Friday, February 8, 2013

WIN (and then tie) OR GO HOME: 2012-2013 Champions League Preview Part II

Written by: Andy Chiang

Manchester United vs. Real Madrid
Leg 1: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Leg 2: Old Trafford

Let’s be honest. Manchester United got the worst draw of the UEFA Champions League 2012-2013 Knockout rounds. But it’s overcoming obstacles like this that make the stuff of legend. You become the best by beating the best. 

My last post was about how it won’t be the individuals that will be the key to this tie, but the performance of these 22 players as teams. Specifically, United’s midfield 5 (or 4) will need to rely on smart, organized, and unified team play to stifle Madrid’s counter attack and overcome their high pressure style. I fear that the usual Fergie tactic of turtle up and hit on the counter will not work against Madrid. As we saw recently against Tottenham, United must take the initiative. Madrid have too much speed and too many match winners on the field for United to be chasing the ball.

Today I am going to present the single exception. There are two individuals that do matter, but they aren’t Ronaldo or Van Persie... 

It’s going to be the two men standing between the sticks: De Gea and Adan/Lopez.

On paper, both these men face a daunting task. Something on the order of staving off an avalanche with a shovel. The amount of offense that will be on the field when the game starts makes a video game scoreline feel like a possibility. Both these keepers could make 6 or 7 saves a game and still give up 3-4 goals. I think everyone is looking forward to a goal-fest (even from a Mourinho team). So why do I say the crucial component to this tie is the keeper and not the offense?
Neither of these keepers are particularly dominant. Adan has already been benched in the wake of Iker’s hand injury after a horror start. Lopez has started the last two games, but only made 3 saves against Barca and was bailed out twice: once by the woodwork after being left for dead on a Xavi free kick, and once by a goal line clearance by the excellent Raphael Varane. An inch here or there and his record in that game would have been 3 saves 3 goals leaked. Meanwhile he only faced 4 shots against relegation bound Granada, of which only one was on target.
Meanwhile, De Gea has also had a rocky campaign. The young Spanish stopper with the up-sweeping-reverse-Bieber hair has finally enjoyed a run of consistent starts, featuring in the United’s last Champion’s League group loss to CFR Cluj and the last 10 United Premier League games. Unfortunately, his play has been erratic and, fair or unfair, has drawn much so much public criticism that his teammates have had to come out publicly to speak up for him. Trade rumors also abounded during the January transfer window. From where I am sitting, De Gea has played well over the last few games. His quickness and reactions are a major reason for United’s current comfortable league position. De Gea’s weakness is in his catching skills. Either he can’t catch, or he doesn’t trust himself to catch balls, and more than a few saves have rebounded to delighted opposition players. While he has improved in defending the cross and in set pieces (having Vidic back has also helped), he has not fully mastered the punch yet. In the end he will always be hounded by critics because he is not Van Der Sar and he is not Schmeichel. Pretty tough gloves to fill. As a youngster (he is just 22) I hope he will be mentally strong enough to continue to develop and perform into the world-class player he should and will one day be. My hope is that his piss poor English skills (I have never heard him speak a lick of English in interviews) prevent him from reading the papers and will protect his confidence.

Given the context, the man that makes the least mistakes, who keeps his concentration the longest, who marshals the defense at the critical time, may ultimately decide the victor. De Gea will have to confront the weaknesses in his game head on when he faces long shot specialists Ronaldo Essien, and Di Maria. Will he be able to minimize the number of times he punches or parries balls to a lurking poacher like Khedira, Benzema, and Higuain? Given their recent run of form, I don’t rate Adan or Lopez against United’s attacking unit of Van Persie, Welbeck, Chicharito, and Rooney. But can Adan not get himself sent off? Can Lopez limit United to 2 instead of shipping 3 or 4?
Doom and gloom aside, I think De Gea has a chance here to really shake the hater monkeys off his back if he can come up with solid performances against Madrid. De Gea is much more talented than either of the men on the other side of the pitch, and is the X factor for this tie without a doubt. Should he tame the Madrid attack, his place in the starting 11 and United lore will be assured and he can make a throw rug for his fireplace with the hides of the hater monkeys.

Pound for pound Real Madrid look to be the stronger side on paper, but as their La Liga record suggests they lack consistency and can be beaten. Some final thoughts on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the sides... 

