Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Orleans vs. Philadelphia in the Postseason

The Eagles won in Dallas Sunday night to clinch the NFC East title and the third seed in the NFC playoffs. The Saints earned a postseason berth with a win over the Bucs setting up Saturday night's wild-card showdown in Philly.

This will be the third Saints-Eagles playoff meeting and the fourth between these two cities in a Big Four postseason.

1992 Wild Card Round

The Saints went 12-4 on the strength of their stout defense, led by linebackers Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills. They held opponents to 202 points, the fewest allowed by any team between 1987 and 2000. Despite equaling the franchise's all-time high in wins, they could only manage a wild-card spot as the 49ers went 14-2.

Their first-round opponent was an 11-5 Eagles squad that was playing to honor the memory of star defensive tackle Jerome Brown, who was killed in an auto accident before the season. The Birds were well-balanced as both the offense (led by Randall Cunningham) and the defense (led by Reggie White) ranked in the top six in scoring.

The game at the Superdome was overshadowed by the day's other playoff game that had just ended in Buffalo. Down 35-3, the Bills pulled off the greatest comeback in NFL history when they beat the Oilers 41-38 in overtime.

New Orleans struck first when Craig "Ironhead" Heyward scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge, but the Eagles answered back on this deep ball:

The Saints led 20-7 in the third quarter and were still up 20-10 with 11 minutes left, but the Eagles came back again.

Ahead for the first time at 24-20, the great Reggie White added two more points to the lead by taking down Bobby Hebert in the end zone.

A field goal made it a two-possession game and then 19 seconds later, Eric Allen iced it with a pick-six.

Philadelphia scored 29 unanswered points to win 36-20. Their 26 points in the fourth quarter are the most ever in the final stanza of a playoff game. They would fall a week later in the divisional round to the eventual champion Cowboys, 34-10.

2006 Divisional Round

With new coach Sean Payton and new quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints returned to the Superdome after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Their first home game was on Monday Night Football and it only took one minute for a legendary play to be made.

New Orleans went 10-6 and in the franchise's 40th season, earned a first-round bye for the first time ever. A week six win over the 10-6 Eagles gave them the tiebreaker and the two-seed. They drew Philly in the divisional round after the Eagles edged the Giants in the wild-card game.

It's amazing that I was able to track down the video of the 1992 game pretty easily, yet I was unable to find any good video for this 2006 contest. The NFL site has links to video of the game, but they have since been taken down.

Two short field goals put the hosts in front, but the Eagles took the lead in the second quarter on Jeff Garcia's 75-yard bomb to Donte Stallworth. New Orleans responded with a 14-play 78-yard march that ended with Reggie Bush's 4-yard score. But Philadelphia scored again right before halftime for a 14-13 lead, then made it an eight-point game on Brian Westbrook's 62-yard touchdown run.

The second half, however, belonged to Deuce McAllister. The running back scored on the next two New Orleans drives, once on the ground and once through the air as the Saints took a 27-21 lead. The Eagles reached the New Orleans 6 with 11 minutes to play, but Andy Reid chose to kick a field goal rather than try to go back in front. Philly went three-and-out on their two remaining drives and never reached midfield. The Saints prevailed 27-24 and advanced to their first NFC Championship Game.

In Chicago a week later, the Saints were doomed by four turnovers and the Bears rolled them 39-14 to deny them a Super Bowl trip. But that 2006 season was just a sign of things to come as the Saints became one of the league's premier franchises and won a championship three years later.

2003 NBA First Round

After the Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans their first two seasons in the Crescent City were in the Eastern Conference. That first spring resulted in a 47-35 record and the city's first playoff team since the ABA's Buccaneers in 1969. The 76ers won one more game during the regular season to secure home-court advantage in the 4-5 first round matchup.

Allen Iverson led the way for Philly in the opener with 55 points, tied for the sixth-most in playoff history (An old link, but the list is still correct as no one has scored more than 51 since).

The Sixers won again at home to go up 2-0, but for Game Three the series moved to New Orleans for the city's first NBA playoff game, which the Hornets won by 14. Philadelphia took command in the fourth game as six players scored in double figures in a 96-87 victory. They missed a chance to clinch at home, however, when New Orleans hung on for a two-point win to stay alive.

Game Six was another thriller. The 76ers were clinging to a 103-101 lead in the waning seconds and New Orleans needed a stop, but that was often hard to do against Iverson.

Top-seeded Detroit dispatched the Sixers in six games in the next round. Now that the Pelicans (as they are now called) are in the West, the only way to get a New Orleans-Philly meeting in the NBA postseason is in the Finals.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Kansas City vs. Indianapolis in the Postseason

The Chiefs and Colts both finished 11-5 and will play on Saturday afternoon to open the wild card round of the NFL playoffs.

