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Cheat Sheet: Forget bandwagon jumpers, Saints have what it takes
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Cases in point — I’ve never been with a “cougar,” I don’t watch Lost and I don’t own any albums by Panic! at the Disco, TV on the Radio or whichever other four-word Brooklyn hipster band du jour that Pitchfork.com tells me I should be listening to.
When the Broncos started the 2009 season 6-0, they spent their bye week participating in just about every media opportunity available. I was skeptical. Defensive tackle Darrell Reid spent a day at ESPN doing the “Bristol circuit,” Josh McDaniels was everywhere and by the time we got to Week 8, the bandwagon had officially spilled over with salivating media members representing both coasts and everything in between.
Naturally, the 'wagon stalled, the Broncos lost their next four games and ultimately missed the playoffs when they ended the season with back-to-back losses at home to Oakland and Kansas City.
A full media bandwagon can be poisonous and if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it's that “momentum” means nothing whatsoever heading into the playoffs. Like Santa Claus or a Tiger Woods wedding vow, it’s not real. It’s something believed in by pundits, talking heads and ex-players who convinced themselves it mattered when they played.
The Colts had won nine straight heading into the postseason last year; then lost to the Chargers in the wild-card round. The Panthers were unbeatable at home in '09; the Cardinals handed them their lunch under the lights in Charlotte. Year in, year out, the team with all the late December momentum and media glow loses in January.
Forget momentum. Instead, give me the team with the chip on its shoulder; the team feeling disrespected with the lack of media props. The '08 Cardinals were doubted by the pundits throughout last season and into the playoffs. They rode that (and the hands of Larry Fitzgerald) to a Super Bowl berth. In '07, the Giants were underdogs in every postseason game they played. They won them all. The '05 Steelers and the '06 Colts each limped into the postseason without much fanfare. They each won Super Bowls.
Give me teams like these over ones that have been basking in media tanning beds for too long. Bandwagons scare me. And that’s why I’m not booking a ticket on the Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl Express.
Let’s analyze each team’s bandwagon — from the full to the empty — and where it is heading in this weekend’s games. From top to bottom:
Winners of four straight, the Cowboys are coming off consecutive blowouts of the Eagles and look to be awfully dangerous both on offense and defense.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Now
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 14 loss to San Diego
Current Bandwagon Level: No breathing room
Trending: Upward and through Jerry's stadium roof
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Now
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following nationally-televised Week 6 loss to Denver
Current Bandwagon Status: Suffocating
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 12 win over Houston
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following a preseason 18-17 loss to Detroit
Current Bandwagon Status: Fairly crowded, with a few recent bailers
Trending: Downward, slightly
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 8 win at Green Bay
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Halftime, Week 16 overtime loss at Chicago
Current Bandwagon Status: Crowded, but plenty of room
Trending: Upward, slightly
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 3 win over Cleveland
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 13 loss at Green Bay
Current Bandwagon Status: Quietly filling up, several seats still available
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 2 victory over New England
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 15 loss at home to Falcons
Current Bandwagon Status: Talking Super Bowl in Queens and Long Island, but relatively empty everywhere else
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 7 win over New York Giants
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Following Week 3 oss at home to Indianapolis
Current Bandwagon Status: Oddly the same as last postseason — everyone loves the offense, hates the defense and no one thinks they’re doing anything beyond this weekend
And then — drumroll, please — there’s my team for the 2010 postseason. A team you haven’t read a single thing about since Week 15. A squad that had a bandwagon so full that it had to rent out extra cabins for the latecomers, but now has no one whatsoever aboard. Zilch. Empty.
Who’s my team of the 2010 postseason?
Bandwagon’s Highest Capacity: Following Week 12 win over New England
Bandwagon’s Lowest Capacity: Now
Current Bandwagon Status: Empty, barren, crickets, tumbleweeds — also known as, perfection
In short, the Saints are frightening. They're well-rested, underappreciated and well-prepared.
Bandwagons are scary. The New Orleans Saints are scarier.
Divisional Round Cheat Sheet
As for my picks this weekend? Well, it has been a busy few days for me. After completing the first flawless week in Cheat Sheet history, I’ve been doing a media blitz, interviewing with everyone from Larry King to the girls at The View.