Real Madrid’s strengths are in the Midfield and their major weakness is in Goal.
I will be the first to admit I do not know a lot about Diego Lopez. But a glance at his statistics so far this year reveals an uninspiring record that started at Sevilla. In his 9 rated matches in La Liga 2012-2013, he has logged ratings over 6.5 twice, and logged ratings under 6.0 four times (per One should also note that so far this season, he hasn’t played anyone. He was not a starter at Sevilla, and has played against top tier competition only 3 times this season. Besides the Barcelona Copa Del Rey meeting mentioned earlier (performance not rated) his ratings were ho-hum each time: (note: both these games were with Sevilla) 5.84 rating against Malaga where he faced 9 shots total, 2 on target and gave up 2 goals, 5.58 rating against Valencia where he faced 15 shots total, 4 on target, 7 blocked and gave up two goals.  Apparently he is a big framed player strong in the air and was a part of the Spain Euro 2008 Squad. It was also reported that he studied under the great Van Der Sar in 2007. Pundits point to his size and experience in international and European competition, but most of the plaudits Lopez has won were in the 2006-2009 time frame. Whatever he might have been in 2009, he might be an upgrade to the shaken Adan, but De Gea takes the edge in this matchup. On Madrid’s midfield advantage...I don’t think I need to write much here to support this statement of fact. I mean Kaka and Modric sit on the bench. Essien is often used as a right back. That’s just silly. Even Benzema and Higuain, while occupying a “lone striker” position on the team sheet and TV infographic, have attacking midfield tendencies.

Manchester United have an edge going forward and are hoping for a Real Madrid dip in form.

While it is true that United have a better scoring record in their respective domestic league - having scored 60 goals so far this season, almost a third coming against top 10 EPL defenses based on total goals against numbers - Madrid (on paper) can field more game changing goal scorers at once. Ronaldo, Benzema, Ozil, Di Maria, Higuain, even Khedira and Ramos, and who can forget Essien’s memorable strikes once upon a time. In reality, Ronaldo scores all the goals. CR7 has scored almost 40% of all of Madrid’s goals so far this year in La Liga. No one else on the team has reached double digits in goals yet (Higuain has 8). To contrast, Rooney and Van Persie have double digit goals (Hernandez has 8). I give the edge here to United based on the fact that we have a more balanced attacking threat in the forward positions. I think the goal scoring exploits of Van Persie and Ronaldo about cancel each other out. I think Rooney blows Benzema/Higuain out of the water. (Of course I also realize that Madrid’s offense is mainly generated and executed by the midfield, so of course United’s forwards have better stats...

If the Giant’s and the Raven’s NFL success has shown us anything in the past few years it’s come playoff time it’s not about which team is the best but which team is playing the best at the moment. World football has known this for years, conceptualized by talks of a teams “form”. In this sense, I think United have had a great run of form as late and haven't lost a meaningful contest since November 20th of last year. On the flip side, United haven’t played a meaningful Champions League game since beating braga in November of last year and duly lost the last two “gimme” games. United will face a tough Everton squad this weekend, a tie which is increasingly becoming our “bogey” tie. On the brightside, Rooney has enjoyed a stellar run of form in the last few games and will hopefully be peaking against Real Madrid. United will also enjoy a spell of easy league games between the first and the second legs - all our opponents in between ties are fighting relegation. If United can find its rhythm and beat Everton on Sunday, the squad will be in good shape for the trip to Madrid. Meanwhile, Madrid face an easy Sevilla matchup before meeting United, but will have to play four games before the two sides meet again (United will only be playing three), and two of those games will be against Barcelona. These two games against Barca will be back to back, the last being played 2 days before United and Madrid meet again. Given the rivalry, it will be difficult for Mourinho to bench his starters for these games, and fatigue may become a critical factor for this matchup - and the edge United need to go through! The odds may be against us, but the game isn’t played on a sheet of paper. When the whistle blows United will have a chance to re-establish itself in Europe after recent disappointments. To the holder of the biggest scalp goes the greatest glory! COME ON YOU REDS! Prediction Leg 1: MUTD 2:2 RMA Leg 2: MUTD 3:2 RMA

Photo and video content courtesy of

Thursday, February 7, 2013

WIN (and then tie) OR GO HOME: 2012-2013 Champions League Preview Part I

Written by: Andy Chiang

Manchester United vs. Real Madrid

February 13, 2013
2:45pm Eastern
Leg 1: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
Leg 2: Old Trafford

With the Knockout stages of the Champions League finally upon us, I and footy loving Americans everywhere are probably already planting the seeds for our impending Tuesday and Wednesday sickies. While one may opt for a more traditional “I woke up this morning and I don’t feel well” on a Tuesday, a more prudent fan may start quietly dropping hints of a cough or severe allergy/cold/flu/stomach virus throughout the week or so prior so that an innocuous Tuesday/Wednesday absence won’t seem out of the ordinary. Of course there is always the “morning traffic accident” that can buy you a half day, but that will really only work once, so you would have to choose. Regardless of which way you go, in my humble and biased opinion Manchester United vs. Real Madrid is by far the most intriguing matchup of the round followed closely by Porto vs. Malaga (two evenly matched and hungry sides with something to prove), and AC Milan vs. Barcelona (will Balotelli shine against a beatable Barca?).

