Posts Tagged ‘Aaron Rodgers’

Well, hey, Weekly Links is making a surprise appearance. So busy with the paid work this time of year that it is hard to fit in free ventures (sure hope you don’t think I am making millions on my cozy website!)

So here goes … a little baseball, a little more NFL and a little college football. Sorry, not posting NBA as the preview shelf life is limited and who knows where you might end up after you click.

 

The World Series starts on Tuesday and the main storyline will revolve around perhaps the greatest pitcher of this era.

But as we all know, Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw hasn’t stood up well under the playoff pressure during his career.

So will be it regular season Kershaw or “Postseason Kershaw” when the Dodgers play in the World Series for the first time since 1988?

Kershaw was seven months old and sleeping in a crib the last time the Dodgers were part of the Fall Classic.

How long has it been since the Dodgers played in the World Series? Well, consider the San Diego Padres’ drought was 10 years shorter.

That’s pretty sad when you consider all the money the Dodgers spend.

But this is their time with a team that won 104 regular-season games … and they definitely need “Regular Season Kershaw” taking the mound … see stellar story here — http://hosted.stats.com/mlb/story.asp?i=20171020172054085065710&ref=rec&tm=&src=MLB

 

Tom Brady might get the most praise but I feel Aaron Rodgers is the most “valuable” quarterback in the NFL.

We start to see if that is assessment is correct when the Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Rodgers is out for at least eight weeks due to a broken collarbone and former UCLA star Brett Hundley will start in his place. Hundley has excelled in each of the past three preseasons but he wasn’t so hot when replacing Rodgers last Sunday as he threw three interceptions in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Hundley is a stellar athlete so it will be interesting to see how he fares. But no matter how he performs, we know this: He’s no Aaron Rodgers.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NFL/saints-vs-packers-preview-and-predictions/212295/

 

It was pretty fun to have the Week 1 assignment when the Chargers and Broncos played in Denver.

It was even more entertaining to watch the Chargers have their game-tying field-goal attempt blocked in the final seconds.

The Chargers lost their first four games after relocating from San Diego and their running defense is so poor that I’m thinking Terrell Davis could suit up this Sunday and threaten the 100-yard mark.

The Broncos haven’t played well lately — what a gag job that was against the woeful New York Giants last Sunday night — so that unfortunately means the Chargers have a chance to win a third straight game.

Sure don’t want that … seeing the Chargers fall to 2-5 and on the way to their consecutive double-digit loss season would be much more fun.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/nfl/broncos-vs-chargers-preview-and-predictions/212300/

 

I’ve been kind of wondering why we have to continue playing the college football season and having all this debate about which four teams should be part of the College Football Playoff.

Can you find three teams in the nation that can beat Alabama? How about two? OK, one?

Penn State, Georgia and TCU are the teams ranked 2, 3 and 4. How about we take the best players off those three teams and see if they can give Alabama a game?

None of those three teams will win the national championship. The list of teams that can ends at one: Alabama.

The Crimson Tide get to pound Tennessee this Saturday. Apparently, people around Tennessee have finally figured out Butch Jones isn’t an SEC-caliber coach. Things could really get ugly against the Crimson Tide.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.scoresandstats.com/previews/football/NCAAF/-tennessee-vs-alabama-preview-and-predictions/212112/

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Weekly links is back and what a weird week for San Diego football fans.

Dean Spanos is finally taking the Chargers to Los Angeles and he has become a national laughingstock. It felt like only San Diegans were aware of what a dork the guy is but the announcement of the move displayed that all football fans are fully aware.

Even other pro sports team were mocking the Chargers … ouch. And you could almost hear that spineless public relations director yelling “Take a chill pill” if you recall that silly incident from the 2012 season.

My favorite thing I ran across was some Los Angeles writer giving a rundown of the organization and wondering if the move to Los Angeles could affect the Chargers’ on-field play in 2017.

Ummmmmm, they are 9-23 over the past two seasons, dude. And they were the only team in the NFL to lose to the dreadful Cleveland Browns.

If moving to Los Angeles is going to affect the record, the Chargers will BE the Cleveland Browns.

Happiest team about the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles is the soccer team that will share the StubHub Center with the Chargers.

That’s because the LA Galaxy are guaranteed to still be the highest-scoring team playing in that venue.

 

OK, on to the links.

It will be interesting to see how the Dallas Cowboys fare against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (NFL-best 1,631 rushing yards) haven’t looked like novices during a 13-3 season. But how will they handle the playoff pressure?

Prescott has handled everything well while going from projected third-stringer to making Tony Romo forever irrelevant. But the playoffs are a completely different animal and things can go wrong quickly.

