylon Edwards boxed out two defenders and overpowered them past the goal line, and Santonio Holmes made a spectacular leaping catch at the back of the end zone. Neither player was "open," but both had the skills to make plays nonetheless. Maybe, Bill Belichick was a genius for letting Randy Moss go, but the Patriots lack of playmaking was badly exposed Sunday.

We had Mike Salfino on the SXM show Friday (and also today), and he took exception (on Friday) to the notion that the Jets had a 20 percent chance to beat the Pats, meaning no matter what happened, the Pats were better, and it would just be a matter of the Jets getting the right card to flop, something one could expect to happen every five games.

Instead, I suggested that given the available data, there was an 80 percent chance the Pats were the better team (no matter what), and that there was a 20 percent chance the Jets were the better team no matter what. That we couldn't know for sure until they played, but based on past data, that's the best guess we could make. He accepted that, and I agree it's the better formulation.

There are counterarguments - that winning in and of itself doesn't prove who's better and even that winning decisively doesn't mean that the same team would do so again if the teams were to meet next week. But the first is moot because the Jets did win decisively, i.e., not on a fluke bounce or bad call, and the second is moot because the NFL is not best 2-of-3, i.e., this was the game to settle it. All past performance can be viewed as a way of handicapping it, but once the decisive contest starts, it's meaningless. The map is not the territory. Otherwise, we could re-litigate every playoff game in history where the underdog decisively prevailed.

Comments

By: matthewthill7
On: 1/17/2011 2:32:00 PM
You're right, Ravens/Steelers was lame. Baltimore getting jobbed like the 2001 Sacramento Kings.

Ex-Seahawks 'round the world were dropping critical passes on Sunday: Mike Williams, Deion Branch, Housh. Must be a Northwest thing.

Agree on Matt Ryan. I'm sorta thinking that if he ain't got it by now, then he just ain't gettin' it.

I was really pulling for the Pats to win, mostly because I'm sick of the Jets. Ryan is the TO of coaches. Collection of has-beens stars who tried to play the "nobody believed in us" card, despite being the highest profile team in the world's biggest football market.

Aaron Rodgers is awesome.

Everybody brace themselves for Hurricane Salfino.
 
By: assman
On: 1/17/2011 2:33:00 PM
Thanks Chris, another masterpiece. You hit the Steelers right on the head....another slob win for them. I hope the Jets beat them into submission. So sick of them it isn't funny!
 
By: assman
On: 1/17/2011 2:38:00 PM
The so called "experts" have compared Matt Ryan to Joe Montana. More like Tony Montana, I don't see it. Don't worry, he will be in the top 7 next year.....Aaron Rodgers has been awesome this post season, really looking forward to seeing him in the Super Bowl. I have had him the last 3 years on my teams, he is a machine.
 
By: Kevin Payne
On: 1/17/2011 2:48:00 PM
I should have brought this up on the radio today but I was down on Ryan in the preseason (pretty sure I discussed this on the show). He was kind of a "feel-good" story after being drafted in a spot many thought was too high. He had a nice rookie season that was better than any thought could happen. In the wake of Petrino weaseling his way out of town and the Vick drama, many were rooting for the Falcons to succeed. A lot of the home wins the last two seasons were close games that easily could have gone different. I wouldn't draft him in 12-team, one QB start leagues next year. I'd easily rather have Sam Bradford.
 