I was offered the hosting gig of all three NBC late-night shows, had several babies named after me and have been hit with lifetime bans from seven Las Vegas sports books. I had to answer several questions about suspicion of pick enhancement drugs, handled them all and never cried.
With all that going on, I’ve still taken the time to make my picks for you, the readers, this weekend.
Last week's record: 4-0
Overall 2010 postseason record: 4-0
Arizona at New Orleans: Vegas has the over/under for this one at 57 points, which seems more like a Boise State-Nevada total than an NFL playoff game. But it could be pretty spot-on.
You know my thoughts on the Saints. They’re sitting pretty — well-rested, with home field throughout the playoffs and completely devoid of media attention. I haven’t heard a word about New Orleans since their Dec. 19 loss to Dallas. Fine with me. Give me Drew Brees, a functioning defense and Sean Payton with close to a month to prepare a game plan.
Kurt Warner’s a fine quarterback, and I loved what I saw out of youngsters Beanie Wells, Early Doucet and Steve Breaston last weekend. Alas, the dream ends on the carpet Saturday. The Pick: Saints 44, Cardinals 24
Baltimore at Indianapolis: It wouldn’t be a Cheat Sheet without at least one surprise, would it? Yes, friends, I’m going with the Ravens. Call me crazy, but I like what Baltimore’s doing right now — playing tough, hard-nosed, smash-mouth football and creating points off opportunistic turnovers. I wasn’t surprised with the Ravens' victory in New England last weekend, and I won’t be surprised when they bully the Colts on Saturday.
Peyton Manning’s going to get his. So will Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. But are Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, Mike Hart, Donald Brown and the rest of the young horses dressed in blue ready to step it up on Saturday? Am I disrespecting a squad that essentially went 14 1/2-and-0 this season? Perhaps.
But look for Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and a healthy offensive line — one that now includes Jared Gaither — to give the Colts defensive front seven fits. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis won’t be flying around the end with Gaither and rookie Michael Oher protecting Joe Flacco. They won’t be able to if the run game is established, anyway.
The Ravens were flagged for only 15 yards in penalties against the Patriots and won the turnover battle 4-2 Sunday. Joe Flacco threw just 10 passes for 34 yards. Smart, tough, ugly football — it’s what wins in January.
For the second straight year, give me the Ravens on the road against the AFC’s top seed. They’ll do it on a Billy Cundiff game-winning field goal. Picking against Peyton is tough, but someone’s gotta do it. The Pick: Ravens 26, Colts 24
Dallas at Minnesota: Momentum, schmomentum — I don’t buy it. The Vikings are 8-0 at home this season, the Metrodome’s going to be rocking and Felix Jones and Marion Barber won’t be running all over Pat and Kevin Williams like the Dallas run attack did agaisnt Philly. “They have to come here and do it. They ran on Philly, but that’s Philly,” Pat Williams said Tuesday. “We’re the Vikings.”
He’s right. Hey, I’m happy for Tony Romo. I am. No one has been accused of having a man-crush on the guy more than me. I’m also happy for Wade Phillips. He’s a good dude, and I’m glad he added a playoff win to his resume last week. But the 2010 postseason run and media lovefest ends in Minny on Sunday.
Favre has a big day, Adrian Peterson has a bigger one, and Percy Harvin makes a splash in the return game. Give me the Vikes. The Pick: Vikings 34, Cowboys 23
New York Jets at San Diego: Listening to New York’s WFAN this week has been an absolute joy. If you weren’t aware, the Jets are going to the Super Bowl. It’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. Everyone from Scotty B. in Bayside to Ralphie in Rego Park will tell you so. And if the Ravens do beat the Colts on Saturday night, just wait for the nut-ball Jets fans Sunday morning coming out of the woodwork hyping up a potential AFC championship game at Giants Stadium. Open that puppy back up one more time!
Alas, I can’t see New York’s blitz-happy defense getting the best of this Chargers offense this weekend. As for San Diego’s rush defense — a unit that finished near the bottom of the league — the statistics are a bit misleading. The Bolts run defense hasn’t been beaten up on since their Oct. 4 loss to Pittsburgh, and statistically they ranked 10th against the run over the final 10 games. San Diego will find a way. The Pick: Chargers 27, Jets 13
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