Here Comes Trouble

The Seahawks waited, and waited, and waited. And then they almost gave up. But finally, this weekend, all that waiting will pay off as Percy Harvin takes the field against the Saints. And now that the waiting is over, there's no holding back

(Ted S. Warren/AP)
(Ted S. Warren/AP)

RENTON, Wash. — This is the time of year when the best teams are losing players or coping with diminished ones. New England’s second-leading tackler, Brandon Spikes, was IR’d this week as the Patriots prepare to face Indy. Chargers center Nick Hardwick and Saints corner Keenan Lewis are gamely trying to return from concussions. In advance of playing Tom Brady, the Colts lost a starting corner, Greg Toler, with a groin injury.

Then there’s Seattle. Percy Harvin spent the week frolicking around the Seahawks’ indoor practice field, looking for the first time like the most dangerous player in the league, which he might have been 15 months ago. You probably don’t remember this—seems like a career ago—but the last time Harvin was healthy, midway through the 2012 season, he was a legitimate NFL MVP candidate. He was on pace for a 120-catch season through eight games, and, as the league’s most dangerous kick returner, was averaging 35.9 yards a return.

Then he disappeared.

First there was an ankle injury that never improved, forcing him on season-ending injured reserve 13 months ago. That ended his Minnesota career, and he was traded in a monster deal (and for a monster new contract) to Seattle. But last summer, he couldn’t sprint without hip pain, and doctors found a labrum tear in his hip that required August surgery. He came back—almost certainly too soon—against Minnesota Nov. 17 and re-aggravated the hip injury. So in the last 24 games his team has played, Harvin has played a third of one of them, 20 offensive snaps, and the rest of the time he’s been swimming, bike-riding or lightly boxing—anything to keep the pressure off his hip so he could strengthen it in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, he could come back and play this postseason.

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It’s happening. Seattle coach Pete Carroll said Thursday Harvin will take the field Saturday afternoon when the NFC’s top seed, Seattle, which has earned said seed with precious little help from its explosive new toy, opens its postseason against New Orleans. “He’s gonna play, and I’m not going to restrict him in any way,” Carroll told The MMQB. And not just as a receiver: “He’ll return kicks.”

“I feel very confident,” Harvin said Thursday, after his second straight strenuous practice at the team’s indoor facility on a dreary day in Seattle. “I feel very good. I’m going to give it all I have.”

Harvin isn’t fully healthy, but the team believes he has reached a point in his rehabilitation where he can contribute as a receiver and returner with only a minimal chance of re-injuring himself. Eleven days ago, Carroll approached Harvin and told him the team might have to put him on injured-reserve if he wasn’t ready to try to return to the field. Harvin told Carroll, “Coach, I’m ready to play ball.” He practiced some last week, and had his second straight day of pain-free work this week Thursday.

“We just waited it out as long as we could,” said Carroll.

With the Saints already down two corners—Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson—and with green corner Corey White coming off a second-half burning by DeSean Jackson last week in Philadelphia, the addition of Harvin to Seattle’s arsenal could turn this game into New Orleans’ third straight nightmare trip to the great Northwest.

* * *

My home-heavy picks for the weekend, after my disastrous (but what else is new?) 1-3 weekend to open the postseason:


Seahawks 27, Saints 20. The only way for the Saints to win, I believe, is for Drew Brees to play relatively mistake-free, which he hasn’t done for the last three road games. He’s thrown two interceptions in each of the last three, lost two, and was bailed out by a strong second half last week in Philadelphia. But it’s clearly fixable; Sean Payton knows what works and what doesn’t for Brees, so I expect he’ll play better here. I just think Seattle has too many weapons for a beleaguered Saints secondary to handle.

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Patriots 30, Colts 25. This may not be a Brady-Luck game. It may be a Blount-Brown game. The Pats and Colts defenses were 24th and 25th, at 4.46 and 4.47 yards per rush, and each has a dangerous edge rush. And can’t you just see Bill Belichick in his office at 5 one morning this week, running T.Y. Hilton tape back and forth, forth and back, looking for clues how to stop the Colts’ deep threat? Good thing Belichick’s got a smart center fielder, Devin McCourty, at his disposal.


Niners 16, Panthers 12. Defense was dead in the Wild Card round. Not here. Colin Kaepernick will use Michael Crabtree just enough, and the bum knee of Steve Smith (if he even plays) will be a huge loss for Cam Newton. One proviso on this: The cat-quick Carolina linebackers (watch for Thomas Davis dropping stealthily into coverage in some zone blitzes) could turn this game if Kaepernick is careless against Davis and Luke Kuechly.

Broncos 30, Chargers 24. More collective breath-holding in a Peyton Manning playoff game.

Which would be as good a championship Sunday as any in memory, potentially. Early on Jan. 19, if my cloudy crystal ball is right for once: New England at Denver. Late: San Francisco at Seattle. That’s the kind of doubleheader that makes the NFL think: Maybe we should give each championship game its own day. I’d vote for that.

Player You Need to Watch This Weekend

Joe Staley, left tackle, San Francisco (No. 74). The Staley-Greg Hardy matchup is the best head-to-head match of the weekend. In the respected Pro Football Focus rankings, Staley’s the sixth-rated offensive tackle this season, with Hardy the third-best 4-3 end. Hardy’s on fire, too: seven sacks in his last two starts. Staley can play either way—athletically or physically. Remember how he got out on the flank in the playoff game against the Saints two years ago and led Alex Smith downfield on the long touchdown run? He can play that way or maul you. Hardy is a good speed rusher and can stunt inside too. This match, left tackle against right end, will be worth a FOX isolated camera Sunday afternoon.