The storylines between these two sides would be fit for a Peter Jackson trilogy. Mourinho vs. Ferguson, The Return of Ronaldo, Van Persie the Reincarnation of Cantona. The clash of the two biggest and richest clubs on the planet playing out in two of the footballing worlds’ most storied stadiums against a backdrop of hundreds’ of years of prestigious history between them. What more can a fan ask for? It’s a matchup like this one and the promise of those magical “European nights” that makes me ache for a mega millions jackpot win to be able to experience this tie in person. With the Superbowl only a few days past, it is also striking how different the feel of the Champions League is in comparison. In my eyes the Superbowl, even when taken as a weeklong football fest, pales when compared to a UCL final...but maybe that’s just because I live in Dallas? But I digress - the romantics of the Champions League aside, lets get into the key matchups of the tie.

Let me start by saying I will spare you all the historical matchup stats between United x Madrid or Fergie x Mourinho. I don’t know why European news outlets love to publish this information...but they are completely meaningless in giving us insight into next weeks’ match. Different time, different team, different players, different circumstances, etc. I don’t know why viewers would care about these stats. So...

Individuals and personalities steal headlines, but unit play is the key

Even by Champions League standards, the 2013 United x Madrid matchup features some of the biggest current personalities and names in the game. Sir Alex is enjoying a happy 2012-2013 season that has seen his much criticized United squad defy many of the critics and build a comfortable lead atop one of the most competitive leagues in the world. In between he has found time to abuse match officials, wine and dine with Pep Guardiola in NYC, and grace the halls of Harvard Business School. Just another year at the top for Fergie and United: more often than not finding ways to come back for the win, more often than not finding someone to step up.

At the other end of the spectrum is the roller-coaster-telenovela world of Real Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo is sad, but he won’t say why and he still scores goals (why are there no good memes on this?!). Mourinho is a genius, then he benches Iker and is an egotistical maniac. Iker and Sergio demand his ouster says Madrid’s media friend Marca, but then the players refute this story and the club counter-attack their former friend like a mid-table La Liga opponent. All of a sudden Mourinho can’t control his dressing room, but they go on a 21 goal 8 game tear to open welcome 2013.

While individuals may be stealing the headlines leading up to this tie, the key battle of the game will most likely play out between how well each side’s midfield unit can play organized and play together. CR7 came out on Monday saying that he thought Real Madrid were better than United. Especially in the midfield, I would heartily agree. Tongue in cheek, EA sports and FIFA13 do too. Real Madrid’s midfield rating on the game is 4 points higher than United (as of 5 Feb 2013 - it was higher the week prior). Especially for United, organization and intelligence will be the key to control the middle third, stifle Madrid’s attack, and provide service to Van Persie, Chicharito, and Welbeck. 

This will definitely be an uphill battle for United. Of all the teams they could have drawn, Real Madrid’s style may be one of the toughest for United to cope with. We have struggled this season when playing against teams with Real Madrid’s uptempo, speedy, pressing style. Like the last few times United have crashed out of Europe, teams have learned that pressing Michael Carrick is an easy way to disrupt United’s rhythm. Carrick is having a banner year, and the team relies on him more than ever to do a Xavi and pull the strings. Also, the safety net here is thin. We no longer have Scholes to bail us out and Cleverley and Anderson have been wildly inconsistent. Kagawa has been playing well, but has not been able to impact a game like he did at Dortmund. He is poor in defense, but his quickness will be important in getting into passing lanes and disrupting the Madrid defense-to-midfield transition. On the brightside Rooney has been on fire the last few games playing out of the midfield. Rooney’s willingness to track back and defend as well as his touch and vision will make him invaluable in the coming battle, but he can’t do it alone. It will take a true team effort.

Meanwhile, Madrid are one of the few teams on the planet that can boast a counter attack faster than Manchester United. Facing 4-5 players with world-class breakaway speed (Ronaldo, Ozil, Di Maria, Modric, Callejon?), United’s midfield will have to move up and down the field together, swarm the passing lanes, and be careful with their positioning, knowing that even a slight misstep can leave a teammate exposed and result in De Gea picking the ball out of his net.

That’s all for this edition. Feel free to smite me in the comments. Stay tuned for part 2 coming tomorrow!

Photo and video content courtesy of

Friday, January 18, 2013


PEOPLE! After a long 119 days, the National Hockey League is back in business! Unlike the 2004-2005 lockout which cancelled the entire season, the new season is slated to start this Saturday with a 48-game season. Unfortunately, the game has lots of rebuilding to do. The already-shaky fanbase is at its all-time low. Many people don't even consider hockey as one of the major sports played in America anymore. No knock to the MLS (well sort of), but the NHL is headed to the bottom cellar unless there's a revival of sorts.

