Tag:Cam Cameron
Posted on: February 14, 2012 2:32 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 3:03 pm
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Report: Ravens, Flacco to talk contract next week

Baltimore regards Flacco as the future of the franchise, apparently. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

When we ran down possible destinations for Peyton Manning in 2012, we left the Ravens off the list because they already have, in theory, a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco. Many folks would disagree. But, apparently, not the Ravens.

According to Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network, the Ravens and Flacco's agent, Joe Linta, will sit down in Indianapolis at the 2012 NFL Combine to talk about getting Flacco a new, long-term contract.

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LaCanfora writes that the Ravens are "committed to keeping the 2008 first-round pick." There's no secret that Flacco wants to get paid: Flacco said during the regular season that he deserved a new contract with the Ravens based on his performance.

"It is what it is," Flacco said at the time. "It's either going to happen at some point or it's not. The bottom line is I'm not too worried about it either way. Do I feel like I deserve one? Yeah. Do I feel like I'm going to get one? Yeah. If I don't get one, is it going to be a huge deal? No, it is what it is. It's not really up to me. It's up to me to go out there and focus on my play each and every game and put our team in the best spot to win a football game."

This is a mantra Flacco's repeated for some time now; that the Ravens are finally willing to talk turkey means that either they were a) as impressed with Flacco's playoff performance as our own Clark Judge was; or b) they understand that the "known" of Flacco is better than the "unknown."

The unknown being, of course, whoever else might be out there in free agency or the draft after the 2012 season. (If they tried to franchise him after the coming season, there would be some evil laughter and giddy fu-manchu rubbing as Flacco sprinted to sign that guaranteed contract.)

Based on what John Harbaugh's said before, it sounds like their answer is (a).

"I've said it many times," Harbaugh said. "I think his best football is in front of him. He only gets better. He's our kind of guy. He's a tough guy. He's a competitive guy. He's a leader. And I just can't wait to see where this thing goes with him. We are proud to have him as our quarterback."

So the question then becomes: how much is Flacco worth? Kevin Kolb and Matt Cassel both got contracts that paid them more than $60 million, with $20 million and $28 million guaranteed, respectively. (Kolb signed a five-year extension, while Cassel signed a six-year deal.)

There's no way Baltimore can get away with paying Flacco less than those guys. He's 44-20 in his career, he's started every single game since his rookie season, he's got a completion percentage over 60, he's got 11 game-winning drives and an 80:46 touchdown record.

He's also won five playoff games in four years and was one Lee Evans drop (or one accurate deep ball to Torrey Smith, if you prefer) away from taking the Ravens to the Super Bowl last year. He outplayed Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game.

Kolb's never played more than nine games in a season (!), or thrown for more than 2,000 yards. Flacco's average season with Baltimore dwarfs Cassel's average season with New England and Kansas City.

So unless he's taking a serious hometown discount, Flacco's going to get north of $10 million a year and $30 million in guaranteed money. That's a lot of cheese. It's going to be extremely interesting to see how Cam Cameron and Jim Caldwell can help Flacco grow over the next few years.

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Posted on: January 30, 2012 10:00 am
Edited on: January 30, 2012 3:51 pm
 

Ravens hire Jim Caldwell as quarterbacks coach

By Will Brinson

Because Mike Tomlin and Jim Caldwell worked together under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, the prevailing theory's been that Caldwell's going to end up on the Steelers offensive staff. So it's pretty bizarre to hear that the Ravens hired Caldwell as their quarterbacks coach.

The team announced the news, as first reported by Adam Schefter of ESPN, on Monday afternoon.

"I am really excited to work with coach Harbaugh, Cam and the rest of the coaching staff," Caldwell said. "It's a great fit for me, and I'm happy they saw it that way. I can't wait to get started with the Ravens, an organization that from top to bottom is one of the NFL's best."

Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron took over as quarterbacks coach this past season with the departure of Jim Zorn but when Cameron was extended last week, the Ravens made it known that he wouldn't continue on as quarterbacks coach.