You might recall Dan Fouts’ first career playoff game as the leader of the Don Coryell Chargers. He threw five interceptions and the heavily favored Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers.

If a Hall of Famer like Fouts could fall flat on his face, so can a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State.

Not to forget that Aaron Rodgers is hotter than lava (you bet lava made it into my lead) and is an experienced veteran of the playoff wars. Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes without being intercepted over the past seven games.

Here is the stellar Packers-Cowboys preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/NFL/2017/01/12/Green-Bay-Packers-vs-Dallas-Cowboys-Aaron-Rodgers-Dak-Prescott-under-the-microscope/9991484249346/

 

Now that it is mid-January, it is time to start figuring out which college basketball conferences are good and which ones are pretenders.

I haven’t yet figured out where the SEC stands but I know what direction I’m leaning.

Kentucky is pretty talented but we saw South Carolina collapse late last season to be relegated to the NIT so it is hard to take the Gamecocks seriously.

Which brings me to Florida.

I’ve had to watch the Gators play a few times lately and write about them because I’m paid to do so and their record (13-3, 4-0 SEC) appears to be better than the sum of its parts.

In Tuesday’s 80-67 victory over Alabama (now that school is a pretender), it was Florida’s ninth-leading scorer playing the hero. Some guy named Keith Stone and his 14-point effort improved his scoring average to 4.6.

You can say it is a good quality when a team can have its ninth-best player lead them in scoring. But the other fact is that teams like this typically start displaying their true colors in mid-February.

They don’t tend to get better — and often will decline.

Florida has one good scorer in sophomore KeVaughn Allen. Senior Canyon Barry (son of Rick) provides scoring punch off the bench but it isn’t a team that scares anyone.

The Gators play Georgia (I’m leaning toward pretender for the Bulldogs) on Saturday and I will be watching closely.

Here is the stellar Georgia-Florida preview — http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/no-23-florida-goes-for-7th-straight-vs-georgia/

 

The Los Angeles Rams hired a coach who turns 31 years old on Jan. 24.

That’s correct — 31 years old. Not 41. Not 51. Not 61. Heck, not 71.

Sean McVay was hired by the Rams to turn around their fortunes and perhaps he’s too young to know that’s nearly impossible. And since Kroenke the Donkey owns the team, is there anybody anywhere that wants to see the Rams win?

McVay is the youngest coach in NFL history as I’m sure you figured out. He was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.

The fun part about stories like this is you see a report and you start writing and reporting like a madman. It took just 15 minutes to write this breaking news and that includes doing all the research on McVay’s background and searching for statements from McVay and the Rams.

This story was out on the national wire 20 minutes before the Rams even released the news themselves.

That is part of the fun as you never know what you might have to write on a moment’s notice.

So now I’m well-versed on Sean McVay.

Oh, there is a player on the Rams who is older than McVay. Now that’s funny.

Here is the stellar breaking news story — http://www.sportsxchange.com/tsxfiles/?page_id=211&max_colums=60&story_id=156335

You mean to tell me we get to see Cam Newton versus Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl?

I’m all for that. Sign me up.

Newton is on the verge of wrestling top NFL quarterback honors away from Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, while the 39-year-old Manning will likely be playing the final game of his long stellar career when Super Bowl 50 kicks off in Santa Clara on Feb. 7.

The two quarterbacks are separated by 13 years in age and probably 20 miles an hour in speed. Newton’s Carolina Panthers have been the best in the team in the NFL for most of the season while Manning’s Denver Broncos feature the best defensive unit.

Kind of interesting that Manning is now in the complimentary role but it is amazing he is even on the field after all the experts – and perhaps some people in the Denver organization – wrote him off in December. Foot injuries can be painful, you know.

Newton is the heir apparent to the Manning-Brady era. When we get to the middle of next decade, these are the people who will be universally discussed as the top quarterbacks in the NFL:

Cam Newton, Derek Carr and Andrew Luck. (Just be sure to check on me in Jan. 2026, OK?)

Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and somebody currently not in the league may also figure in the equation.

But nobody in the NFL has all the skills of Newton – a top-notch thrower and fierce-runner in a linebacker’s body.

He also has that supreme level of confidence – some say he’s cocky or arrogant but you have to understand that today’s athlete has a different mentality than your father’s generation. Or your own.

Newton has been a polarizing figure since he first dashed into the public eye.

There were questions regarding how he ended up at Auburn and he was heavily scrutinized over persistent allegations of illegal payments.

He sidestepped all the off-field fuss in 2010 and led the Tigers to the national championship. He also won the Heisman Trophy.

Then he was the top overall pick by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft and needed some time to grow. Not just as a quarterback but as a leader.