40-year old Jaromir Jagr is still going strong!

But, I will still stay loyal to a game I fell in love with while I was in elementary (thank you, antenna television). I'm excited to see the game return to many cities that desperately need some of sports action. I'm excited for the old veterans in the league that still have a passion to play the game. I'm excited for all the young up-and-comers who are aching to showcase something that people will be shelling out money for. In the end, I'm most excited for one thing....

So let's get it on, baby! May this season bring a sense of joy and excitement that once gripped me as a kid.

In the meantime, please enjoy the closest thing to hockey I had.

Photo and videos courtesy of and

Friday, January 11, 2013

NFL 2013 Divisional Round Predictions


Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens

Ravens won an emotional game in dominate fashion and their reward is a short week and a game in one of the hardest stadiums to play in. This isn’t Ray Lewis’ last home game, but it is Peyton Manning’s return to the playoffs. Peyton seems to have the Raven’s number, Peyton has had faced the Ravens 10 times and walked away victorious 8 of those times. The last match up came up this season in week 15 when Peyton picked apart a banged up Raven defense. This match up should be a little different; the Ravens are healthier and there is much high stakes. Ravens are one of the most battle tested teams in the playoffs, and no stage will be too big. They will need to run the ball and control possession if they want a chance at winning this game.

I think this game will be more competitive than the first game around, but Peyton will put the game away with a late touchdown to dash the Raven’s hope of an upset. We saw last year how difficult it was to win in the Mile High City of Denver, the heavy favored Steelers lacked the energy and punch on a winter night in Denver.

Prediction: Denver Broncos 31-20

New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans

Last time Houston was in Massachusetts in week 14 they took a beating that changed many people’s perceptions of the untested Houston Texans. Texans have been on a tail spin while the Patriots are in the same position they seem to be every year. The Patriots are beatable at home in the playoffs, the New York Jets proved that two years ago, and also showed us that a regular season blow out can mean absolutely nothing. The Texans need to remind themselves that they do have the talent to beat the Patriots. This Patriot defense continues to improve, but is far from elite. Foster needs to get a large amount of touches, while the rest of the offense must sustain long drives. Houston Texan defense also needs to stop more than just the first option, against top quarterbacks this year they are 2-1. They won a shot out with Peyton Manning early in the season, in which Peyton still completed over 330 years passing. This defense seems to struggle against quarterbacks that can spread it around to multiple options. This offense also doesn’t seem to be built to win from behind.

I am going to go with the Patriots, but believe it will be a close one for most of the game. I think Brady is still too good for this inexperienced Texan team, and with the return of Gronkowski only means more mismatches against the Houston defense. I also think Belichick has finally whipped this young defense into shape, and we should see less mistakes and big plays given up with each game they play.

 Prediction: New England Patriots 31-24


Atlanta Falcons vs. Seattle Seahawks

The last time the Atlanta Falcons were in this situation we saw Aaron Rodgers put on a quarterbacking clinic in the Georgia Dome. It prompted announcers to declare the game the biggest butt kicking the city of Atlanta took since the Civil War. Maybe this is why none of the Gym Class All Star writers but Albert picked Atlanta to advance past this Divisional round. Seattle Seahawks are physical in nature and attitude, while the Falcons have a reputation of not living up to the big stage. If this doesn't motivate the Falcons to play the best football of their life, I don’t think anything else could. By far the Falcons are the most disrespected one seed in NFL playoff history. The key match up on this game has to be the large defensive backs of the Seahawks against the two stud wide receivers of the Falcons. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner against Julio Jones and Roddy White should be exciting; rarely would you see two defensive backs have a height advantage against two top wide receivers.

I too am a doubter of the Atlanta Falcons, after seeing them find regular season success and flop in the playoffs. Even Russell Wilson a rookie has more playoff wins than Matt Ryan with his victory last week. I believe that the hype around Seattle is deserved, and this might be the time where the dark horse label is warranted. Seattle seems to have beaten down the Redskins physically last week, and never showed panic after going down 14 in the first quarter. Nor did they let momentum shift when Marshawn Lynch fumbled on the goal line. As much as it pains me to say Seattle is for real, and the league better take notice.   

