Blogs & Opinion


NFL Play-offs: Simon Veness expects unexpected this weekend

Features - Simon Veness Posted 3rd January 2014 view comments

There are around 25,000 high schools in America, the vast majority of which have major sports programmes. This year's NFL rosters were drawn from 1,370 of them, in 48 states (plus from six other countries and American Samoa).

Some states have produced more than others, notably California (225 players), Florida (with 186) and Texas (184).

Of those 184 Texans, two will go head-to-head in the play-offs on Saturday night - having both played for the SAME high school. And not just any two, but two of the best quarterbacks in the league, Drew Brees and Nick Foles.

Brees: Up against fellow former Westlake High student Nick Foles in play-offs

Brees: Up against fellow former Westlake High student Nick Foles in play-offs

That's right; Westlake High in Austin, Texas, produced two current players who accounted for 66 touchdown passes and a combined quarterback rating of 112. Not too shabby, huh?

Even allowing for the fact Westlake is something of a powerhouse in school football, it is stretching the imagination somewhat to envisage two of their young stars going on to the highest level. And facing off for a place in the Divisional Round on the road to XLVIII.

Philadelphia against New Orleans will divide Westlake on Saturday.

Simon Veness
Quotes of the week

NFL on Sky

Colts @ Chiefs
9pm, Sat, Sky Sports 1 HD
Eagles @ Saints
1am, Sun, Sky Sports 1 HD
Bengals @ Chargers
5.30pm, Sun, Sky Sports 1 HD
Packers @ 49ers
9pm, Sun, Sky Sports 1 HD

It HAS happened before. In 1974, when Pittsburgh's Terry Bradshaw faced Buffalo's Joe Ferguson, having both grown up and played for the same school in Shreveport, Louisiana.

But this is the kind of home-spun coincidence that fair boggles the mind. Brees is still revered in his corner of Texas for taking the school to a state championship in 1996, and piling up just about every single record you could imagine, short of punting and kicking. Until Foles came along 10 years later and broke them all.

Yes, it is THAT kind of improbable confluence of pass-throwing talent that pits Philadelphia against New Orleans in a battle that will divide Westlake on Saturday, so much so that one of their old high school coaches, Derek Long, insisted: "They're such great guys, such outstanding young men who have done everything right, you hate to see one of them not continue on after this weekend. I guess the only perfect scenario would be that they both throw seven touchdown passes."

Which isn't such a crazy idea, seeing as how Foles has already done it once this season, against Oakland, while Brees has tossed four or more on five occasions this term. It is a mouthwatering prospect, but it is also a fitting way to transition from a weird and wacky regular season to a post-season that could produce absolutely anything.

Unexpected

Because if there is one thing we have learned from 17 weeks of pigskin implausibility, it is that the unexpected is the everyday and the unlikely is, actually, very likely indeed.

That's the only way you can explain the likes of San Diego and Green Bay still being alive in January when the odds on them reaching the Super Bowl's knockout stages were being calculated in decimal percentage points just three weeks ago.

After Week 13, the Chargers' hopes were not so much on life support as waiting for the final nail in their post-season coffin, a 17-10 home defeat by Cincinnati leaving them down among the dead men at 5-7 and with all of Kansas City, Miami, Baltimore, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and the Jets ahead of them in the wild card race.

The Chiefs were already all but there at 9-3, but the odds against San Diego - needing each of those other five teams to lose most of their games - were stratospheric, especially as the Chargers had to go 4-0 to finish their schedule, with games at Denver and Kansas as well as home clashes with the Giants and Raiders.

With two weeks to go, they needed six separate results to go their way, a combo with a likelihood of roughly 50-1, being generous. Then, when it all came down to a 41-yard Ryan Succop field goal, which went wide right, you knew the odds counted not a jot. This was a history-making charge into the play-offs straight out of the X Files, except the truth was no longer out there, it was all over the place.

Just like Green Bay. After Week 13 - a 40-10 Thanksgiving Day shellacking by Detroit - they were in third place in the NFC North, didn't have a viable quarterback and looked like they would struggle to win a game, let alone the three they needed, plus three losses for the Lions and two for Chicago.