Caldwell, who served as the Colts quarterbacks coach prior to becoming head coach, was 26-22 as Colts coach but saw his stock drop when the team went 2-14 in 2011. He now puts himself in a position to really get some positive reviews, should Joe Flacco make big steps forward in 2012.

"After spending considerable time with Jim over the last week, we think he will be an excellent fit with our team, coaching the quarterbacks and helping with our offense," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We believe he enhances our staff. Jim has a tremendous history coaching at the college and pro level, especially working with quarterbacks and providing help with offenses.

"The timing is right to add a quarterbacks coach after Cam and Joe worked so closely and well together this year. It's the right step for us now."

Unless, of course, hiring Caldwell is just a ploy to land Peyton Manning if/when/should he be healthy enough to play next year. That seems like a stretch, but we talked about this with Andy Benoit on a recent Pick-Six Podcast: Flacco's only got one year left on his deal and the Ravens are quite conceivably the perfect team for Manning.

They've got a veteran defense with a small window remaining, talent on the offensive line and plenty of offensive weapons in Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and the Dennis Pitta/Ed Dickson combo.

That being said, they're probably just trying to land a quarterbacks coach who can offer Flacco the sage wisdom necessary to grow into a talented quarterback at the next level.

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Posted on: January 27, 2012 12:00 pm
 

Pees promoted by Ravens, Cameron gets extension

Dean Pees and Cam Cameron will coordinate Baltimore in 2012. (US Presswire)
By Will Brinson

The Ravens suffered a big loss when defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano left the team to take the Colts head coaching position, but they didn't waste any time filling the role as John Harbaugh announced on Friday that linebackers coach Dean Pees would replace Pagano as defensive coordinator. Harbaugh also announced that much-maligned offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would stay with the team and receive an extension.

As we've previously noted, defensive coaches promoted by the Ravens tend to do OK later in life: four of their five defensive coordinators (with the exception of just Greg Mattison) have gone on to head-coaching jobs.

"It’s an incredible opportunity to be a defensive coordinator for anybody in this league, but it’s especially humbling to be one for the Ravens,” Pees said Friday. “I’m not going to be the same as Chuck Pagano. You got to be who you are."

Cameron's situation is a more surprising. The Ravens ranked 12th in points scored in the NFL in 2011 and 15th in yards. They finished 10th in rushing yards in 2011 but only 19th in passing yards. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, especially considering how run-heavy their offense was at times.

Bigger concerns involve the play-calling, which was odd at times during the season, to say the least. But Harbaugh likes what he saw apparently.

"Cam has been our offensive coordinator, will continue to be our offensive coordinator," Harbaugh said Friday. "I think our coaches did a tremendous job this year."

The truth is the Ravens were just one Lee Evans foot (on a great throw by Joe Flacco) away from the Super Bowl. If Evans taps his toe before the ball's knocked out of his hands, we're not even having this conversation yet.

Harbaugh didn't provide any specifics about the nature of Cameron's extension on Friday. And he doesn't really need to unless it's a blockbuster of some sorts: Cameron will likely remain under scrutiny in 2011. Just like Flacco.

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Posted on: January 26, 2012 5:14 pm
 

Looks like Cam Cameron will return to Ravens

CameronBy Josh Katzowitz

If a Ravens fan happened to be informed that one of the team’s coordinators would be fired from Baltimore before next season, that fan probably would have begun to rejoice that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron finally would move on somewhere else.

Unfortunately for those fans who wish Cameron would pack his belongings and go, the assistant coach to leave is defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who was hired Wednesday to take over in Indianapolis. Even worse news for those Ravens fans: despite reports that John Harbaugh might replace Cameron, the Baltimore Sun says the opposite is true.

Apparently, Cameron has begun calling his offensive assistants to give them their instructions for the next several weeks, most likely a sign that Cameron isn’t going anywhere.