Prediction: Seattle Seahawks 27-17

San Francisco 49ers vs. Green Bay Packers

The last of the 3 rematches in this round’s playoffs, yet this one might have the least relevance. The Packers and 49ers faced off in week one with the Packers losing a close one to a then Alex Smith led 49ers. Becoming a Packer fan in 1995 the first four playoffs I watched included a Packer and 49ers match up. I thought the Packers could never lose to the 49ers, which didn’t happen till the last of the four match ups in 1999. It has been awhile since both franchises were Super Bowl contenders, but I have a feeling we will be seeing another string of Packers and 49er playoff games in the years to come. 49ers will need their quarterback to grow up quickly as the Packer defense starts to look more comfortable and return to their 2011 playoff form. They will need steady production from Frank Gore to free Colin Kapernick to be able to operate without too much pressure. Another big storyline will have to be the fact Rodgers is returning to the area his grew up in and played college ball. In addition it’s against the team that over looked him and took now second string quarterback Alex Smith. Aaron Rodgers might never admit it, but I am sure he hasn’t forgotten.

The most important match up in this game is the 49er defense verse Aaron Rodgers. The Packers run game has improved, but is still a direct product of how much defenses respect Rodgers to use all of his weapons. The packers have well over 7 guys that can make a difference catching the ball, and it seems like every week Aaron Rodgers has been able to spread it around. As a fan I have too much faith in this Packer offense to not pick them. Like always this pick is very bias, so please keep that in consideration.

Prediction: Green Bay Packers 24-19

Point totals from NFL 2013 Bracket Predictions:
Wild Card Point Potential: 4 Points
Divisional Round Point Potential: 8 Points
AFC/NFC Championship Point Potential: 6 Points
Super Bowl Point Potential: 4 Points

Albert Nyguyen: 2 points - Potential total: 20
Jonathan Lau: 1 points - Potential total: 17
Steven Wang: 3 points - Potential total: 21
Phil Vuong: 1 points - Potential total: 10
Norman Leung: 2 points - Potential total: 18
Jonathan Mok: 4 points - Potential total: 22
Peter Wang: 3 points - Potential total: 19
Andrew Chow: 2 points - Potential total: 13
Andrew Leu: 4 points - Potential total: 22
Caleb Li: 4 points - Potential total: 22

Monday, January 7, 2013

NFL 2013 Wild Card Prediction Recap

Wild Card weekend ended up pretty boring in my opinion, most of the games were never that competitive or had a real chance of going either way as the game came to a close. When it comes to my predictions I got a solid 3 of 4, or actually a perfect 4* in my official Gym Class All Star NFL playoff bracket, I made a last minute change after Ray Lewis’ announcement that he was retiring. It made Sunday’s game Ray’s last game in Baltimore.


Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals

This had to be one of worst display of quarterback play in postseason history. No one could get their offense going, and with 6 field goals and only one offensive touchdown between the two teams this game was hard to watch. Bengals offense was embarrassing, Dalton seemed to be missing open receivers all night, and Jermaine Gresham seemed to be dropping every decent pass Dalton made. I believe Houston will end up playing better next week, but they left a lot to be desired this past Saturday.
Houston will need to continue relying on Arian Foster
Prediction: Houston Texans 27-10 
Actual: Houston Texans 19-13 

Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts

Ray Lewis. I am not here to make an argument for momentum, or the emotional mind game. The fact is this team hasn’t been playing well without Ray Lewis. He came back, excited the fans and his teammates and dominated the Indianapolis Colts. It is hard to image that the Ravens could survive two fumbles by Ray Rice, although Rice may have outweighed his mistakes with a few spectacular runs. Flacco proved he has the ability to win in the big game once again. The question now is if the world will give him any respect? My guess is no.
Ray Lewis' pregame entrance
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts 24-16
Actual: Baltimore Ravens 24-9 


Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings

I thought this was going to be closer, but looking back I think I was just a paranoid fan. Saturday was an example of the same ole Vikings. Phil Vuong said it the best to me this weekend, “Everyone in the NFC North except the Packers shoot themselves in the foot (i.e. Bears, Vikings, and Lions).” In the end losing Ponder ended up being a big deal. Webb looked overwhelmed and incapable to lead his team. I was disappointed that the Vikings didn't try running the option read with Webb and Adrian Peterson more in the game. It would have been great practice just in case the Packers end up getting to face the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game, but clearly I am getting ahead of myself.
John Kuhn was Saturday's unsung hero
Prediction: Green Bay Packers 31-27
Actual: Green Bay Packers 24-10

Washington Redskin vs. Seattle Seahawks 

This game was the most entertaining game this past weekend, but by no means was it that great. Things seemed to go south quickly as RGIII continued to break down after two impressive early drives in the game. Seattle was too big, strong, and consistent for the Redskins to keep up. If you didn't realize before, now you know the Seahawks are for real. They didn't panic when they were down two touchdowns in the first quarter, and continued to stick to their game plan of running the ball and letting Russell Wilson make smart decisions. Marshawn Lynch was the clear MVP and more than made up for his fumble by recovering Russell's fumble and turning it into a huge gain.If you want to believe in teams getting hot for the playoffs this would be this year’s version of the 2011 Giants.
"The Scope" by Marshawn Lynch
Prediction: Seattle Seahawks 24-21 
Actual: Seattle Seahawks 24-14

Photos courtesy of USA Today, Mike Roemer/AP, Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun, and Getty Image.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Huddle: 2013 NFL Playoffs

NFL Playoffs are here, and 10 of the GCAS writers make their picks and answer a few simple questions about the upcoming playoffs.