By: jtopper
On: 1/17/2011 4:15:00 PM
You’re not going to convince me that Saturday’s Steelers-Ravens game was a joke and I’m certainly not writing my opinion to change your views. Yes, I am a proud Pittsburgh fan and served Rotowire with pride as the Steelers’ beat writer for four seasons. But I’ve watched plenty of games and shouldn’t feel insulted as a Steelers fan or NFL fan in general for thinking Saturday’s contest was a pretty exciting contest. Games against the Ravens are never pretty. They’re never going to rival Pats-Colts affairs aesthetically.
*****
Even if one agrees with the premise that there was holding on Baltimore’s late punt return, it probably didn’t cost them the game. After the call, the Ravens got the ball inside Pittsburgh’s 30 yard-line, it’s not like they had to start the drive back at their own 12. And, after the first play completion to Todd Heap, the Ravens had a 1st-and-goal from Pittsburgh’s eight. They settled for a field goal, tying the game at 24-24. There was still 3:54 left after Baltimore tied the game – a lifetime.
*****
Drops are part of the game. Anquan Boldin and Who’s-your-daddy failed under the pressure. It happens. Alge Crumpler dropped a TD for the Patriots yesterday. Penalties? Linebackers LaMarr Woodley & James Harrison were held coming off the edge numerous times without flags being thrown. Pittsburgh was guilty of holding when Baltimore was flagged for defensive holding on the Rashard Mendenhall touchdown drive, but they were still in position to kick a go-ahead field goal.
*****
It is ones' prerogative that the game was totally arbitrary and borderline suspicious. I think it was someone from the NFL Channel said that home teams get more calls than the away team. Pittsburgh is the better team between the two. The Ravens had a chance to secure home field advantage with a win over Pittsburgh in Baltimore, they could’ve done it with two wins over the Bengals. They didn’t.
*****
Personally, I thought the Steelers would go 10-6 this year, win a wild card round and bow out. Everything’s gravy from here on out but there’s no reason to apologize for it. And maybe I’m stupid – insert punch line – but I didn’t have one penny on the game.
 
By: jnowak2799
On: 1/17/2011 4:16:00 PM
Sam Bradford shows so much more poise than Ryan, even though he went 3 games late in the year without throwing a TD which was a bit disapointing he just seems to have IT, and Bradford is only going to get better and get better quality receivers to help him, Bradford will be a borderline top 12 QB pick next year, I would pick him as a strong back up, but watch out for Bradford in 2012, 2012 should be a pretty big year for Sam Bradford, in keeper leagues he's definately a priority in 2011 fantasy drafts.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 1/17/2011 4:37:00 PM
Topper - if the Ravens get the TD on the kick return, they're up 4 with a few minutes to play. Everything subsequent to that would have been different. Much more pressure, the Ravens knowing they could allow a field goal, etc. Of course, the Ravens still had a good chance to win even after the terrible call, and other things lost it including the Boldin drop and letting the Steelers convert a 3rd and 19, but they should have been up four, so the game would have played out differently. Moreover, I'm not taking a position as to the aesthetics of the game, so whether it's the Colts or Steelers, I really don't care. I'm a Giants fan, so I grew up on physical defensive games - which can also be a thing of beauty. But let's not confuse drama with quality. The game had plenty of drama, but it was poorly played and officiated even worse. Both teams would have lost to either the Jets or Pats if they played like that, and the end result was massively influenced by the poor calls. No idea how you can say that either team was better after watching that debacle. In fact, I left out that the Steelers might have had to settle for a FG on the last drive but for a holding call on a defensive lineman during a run play. That gave PIT a new set of downs and ran the clock down further. Just a totally random, senseless game IMO. If I'm a Steelers fan, I hold my nose and celebrate the win, but I also know it was lucky and we had better play much better against the Jets.
 
By: tumanic
On: 1/17/2011 4:48:00 PM
Yeah, that Pitt/Balt game was a bad beat with the line. Someone must of threw out the whammy at half time and said Balt +3.5 was a "lock" now. Liss???? :) Bears/Packers game will come down to coaching. Which coach will make the fatal error or most fatal errors? I would move the pocket with Cutler towards Mathews to slow down his up field momentum if I was the Bears. Mathews and Raji are too good to let them focus in on the 5 step drop pocket. I think the Pack should do a lot of 4-5 wide to force the Bears to play nickle and dime more since their LB's are their strongest assets. The Packers are not good road favorites and the Bears are a real good home dog team. I think it is 80% the Bears cover the 4 points but like the Pack to sneak out a black and blue low scoring game.
 
By: assman
On: 1/17/2011 4:54:00 PM
jtopper- Would not expect to hear anything different from a Steelers fan. I watched the whole game and Chris's assessment is about as accurate as it gets. I hope Ryan has something for the Steelers as that would make for a helluva game!
 
By: papasan
On: 1/17/2011 7:30:00 PM
y'know how some commentators use the aerial shot to draw circles around the guys downfield on both sides? did they show that or something similar during the pat's last two (or 4) possessions? i'd like to know what kinda coverage brady was afraid to throw into. he looked absolutely lost.
 
