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The Andrew Preview: NFL Conference Championship Playoffs

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The Jets take on the Steelers this week, with a trip to the Superbowl on the line.

1. Raiders Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson was promoted to head coach this week, filling the final head coaching vacancy in the NFL. Owner Al Davis introduced Jackson as his new coach on Tuesday, promising it was the start of a brighter future for the team. Davis made a statement that, “The fire in Hue will set a flame that will burn for a long time in the hearts and minds of the Raider football team and the Raider Nation.” Jackson was hired last year to take over the play calling duties from the Raiders’ former head coach, Tom Cable. Under Jackson, the offense doubled its scoring output from the prior season. Jackson was widely thought to be the leading candidate for the position, and this will be his first head coaching job at any level.

2. After a long flirtation that many thought was a fait accompli, the Dallas Cowboys officially announced today that Rob Ryan will become their new Defensive Coordinator. The son of NFL legend Buddy Ryan and twin brother of current Jets’ head coach Rex Ryan, Rob will coming to Dallas to coach the Cowboys’ defense next year. Ryan has been the DC in Cleveland for two years under Eric Mangini, but became free with the hiring of new head coach Pat Shurmur. He has been an NFL coach for thirteen seasons, including a five year stop in Oakland as the Raider’s defensive coordinator. In brother-related news, in addition to a Harbaugh bowl between the Ravens and 49ers, next season will also feature a Ryan bowl when the Jets take on the Cowboys.

3. It’s very rare that the top news organizations report take the time to report the absence of something, but when it comes to the 2011 New York Jets, you just have to throw the playbook out the window. Major news outlets are reporting that the Jets and fiery head coach Rex Ryan…are not talking trash about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Outspoken defensive back Antonio Cromartie, who had some choice words about the New England Patriots said, “We’ve moved on. We’re getting ready for Pittsburgh now.” Adding to the comparative love fest, Ryan said that he and Steelers’ coach Mike Tomlin were a lot alike, noting that both men were defensive coaches who received unique opportunities. Ryan added that Tomlin is one of his favorite coaches in the NFL. Will the Steelers reciprocate these veritable love letters from the Jets? Only time will tell.

Registering For The Draft

Here is the current order for the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

1. Carolina (2-14)
2. Denver (4-12)
3. Buffalo (4-12)
4. Cincinnati (4-12)
5. Arizona (5-11)
6. Cleveland (5-11)
7. San Francisco (6-10)
8. Tennessee (6-10)
9. Dallas (6-10)
10. Washington (6-10)
11. Houston (6-10)
12. Minnesota (6-10)
13. Detroit (6-10)
14. St. Louis (7-9)
15. Miami (7-9)
16. Jacksonville (8-8)
17. New England (14-2) — from Oakland
18. San Diego (9-7)
19. New York Giants (10-6)
20. Tampa Bay (10-6)
21. Kansas City (10-6)
22. Indianapolis (10-6)
23. Philadelphia (10-6)
24. New Orleans (11-5)
25. Seattle (7-9)
26. Baltimore (12-4)
27. Atlanta (13-3)
28. New England (14-2)
29. Green Bay (10-6)*
30. Chicago (11-5)*
31. New York Jets (11-5)*
32. Pittsburgh (12-4)*

* Final draft position depends on the outcome of the playoffs.

Two Big Match Ups

1. Green Bay at Chicago, 3 P.M. EST on FOX – The NFC Championship game will be all-North this year as the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears match up for the third time this season. The Green Bay Packers have essentially been competing in playoff games since Week Sixteen of the regular season. Fortunately, the team has been playing at a playoff level since that time as well. When they faced elimination from playoff contention, they delivered a beatdown of the New York Giants to the tune of 45-17. When they needed a victory to guarantee a playoff berth in Week Seventeen, they pulled out the hard-fought win. When they had to beat Michael Vick and the Eagles to advance to the next round of the postseason, they played a great game and got the W. And when they had to face their third division champion in as many weeks, the Packers responded by decimating the Falcons in front of the Atlanta faithful with a final score of 48-21. With the team firing on all cylinders for weeks now, the Packers are a tough out.

Still, Green Bay wasn’t the only team to win in a dominating fashion last week. While the Seahawks managed something of a comeback in garbage time, the Bears had a 28-3 lead at the start of the fourth quarter, and Seattle never really stood a chance as Chicago took absolute control of the game from the getgo. Having not played a truly meaningful football game in two weeks, the Bears shook of the rust and put in a stellar performance in their first playoff game in four years. Jay Cutler managed to score four touchdowns – two through the air and two on the grounds. With home field advantage on their side, the Bears are looking to stamp their ticket to Arlington in front of their home crowd. These teams have played twice this year. Chicago squeaked out a three-point victory in Week Three, and Green Bay picked up the duke by a touchdown in Week Seventeen. Still the Bears had nothing to play for in that game, though now they might wish that they’d taken that chance to knock out their upcoming sparring partner. With an NFC North rivalry and a pair of teams who’ve played each other close this season, expect a great game.