Writes columnist Mike Preston: “Neither Cameron nor Ravens head coach John Harbaugh returned phone calls Wednesday night, but the source was confident that Cameron would serve in the same capacity with the only stipulation the Ravens hire a quarterbacks coach. Cameron served in both roles last season.”

NFL film-watching guru Greg Cosell recently said that the Ravens look like an offense imported from the 1960s and that their receiving corps was the worst in the league at getting open vs. man coverage.

"They don't do a lot to help their receivers win versus man," Cosell said. "I'm not going to defend [Joe] Flacco, but I think it's very difficult to … it seemed that last week [against the Houston Texans] the route tree was a go route and a screen. … Every play, there was one receiver to the right, and one receiver to the left, often two backs or two tight ends, and that was every play, it seemed."

While the Ravens defense was the biggest reason Baltimore earned a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs this season, the offense was a little better than you might think. According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens were the 13th-most efficient offense in the league, and behind Ray Rice and Vonta Leach, Baltimore was the 10th-best running team.

But Cameron’s play-calling came under fire when he repeatedly overused the passing game, especially when the fourth quarter was winding down and the Ravens were leading a ballgame.

It even led Ray Rice to say this midway through the season: "I'm never going to be the guy that talks about touches, but obviously we know five carries is not going to cut it. I know five carries is not going to do us any justice, but we found ourselves so deep in the situation that we had to climb our way out. We were looking for answers. Whether it was running or passing, we have to find our way out of a situation."

Still, the passing game under Flacco suffered (19th in the NFL), and there was said to be tension between the quarterback and the offensive coordinator. Which means 2012 could be awfully interesting. And for some Ravens fans, possibly infuriating.

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Posted on: January 22, 2012 1:41 pm
 

Report: Cam Cameron, Ravens could part ways

Flacco has been scrutinized this season but some of the blame is on Cameron. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

On Friday, we wrote that the Ravens' offensive struggles, and Joe Flacco's in particular, might have less to do with the quarterback and more to do with the guy responsible for setting the formations and calling the plays. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been a favorite target of unhappy fans and media critics pretty much since Baltimore drafted Flacco in 2008, and now, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Ravens might choose to let Cameron walk after the season.

Cameron's contract is set to expire and, as Mortensen tweeted Sunday, "Tension with Flacco [is] no secret in [the] building." 

Some of that tension almost certainly has to do with Cameron's vision of what the Ravens' offense should be. NFL Films' Greg Cosell told Yahoo.com recently that "The Ravens' receiving corps could be the absolute worst in the NFL when it comes to getting open versus man coverage. They don't do an awful lot to get them open versus man — you don't see a lot of the stack release concepts, or all the 'man-beater' concepts. No bunch, no stack release. No rub elements.

"They don't do a lot to help their receivers win versus man," Cosell continued. "I'm not going to defend Flacco, but I think it's very difficult to … it seemed that last week [against the Houston Texans] the route tree was a go route and a screen. I said this to one of my guys [while I was watching the Baltimore] tape — 'I feel like I'm watching a 1960s offense.' Every play, there was one receiver to the right, and one receiver to the left, often two backs or two tight ends, and that was every play, it seemed."

ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski echoed Cosell's sentiments during Sunday's NFL Matchup show.

"Cameron must be creative in this matchup [against the Patriots]," he said. "He can not line up in static formations and expect his talent to win. That's not going to happen. What I want to see -- I think we should look for in this game -- clusters, bunch formations, formation variation, motions, picks, rubs -- all those plays designed by Cam to manufacture big plays."

Sounds reasonable until you see this mind-numbing statistic from Football Outsiders: "In this era of multiple receivers and shotgun spreads, the Ravens actually run a fairly conventional, old-fashioned offense. Our charting lists the Ravens using two wide receivers on 56 percent of plays, the highest rate in the league."

