* The NFC title game features the best teams in the NFL going head-to-head. The Niners at the Seahawks. This is the matchup we all wanted to see. It should be a nasty, physical game. Old school football. It’s good to see some of that after watching so many shootouts this season.
I’m picking the Niners. I know winning at Seattle is brutally hard, but I think the Niners can do it. Their offense is playing better than Seattle’s right now. Russell Wilson has put up pedestrian numbers in the last 5 games. He’s still doing enough to win, but I don’t know if that will be good enough against a team like SF.
Wilson is getting some national criticism for the first time in his career. Some is warranted, some is silly. I heard a radio guy ask if Wilson has hit his ceiling. Huh? In Year Two? That’s ridiculous. That said, some of the hype that came with Wilson early on was over the top as well. He’s got a great defense. He’s got a great running game. Wilson plays with the lead a lot. That’s worlds different than a guy like Andrew Luck who has to carry his team on his back.
Sunday will be a big test for Wilson. Will he play well in the biggest game of his young career? That’s going to be tough against SF’s defense.
* I don’t have a good feeling at all for the AFC game. The Pats are so banged up. And they’ll be on the road. But how do you pick against Brady and Belichick in January? Do you trust Peyton to beat them in the AFC title game? Does Denver have enough defense?
I’m picking the Pats, but I don’t feel great confidence in that pick. The best way to slow Peyton down is to keep him on the sideline. That means the Pats need long, sustained drives. Blount is running the ball well. The OL is playing well. Brady can make the key throw here and there to keep the chains moving.
* We all have come to admire Stanford coach David Shaw in recent years. He’s done great work with that program since Jim Harbaugh left. Shaw is now in for some real challenges.
His defensive coordinator, Derek Mason, proved to be one of the best assistant coaches in the nation. Mason is now heading to Vanderbilt to take over that program. Great choice by Vandy. Replacing Mason won’t be easy for Shaw. He needs someone who can get that defense to continue to play their smart, rugged style.
Stanford also lost some underclassmen to the NFL. They lost some key Seniors as well. Shaw might have his toughest coaching challenge so far in 2014. It will be fun to see how he handles it and if he proves to be the great coach we think he is.
* I’m not sure what to think of Jim Caldwell taking over in Detroit. He is a smart offensive coach and will help Matt Stafford. My concern is whether Caldwell has the right personality for the Lions. That team is dysfunctional. If they buy in to Caldwell’s ideas, things will go smoothly. I just wonder if Caldwell’s message will get through. He’s not a fiery guy. He’s not a forceful guy. Will some of the knuckleheads up there listen to him?
* I also have concerns about Jay Gruden to the Skins. I think Gruden can be a good NFL coach. My concern is whether he’ll stand up to Dan Snyder. Mike Shanahan had a pair of Super Bowl wins on his resume. He could stand up to Snyder and say we’re doing this my way. Snyder has given Gruden his first coaching job. I don’t think Snyder will be a mindless sycophant, but I do wonder if dealing with Snyder is going to prove to be a major stumbling block for him. I wonder if Gruden called Jason Garrett to ask what it is like to work for Jerry Jones. Similar situation.
* It sure sounds like the Houston Texans want to trade the 1st overall pick. They’re trying to seel the idea that they want Jadeveon Clowney. If you had to guess, you wonder if they’d prefer to move back and draft Blake Bortles. You can bet he and Teddy Bridgewater will be on their radar. Bortles is more accurate downfield. I think Bill O’Brien would prefer that. As for Johnny Manziel, I don’t think O’Brien would like him. Manziel is too much of an improvisational QB.
* I was glad to see Auburn RB Tre Mason enter the draft. He is a tough, physical runner. He showed how good he could be this year. RBs who have his style can wear down easily so I would almost always advise them to come out. Mason isn’t the most gifted RB, but he runs hard and has excellent strength. He’s got some violence to his game. He might remind you of Marshawn Lynch or a bit of Marion Barber. Really fun player to watch.