It will be the fourth playoff meeting between them and as you may have expected, those were the only KC-Indy matchups in any of the Big Four postseasons. There hasn't been an Indianapolis opponent for baseball's Royals. The NBA's Kings and Pacers spent all but three seasons in separate conferences with no Finals pairing. On the ice, two short-lived 1970s hockey teams played in different leagues (the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA and the NHL's Kansas City Scouts, who later became the New Jersey Devils after a brief stay in Colorado).

The Chiefs are trying to snap a postseason losing streak that has reached seven games, an NFL record. The Lions also have an active seven-game losing streak in the playoffs, dating back to the 1991 season. Kansas City last won a playoff game on January 16, 1994, so long ago that it was in the Astrodome against the Houston Oilers with Joe Montana at quarterback. 

Three of the seven losses have been to Indianapolis. Let's take a closer look at each Colts-Chiefs playoff contest.

1995 Divisional Round

Marty Schottenheimer's Chiefs were a perfect 8-0 at home, although six of the wins came by seven points or fewer. Nevertheless, Derrick Thomas and a fierce defense powered KC to a 13-3 mark that secured a bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The AFC was very crowded around .500 with three teams (including the Colts) at 9-7, three more at 8-8 and two at 7-9. Indianapolis was the fifth seed and despite missing injured running back Marshall Faulk, they scored a 35-20 Wild Card win at San Diego to advance to Kansas City. It was the franchise's first playoff victory since 1971, when the Colts still played in Baltimore.

Arrowhead Stadium has always been a tough place to play, but it might have been at its most challenging on January 7th, 1996. With a kickoff temperature of 11 degrees, a bitter wind-chill factor of minus-9, and a sellout crowd in support of an opponent that was four games better in the regular season, the Colts seemed to have little chance.

The Chiefs scored first as the opening quarter drew to a close. Steve Bono hit Lake Dawson with a 20-yard strike for a touchdown and 7-0 lead. But Indianapolis responded in a big way with an 18-play, 77-yard drive that ate up 8:40 thanks to five third-down conversions and one on fourth down. The Colts evened the score on Jim Harbaugh's 5-yard pass to Floyd Turner. Both teams missed an opportunity to take the lead before halftime. Cary Blanchard missed a 47-yard field goal in the final minute, which opened the door for Kansas City. However, Lin Elliot's 35-yard attempt clanged off the upright to keep it a 7-7 game.

One of Bono's three interceptions set up a chip-shot field goal from Blanchard that gave the visitors a surprising 10-7 third-quarter lead. Elliot had a chance to tie the game with just over 10 minutes left, but his 39-yard attempt was no good. Two more Bono picks led to his being benched in favor of Rich Gannon. On the final drive, he moved the Kansas City offense to the 25-yard line with 42 seconds left, setting up one more try for Elliot from 42 yards out. He missed wide left for an 0-for-3 day and the Colts pulled off the shocking 10-7 upset.

Video: 1995 Colts (NFL.com videos don't allow embedding)

It was nothing but disappointment and what-ifs for Kansas City, but for the upstart Colts it was on to the AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers led 20-16 in the final moments, but Jim Harbaugh had one more trick up his sleeve. He drove Indy to the 29-yard line setting up one play that would decide the conference title.

Phil Simms and Dick Enberg briefly thought Aaron Bailey caught it, but alas, one of football's best Cinderella runs ended on one of the most exciting near-misses in sports history.

2003 Divisional Round

The 1995 game was a 10-7 defensive struggle, but this one was a 38-31 shootout in which there was not a single punt in the entire game.

The 12-4 Colts, led by Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne obliterated the Broncos 41-10 in the opening round to set up the game at Arrowhead. The Chiefs rode Priest Holmes, Trent Green, Tony Gonzalez and the rest of the league's highest-scoring offense to a 9-0 start on their way to a 13-3 mark.

The game lived up to its billing as the first five possessions resulted in points. Manning was superhuman, with three touchdown drives of 70+ yards. Meanwhile Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil settled for two short field goal tries, one made and one missed by Morten Anderson, making it 21-10 Indianapolis at intermission.

Holmes opened up the second half with a 48-yard run deep into Colts territory, but David Macklin stripped the ball and Indy took over before turning the miscue into three points. With the game slipping away at 24-10, Holmes powered a Kansas City touchdown drive. But it took only seven plays for Manning to respond, the last a 19-yard score to Reggie Wayne that made it a two-score game again. The Chiefs weren't dead yet, as Dante Hall did this on the ensuing kickoff:

That gave the Chiefs new life, but Manning was relentless. A methodical 10-play, 81-yard drive culminated with a 1-yard TD plunge by James that pushed the lead to 38-24. Green cut the lead in half again with a 17-play drive, but it required nearly seven minutes. With only 4:16 to play, the pourous Chiefs defense had little margin for error. James picked up a couple of first downs to grind the clock and the Colts earned an exciting 38-31 victory.