By: jnowak2799
On: 1/17/2011 10:00:00 PM
I don't normally like to blame the refs, because usually the bad calls get evened out, you hope. I'm a Bills fan for life, but an even bigger NFL fan, I just want to see a well officiated game, especially in the playoffs.....I did not care who won the Steelers/Ravens game. The eye test showed the Steelers definately got the better end of some questionable calls/penalties and Chris Liss pointed them out, There were at least 3 HUGE and pretty questionable calls that went against the Ravens in that game, the long pass interference penalty that should of maybe been a no call, the holding penalty when no one was holding on the punt return for a TD, and a mysterious holding call on a Ravens defensive lineman late in the game. I call it like I see it, it looked like the Ravens got jobbed.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/18/2011 5:53:00 AM
Boo Hoo, Cowher has a kleenex for all of you just like he had for big mouth Raven homer Shannon Sharpe !
What about the questionable PI call on Madison leading to Ravens first TD, what about the BS personal foul call on Ward early on that should have at most been offsetting. James Harrison held on every other snap. It all comes down to investment. If your invested in a team emotionally or financially and they lose, they got jobbed. You guys do realize Baltimore had a whopping 126 yards of total offense and if it weren't for the early turnovers by the Steelers, they would have been blown out of the stadium?
Get over it.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 1/18/2011 7:40:00 AM
Jsloniger - I never said the Ravens got jobbed. I said the game was a joke, and you're making my point. What about the fumble TD they got because everyone was standing around for 10 seconds doing nothing? Re-read the post - the point isn't who got jobbed, it's that the entire game was a joke for both sides. Though obviously, the bad calls were not distributed remotely evenly as you imply, but that wasn't the point of the post.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/18/2011 7:48:00 AM
"but it was totally arbitrary and borderline suspicious like the Seahawks-Steelers Super Bowl." This isn't an insinuation that the Ravens got jobbed?
 
By: jtopper
On: 1/18/2011 8:24:00 AM
I've replied to your opinions, Chris, I haven't pushed the game as one of the greatest of all time. To call it one of the worst games, as you did in the live blog, makes little sense to me. That's my point.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 1/18/2011 8:30:00 AM
That the Ravens got jobbed also follows from that, but that wasn't the point of the post. The point was that the game was as much of a joke as that Super Bowl - regardless of who got jobbed, terrible officiating is bad for the game and makes it deeply unsatisfying.
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 1/18/2011 8:33:00 AM
Topper, no one implied you said the game was one of the greatest of all time. That's a straw man. Given the stakes and how it shook out, it was the worst playoff game I've seen in a while, though admittedly saying it was the worst ever was an exaggeration. The Steelers-Seahawks Super Bowl was worse, for example.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/18/2011 8:45:00 AM
Chris, point taken. Just as a general read, thats the way the thread read to me.
 
By: jtopper
On: 1/18/2011 8:45:00 AM
Chris, it's almost like your baiting me to turn into Super Steelers fan by your repeated mentions of Superbowl XL. I can go on with my life now that I read the exaggeration comments. But calling the Steelers a fraud on XM? Really?
 
By: Chris Liss
On: 1/18/2011 9:25:00 AM
What did I say? "A bit of a fraud?" Well, in the context of a Super Bowl team. Obviously, they're a good team compared to most of the league.
 
By: assman
On: 1/18/2011 2:01:00 PM
Funny how things can get misconstrued, twisted, spun, bent on here. Go back and reread what you thought you read, can make more sense then. I am rooting for the Jets and I don't really like them!
 
By: Mark Stopa
On: 1/18/2011 6:17:00 PM
Chris is right. The way I see it, when a game ends, we should feel like the team that won was the better team that day. Not necessarily the better team, because the better team doesn't always win on any given Sunday, but the better team that day. With Jets/NE, GB/ATL, and CHI/SEA, we felt that way. But with Ravens/Steelers, we really have no idea who was the better team that day. Was it the Steelers? Maybe. But there was so much crap that nobody can say for sure. In addition to the holding on the punt return (taking away a Ravens lead), I'd point to the defensive holding call in the goal line package. That's a call that is almost never made, and it gave the Steelers a TD to go up 31-24 instead of what may have been a FG for a 27-24 lead. That call wasn't as big, but it was still big.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/18/2011 6:49:00 PM
Assman, if that is directed at me I really have no reason to re-read anything. I am quite aware of what it means and what the sentiment of his post and this entire thread means. Let's see; the game sucked, the better team didn't win, and oh by the way, the Ravens got jobbed. I kind of like all the anti-Steeler sentiment and could really care a less someone else's opinion. So long as they keep winning at the pace they have for the past several years, I will be quite happy and get a good chuckle out of reading the fallout. Thank the good Lord they have the NFL conspirators on their side, otherwise, I'd be one of the theorists!
 