PFT.com calls Brad Childress an "obvious candidate" to replace Cameron should he not return. Childress spent several years on the Eagles' staff with current Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

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Posted on: January 20, 2012 9:47 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 9:49 pm
 

NFL Analyst: Ravens look like 1960s offense

Is Cameron responsible for Flacco's lack of consistency? (AP)

By Ryan Wilson

Fair or not, quarterback Joe Flacco has been the Ravens' most scrutinized player this season. But that's part of the deal; as an NFL quarterback, he's the face of the franchise and in many respects, the most important cog in a machine built to win Super Bowls. Instead, 2011 has been marked by inconsistency. The results, predictably: fans have lost patience and the organization has yet to offer him a contract extension.

It doesn't help that he has thin skin and rabbit ears, even if he tries to joke that he doesn't pay attention to the criticism. But maybe this isn't all on Flacco.

That should be obvious but sometimes it's easier for fans and media to just wave their arms, lament the quarterback's ineffectiveness and not give it much thought beyond that. But NFL Films' Greg Cosell, who Yahoo.com's Doug Farrar describes as watching "more all-22 film than anyone not currently part of an NFL coaching staff," has a theory for why Flacco has struggled at points this season.

"The Ravens' receiving corps could be the absolute worst in the NFL when it comes to getting open versus man coverage," Cosell told Farrar. "They don't do an awful lot to get them open versus man — you don't see a lot of the stack release concepts, or all the "man-beater" concepts. No bunch, no stack release. No rub elements.


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

"They don't do a lot to help their receivers win versus man," Cosell continued. "I'm not going to defend Flacco, but I think it's very difficult to … it seemed that last week [against the Houston Texans] the route tree was a go route and a screen. I said this to one of my guys [while I was watching the Baltimore] tape — 'I feel like I'm watching a 1960s offense.' Every play, there was one receiver to the right, and one receiver to the left, often two backs or two tight ends, and that was every play, it seemed."

The other culprit is one familiar to Ravens fans: offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. From Football Outsiders' AFC preview:

"In this era of multiple receivers and shotgun spreads, the Ravens actually run a fairly conventional, old-fashioned offense. Our charting lists the Ravens using two wide receivers on 56 percent of plays, the highest rate in the league."

That doesn't exactly scream innovation. And it's fair to assume that this lack of innovation may have something to do with Flacco's stunted development.

One receiver who appeared frustrated with the Texans' man coverage concepts: rookie deep threat Torrey Smith. Instead of waiting for Cameron to devise a scheme to help him get open, Smith took matters into his own hands. He's intimately familiar with the Patriots. Partly from watching film, but also from -- wait for it -- facing them so often in Madden.

"The biggest thing about New England is my brother always picks them in Madden," Smith said according to The Carroll County Times' Aaron Wilson. "They pretty much always have the best offense for some years in that game. I play with the Ravens all the time now."

Smith also talked about last spring's draft process, one that saw the Patriots very interested in the former Maryland product.

"I pretty much did everything you could do with New England as far as the draft process goes," he said. "I met with them at the combine, did a private workout, and I saw them around a lot. They have a great coaching staff, and you can see with the way their track record has been they know how to win."

Of course, Smith already knew that. You know, from Madden.

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 2:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: Patriots vs. Ravens AFC CG preview

Brady and Lewis will match wits in the AFC Championship Game. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Tom Brady is right: the Ravens are the best team the Patriots have faced this season.

Cam Cameron’s offense poses problems for Bill Belichick’s defense, while Ray Lewis’ defense actually has a fighting chance against Brady’s offense. Here’s the breakdown.



1. Patriots formation versatility
Keep in mind, the Patriots, at least offensively, are also the best team the Ravens have faced all season. Their versatility is like nothing we’ve seen before.

Last Saturday they spent a bulk of the game in a no-huddle that featured tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and wideouts Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman. Remarkably, they were able to run effectively out of this personnel grouping, as Hernandez carried the ball five times out of the backfield for 61 yards.

Those runs are almost just gravy – something the defense must now respect. The real purpose of putting Hernandez in the backfield is the same purpose as all of New England’s other alignments: to get a potent pass catcher matched up on a linebacker. Even safeties have major trouble covering Hernandez and Gronkowski.