Newton was fortunate the Panthers hired Ron Rivera as head coach. I dealt with Rivera for two seasons when he was an assistant coach with the San Diego Chargers and he is one of true good people in the coaching profession.

Rivera was able to be patient with Newton’s development and also had the personality to deal with Newton’s theatrics. There are a lot of control-freak coaches who would have spent too much trying to rein in a guy that thrives on over-the-top enthusiasm because, you know, that’s not a how a franchise quarterback should behave.

Sunday’s postgame comments by Carolina veteran defensive end Jared Allen surely caught my eyes. Allen is in the twilight of his career and has witnessed the shift in mentality over the past 12 years.

“For so long, there’s been this cookie cutter type of what people expect franchise quarterbacks to be,” Allen said. “He wins football games and he does it in charismatic fashion. He elevates the play of his team, he’s a good leader.

“He just does everything you want a franchise quarterback to do. Maybe he just does it with a little different style.”

Needless to say, I fully agree with Allen’s opinion. Just vote NO on cookie cutters.

Newton has grown and should be on the verge of being named the NFL’s MVP. They let sports writers choose this award so I suppose there’s a chance he doesn’t win.

Arizona’s Carson Palmer has been mentioned as a possible MVP – the voting is already concluded – and he looked anything like a player of value in the NFC title game loss to the Panthers.

Palmer threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles as Arizona committed seven turnovers in an ugly performance. It is hard to believe the Cardinals will be able to get over the hump next season either with Palmer as their man.

The meeting between Newton and Palmer was the first in a conference title game between former Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks. And get this – Newton and Manning will be the first No. 1 overall picks to square off in the Super Bowl.

Manning may not have a lot left physically but he surely has enough in the tank for one more big game. I expect Super Bowl Sunday to be the last time we see Manning – and hear him shout “Omaha!”

You can view it as the end of an era with Manning’s career winding down and the beginning of Newton being fully entrenched as one of the NFL’s shining stars.

The Manning-Newton storyline is a great one for the lead-up to the Super Bowl.

Count me in as someone who can’t wait for it to unfold.

Ever think where the San Diego Chargers might be if they didn’t have Philip Rivers on their team?

Um, no, smartass, saying “in Los Angeles” isn’t the proper answer.

They also wouldn’t have been in the game against the unbeaten Green Bay Packers if not for Rivers having a superb contest.

The Chargers suffered a painful 27-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday in what was an absolutely stellar effort by the veteran quarterback.

Rivers had the most prolific game by a quarterback in Chargers history – the type of performance that would even make Hall of Famer Don Fouts blush.

Rivers set clubs records for completions (43), attempts (65) and passing yardage (503). He broke his own club record for passing yardage – 455 against the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 – while becoming only the 17th player in NFL history to top 500 yards in a single game.

Receiver Keenan Allen caught 14 passes – one short of the franchise record he shares with Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow – before leaving with a hip injury.

But all that production didn’t equate to a victory. The Chargers only scored 20 points despite accumulating 32 first downs, possessing the ball for 38 minutes and running 89 plays to Green Bay’s 49.

The Chargers had a chance to force overtime but a third-and-goal run by Woodhead was halted for a 1-yard loss and Rivers’ fourth-down throw into the right flat never reached Woodhead as the pass was broken up by Green Bay cornerback Damarious Randall.

Just like that, Rivers’ big game wasn’t enough.

Here’s the number why the Chargers head home disappointed – 20.

All that production and San Diego only scored 20 points.

Rough way to drop to 2-4 and pretty much know that you are out of the AFC West race with the Denver Broncos being undefeated.

The Packers remained unbeaten with the victory and recorded their 13th straight home win. Oh yeah, they are also 10-1 lifetime against the Chargers.

So the history wasn’t good as San Diego’s lone win against the Packers came on Oct. 7, 1984 and you may know it is also one of the most-ignored victories in franchise history.

That’s because the Padres beat the Chicago Cubs to reach the World Series for the first time that same afternoon. Winslow set his franchise record during that contest but the only receptions most San Diegans saw were on the Monday Night Football halftime highlights the following night.

So considering the history, it wasn’t looking too good for the Chargers when they spotted Green Bay a 17-3 lead.

Aaron Rodgers threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to James Starks in the first quarter and Starks later added a 65-yard touchdown run. Starks appeared stuffed in the middle of line before reversing to the right and taking advantage of the fact the Chargers backside defenders over pursued and meandered down the field for the score.

But the Chargers regrouped and scored a significant touchdown right before halftime. Allen caught a pass near the goal line with 12 seconds left – a review confirmed he was a foot short – and San Diego nearly let time run out before using one of its two timeouts.