The Colts were riding high after two dominant offensive performances, but they ran into one of the NFL's all-time great teams in the AFC title game. Ty Law intercepted Manning three times as the Patriots won 24-14 on their way to the Super Bowl. It was the 14th consecutive win for New England during their astounding and record-setting 21-game undefeated run.

2006 Wild Card Round

Another year, another 12-4 record for Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and the Colts. It was the fourth of seven consecutive seasons with at least 12 victories, but 2006 would be the sweetest for Indianapolis.

As the third seed in the AFC, they drew the 9-7 Chiefs, who snuck into the playoffs in Week 17 with win and losses by the Titans, Bengals and Broncos. The first two games featured on our list were in Kansas City, but this one would be in the comfortable confines of the RCA Dome.

It was a slow start for the Colts, who could only muster field goals on their two first quarter drives. KC's offense did nothing, but they caught a break when Ty Law, now a Chief, picked off Manning and ran it back to the 9. But Lawrence Tynes missed a 23-yard field goal and the shutout continued. (Would he ever make a clutch kick in his life?)

Manning would throw another pick, this one inside the 5-yard line, to squander a scoring chance. But he'd make up for it by completing three passes to set up Adam Vinatieri's 50-yard field goal that ended the first half and gave Indy a 9-0 lead. Law would intercept Manning again in the third quarter, but the Chiefs offense went three-and-out once again before giving it back to Peyton for a 12-play, 89-yard touchdown drive.

With 2:38 remaining in the third quarter and trailing 16-0, Kansas City picked up its first first down of the afternoon. Their eighth drive of the game was a successful one, as a Trent Green-to-Tony Gonzalez TD and subsequent two-point conversion cut it to a one-score game. The hopes would be short-lived. Manning opened the fourth quarter with another touchdown march that put the game away.

The Colts only won 23-8, but in yardage they outgained Kansas City 435-126. It was only the sixth playoff game since at least 1940 to have one team gain 300 more yards than their opponent. Average margin of victory of the first five games: 38.6

Rk Tm Year Date Time LTime Opp W# G# Day Result OT Rush Pass Tot TO
1 SDG 1963 1964-01-05 BOS 15 15 Sun W 51-10 243 106 349 1
2 DAL 1975 1976-01-04 4:00 1:00 @ RAM 16 16 Sun W 37-7 173 150 323 2
3 PIT 1976 1976-12-19 2:00 1:00 @ BAL 15 15 Sun W 40-14 154 202 356 1
4 JAX 1999 2000-01-15 12:30 12:30 MIA 0 17 Sat W 62-7 236 153 389 5
5 NYG 2000 2001-01-14 12:30 12:30 MIN 0 18 Sun W 41-0 84 320 404 3
6 IND 2006 2007-01-06 4:30 4:30 KAN 0 17 Sat W 23-8 144 165 309 0
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 12/10/2013.

After a road win in the divisional round over Baltimore, the Colts returned home to face their old nemesis, Tom Brady and the Patriots. New England raced out to a 21 -3 lead, but Manning quickly tied the game before the two legendary quarterbacks traded scores in a duel for the ages. Manning put the Colts ahead in the final minute and Brady pushed the Patriots to midfield before getting picked off. The Colts finally slayed the Pats and advanced to the Super Bowl. It was a bit anticlimactic in rainy Miami as Indy beat the Bears 29-17, but Manning and the Colts finally earned that ring.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Completely Overhauling the Starting Lineup

Chad Jennings has a good post today over at The LoHud Yankees Blog, comparing the 2013 starters with the potential group for 2014. He writes:
"Here’s what’s kind of amazing about it: That same page for 2014 might list a different Yankees regular at every single position. Think about that. The Yankees are in the middle of an almost total lineup reconstruction, with Brett Gardner being the only player who was a regular last season being projected as a regular next season (at a different position and a different spot in the order)."

Baseball-Reference's yearly positional starter lists are based on who logged the most time at each spot. We might be looking at a different starting nine by position in the Bronx for the first time since 1966-67.

1966 Elston Howard Joe Pepitone Bobby Richardson Horace Clarke Clete Boyer Roy White Mickey Mantle Roger Maris
1967 Jake Gibbs Mickey Mantle Horace Clarke Ruben Amaro Charley Smith Tom Tresh Joe Pepitone Steve Whitaker

That transitional period saw all eight positions (no DH) change, thanks to Pepitone and Mantle swapping between first base and center field and Clarke shifting from shortstop to second base.

This is the only time in Yankees history that this occurred, but with all the new acquisitions and Robinson Cano's departure, it might happen again this season. Let's take a look now at the other 29 teams.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sporcle: Leading the League in Strikeouts and Walks

There have been 46 seasons (by 28 pitchers) in which a hurler led their league in both strikeouts and walks allowed. How many can you name?