This game will be no exception, as Baltimore’s strong safety Bernard Pollard is simply not capable of doing it, and the Ravens are unlikely to remove Ed Reed from centerfield. Brady rarely throws in the direction of starting cornerbacks. Even when he goes to Wes Welker, it’s often when Welker has drawn a matchup against a backup slot corner or non-cornerback.

Because the Patriots don’t try to confuse defenses so much as force them into bad matchups, HOW the Patriots line up to play is almost more important than how they actually play. Most of the damage is done through crafty presnap alignment. (This is one reason so many of Brady’s throws come off three-and five-step drops; the decision of where to go with the ball is made prior to the snap.)

The Patriots frequently go up-tempo to prevent defenses from having enough time to regroup or alter matchups before the snap. The only sure way to take the chess match element out of the equations and force the Patriots to win with execution is to play press-man coverage across the board. Problem is, no defense, including Baltimore’s, has enough quality cover artists to do this.


After a win over the Texans last week, Joe Flacco and the Ravens will take on Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship. Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this game. Watch the game on CBS at 3 PM ET. 

2. Baltimore’s response
The Ravens may not have enough cover artists to play the Patriots man-to-man, but they might be the one team capable of matching wits with them. Ray Lewis is arguably the smartest front seven defender in the league, while Ed Reed is arguably the smartest back four defender. Those two are capable of recognizing New England’s subtle tendencies and getting their teammates into the proper defensive play-call.

Of course, Brady and Bill O’Brien know this and will likely inject a few tendency-breaking wrinkles into the gameplan. Of course, the Ravens know that the Patriots know that they know this, and the Patriots know that the Ravens know that they know and ... you get the idea – this has the potential to be one heck of a chess match.

Look for the Ravens to do plenty of presnap communicating and disguising at the line of scrimmage. It helps that they’re comfortable playing a plethora of different coverages. The outcome may be decided by which side can bully the other into a reactionary position. The Patriots can do that by going hurry-up; the Ravens can do it by blitzing fervidly up the middle.

3. Ravens pass-rush
To beat Tom Brady, you have to rob him of the trust he has in his pass protection. Brady – like any quarterback – does not like pressure directly in his face. And though he’s as tough in the pocket as anyone in the game, he has a tendency to get just a tad jumpy after taking a few hits from edge-rushers.

Recent playoff history shows that if a defense can create pressure and doubt, Brady will eventually start eating up the play clock worrying about protections. That makes him a significantly less dangerous player versus when he’s hurrying things up and concentrating on his receivers’ routes.

The question is, can the Ravens generate a pass-rush? If they blitz, they likely can. But one of the best kept secrets in football is that this is generally a four-man rushing defense. Because the Ravens use so many 3-4 or 2-5 fronts, their four pass-rushers come from a variety of different spots, thus creating the illusion of a blitz:

The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

Above (click image to enlarge): Upon first glance, this appears to be a blitz featuring five, possibly six pass-rushers.

Below: The Ravens use a lot of zone exchange concepts in their pass-rush. A zone exchange is essentially a four-man pass-rush where linebackers or safeties rush the quarterback, while a defensive lineman or another linebacker drops back into coverage. It can be confusing, often creating the illusion of a heavy blitz. The Thanksgiving night game – in which Baltimore had nine sacks – provided a good example.

The Ravens’ four-man rush has seemingly evaporated over the last month. It registered a quiet five sacks over the final three weeks of the regular season and then got zero pressure on T.J. Yates in the divisional round. With talents like Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee, it’s imprudent to assume the pressure can’t suddenly return.

But worth noting is that the Patriots’ pass protection in the last month has also been as sharp as the Ravens’ pass-rush has been dull.

4. Dialing in on Ray Rice
Bill Belichick always builds his defensive gameplan around eliminating the opponents’ greatest strength. This season, no man has done a better job at eliminating Ray Rice than Cam Cameron. (Rice averaged less than 10 carries a game in Baltimore’s four losses.)