2. NY Jets at Pittsburgh, 6:30 P.M. EST on CBS – It didn’t look good for the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Down 21-7 to Baltimore at the half, the Steelers walked into the locker room with what appeared to be thin hopes for beating the division rival Ravens. Baltimore had taken advantage of Pittsburgh’s miscues and pumped up their running game to build a two-touchdown lead going into halftime. Then, all of a sudden, Pittsburgh came back out in the second half and rallied in a big way. They scored three touchdowns and a field goal, holding Baltimore to just 28 yards of total offense in the second half, and slaying their divisional foes. Now, Big Ben will look to secure his third trip to the Superbowl in just six seasons. It was a physical game between two physical teams, and both sides got their shots in, but at the end of the game, Pittsburgh emerged victorious and are now one win away from Arlington.

The Jets, for their part, faced a tight game against a division rival of their own. New York and New England has been exchanging cross words the whole week, and it showed on the field with a fair chunk of penalties and lots of rough play. The Jets grounded at 14-2 Patriot team that looked nigh unstoppable, with a defense that sacked Tom Brady five times and intercepted him to boot. Mark Sanchez threw for three touchdowns, and the rushing tandem of Shonn Green and LaDanian Tomlinson managed to ice the game at the end. New England did manage to do some damage in the fourth corner, and threatened a comeback, but after two unsuccessful onside kicks and a questionable call on fourth and thirteen, it was too little too late. The Jets won 28-21. For all that jawing, for all the criticism, for all of the circus that’s surrounded the New York Jets this season, they’re one win away from the Superbowl. The Jets and the Steelers met in Week Fifteen, with New York walking away victorious, 22-17, but there’s much more at stake this time around. Again, expect a great game from two teams who have been playing some great football lately.

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The Andrew Preview: NFL Week Sixteen

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The Falcons and the Saints will go head-to-head on Sunday in a match up of two of the league's best.

1. Rex Ryan might be giving the term “football” new meaning this week. Deadspin uncovered four videos of a woman who appears to be Ryan’s wife, Michelle, showing off her clod-hoppers in a series of foot-fetish videos. The videos were uploaded to youtube by a user named “ihaveprettyfeet” who shares several biographical details in common with Michelle. In one video, the camera man who sounds strikingly like Ryan converses with the woman about her feet. The fine folks at Deadspin guess that this video was made a few years ago while Ryan was an assistant coach in Baltimore. When asked about the videos, Ryan said it was a “personal matter” and refused to comment. The NFL agreed, saying it would not be investigating. So did Jets management, with New York GM Mike Tannenbaum and owner Woody Johnson indicating that Ryan has their “full support.” You can be sure our crack news team will be keeping their toes in the water on this one.

2. Indianapolis receiver Austin Collie is out for the season after suffering a concussion in the Colts’ game against the Jaguars last week. It was his second concussion of the year, and enough for Indy to put him on IR, ending his season. Collie has been banged up all year, missing five games completely and missing significant parts of three others after he was knocked out of the game. Despite this, Collie managed to lead the Colts in touchdown receptions with eight, and the loss will deprive Manning of one of his favorite targets over the past two years. Coach Jim Caldwell said, “From a medical standpoint, we are concerned more so about his health than anything else.” Collie’s injury comes in the wake of a number of other significant personnel losses suffered by the Colts, including  Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzales, Joseph Addai, and Bob Sanders.

3. Some quarterback quick-hits for you in our third news item of the week. The Broncos indicated that Tim Tebow will be starting the team’s remaining games against Houston and San Diego. Kyle Orton, the team’s starting quarterback for the majority of the year, expressed his displeasure, saying, “I don’t know if I’ll be here next year. We’ll just have to wait and see what shakes out with the organization.” The 49ers are remaining quiet as to which Smith will be starting for them this week – Troy or Alex. An NFL Network report indicated that Troy would start. Alex has gone 1-8 this year, while Troy has won three of five games in relief. Mark Sanchez has been limited in practice due to a sore shoulder, but said he expects to play in the Jets’ game against Chicago this week. Brett Favre might still play despite his concussion last week against the Bears, but the Vikings, and Joe Webb, are preparing as though he will miss the game. Finally, Aaron Rodgers returned to practice with the Packers this week, and he is expected to start against the Giants on Sunday despite having suffered his second concussion this year.

The Playoff Picture

If the playoffs were held today…


1. New England Patriots (12-2)+
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4)+
3. Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)
4. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)
5. Baltimore Ravens (10-4)
6. New York Jets at (10-4)

With the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars knocking on the door at 8-6.

Despite the lack of teams clinching by this point relative to prior seasons, the AFC playoff picture has remained remarkably stable, with only the Colts’ do-si-do with the Jags changing the order from last week. With two weeks to go, the only big questions are: Can the Steelers hold off the Ravens? Can the Chiefs hold off the Chargers? And who will come out on top in the fight between Indy and Jacksonville for the AFC South?


1. Atlanta Falcons (12-2)+
2. Chicago Bears (10-4)*
3. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4)
4. St. Louis Rams (6-8)
5. New Orleans Saints (10-4)
6. New York Giants (9-5)

With the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers knocking on the door at 8-6, and the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers still holding onto a chance to win the NFC West at 6-8 and 5-9 respectively.