Full Playoff Bracket Predictions.

Albert Nguyen:
Jonathan Lau:
Steven Wang:
Phil Voung:
Norman Leung:
Jonathan Mok:
Peter Wang:
Andrew Chow:
Andrew Leu:
Caleb Li:

Who will win the Superbowl and why?

Albert Nguyen: Denver will win because the NFL is fixed and there is no way Eli will have more rings than Peyton. The defense is very opportunistic and playing well. The weapons that Peyton has at his disposal are talented -- but more importantly, they are disciplined and have bought into the system.

Jonathan Lau: New England will win because I am a homer. It would be nice to beat the Packers to exact some revenge for Super Bowl XXXI.

Steven Wang: Houston some what has history on its side. Indy and NO both won their Super Bowls going into the playoffs having lost their last 2 or 3 games. While the playoffs its all about matchups, all you need is a team to get hot and Houston is more than capable of doing it. I will put Houston on upset alert tho against Cincy. More below

Phil Vuong: Seattle, because they are cheaters. 

Norman Leung: Green Bay will pull it out.

Jonathan Mok: I got the Texans winning the Super Bowl because the entire city of Houston is relying on this team ala the Rockets in 1994. Everybody is repping that red, white, and that blue, and championship windows don't stay open forever. I have never been a huge fan of Kubiak, but I am hoping that our skid into the playoffs will cause him to rethink his playcalling and open up the playbook a tiny bit so that everyone in the stadium won't know exactly when he'll draw up his patented draw play. The league knows all about JJ Watt now, but keep an ear out for Whitney Mercilus in the playoffs. As far as the offense is concerned, I hope Matt Schaub and Owen Daniels got together over new year's to run some routes because that connection will be key going forward. 

Peter Wang: The only way to complete the storyline is for Peyton to win it all this year. Also, it's only fitting that we get another Manning v Brady in the AFC championship game.

Jen Tsou: Is this like the one office chick who picks based on team colors or better weather... I predict San Francisco vs New England in Super Bowl. I can't walk through the reasons. Call it woman's intuition.

Andrew Chow: Denver will win the super bowl to complete the whole Peyton returns arch/story line.

Andrew Leu: The two hottest teams ending the season (Denver and Seattle) but I gotta go with the resurgence of Peyton. Guy knows how to lead the troops and looks healthy. 

Caleb Li: Since I completely made my bracket as a bias fan, I am going to remove the Packers as a possible choice for this question. I think the team with the most upside has to be Seattle, but I think they will find it hard to win four tough games in a row. I believe winning home field advantage was huge for the Broncos, it forces New England to have to play in the high altitude in Denver. Because of that I have them making it to the Superbowl, and really can you have Peyton lose in his hometown of New Orleans?! I doubt it. So I would have to pick the Broncos if i couldn't do my fan boy pick of the Packers.

Who was the biggest surprise team to make the playoffs?

Albert Nguyen: Biggest surprise team = Indianapolis Colts. They were 2-14 last year. With the addition of Andrew Luck, the Colts had a 9-game turnaround. That is absurd.

Jonathan Lau: Vikings - Christian Ponder?! Also, they probably should've been eliminated by the Texans in Week 16.

Steven Wang: Biggest surprise team = Washington Redskins. Playing in the NFC East can be quite challenging. You got the defending champs, enigmatic cowboys and eagles and not to mention you are starting a rookie QB and RB and backup QB. Indy is close second but Washington coming out on top surprised me more. Luck will win ROY in my opinion though

Phil Vuong: Seattle, because they are cheaters.

Norman Leung: Vikings, Washington, Indianapolis. Didn't expect this crop of rookies and 2nd years to turnaround teams this quickly

Jonathan Mok: Biggest surprise team has to be the Seattle Seahawks. I was a big fan of Russell Wilson in college, but for him to enter the NFL, win a starting job in training camp, and propel this team back to the playoffs has been a joy to behold. I'm not taking anything away from the Seattle defense, but this kid has displayed a maturity well beyond his years.