Let's put those odds, conservatively, at 60-1, and, we are off past the X Files and on to the Outer Limits, a brain-bending, logic-breaking, gravity-defying alternative universe where anything is possible, including an 8-7-1 team hosting a 12-4 powerhouse (yes, many US pundits are back to debating the merits of a division winner automatically having the rights to a home game).

So, when we consider the full eight-team line-up for this weekend (all live on Sky Sports 1 HD, by the way - every glorious minute), we have to be acutely aware of how we got Here before we can work out how to get There.

And, when 'There' is MetLife Stadium on Sunday February 2, we still have a fair bit of considering to do.

It doesn't quite start with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that are Messrs. Brees and Foles but it might as well. The oddsmakers rate the Eagles 2.5-point favourites over the Saints, which might make conventional sense seeing as Sean Payton's men are only 3-5 on the road this season and have NEVER won a play-off game away from the cosy confines of their dome home.

But this is the NFL 2013/14 and conventional wisdom has been locked away in the Twilight Zone of sporting misadventure. So expect a New Orleans win as the NFL's No.2-rated passing attack takes on the league's 32nd-ranked passing defence, and to heck with the bookies.

Unexpected

Prior to that, Indianapolis get to entertain Kansas in a battle of 11-5 teams that we have already seen this season, albeit at Arrowhead Stadium, where Andrew Luck and Co won convincingly. Again, Las Vegas reckons the Chiefs will edge this one, but Simon Says, not on your betting Nelly. Everything we've seen recently tells us to expect the unexpected, so it's easy to see the Colts taking charge early and winning at a canter (ahem).

Then it's Sunday, and two more episodes of our footballing Wheel of Fortune. First, Cincinnati get to entertain those freaky Chargers in a second return match-up from the regular season. The Bengals won that one, in San Diego, 17-10, and gave Philip Rivers conniptions with their defensive alignment, but that was before the last-gasp four-win streak that brought Mike McCoy's outfit to the gridiron promised land and, with Andy Dalton prone to multiple INT outbursts, the sporting gods could easily decree another upset here.

Finally, it is the Green Bay Houdini Act at home to the 49ers, and the return match of Week 1, when Colin Kaepernick did his best Joe Montana impression and riddled the Packers secondary for a whopping 412 yards and three touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers matched him for TDs, but the scoreline was 34-28 against him.

Now, in the freezer of Lambeau Field, the two will go head-to-head for the third time in little more than 12 months (as the 49ers also got the better of last year's Divisional Round match-up), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, if you like.

Where this one ends up is absolutely anyone's guess. Except that we already know that it's not guesswork. It's another Tale of Mystery and Imagination - and the likelihood is that the unlikely will again be firmly to the fore.

So, count on Rodgers to make up for the last 12 months in one fell swoop. And then we'll be on to the next instalment of our Magical Mystery Tour - final stop, New York.

back to top

Other Experts:

Latest Posts in :

Alex Ferguson

Clowney's no joke

US sports expert Alex Ferguson profiles Jadeveon Clowney, the biggest defensive pick of the draft....

Alex Ferguson

King James reigns

Alex Ferguson celebrates a wacky, smile-inducing year in US sport - and salutes Miami's LeBron James....

comments

Alex Ferguson

Start your engines!

Alex Ferguson predicts who will triumph in NASCAR's showpiece race, the Daytona 500....

comments

Alex Ferguson

A perfect union?

Alex Ferguson looks at the possible unionisation of college football and how he would handle the issue....

Alex Ferguson

Call of the century

Spacemen Portland pick Bowie over Jordan - Alex Ferguson ranks the biggest decisions in US Sport....

comments

Alex Ferguson

Independence aces

Alex Ferguson kicks off his Independence Day fun by picking his 20 best bits of American sport....

comments

Jamie Carragher

Bruce almighty

Steve Bruce deserves a mention when this year's managerial awards are handed out, says Carra....

Peter Beagrie

An Easter feast

Beags previews the cracking Easter action in the Championship, including games for the top three....

Ed Chamberlin

Van the man?