Nearly a pretty major gaffe by coach Mike McCoy, who has made a habit of curious decisions during his head-coaching stint. There was no reason to be scrambling to the line and trying to get set to snap the ball at the last second. He had TWO timeouts.

If the play gets reviewed, the result can only be improved for the Chargers. The replay officials may have ruled Allen got in as opposed to being a foot short. So no need to hurry and get a play off.

Then weirder, McCoy ran in the field-goal kicking team while the play was under review. It is OK if you used your Nancy Kerrigan “WHYYYYYYY?” voice because that was even sillier than the timeout fiasco.

Finally, San Diego got the offense back on the field and cashed in as Rivers threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dontrelle Inman. Trailing 17-10 at halftime in Lambeau Field provided hope and that was infinitely much better than trailing 17-3 or 17-6.

Helping matters more is that the Chargers continued to play strong at the outset of the third quarter and tied the contest on Rivers’ 19-yard scoring pass to Ladarius Green.

But Rodgers finally got Green Bay moving again after going more than 20 minutes without a first down. Once the Packers went ahead 24-17 on Rodgers’ 8-yard pass to James Jones with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if things fell apart.

It didn’t happen as the Chargers moved back within four points on Jeff Lambo’s 32-yard field goal and were able to make the Packers settle for a 28-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 2:37 remaining.

But the final drive didn’t produce the tying points. Rivers drove the Chargers down the field but the offense stalled after reaching the 3-yard line. Two Woodhead runs and two incomplete passes later, San Diego walked off the field with its third road loss of the season.

Just don’t put any blame on Philip Rivers.

Sure, he only guided his club to 20 points but what more could he do?

He did it all on Sunday and it still wasn’t enough for a victory.

The New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks are headed to the Super Bowl but the head coach most responsible for a team making it to the big game isn’t New England’s Bill Belichick or Seattle’s Pete Carroll.

We’re talking about you, Mike McCarthy. You big boy did a great job of making sure the Seahawks could hang around and rally from 16 points down and eventually beat your Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime.

The Packers dominated the first two-thirds of the game but it is the first one-third – 20 minutes for those not good at division – where McCarthy flubbed. Green Bay was in Seattle’s territory repeatedly during that time and scored just one touchdown and kicked three field goals – including Mason Crosby boots of 18 and 19 yards.

You’ve got to go for it on one of the fourth-down opportunities coach. Maybe better play calling on first, second or third down would’ve helped too. You do recall that Aaron Rodgers – you know “The Discount Doublecheck” – is your quarterback.

By not taking say a 24-0 during that 20 minutes of dominance hurt the Packers. Remember, Seattle didn’t even record its initial first down until past the midway point of the second quarter so McCarthy’s reluctance to be even mildly aggressive was a killer, especially when you factor in a Super Bowl berth was on the line.

The NFC Championship Game is not the time to coach scared. And those who coach scared often lose.

Seattle’s first touchdown came on special teams when holder Jon Ryan tossed a 19-yard scoring pass to Garry Gilliam with 4:41 left in the third quarter. And when Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception of the game late in the fourth quarter, it appeared that Green Bay might survive squandering so many points.

But the football Gods apparently got wind of what was going on and weren’t about to allow the Packers to move on to Glendale, Ariz. Wilson suddenly began moving the Seahawks and he scored on a 1-yard run to cap a seven-play, 69-yard drive to pull Seattle within 19-14 with 2:09 left.

Green Bay could still escape by recovering the onside kick but we all know a good collapse needs to have an onside recovery involved. And this one was a real doozy.

A guy that America knew only as “No. 86 on Green Bay” went up to recover the onside kick and it caromed off his hands and was recovered by Seattle’s Chris Matthews. The infamous person we now know as Brandon Bostick told reporters after the contest that it wasn’t his job to go for the ball.

You see, he is supposed to block and right behind him was receiver Jordy Nelson, who has the best hands on the Packers. But Bostick made that split-second decision to try to catch the ball and the door remained open for the Seahawks.

Four plays later, Seattle went ahead on Marshawn Lynch’s 24-yard touchdown run with 1:25 remaining and Wilson tossed a miraculous two-point conversion pass to Luke Willson to make it 22-19.

Though the Packers recovered enough to force overtime on Crosby’s fifth field goal of the game – too bad Green Bay’s head coach didn’t perform as well as its kicker – you knew what was going to happen in overtime.

A team that should have been put away much, much earlier in the football game had all the momentum and Green Bay was shell-shocked. A 12-point lead late in the fourth quarter had gotten away and teams don’t typically recover from such a collapse.

So it was no surprise when Wilson threaded a perfect 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse just 3:19 into overtime. The contest was going to end with Seattle celebrating at some point so the earlier the better.