Peter Wang: Biggest surprise team = Minnesota Vikings. All Day has been carrying the whole team's offense, and for him to do it after knee surgery has been nothing short of amazing.

Andrew Chow: Biggest surprise team = Indianapolis Colts. Because they sucked last year.

Andrew Leu: Biggest surprise - Minnesota. Didn't hear much hoopla before the season. Even the first quarter of the season, the talk was about the packers and bears. The vikes played the most consistnent w Ponder at the helm. He has been solid and AP did his thing.

Caleb Li: Biggest surprise team has to be the Colts, everyone thought this year was going to be a tough one for Andrew Luck. Even the great Peyton Manning didn't come close to making the post season his first year in the league. The Colts looked awful last year, clearly the surprise of the year.

Which player is going to break out this postseason? 

Albert Nguyen: Break out player = Any Green Bay wide receiver.

Jonathan Lau: Stevan Ridley - assuming my bracket holds, Ridley could have some nice matchups against Indianapolis (29th ranked rushing defense) and Green Bay (17th ranked rushing defense). I think the Pats are going to need some balance on offense instead of being fully dependent on Brady like the last two Super Bowl failures.

Steven Wang: Upset Alert - Rather than a breakout player, I'm going to focus on a Cincy and their matchup with Houston.  Having home field helps but having lost 3 out of 4 games and their lone win barely over Indy does not bode well. Cincy has also gone 7-1 since starting 3-5 and their lone loss was to the cowboys on a last second FG.  If there is one team I don't want Houston to play, its Cincy. They have zero expectations and primed for upset. Would not see be surprised if they make it to AFC title game

Phil Vuong: Those cheaters on Seattle, Browner and Sherman 

Norman Leung: RGIII - it's going to be a rough next few years watching him play (from a Giants fan perspective) 

Jonathan Mok: Put your horns up for this year's break-out player: Earl Thomas. RG3 may be the storyline, but ET may be the ending of this weekend's Redskins/Seahawks matchup. Look for Earl to be flying all over the field in both run support up at the line and pass defense in the secondary. And if/when Seattle makes it to the next round to face Atlanta, you know Matt Ryan will leave a couple passes up for grabs. Hook 'em.

Peter Wang: Break out player = If there are still people out there who don't believe in Russell Wilson, then his postseason run should remove all doubts of him being a tier 1 quarterback.

Andrew Chow: Break out player = AP dominates til the very end

Andrew Leu: Breakout postseason player - Russell Wilson. He'll be cool calm and collective throughout the playoffs (I really hope Seattle gets past the wildcard...). But I'm a fan of wilson. The offense suits him well and he's been making great decisions. Seattle is in good hands for the next decade.

Caleb Li: I am going to have to go with Casey Hayward, the defensive back on the Green Bay Packers. Not many people know who he is, but he is the reason this team was even able to turn the season around after losing Charles Woodson to injury. Like Sam Shields in 2010, I see Casey being the key to giving the Packer defense the flexibility to move Woodson around and bring him on different blitz packages.

Which team(s) should have made the playoff? 

Albert Nguyen: Teams who should have made the playoffs = Bears, Giants, Cowboys. Chicago won 10 games, but finished 3rd in their division. New York went 1-3 against the AFC North and 3-5 on the road overall. That is not going to cut it. Dallas, enough said.

Jonathan Lau: Bears - should've held off Seahawks at home in Week 13, which probably would've sealed up the playoff spot.

Steven Wang: Teams who should have made the playoffs = Bears just got unlucky and ran into Minnesota and GB, twice unfortunately. Lions no joke either. Tough draw for Lovie this year. 

Phil Vuong: Cowboys, but they got Romo'ed. 

Norman Leung: Bears (injuries), Giants and Steelers (couldn't pull out the close games)

Jonathan Mok: With the NFC East in disarray, this was the year that the Cowboys could have snatched the opportunity to make a postseason run. But yet again, when it was all said and done, the Boys left their millions of fans with millions of what-ifs. 

Peter Wang: Teams who should have made the playoffs = Pittsburgh Steelers. Losing Ben in week 12 and 13 proved too much for the team to overcome, not to mention their running back dilemma and defense injuries to stars Polamalu and Ike. 

Andrew Chow: Teams who should have made the playoffs = Dallas Cowboys. Injuries can't be a real excuse since all teams lose starters, but injuries ruined the Cowboys chances. Jerry Jones has promised changes....Cowboys will make the playoffs next season for sure. 

Andrew Leu: Teams that should have been in the playoffs - giants and bears. Both fizzled at the end after a solid first half.