To be fair, Cameron has featured Rice most of the season, and the results thus far speak for themselves: 13 wins and Rice leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage.

But if Belichick has inside linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo shadow Rice, or if he brings safety Patrick Chung down in the box every play or has his linebackers sellout against the run, will Cameron have enough patience to stay with his superstar?

The Patriots run defense is coming together, while their secondary can be tempting to attack.

5. Baltimore’s passing game
It was virtually nonexistent against Houston, mainly because deep threat Torrey Smith was nullified by Johnathan Joseph. The Patriots don’t have a corner on Joseph’s level (or even in Joseph’s stratosphere).

If the Ravens want to take their deep shots with Smith, all they’ll have to do is block a mundane Patriots pass-rush (last week’s performance at Foxboro notwithstanding). Devin McCourty was serviceable as a nickel free safety against Denver, but it remains to be seen whether the struggling corner can suddenly play a new position when facing a strong-armed quarterback and polished play-action passing game.

In other matchups, tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were quiet against Houston but should be able to work the seams against New England. Anquan Boldin will be extremely problematic for the Pats. The thought of him working outside against Kyle Arrington seems patently unfair; inside is even worse, as the Patriots don’t have a true slot corner.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 15, 2012 8:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 9:27 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Best Super Bowl matchup?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Divisional Round recap below and don't forget to subscribe via iTunes.

Ranking the Possible Super Bowl Matchups

Although there were some fairly drama-free games in the NFL playoffs thus far, there's no question we've been treated to some serious story-lining; Alex Smith's redemption alone was worth the price of admission. And with only three games remaining in the NFL season, we've narrowed the group of teams down a group of four elite squads that should produce an action-packed storyline.

But how do the matchups stack up in terms of watchability, entertainment value and general awesomeness? Here's my ranking:

1. Patriots vs. Giants
It's impossible to underscore how dramatic this matchup would be: after the Giants lost to the undefeated Packers 38-35, there was chatter of how this season looked eerily familiar to 2007 ... when the Giants upended the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in a game that was one of the most memorable Super Bowls in NFL history.

That was the last time the Patriots made the Super Bowl and since then, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have come under fire for not winning playoff games. The Pats won't be worried about their perfect season anymore, of course, but the Giants look very similar to the team that won the Super Bowl in 2007, thanks to a dominant pass rush and Eli Manning truly elevating his game.

The storyline, which would consist primarily of the word "revenge," might get a bit stale, but there would be an incredible amount of players with stories from that year and an ax to grind.

If you root for drama, star power and some trash talk, this is the matchup you want to see.

2. Ravens vs. Giants
The last time these teams faced off in the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis was Super Bowl MVP and the Baltimore defense had their way with Kerry Collins, picking him off four times en route to a 34-7 blowout.

Also: Tiki Barber was relevant, if that tells you anything about how long ago that was.

From a football perspective, this could be a high-scoring game that will go either way; a good game from Joe Flacco would probably result in a Ravens win, but no one will bank on that, so the Giants will be favored (maybe 4.5 points?).

Both teams are explosive enough on offense, but even more explosive on defense. We'd see points, but we'd also see plenty of smashmouth football. If someone got out to a big lead, the game wouldn't necessarily be over -- seeing Eli lead a comeback against the vaunted Ravens defense would be entertaining as all get-out.

And the chatter leading up to the game would be simply amazing. Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis? If you're a media member, you should be drooling at the quotability factor for this one.

3. Patriots vs. 49ers
The fact that these two teams play such contrasting styles could set the Super Bowl up for an interesting and perplexing matchup, but it's hard to believe that the Pats would be favored by less than a touchdown in this scenario.

Maybe San Francisco could pull off the upset: we've already seen that they can keep Drew Brees and the Saints down if given two weeks to prepare. And they'll absolutely be given the "no one believes in us" card if such a matchup takes place.

Here's the problem though: as good as Alex Smith looked on Saturday late, he didn't look like Brady did later that night. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that can, theoretically, match up in their base formation against the Pats tight ends.