Kearse and Lynch (157 rushing yards) might have left the stadium as heroes but we all know who had the biggest influence on how this game was decided.

Yep, we’re looking at you, Mike McCarthy. Bad time for a coach to have a bad performance at the office.

Aaron Rodgers needed just three words totaling 10 letters to express his feelings, which matched the discord felt around the nation Monday night when officiating decided the winner of the game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

“It was awful,” Rodgers stated.

Awful. Atrocious. Debacle. Travesty.

Use whatever term you want but the NFL reached an all-time low – at least in my lifetime – with what occurred at the end of Seattle’s 14-12 victory in the nationally televised contest.

It was beyond embarrassing that the replacement officials (you can blame the fact they are even being used on arrogant NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and control-freak owners) determined that Seattle receiver Golden Tate – who blatantly pushed off, by the way – caught a game-winning touchdown on the final play of the contest when it was clear the ball was intercepted by Packers safety M.D. Jennings.

One official called it a touchdown, another appeared to signal a touchback and interception. Even more maddening was the play was reviewed upstairs and upheld by officials supervisor Phil Luckett (yep, the guy infamous for messing up the overtime coin flip of a Thanksgiving Day game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions in 1998).

The NFL is involved in a dispute with the officials and has been carrying on as if the integrity of the game isn’t at stake. It now stands curb-high after three weeks full of problematic officiating.

I attended the game in which Jerry Markbreit allowed the “Holy Roller” play to stand – Ken Stabler fumbling the ball forward to avoid a game-ending sack, Pete Banaszak pushing it further upfield and Dave Casper falling on it for a touchdown to give the Oakland Raiders a victory over the San Diego Chargers in 1978.

I covered the game in Denver in 2008 when Ed Hochuli botched the call kept the Chargers from ending the game with a fumble recovery. Hochuli originally ruled the play an incomplete pass and the call was correctly reversed to a fumble but Hochuli said an inadvertent whistle prevented the ball from being awarded to San Diego. Denver then went on to scored the winning points.

But what we saw Monday night might be the topper because the whole thing could have been avoided if the NFL had solved its impasse with the officials prior to the season. You know, like they did with the players last season when heavy financial losses were staring them in the face if that lockout wasn’t solved.

The NFL feels it can do whatever it pleases and that the fans will always put up with it – that’s why you pay obscene prices to watch a game, park your car and drink beverages. But in the social-media age, it is clear fans aren’t interested in putting up with such a travesty.

These replacements officials are Division III and high school officials for a reason. That’s because they are ill-equipped to handle officiating football at its highest level.

All I know is the officials now have overwhelming leverage in their dispute with the NFL. The league needs to solve this immediately and if I were the leader of the officials, I would make them sweat this out.

You see, there’s another nationally televised game on Thursday and after Monday’s debacle, there is only one storyline worth tracking and it certainly doesn’t involve the Cleveland Browns. And there also was complete chaos in the nationally televised Sunday night game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens so Monday’s refereeing ineptitude occurred after frustration from players, coaches and fans had already reached a boiling point.

ESPN did a great job covering the Monday night travesty. Former NFL coach Jon Gruden spoke about the bad taste left in his mouth by the ending and former NFL quarterbacks Steve Young and Trent Dilfer blistered the league.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has this to say during his postgame press conference: “I haven’t seen anything like that in all my years in football.”

Neither have I. Neither has anyone else.

And hopefully we don’t see it again next weekend.

The NFL postseason is down to eight teams and conference championship berths are up for grabs this weekend.

But something seems to be amiss. Is that Tim Tebow preparing to compete in a playoff game?

Who invited Tebow anyway? Remember, he wasn’t even supposed to be able to play in this league, let alone win a playoff game as a starting quarterback.

Tebow tries to keep Denver’s magical season going on Saturday and that makes for a tough prediction. If Tebow really has a direct line to the heavens, who would dare pick against him and the Broncos?

I went 2-2 last week and guess what one of the two misses were? Hint: I went 2-0 in the NFC games and 0-2 on the AFC contests.

I’m shooting for a 3-1 record this weekend but I could easily go 1-3. I see a bit different NFC title matchup than most folks do.

Here are this weekend’s predictions:

SAINTS AT 49ERS

Too many people are comparing quarterbacks and declaring New Orleans as the winner because Drew Brees is a better signal caller than San Francisco’s Alex Smith.

That’s a bit short-sighted.

The true dissection comes down to whether the Saints can put on a high-octane show against the tough San Francisco defense. The 49ers were plus-28 in the takeaway margin and committed just 10 turnovers and will opt for a ball-control style behind top runner Frank Gore.

Two other things to consider: New Orleans has never won a road playoff game and San Francisco is well-rested after having a bye last weekend.