Caleb Li: Giants, short and simple they are a championship quality team that is too lazy to care in the regular season. This time they woke up too late, or maybe it was just the fact that the Redskins were able to just win more. 9-7 should never be good enough for the playoffs and the 2011 Giants just got lucky.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Wild-Card Weekend Predictions


Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals
This is a rematch of last year’s wildcard game, and should pan out to be a decent game. The Texans are playing their worst football of the year, while the Bengals are coming in hot after two impressive division wins against the Ravens and Steelers. Houston still has a ton to prove even with the playoff win last year. The Texans have yet to win a big game that matter this year, with losses to both the Packers and Patriots in primetime statement games. Also they could have locked in the bye and avoid having the possibility of going to New England for round two. Bengals have years of failed results to overcome, and this team may have already overcome too many demons in one season with a huge win to knock the Steelers out of playoff contention.
Dalton better be ready for a high dose of JJ Watt.
Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I picked the Bengals last year, and I will not be making that mistake again. Houston is clearly missing Brian Cushing and it is beginning to show. Also Matt Schaub is still has much to prove, especially with weapons like Andre Johnson and Arian Foster. There is just nothing special about the Bengals, besides AJ Green I don’t see any game changers on this roster. I believe J.J. Watt will be a difference maker in this game and propel the Texans to the next round.

Prediction: Houston Texans 27-10

Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts

Colts return to where it all began, to face a less intimidating Baltimore defense compared to years past. Colts have to be the feel good team of the year, and Andrew Luck has proven to be ready for the big stage. No one that isn’t a Colts fan thought the Colts would make it this far, but they continue to find ways to win. On the other side the Ravens have struggled of late, and have no quality wins against a playoff team since week 3 against the Patriots. Ravens have limped into the playoffs, but still have the experience most teams don’t. I think if Ray Lewis can go for this game, it could have a huge impact, even if he is limited in what he can do. Football is a very emotional game, and I believe both teams will bring that to this game.
Chuck needs to figure out how to stop the defense he coached last season.
Right now it is hard to pick against a team that just got their coach Chuck Pagano back after a battle with cancer. The Colts are riding high after winning against Houston last week in a game that the Texans actually needed more than they did. Colts can be beat; I just think the Ravens are a little too banged up this year to get it done. It will fall on the shoulders of the Raven offense to keep up and I just don’t see Joe Flacco rising to the occasion.

Prediction: Indianapolis Colts 24-16


Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings
Playing the same team back to back is never ideal for either team. The only difference now is that the game will be played outdoors in the cold weather of Green Bay. This just might be a bigger advantage for the Minnesota Vikings. Aaron Rodgers has still never won a playoff game at Lambeau Field and has struggled in the only two playoff games he has played in the cold (game verse Giants at Green Bay 2012 and verse the Bears in Chicago 2011). The Packers offense is clicking, but the defense still seems suspect at times. I am hoping for a solid return from Charles Woodson that will stabilize the young secondary. On the other side we can expect a ton of Adrian Peterson “All Day” throughout the game. It is a shame Adrian Peterson fell short of the record by nine yards, and I expect him to take that frustration out on the Packer defense. Minnesota has been on a must win run since week 14 and is similar to what the Giants and Packers did the last two year.
Packers will need to figure out how to stop AP.
As a Packer fan I have no choice to pick the Green Bay Packers, although I think this is going to be much 
closer than many think. The only difference the Vikings won’t be able to continue their late season success like the last two Super Bowl winners is the fact that their quarterback Christian Ponder is downright awful. Packers need to figure out how to contain Adrian Peterson, and learn to have that high power offense click outdoors. In the end I have to go with the Packers to once again break hearts in Minnesota.

Prediction: Green Bay Packers 31-27

Washington Redskin vs. Seattle Seahawks

This is going to an intense battle between rookie quarterbacks, with both playing at a very high level late into the season. Quality coached teams, with creative play calling, and a solid and powerful running game on both sides. In many ways these teams are very similar; both of their quarterbacks are mobile but also have the accuracy and strength to throw the ball effectively. Alfred Morris and Marshawn Lynch are two the most consistent running backs this season. The key difference is going to be the Seattle defense. From top to bottom this just might be the best defense playing this weekend. Their defensive backs are physical and have the height of most top receivers. Their front seven find ways to bring pressure, which will be the key in stopping RG3.
At least one of these rookies will get their first playoff win.
I personally can’t stand Seattle after the fail Mary, and I find it frustrating how they have become the darlings of this year’s playoffs. With that I have to say I fear this team more than any other, they have an arrogant nature around them that gives them the swagger needed to win in this league. That same arrogance rubs me the wrong way and grows my dislike for Pete Carroll. With that all said, I believe that Seattle’s defense makes the difference and ends Robert Griffin III’s amazing season.

Prediction: Seattle Seahawks 24-21

Photos courtesy of NFL, Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle, AP Photo/AJ Mast