Again, the NFC playoff picture has been pretty solid consistent despite a lack of mathematical certainty, and it looks to stay that way over the last two weeks of the season. The big questions are: Can the Eagles hold onto their lead in the East over the Giants? Will one of the Bays, be it Green or Tampa, be able to sneak into a Wildcard spot? And what miserable team will back its way into winning the NFC West?

+ = Clinched Playoff Berth
* = Clinched Division

Head of the Pack

Your statistical leaders in:


1. Peyton Manning (Indianapolis) – 4257 yards
2. Phillip Rivers (San Diego) –4141 yards
3. Drew Brees (New Orleans) – 4122 yards

With Manning jumping to number one.


1. Arian Foster (Houston) – 1345 yards
2. Maurice Jones-Drew – 1324 yards
3. Jamal Charles (Kansas City) – 1303 yards

With no changes for the second week in a row.


1. Roddy White (Atlanta) – 1284 yards
2. Brandon Lloyd (Denver) – 1264 yards
3. Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis) – 1247 yards

With Lloyd and Wayne switching places from last week.


1. Cameron Wake (Miami) – 14.0
2. Clay Matthews (Green Bay) – 13.0
T-3. John Abraham (Atlanta) – 12.0
T-3. Jason Babin (Tennessee) – 12.0
T-3. DeMarcus Ware (Dallas) – 12.0

With Shaun Phillips and Tamba Hali falling out of the top three.

Three Big Match Ups

1. NY Jets at Chicago, 1 P.M. EST on CBS – What makes this game intriguing is that the Jets have a lot more to play for than Chicago. With last week’s win, the Bears clinched the NFC North. If Chicago can win out, or if they can get a little help from the Eagles, they can also secure a first round bye. But thanks to the woeful NFC West, even if the Bears don’t win another game this season, the worst that happens is a home playoff game against the sixth seed. The heavy lifting is pretty much over for Jay Cutler & Co. until the postseason. What makes this interesting is the fact that this is a group who haven’t been to the playoffs, let alone clinched a berth before the end of the season, in four years. Whether Mike Martz can get his crew fired up and ready to play or whether his team will come out flat with so much locked up will say a lot about these Bears. The Jets, on the other hand, are still fighting for their playoff lives after having previously held the best record in the league. How the mighty have fallen. New York still controls their own destiny, and if they can win this game, they’re in the playoffs. Even if they lose, they still have their chances with the underachieving Bills on the schedule for their regular season finale, but the AFC Wildcard race is coming to a head and the Jets need to build momentum as they head toward the playoffs. Last week’s win against the likely second-seeded Steelers should help give the Jets their swagger back, but Rex Ryan’s group still needs to firmly erase the memories of their beat down in New England and their close loss to Miami. What kind of game Chicago plays and what kind of team New York puts on the field will give us a good view of what to expect from both sides in the postseason.

2. NY Giants at Green Bay, 4:15 P.M. EST on FOX – This is essentially a playoff game between the presumptive second place finishers in the NFC East and the NFC North. The stakes are the highest for Green Bay. The Packers control their own destiny, and if they can win out, they will go to the playoff thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker with New York and the strength of victory tiebreaker with Tampa Bay. If, however, the Pack loses this game, they’re officially eliminated from playoff contention and a promising season will go down the drain. With Aaron Rodgers returning after his second concussion of the year, it’s do or die in Green Bay. The Giants are suffering a bit themselves. After giving up a 31-10 lead over Philadelphia Eagles last week, a disastrous fourth quarter and a special teams bungle to end all bungles for New York all but dashed their hopes for winning the NFC East. A win for the Giants would give them a playoff berth thanks to a strength of victory tiebreaker over the Bucs, but the big question going into this game is – how much of a hangover will the G-men be nursing as they walk into Lambeau? This game could lock down a major part of the rough and tumble wildcard race in the NFC. The Packers need the win to get to the big dance, but the Giants need the win to prove to themselves that the Philly game was a fluke and that they won’t fade in the heat. Expect a playoff atmosphere and a great game.

3. New Orleans at Atlanta, Monday, 8:30 P.M. EST on ESPN – It’s rare for two teams this good to be playing in the same division. The Falcons look nigh unstoppable, having not lost a game since the middle of October and stringing together eight wins in a row in the mean time. A victory would be huge for Atlanta, giving them not only the NFC South, but home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Falcons are flying high, and nothing would cap their regular season better than defeating their division rivals to ensure that the road to the Superbowl goes through Atlanta in front of the home crowd. The defending Superbowl champion Saints, however, are no slouches themselves. While New Orleans, at two games back, would need a great deal of help to unseat the Falcons at the top of the NFC South, they would be at least tied for first in six of the seven other divisions in the league. New Orleans is still smarting from last week’s loss to Baltimore, but they have won six of their last seven games, and a win here would clinch them a playoff berth. These are two of the best teams not just in the NFC South, or the NFC, but the league. Expect them both to shine in front of a national audience on Monday Night.

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