Ed Chamberlin explains why Tejay van Garderen is capable of plucking the Tour de France's Yellow Jersey....

comments

Martin Tyler

Goal crazy

When did Liverpool last score three without Suarez and Sturridge netting? Martin Tyler has the stats......

0 comments

Will Greenwood

Building momentum

Will Greenwood wants England to lay down a World Cup 2015 marker on their tour to New Zealand....

Dewi Morris

Heart and soul

Dewi Morris looks at a crucial weekend in the Championship as we head towards the play-offs....

Stuart Barnes

Ups and downs

Stuart Barnes says the drama of relegation must be kept in rugby, but the play-offs need changing....

Phil Clarke

To Hull and back

Phil Clarke looks at the mental damage done to Hull FC and Huddersfield in the Challenge Cup....

Rob Lee

Pinky and perky

Rob Lee blogs on his vivid Masters Breakfast attire and the men that made waves at Augusta National....

Paul McGinley

Joy for Jonas?

Jonas Blixt has the short game and heart to win the Masters at Augusta, says Paul McGinley....

0 comments

Barry Cowan

Heavy burden

Great Britain's best Davis Cup since 1986 fails to mask their reliance on Andy Murray, says Barry Cowan....

Barry Cowan

No force without Fab

Britain's Davis Cup quarter-final with Italy rests on the fitness of Fabio Fognini, says Barry Cowan...

Alex Hammond

Going the distance

Marathon entrant Alex Hammond previews the Newbury action and Scottish National meeting at Ayr....

Alex Hammond

Rocky's road

Alex Hammond explains why she is backing Rocky Creek and Lion Na Bearnai at the Grand National....

Andrew Balding

Resting up

Trainer Andrew Balding says On Demand is progressing well - but now needs time to recuperate....

Johnny Nelson

The best of friends

It will be tough but Johnny Nelson expects mates Anthony Crolla and John Murray to serve up a classic....

Glenn McCrory

Manny happy returns

Manny Pacquiao is back to his best and could yet get it on with Floyd Mayweather, says Glenn McCrory....

Johnny Nelson

Delighted for DeGale

James DeGale's Matchroom switch is the perfect move to get him back in the mix, says Johnny Nelson....

View from America

Desperate deals?

Simon Veness reviews a crazy week in the NFL's free agent frenzy, as sides splash out over $1bn....

comments

Neal Foulds

Night at the Circus

Neal Foulds is looking forward to another fun, raucous Snooker Shoot-Out - but can't pick a winner....

comments

Neal Foulds

Simply the best?

Five-time Masters champion Ronnie O'Sullivan may be the best snooker player ever, says Neal Foulds....

comments

Neal Foulds

Four to the fore

Neil Robertson and snooker's other leading lights are pulling clear of the pack, says Neal Foulds....

comments

Kelvin Tatum

The contenders

Kelvin Tatum runs through the teams and riders ahead of the 2014 Elite League Speedway season....

Kelvin Tatum

Kelvin's 2013 Review

Kelvin Tatum salutes Poole's hierarchy and Tai Woffinden in his round-up of the speedway season....

comments

Kelvin Tatum

Rich re-Ward

Poole, and the dynamic Darcy Ward, will wrap up the Elite League title at Perry Barr, says Kelvin Tatum....

comments

Richard Moore

The final curtain

Richard Moore reflects on Sunday's Closing Ceremony to an unforgettable Olympic Games......

comments

Richard Moore

A lasting golden glow

Richard Moore suggests all the British Olympians should visit schools and talk about their experiences....

comments

Richard Moore

Favourite Froome

Richard Moore reveals his predictions for the 100th Tour de France, which starts on Saturday....

comments

Wayne McCullough

Wonderful Davis

Wayne McCullough watched Antonio Rogerio Nogueria take on Phil Davis at UFC Fight Night 24. ...

0 comments

Wayne McCullough

Jones shines bright

Wayne McCullough was highly impressed as the talented Jon Jones made short work of Mauricio Rua....

2 comments

Wayne McCullough

A bloody marvel

Wayne McCullough salutes Diego Sanchez as he edges out Martin Kampmann in a UFC humdinger....

0 comments