Another storming home performance from the Raiders, and its superbowl time! An interesting point was made by Martin Devine in his letter this week (congratulations, by the way) that each playoff game has been won by the home team. This is actually quite surprising, you would expect at least one upset from some of the closely matched encounters in the playoffs. Congratulations are in order to Ian Rothwell, who predicted a Raiders-49ers superbowl back in preseason, sort of clinches the prediction competition... Remember, the address for contributions, and predictions, is:
2 Lily Terrace
The Raiders got ahead early, and drove their advantage home in the second quarter with a couple of interceptions - one of which was returned for a touchdown. The Cincinnati offense struggled until the fourth quarter, when they gained 131 of their 323 yards, but it was too late by then. The 49ers also got ahead early and were able to force the Bears to pass. A critical goal line stand in the third quarter preserved the 49ers 17 point lead and was typical of their defensive performance - the Bears converted only one third down attempt and none of four fourth down tries.
New England could find no way through the Green Bay defense, and are now hoping to have Drew Bledsoe dug out of the turf by next season. The Packers were efficient on offense, converting fifty percent of their third downs and were successful twice on fourth down. The Jacksonville defense put in one of their best performances, only letting the Cowboys into the endzone once and forcing them to kick nine times. Unfortunately seven of those kicks were field goal attempts and pro bowler Chris Boniol made no mistakes.
This week I'll look at the non playoff teams. The rest of the league, plus some general comments, next week. The grade for each team is my opinion of how well each team has filled their needs (as I see them) with their draft position, and the players available, taken into account. It does not take into account reductions and retirements suffered, as I have no way of knowing these.
1) LB 4 DRI 2) DL 3 DBZ 3) DB 2 DPL
The Panthers had the league's worst offense and the league's worst defense last season. They certainly addressed one of those needs. Maybe could have picked up an OL in round three to help anaemic running game. GRADE: BCleveland Browns
1) RB 3 ORI 2) WR 2 OPL* 3) DL 2 DBZ
The Browns struggled to run the ball and defend last year. This draft will help, but they could have done better. Why did they not take the four strength RB available in the first round? GRADE: DPhiladelphia Eagles
1) RB 4 ORI 2) DL 3 DBZ 3) LB 2 DRI
Free agents: DB 5 1 DPL
The Eagles ran into some bad luck in the second half of last season, but took full advantage of their high draft position. Run offense and defense were both upgraded, and the free agent DB could push them over the edge. GRADE: ANew England Patriots
1) RB 3 ORI 2) LB 3 DRI 3) WR 2 OPL
The Patriots running game sucked last year, but their offense would have benefitted more from an OL to keep Drew Bledsoe upright while he's waiting for his receivers to get deep. Run defense was a problem, the new LB will help. GRADE: CKansas City Chiefs
1) RB 3 ORI 2) LB 3 DRI 3) DB 2 DPL
The Chiefs had the worst defense in the AFC last season, while ranking fifth running the ball. Why draft an RB in the first? However, defense was addressed. GRADE: CTampa Bay Buccaneers
1) RB 3 ORI 2) OL 2 OQB 3) WR 1 OPS*
The Bucs were ninth in the league on defense, but 23rd on offense. Obvious needs were addressed, could get some big plays in the open field from their third round pick. GRADE: BWashington Redskins
1) OL 2 ORI 2) DB 3 DPL 3) DB 2 DRO
Free agents: OL 8 2 OQB
Hard to believe the Skins took a two strength OL when there were three strength OL available. Also hard to believe they failed to draft any help for second worst run defense in the league. GRADE: CGreen Bay Packers
1) WR 2 OPL* 2) RB 2 ORI 3) QB 3 OPS
Free agents: OL 5 1 OQB RB 4 1 OPS*
With the sixth ranked defense last year, the Packers went for some offensive playmakers. Special teams were also seriously upgraded. GRADE: ABuffalo Bills
1) TE 3 OPS 2) QB 3 OPL 3) DL 2 DBZ
Bills were actually quite effective on those occasions they did choose to pass last year, a TE will help that and the outside run. Run defense was the only glaring weakness, perhaps could have been addressed in the second round. GRADE: BDenver Broncos
1) LB 3 DRI 2) LB 3 DRI 3) OL 2 OQB
Free agents: RB 3 1 ORI
This is not a draft I'm pleased about, but only because I'm going to have to try and run on this defense next year. The AFC's top offense will only get better with more pass protection, but pass defense will be a problem. GRADE: CPittsburgh Steelers
1) WR 2 OPL* 2) RB 2 ORI 3) DB 2 DPS
Free agents: DB 6 1 DPL
Steelers addressed all their major needs, playmaking WR should make a big impact. Defense could move among the league's elite with addition of coverage help. GRADE: AJacksonville Jaguars
1) LB 2 DPS 2) DB 2 DPL 3) DB 2 DPL
The Jags had the worst pass defense in the league last year. Things will improve thanks to this draft, but run defense was neglected. GRADE: CDallas Cowboys
1) DB 3 DPL 2) DB 2 DPL 3) DB 1 DPS
Free agents: WR 7 1 OPS
The Cowboys also moved to upgrade their pass defense. Perhaps would have been better served by a two strength OL in the third round given their run based offense. Could have had another two strength DB. GRADE: CDetroit Lions
1) QB 4 OPL 2) LB 3 DRI 3) RB 2 ORI
Free agents: KK 5 1 OFG*
A team with no obvious weaknesses, the Lions were able to draft the best players available. GRADE: A
Raiders and 49ersThe key for the Raiders is to be effective running the football. Oakland have the stronger overall defense and so will win the game if they can control the ball on offense. The 49ers have a more balanced offense and a strong run defense, they are also a threat to score on special teams. I expect a tense, low scoring encounter.
Ian Rothwell's prediction: A predictor's nightmare, but I'm wearing a 49ers shirt
(literally). I'm sorry, but the 49ers have a better road record.
Packers at CowboysThe Cowboys, we know, will try and run the ball, a lot. The question is, can the Pack stop them? I'm not sure they can. Unless Green Bay get some turnovers and/or big offensive plays Dallas will be triumphant. COWBOYS BY 7
Ian Rothwell's prediction: COWBOYS 35-31
That's all for this week. Next issue will be the first 'A Passing Fantasy', and will contain the second half of my draft review and my predictions for next season (all as laughably inaccurate as last year).