Prediction: San Francisco 27, New Orleans 24

BRONCOS AT PATRIOTS

Would you believe Tim Tebow has won more playoff games in the past seven days than New England star Tom Brady has won over the past four years?

True fact after Denver stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday on Tebow’s dramatic 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime. The Patriots haven’t won a postseason game since knocking off the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship game following the 2007 season.

The Patriots are the No. 1 seed in the AFC but you may recall that was also the case last season when Brady and New England lost to Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets.

What jumps out most about this matchup is the way Brady carved up the Broncos in Denver on Dec. 18 in the Patriots’ 41-23 victory. Based on that 60-minute dose of evidence, it will take a true miracle for the Tebow magic to continue.

Prediction: New England 31, Denver 20

TEXANS AT RAVENS

Baltimore sees a golden opportunity to reach the Super Bowl with Pittsburgh’s ouster to go with memories of the 33-14 beatdown the Ravens gave the Patriots in the playoffs two years ago.

Houston has overcome the loss of quarterback Matt Schaub and everybody has been expecting the Texans to crumble with rookie T.J. Yates filling in. But Yates surely outplayed Cincinnati’s higher-regarded Andy Dalton in last week’s wild-card round as Houston defeated the Bengals.

It’s hard to see Yates having much success against Baltimore’s sturdy defense so it will be up to star back Arian Foster to have a big game. The Ravens have learned – at least one would hope – that putting the game in Joe Flacco’s hands is a risky proposition. So the Texans should expect to see a heavy dose of running back Ray Rice.

The real difference lies in the defenses. The Ravens have Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs and the Texans don’t.

Prediction: Baltimore 20, Houston 10

GIANTS AT PACKERS

Green Bay has been so dominant since going on its Super Bowl run last year that it is hard to fathom the Packers not returning to the Super Bowl to defend their crown.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New York’s Eli Manning both rolled up the stats when the two teams met in December so you have to figure another shootout is a possibility depending on the elements.

But what concerns me most is how the Packers will respond after a tough week in which the son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin drowned in an icy river. Grieving and going to a funeral certainly changes the focus a bit and there’s no telling until the heat of battle begins how the Packers will respond.

Even if there hadn’t been a tragedy, I could see the Giants giving the Packers a good game and we all know what happened when New York played at Green Bay in the NFC title game following the 2007 season, don’t we?

Prediction: New York 34, Green Bay 30

Some of the San Diego Chargers were a bit testy when people were wondering what was wrong with the team’s performance when they possessed a 4-1 record.

Just imagine how touchy they are now with the Chargers sitting at 4-4.

The Chargers lost their third straight game Sunday when they fell 45-38 to the undefeated Green Bay Packers.

That they lost to the Packers isn’t overly surprising. After all, Green Bay is the defending NFL champions.

But this was a chance for the Chargers to make a statement and the overwhelming impression at the season’s midway point is that all the naysayers were correct when they said San Diego’s 4-1 start was due to a soft early-season schedule.

The slate toughened up with back-to-back road games against the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs before the home tussle with the Packers, and San Diego hasn’t been up to the challenge while slipping back to the .500 mark.

Philip Rivers was intercepted three more times Sunday – he has thrown an NFL-high 14 picks, one more than he tossed all last season – to follow up his inability to run a two-minute drill against the Jets and his costly center-snap exchange fumble that was the key play in losing to the Chiefs.

His shaky play continued against the Packers as Green Bay’s Charlie Peprah and Tramon Williams both returned interceptions for touchdowns. Last time I looked, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers don’t need that type of charity.

Rodgers did his part as well with nearly as many touchdown passes (four) as incompletions (five – he was 21-of-26 passing) and the Packers held off San Diego’s fourth-quarter comeback charge with Peprah’s second interception of the game.

Rivers also threw four touchdown passes – three to Vincent Jackson – but the contest also goes into the books as the first three-interception game of his career.

Yet it is too easy to say the Chargers lost due to the difference of play by the two quarterbacks, and that Green Bay’s turnover-free performance was too much to overcome.

The Packers look, play and act like winners. Simply put, the Chargers sometimes play like winners, occasionally look the part but seldom act like a team truly headed to great things.

They are good at false bravado but not all that proficient at backing up their claims.

The squad has unfortunately taken on the persona of head coach Norv Turner, a guy always looking for excuses as opposed to a leader who accepts responsibility.

On days after losses, you always loaded up on LaDainian Tomlinson press conference quotes because you knew the locker room would be void of players when it was opened to the media due to the NFL’s access policies.

In other words, there’s a lack of high-character, stand-up players in the organization and that too often shows up on game days.