By: jtopper
On: 1/18/2011 7:13:00 PM
Chris, you know what you said and there where no ifs, ands or "bits" about it.

Stopa, you still owe me from our bet about whether Plaxico goes to jail or not, and he's almost out of the slammer.

 
By: jnowak2799
On: 1/18/2011 9:21:00 PM
I don't care if the Ravens had negative 150 yards of offense, if they make HUGE defensive and special teams plays and some of them were touchdowns that were called back by phantom holding penalties I have a problem with that. I feel like I am wasting my time even writing this, it's like trying to talk about football with a guy who knows nothing about football or who just gets enjoyment out of antagonizing people who really like analizing what they see during an NFL game that most people might tend to overlook or not even notice.
 
By: jnowak2799
On: 1/18/2011 9:33:00 PM
I am the person that said the Ravens got jobbed, in other words, the Ravens got screwed, plain and simple.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/19/2011 5:42:00 AM
I've been watching the NFL for a good 40 years and know quite well what I see during a game. What I have yet to see in a game is a ref make a game changing play.
 
By: Mark Stopa
On: 1/19/2011 7:26:00 AM
That's a crazy statement, jsloniger. Go watch the Steelers/Seahawks Super Bowl.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/19/2011 9:28:00 AM
What PLAY did a ref make in that game Mark?
 
By: assman
On: 1/19/2011 1:25:00 PM
jsloniger.....Mr. Magoo said the same thing.
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/19/2011 1:44:00 PM
am...wow
 
By: assman
On: 1/19/2011 3:32:00 PM
JS- let's go to Buffalo wild wings and smoke some Cubans on the terrace while chugging some yuengling drafts while the senoritas wait on us hand and foot......or foot and hand!
 
By: jsloniger
On: 1/20/2011 5:16:00 AM
I'll drink to that!
 
By: jtopper
On: 1/20/2011 10:14:00 AM
I watched the replay of the Ravens-Steelers game last night on the NFL Network, specifically for the holding call that brought back a would-be TD for Baltimore.

Here's what happened. The Ravens' Marcus Smith (#11) held Pittsburgh's Will Allen (#26) from the 31 yard-line to the 21 yard-line. There's littled doubt about it. But that replay can only be seen during the live feed.

At the 21 yard-line, the two combatants released each other, then re-attached.

From the 21 yard-line to the 19 yard-line, where the Steelers' player was seen flailing and overdramatizing the play, there was no infraction.

Replays, of which there was only one, showed the holding call from the 21 to 19 yard-line and I agree with that being a non-call.

The infraction occurred from the 31 to the 21 and there was never a TV replay showing that part of the play.
 
By: jnowak2799
On: 1/20/2011 10:30:00 AM
On that punt return, that was a situation where the refs were supposed to do their normal lets all huddle together thing, then the head ref comes out of the huddle and waves the yellow flag in the air and say the famous line "there was no penalty for holding on the play". That's what a good ref crew does when they realize unless it's an OBVIOUS TAKEDOWN HOLD, you do not take away a punt or kick-off return for a touchdown when there is HOLDING ON EVERY PLAY DURING EVERY GAME. And refs make HUGE bad calls that affect many games more than you think, it's just that a lot of the time the bad calls are overlooked because they didn't affect the outcome of a game, bad calls by refs are more likely to be scrutinized in a tight game.
 
By: jtopper
On: 1/20/2011 10:42:00 AM
@jnowak2799

I agree with everything you said, just watch the feed from the actual play and you'll notice Marcus Smith in the foreground holding Will Allen from the 31 to the 21.
 
By: assman
On: 1/20/2011 1:30:00 PM
It's all moot!
 

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