The Winning Gene

What is “it”? And what qualifies someone to have “it”? How do you know if you have “it”?

In the NFL, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. If you can’t win the big game, you are not a valuable player. If you are great enough, you can will your team to victory no matter how little help you have around you.

Look at players like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Drew Brees. They flat out win games.

Then you have players like Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, and Josh Freeman. They won’t necessarily light up the stat sheet, but they can and will take you on THE drive to win THE game.

Just under that is a level of quarterbacks like Matt Schaub and Aaron Rodgers. They put up numbers like nobody’s business, but they can’t pull out the win when the game is on the line.

Then there are QBs like Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith, and Tarvaris Jackson. They won’t light it up during the first three quarters, and they certainly won’t pick up their game in the fourth. They might just do enough for you not to lose.

In this NFL, you have to have a great quarterback to win. Take a look at the best QBs in the league and all of the playoff teams. The only elite QB to not make the playoffs this year was Philip Rivers, whose team finished first in total offense and defense. All the best teams — the Patriots, Falcons, Saints, Steelers, and Colts — have top-of-the-line quarterbacks.

You need a great quarterback to win in this league, but you need a great quarterback with “it”. You can’t win the Super Bowl anymore with Trent Dilfer or Brad Johnson. Your quarterback has to have a cutthroat mentality. If the coach is debating whether to punt or kick a field goal, he needs to tell the coach, “I’m getting this first down.” He needs to command respect in the locker room and leave no room for doubt in his teammates minds that they might just lose a game.

In the end, the quarterback is the most important player on the team. He is the leader. He calls the shot. He touches the ball on every play. If your leader cannot will you to victory, you will not win the big game. Your quarterback needs The Winning Gene.

After a shaky-at-best regular season of picking games, I am more than ready for playoff football. Picking against the spread is always tough, but I’d like to finish the year with my head above water. Then again, I would have won the NFC West. As always, home teams are in BOLD and I will have one Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week. Best of luck to all teams, except the Jets.

Saints (-10) over SEAHAWKS

I was looking across ESPN.com and found a group of polls predicting who would win each of the playoff games. Of course, I filled out my picks and found some rather shocking results. Of the nearly 70,000 people who voted, a whopping 9.9% thought the Seahawks would beat the Saints!! That’s 7,000 people who are out of their minds! Seven thousand?!

And that wasn’t all. It’s understandable to think the Seahawks could stay within two or three touchdowns at home, but to win four straight games to make the Super Bowl is beyond conceivable. And yet 1,329 people pick Seattle to make the Super Bowl! Another 1,119 picked them to WIN the Super Bowl! Seattle hasn’t won four games consecutively, successively, in a row since 2007, and none of the teams had winning records! In ’99 they won five in a row, but that included wins against 8-8 Eagles and Broncos along with the 2-14 Bengals. In fact, the Seahawks have never won four straight games against winning teams in franchise history! 34 years and it’s never happened! Somebody find me one of these people because I could you some extra cheese!

Darren Sharper is one of the most hardest hitting safeties in the leauge.

Darren Sharper is one of the most hardest hitting safeties in the league.

But enough of the Seahawks ineptitude; this Saints team is still fantastic. There’s one thing we can’t take away from New Orleans and that it the fact that they are the defending champs. Sure, they didn’t win the NFC South, but no team has ever won back-to-back NFC South titles. They’ve got the same team as last year minus Pierre Thomas. Drew Brees is still playoff clutch. The Saints still have eight legitimate receiving threats. And Darren Sharper is still one of the most hardest hitting safeties in the league.

If there’s one thing that won’t happen, it’ll be Sean Payton and Drew Brees blowing this layup of all layups. This is a quarterback and head coaching league, and the Saints have the second-best combination in the league (to the Patriots, of course). Matt Hasselbeck may win you an NFC West division, but he will not lead you to a win against the high-powered Saints.

This line cannot get high enough; it is without a doubt the Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week.

COLTS (-2) over Jets

I don’t know if it is Tom Brady’s success this year or all of the injuries to Indianapolis, but we are suddenly underestimating Peyton’s power. After a rocky start, some people were crazy enough to call this the beginning of the end for Peyton. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Manning’s work in the big game, but if you really think he is done, you’ve got another thing coming for you.

Historically, Rex Ryan defenses have not been great against Peyton. While leading the Jets, his D held Peyton to an average of 285 yards passing and 23 points, including a 30-17 playoff loss. With the Ravens, Baltimore could only hold him to 254 passing yards and over 25 points per game. Rex teams are a measly 1-7 versus Peyton and haven’t won since 2001!

Do you know who Peyton Manning is? Do you know who Mark Sanchez is?

Do you know who Peyton Manning is? Do you know who Mark Sanchez is?