The Chargers are still tied for first place in the AFC West because of the division’s weakness. The Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders also lost Sunday to keep it a three-way tie. The Denver Broncos – who are playing Tim Tebow at quarterback – are somehow just one game off the pace.

On Thursday night, the Chargers can reclaim the lead if they defeat the Raiders. You might recall that Oakland physically beat San Diego twice last season when the franchise had quarterback issues.

The Chargers missed the playoffs last season and missing them again might be the best thing to happen to the franchise.

Turner is hugely unpopular in San Diego – can you imagine him going Christmas shopping at one of San Diego’s packed malls? – and general manager A.J. Smith might have to finally send Turner packing if the franchise misses the postseason for a second straight year.

Either that or they both will flee to Los Angeles for one more try if the franchise opts to relocate to Smogville after the campaign.

Something else to consider is this: Smith and the Chargers front office haven’t yet accepted the team is in decline mode.

In some ways, this is kind of like the 1984 and 1985 San Diego Chargers at the end of the exciting Don Coryell era. Nobody was willing to accept that the organization had missed its Super Bowl window and the Chargers were slow to adjust and were spinning in the wrong direction.

The Chargers were 1-7 at the midway point of the 1986 season and Coryell was fired and they didn’t recover until Bobby Ross was the head coach six years later.

Analyze the current Chargers and you see the same sharp decline in overall talent. Go back and view the talent-laden rosters of 2006 and 2007 and compare it to the current crop of players. It is one ugly comparison.

In many ways, it seems ages ago that the Chargers lost to the New England players in the AFC Championship Game following the 2007 campaign.

The Chargers are no longer a powerhouse squad mentioned among the NFL’s elite teams. The continual dip in performance displays that all too well.

And on this Sunday night, the evidence says the lackluster reviews over the 4-1 start were spot on.

The San Diego Chargers appeared to have overcome a night of missed offensive opportunities, costly turnovers and a month’s worth of penalties as the clocked ticked under a minute left in Monday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Then we learned that Philip Rivers had elected to show up at Arrowhead Stadium as Ryan Leaf for Halloween.

The easiest play in the NFL – the center snap – proved to be the downfall as Rivers fumbled the exchange from Nick Hardwick at the Chiefs’ 15-yard line. Kansas City’s Andy Studebaker recovered the ball with 48 seconds left to earn the Chiefs a reprieve and send the contest into overtime.

The Chargers went three-and-out in the extra session and the Chiefs then punished San Diego with a game-winning 13-play drive, the winning points coming on Ryan Succop’s 30-yard field goal for a 23-20 victory.

That makes two straight horrific defeats for the Chargers, who are now tied for first in the AFC West at 4-3 with Kansas City and the Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs are going in the other direction with four consecutive victories.

Rivers and the Chargers looked like they had never run a two-minute drill before in last week’s loss to the New York Jets. And now Rivers makes a grade-school mistake that had former NFL quarterbacks Steve Young and Trent Dilfer delivering harsh assessments on ESPN’s postgame show.

Young termed failing to receive the snap as “junior high” and Dilfer called it “remedial” that Rivers gagged so badly in such a situation. Both players were stunned that any NFL quarterback could make such a gaffe, let alone someone who has a contract worth $98 million.

The play definitely was Pisarcik-like and something that Rivers will file in the “Worst Memories” department of his brain.

“Pisarcik” is one term a football team never wants to be associated with. It stems from the New York Giants having a victory in the bag in 1978 until quarterback Joe Pisarcik failed to get a handoff into the grasp of Larry Csonka with Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards picking up the ball and returning it for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 19-17 victory.

That play is the reason why teams take a knee when the outcome is sealed instead of running a play.

The center-exchange issue summed up another mistake-prone night for Rivers, who also threw two more interceptions. He has tossed an NFL-high 11 interceptions and has also lost three fumbles.

Instead of a Pro Bowl quarterback, Rivers has played more like Billy Joe Tolliver or the aforementioned Leaf, who once went 1-for-15 for four yards passing with two interceptions and three fumbles in a 1998 game against the Chiefs.

There’s no doubting Rivers will have a hard time putting his NFL-high 14th turnover behind him over the next few days.

“Obviously, we could have played better,” Rivers said afterwards. “But when you know you’re a minute away from leaking the clock and kicking a field goal to end it – after the way we fought back – and you blow it on a play on something that never happens and shouldn’t ever happen.”

Chargers’ fans will quickly pile on coach Norv Turner, citing how the offense settled for four field goals and scored just one touchdown despite advancing inside the Chiefs’ 35-yard line an astounding nine times.

They will also look at the 12 penalties and say the Chargers are undisciplined and make silly mistakes. Left tackle Marcus McNeill had a forgettable contest and drew six flags all by himself (four false starts, a holding penalty and illegal hands to the face) as Kansas City’s Tamba Hali terrorized him all game long.