But if Angry Brady show up again (and, we have to assume he showed up against the Ravens if they're here), this game could look like the last time the 49ers made the Super Bowl, only in reverse.

4. Ravens vs. 49ers
In terms of pure on-field entertainment value, this is a nightmare situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens succeed by running the ball and playing defense so it makes zero sense for this matchup to actually happen, given the importance of quarterback play in the NFL and the high-powered offenses we've seen so far in 2012.

Yes, their coaches are freaking brothers and there's no question that Harbaugh Bowl 2.0 -- the pair dueled it out on Thanksgiving night -- would provide an incredible amount of entertainment in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

But how quickly would the "They're Related!" storyline get old? It might take a day, maybe two tops. Trust me, with that much free time you'll be sick of it before media day even happens, and don't even get me started on the players.

There's some star power here, but it's primarily on the defensive end with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith (if anyone knows who he is anyway) and the like.

Joe Flacco versus Alex Smith? Yuck. We'd be treated to a defensive battle along the likes of that 16-6 Ravens victory on Turkey Day. Or the BCS Championship Game.

On the bright side, at least the teams would've gotten there through a playoff. (Read: legitimately.)

Winners

Alex Smith: Sports are funny, because moments -- not careers -- ultimately tend to define certain players. Smith is one of those players and a pair of moments on Saturday -- his 28-yard touchdown run and then "The Snatch" in the end zone -- redefined his career. He could blossom into one of the next great NFL quarterbacks or he could sign a big contract and become a bust again. It won't matter, because Saturday's game will always remain a turning point of some point. Smith likely won't ever justify his draft slot or being taken over Aaron Rodgers, but Saturday was an unbelievable redemption story.

Eli Manning
: Manning was, in my brain, approximately 145 for 146 on third down on Sunday night against the Packers. Every time Green Bay got him in a bad spot, the dude sat back in the pocket, waited until things opened up, and drilled a beautiful pass to a wide-open receiver. He's had an amazing season that could've been even better, and he's finally getting the credit he deserves.

Marques Colston
: Colston's set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the lasting memory he provided potential suitors was an outstanding effort, as he caught nine balls for 136 yards and a toe-tapping touchdown that was basically the only time a Saints player got deep in the first half on Saturday. If the Saints don't reach a long-term deal with Drew Brees, they'll have to franchise him, and that means Colston can get loose on the market and make a pile of money.

Bill Belichick: All season long the chatter was that Belichick's defense would hinder the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl. Maybe that's true -- we'll find out next Sunday against Baltimore. But the the Broncos were supposed to have a physical running game right? And the blew up the Steelers defense? Right? Belichick showed why he's a defensive genius and one of the all-time great coaches in that blowout.

Hakeem Nicks: Thanks to Victor Cruz' breakout season in 2011, Nicks kind of got loss in the shuffle. He shouldn't have: his performance against Green Bay was stunning, and broke off a 66-yard, gazelle-like touchdown run and then broke the Packers spirit with a Hail-Mary catch at the end of the half. His final line? Seven catches, 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Jenkins got abused by Davis all day long. (Getty Images)

Losers

Malcolm Jenkins: You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone? (Screenshots via Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles.)

Jacoby Jones
:
Dude tried to field a punt off a hop inside his own 20 on the Texans second possession of the game, didn't field it cleanly, got rocked, fumbled the ball and gave the Ravens a free touchdown. In case you missed it, the Ravens won by seven points.

Cam Cameron
: With the Texans holding two timeouts, 3:04 left in the game and the Ravens up four and in the Texans red zone, Cameron called for two pass plays. Both passes were incomplete and the Ravens kicked a field goal with 2:56 left. They burned eight seconds and didn't make the Texans use a timeout. Then on third and a half-inch with 1:38 remaining, Cameron called for a Vonta Leach run, instead of having his fullback block for Ray Rice. There never should've been enough time for a second possession for Houston in the first place.