Peyton Manning has one of the quickest triggers in the league, so sending various blitz packages doesn’t phase him like it does to quarterbacks like, say, Mark Sanchez. Even with a beat up offensive line and limited weapons, Peyton runs one of the most precise and dangerous offensives in the game. If the Jets are going to top the Colts, they are going to have to out-score them.

As I’ve said before, I don’t trust the Jets and the Sanchize. Against winning teams, Sanchez only completed 56.9 percent of passes and his team to score 16 points per game, ultimately leading to a less-than-inspiring 2-4 record. Keep in mind that Charlie Whitehurst owns a career completion percentage of 57.6 and the great J.T. O’Sullivan’s is 56.4. Sanchez doesn’t have the clutch gene, and he just isn’t a good NFL quarterback.

One thing I’ll give Indy credit for is their run defense stepping up. In the last three weeks of play, they held CJ2K to 39 yards on 20 carries, Run DMC to 45 yards on 11 carries, and Mo-Jo to 46 yards on 15 carries. If we’ll be seeing the Jets minus their run game having to depend on Sanchez, we all know how this will end.

Ravens (-3) over CHIEFS

Who are the Chiefs? Are they a semi-competent blessed to be in a terrible division? Are they the team that leads the NFL in rushing by almost ten yards per game? Are they the team that lost to Oakland at home by 21?

Why has Jamaal Charles only been given 230 carries when he's averaging 6.4 yards per carry?!

Why has Jamaal Charles only been given 230 carries when he's averaging 6.4 yards per carry?!

The Chiefs are a strange team. They have a 24-year old budding superstar running back in Jamaal Charles, who led the NFL in yards per carry by far at 6.4 yards per pop, yet HC Todd Haley only game him the rock 230 times. Their QB Matt Cassel won’t make the big mistake, but he also won’t take you on the biggest drive of the game. They’re 8-0 at home, and last time I check they’re playing at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. There’s plenty to like about this team, but there’s just as much to make you scratch your head.

Baltimore is the same team as it has been over the last decade. Hard hitting and ready to fight to the bitter end. Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs won’t hesitate to knock you out and Ed Reed, a man who only played ten games yet still led the league with eight picks, is the best ball-hawk in the league. Oh, yeah, except this year they have a really good offense.

The Ravens have always had a great run game. You can go back to the days of Jamal Lewis to see that. But now that they’ve brought in Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, they have a very good air game. The Ravens still can shut you down on defense, but if they need, they can out-score you too. Joe Flacco won’t light up a stat sheet, but he wins the big games. If you need him to take you on THE drive to win THE game, he can put you on his back.

This game will largely come down to who can run the ball better. KC is tops in the league with 164.2 yards per game, but Baltimore is 5th in run defense with only 93.9 ypg. Baltimore is 14th in rushing offense and with 114.4 ypg while Kansas City is also 14th with 110.2 ypg. In the end, I have more trust in Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and the Ravens’ D.

Arrowhead Stadium will prove to be a huge factor in this game, but I don’t have trust in the Chiefs’ defense. This one will go to Baltimore by a touchdown or more; they are one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.

EAGLES (-2.5) over Packers

What happened to all the Michael Vick support? I thought he was supposed to be the run-away MVP! I thought he was the Eagles’ lord, savior, and holy spirit! And now after one non-spectacular game against the Vikings he’s Kevin Kolb? Didn’t think so.

Let’s talk Aaron Rodgers for a minute. For my money, he’s the anti-Joe Flacco. Boy, can he light up the stat sheet! But when you need him to make THE play to win THE game, he disappears. If you need someone to win you a fantasy football league, #12 is your guy. But if you need someone to win you a playoff game, give me anyone else.

If you need someone to light up a game, why not just go with Michael Vick? He’s more accurate than he’s ever been in Atlanta and his arm is just as strong. If you bring pressure on him, you’d better be able to contain him, or you’ll be looking at a very long run. He’s quick. He’s fast. His receivers are even faster.

There are no words to describe the chutzpah of The Jerk

There are no words to describe the chutzpah of The Jerk

The Eagles have one of the quickest striking offenses in the league, and one of the smartest offensive minds in the game in Andy Reid (but not one of the smartest clock management or red flag-throwing coaches out there). The Eagles aren’t great at home (4-4), but the Packers are even worse on the road (3-5). Don’t get me wrong here, both teams are great, but the Eagles are just a little bit better.

It’s tempting to take the Packers, I’m not going to lie. But they’re just too one-dimensional for my taste. With no running game, they have to depend on an inconsistent big-game quarterback. Philly will bring pressure to Rodgers and try to take him out of his element. Rodgers will have to make rushed throws, and make bad decisions.

In the end, you can’t forget who Philly is. They’re incredibly talented, young, and explosive. Andy Reid has been there and done that. Michael Vick has won in the playoffs before. The Jerk is, well, The Jerk! This team is too talented and too well prepared under Coach Reid to lose this game.

Last Week: 7-9

Season 127-129

Bojangles’ Lock o’ the Week: 13-4

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