But this loss doesn’t fall on Turner’s shoulders or any of the assistant coaches. If Rivers doesn’t fumble away the game-winning opportunity for kicker Nick Novak and the Chargers win the game, nobody is complaining about Turner’s coaching performance.

This loss falls on the $98 million quarterback – the guy who struggled to run a two-minute drill against the Jets and couldn’t handle a center exchange against the Chiefs.

And guess who the Chargers play this Sunday? The undefeated Green Bay Packers – the defending Super Bowl champions – and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Playing the Packers with a short week of preparation and a quarterback with a bunch of demons to deal with doesn’t sound like the optimum situation.

Next Halloween, Rivers needs to pick somebody else to impersonate. Being Ryan Leaf for Halloween didn’t work out so well.

I’ve been pondering whether or not to watch Thursday’s NFL Draft and have figured out there is a must-see moment that just has to be witnessed.

That would be NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walking to the podium for the initial time on Thursday night.

Just imagine the boos and cat-calls Goodell is going to hear after the poor way the NFL has dealt with the ongoing labor dispute. This will be the chance for the fans in attendance to express their opinions and I expect the paying customers are going to be vociferous in voicing their displeasure.

The NFL forced the work stoppage with a lockout and then whined when the courts in Minneapolis rightfully ruled against the league’s weak rationale. The fans aren’t fooled about who the bad guys are in the dispute.

Fans know the league and its 32 owners are the reason why the 2011 season is in jeopardy. The fans are well aware the players aren’t at fault.

The NFL has attempted its usual brand of spin doctoring and failed miserably. With Goodell being the leader of the richest sports league, he’s the easy and proper target of the fan’s dissension.

Federal judge Susan Nelson lifted the lockout earlier this week and the NFL had its stay rejected on Wednesday so the league is being routed by two entities right now – the NFL Players Association and the federal courts.

This is an ugly situation for one reason only – the arrogance of the NFL and its ownership.

That’s why it will be highly entertaining to catch the opening of Thursday’s draft.

Avoid Quarterbacks

I have some advice for any NFL teams looking to draft a quarterback in the upper portion of the first round:

Don’t.

There is no Sam Bradford among this year’s group of quarterbacks and I don’t see a future franchise quarterback among the candidates.

Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert are the top two-rated quarterbacks but I won’t be surprised if both turn out to be busts. Washington’s Jake Locker is a terrific athlete but results have never matched his skill set. Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett represents a huge gamble.

The second-tier possibilities include TCU’s Andy Dalton. In my view, Dalton has been rising up the charts because the aforementioned foursome is one treacherous collection of quarterbacks.

Too bad the win-now pressure is always so intense for NFL general managers interested in keeping their jobs. The prudent decision is to take advantage of the surplus at other positions – for example, there’s a great group of defensive linemen available – than to take a gamble on a hit-and-miss quarterback proposition.

There will be at least one top-flight quarterback available in 2012 in Stanford’s Andrew Luck for teams who skip on committing to one of this year’s possibilities.

I remember when five quarterbacks went among the first 12 picks in 1999. I wasn’t the least surprised that Tim Couch (No. 1), Akili Smith (No. 3) and Cade McNown (No. 12) were huge busts. The two I liked among the five – Donovan McNabb (No. 2) and Daunte Culpepper (No. 11) — were the only two
to avoid the bust label.

I was also miffed that NFL teams rated Alex Smith (No. 1) over Aaron Rodgers (No. 24) in 2005, so I’m obviously not surprised that the San Francisco 49ers are again looking for an answer at quarterback while Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are sporting Super Bowl rings.

So print this out and save it if you like and hit me up in 2016 … or 2021. But none of this year’s group of quarterbacks are worthy of a Top 10 pick.

What will Chargers do?

The San Diego Chargers are in a pretty good position with five picks in the first three rounds so this would be a good year for general manager A.J. Smith to recapture his draft-day magic.

When I study the Chargers, I see a difference-making defensive end as the team’s most glaring need. Nice-guy Luis Castillo hasn’t come close to living up to that $43 million contract he somehow landed in 2008 and he isn’t suddenly going to go from an adequate NFL defensive end to a superstar.

There’s a reason why he has totaled 8.5 sacks over the past four years. It’s because Castillo is only an average player. Kudos to his agent for landing him such a good contract.

It appears to me that three pretty good defensive end prospects could be on the board when the Chargers pick at No. 18 overall – Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, California’s Cameron Jordan and possibly Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, who has slipped due to concerns about a knee.

Any one of those three players would be a worthy pick and a good fit for the Chargers.