NFL Officials: For two consecutive weekends, the NFL officiating has been, quite simply, terrible. The guys in stripes have a really difficult job, made even more difficult in today's world where jerks take pictures of their televisions and post them to Twitter. But during the NFL playoffs, the quality of work done by the zebras has really highlighted some of the flaws in the way in-game rules are applied in football. Something's gotta change.

Tim Tebow: We'd also accept John Elway or John Fox here, because the offseason's going to be miserable for all three of them despite winning a division title and a playoff game. Tebow's poor showing against the Patriots means everyone's got to wonder if he can be a "real" quarterback for the Broncos and as such, every time Fox, Elway or Tebow get anywhere near a microphone, they'll be asked about Tebow's status. It will unquestionably be annoying by the time next season starts.

State Farm: You guys really going to keep running the "Discount Double Check" commercials for the next month? Because that's going to be more awkward than Pepsi Max running Rex Ryan halftime speeches after the Jets miss the playoffs. (Please don't raise my insurance rates though.)

The Big Questions

 
Plenty of questions still remain about Flacco. (AP)

1. Did Joe Flacco answer his critics on Sunday?
Nope. The playcalling was bad and the Texans have a really good defense, but Flacco looked pretty awful all things considered. His two touchdown passes were nice, but were it not for some sick catches from his receivers, Flacco's numbers (14 of 27 for 176 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) would've been much worse. It's not all his fault this game was so close, but an elite performance would've resulted in a blowout.

2. Should Alex Smith have fallen down before scoring late Saturday?
Yes. This debate livened up our Twitter followers on Saturday evening, but the reality is, with the 49ers down 24-23 and Smith should've fallen to the ground, let the Niners melt the clock, force the Saints to use their timeouts, and the kick a field goal with, in the best-case scenario, no time remaining. Instead, Drew Brees got the ball back with 1:51 remaining and had time to score. Of course, he also scored too quickly, giving Smith time to cement his comeback legacy in San Francisco, but that's beside the point. Smith going down could have iced the game away, we just wouldn't have gotten all that drama.

3. Is it time for Gregg Williams to get out of town?
Probably. Williams shouldn't be the scapegoat for New Orleans lack of success, because he called a heck of a game on Saturday against the 49ers. With the Saints offense struggling, Williams defense kept the Saints in the game by limiting the 49ers points off turnovers. But because Smith drove the Niners to two scores in the last 150 seconds, you can bet that Williams will get a lot of the blame. He's got an easy out by joining Jeff Fisher with the Rams and he should probably jump on that.

4. Do we need full-time referees?
NO. Wilson and I batted this idea around some on chat (and talked about it on the podcast), but why would giving referees more money and job security equate to an incentive for them to be right more often? It doesn't. Giving them more time to learn the rules and properly apply them? Yeah, that would be great. It would also be great if the NFL made applying the rules in a fashion that doesn't screw up the game more practical, but that's another story for another day.

5. Is being a wild-card in the playoffs better?
Maybe? I dunno. I do know this: you look at the Packers and you look at the Giants. One team basically got three weeks off and cooled down from an unholy hot streak. The other team squeaked into the playoffs and got hot, playing their best football at the right time. The latter team, the Giants, are still alive.

6. Is Tom Coughlin still on the hot seat?

LOL. Also, LOL at Giants fans who wanted Coughlin fired and/or put on the hot seat when the Giants were losing to the Saints-49ers-Packers in succession, with a surprising win against the Patriots mixed in. Give the dude an extension already, he deserves it.

7. Will you please provide a picture of Andy Reid in the Punt/Pass/Kick contest?
Thought you'd never ask. Every single time the contest winners are shown on television, I can't help but think of this amazing photo:



8. How good can the 49ers offense be?

Very good. I think -- the progression of Vernon Davis and Alex Smith over the course of the season leads me to believe Harbaugh would be smart to bring his signal caller back, keep some continuity and let the pieces on the offense grow into the system even more, like they did throughout the year. It's quite possible they could end up being potent.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Decent catch by Arian Foster here:

Worth 1,000 Words


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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com