Sound Bite of the Week

“It’s deafening. They do a great job. Their fans are educated. They understand when to be real loud and when to quiet down. The way the stadium is structured, the noise stays in. You just try to simulate it as best you can and turn those speakers up real loud and go about trying to communicate and making sure you are still getting off on the ball and all of those things.”

—Saints coach Sean Payton, on the difficulty of playing at Century Link Field, where the Saints got skunked 34-7 on Dec. 2.

Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend

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1. San Diego making it a game in Denver. I guess I’m not surprised that the Chargers are a heavy underdog this weekend in Denver, but I will be surprised if the Broncos rout them. As I’ve written this week, in their two meetings this season, Denver has outscored San Diego by a point, 48-47. San Diego has outrushed Denver, 308-102 in their games, Denver was held under 400 yards in both games against San Diego this year—and had more than 400 in every other game. San Diego has the strength of Manning’s 2012 offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, as its head coach now, and McCoy has the kind of institutional knowledge sure to have some bearing on this game.

2. The curse of the AFC top seed. I find this startling: Since the NFL went to the 12-team playoff in 1990, the top seed in the AFC is only 13-10 in the divisional round. The 14-2 Patriots fell to the Jets in 2010; the 13-3 Broncos got taken down in the second overtime by Baltimore last year. Thus, uneasy the Broncos will sleep Saturday night before their late game against the Chargers Sunday. For comparison’s sake, the NFC top seed is 19-4 in the divisional round.

3. The first pick versus 36th pick in the 2011 draft. Colin Kaepernick, the 36th, travels to face the first, Cam Newton of Carolina. “It’s not something I’ll forget,” Kaepernick said this week about falling into the second round in ’11. Newton beat the Niners in San Francisco in November. So this is Kaepernick’s chance at some road revenge.

4. Ken Whisenhunt and the Lions. Sure looks like he’s the leader in the clubhouse to begin to solve the Matthew Stafford riddle. President Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew now have to wait until the Chargers lose before moving things along with Whisenhunt, according to NFL rules.

5. Some coach to take the lead in Minnesota, Cleveland, Tennessee. Though I don’t see what the rush is. Mike Zimmer, Ben McAdoo and Greg Roman, in order, are the most intriguing names in the three places.

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6. The Jay Gruden aftermath, and the RG3 reaction. Don’t fall into the lazy category and say because the Bengals have been lousy on offense in the playoffs that Gruden is no Jon Gruden. I don’t buy it. If you want to question Jay Gruden as being too pass-happy and letting his run game go to seed, fine. That’s valid. He’ll succeed or fail on his ability to get Robert Griffin III to play great.

7. The Hall of Fame debate. My quibble: No Jimmy Johnson. He deserves to have his case heard in the room by the 46 selectors, and this year he won’t. No major surprises when the Hall of Fame announced the 15 finalists Thursday night. I see one near-lock: Walter Jones.

8. The coaching upset special. You’d be surprised to see Ben McAdoo get a job, wouldn’t you? I would too—but remember that McAdoo this year is what Andy Reid was in 1999 (the Green Bay quarterback coach) when Joe Banner and the Eagles hired him as head coach. Banner’s in Cleveland now, and his coach-whisperer was Mike Lombardi, now the Browns GM. All Reid did in 14 Eagle years was win 140 games. Conclude from that what you will.

9. The prospect of Brady-Manning XV. The AFC Championship Game in nine days will be the early game, meaning the biggest drama of the day could be a matinee—if the Pats and Broncos cooperate this weekend.

10. Greatness awaits. All-time postseason touchdown leaders: Joe Montana 45, Brett Favre 44, Tom Brady 42. A Brady-Andrew Luck shootout in Foxboro Saturday night, which I don’t think is likely, could leave Brady atop the list by midnight.


I'm not a Denver Broncos fan, in fact, I'm a Chief's fan, so I simply don't like the Broncos.  However, I am a Peyton Manning fan (of all the teams in the NFL, why Denver?).  I'm damn tired of hearing how his place in history will be defined on if he can win another Superbowl.  There is no sport that is as team oriented and as dependant on the cohesion of the 11 men on the field, at one time, than football.  There are so many things that are out of the control of the quarterback, despite him handling the ball on every offensive snap.  I don't dispute that the position is the most important, due to them having the ball on every snap and I don't dispute the fact that it is nearly impossible to have a successful team, in the NFL, without a very good QB.  What irritates the hell out of me, is that Peyton Manning has done things, at his position, that have never been done before and he has had as much influence on the role of the QB, as well as, the league becoming so pass happy, as any other player.  The guy has shown just how important the mental side of the position is and may be the most intelligent to ever play his position.  I have felt, for a long time, that it is the mental part of the game that seperates the elite QB's from the very good, or good QB's.  It isn't just an IQ issue, but how much time guys like Manning and Brady are willing to spend on their pursuit of perfection and how their own expectations of themselves, even exceeds that of their teammates, coaches, the pundits, etc.  But, that is the part of the game that a QB can control.  Yes, a QB can make players around him better, but he can't make tackles or interceptions, or block a rushing DE.

I am 56 years old and a fan of the game, itself.  I respect those who built the league and played in the past, as well as, those who continue to make the game even better and to establish even higher standards, than in the past.  You can't talk about the history of the NFL, especially the past 2 decades, without mentioning the name Peyton Manning.  It's time for the critics to stop questioning Manning's career and legacy, due to something he can't control, how 21 other guys perform on any given Sunday.  

So, I am rooting for the QB, of one of my most disliked rival teams, to win a Lombardi and to hopefully make some people eat shitburgers, about the 2nd week in February.


So, Peter ... you're picking all the favorites?  Bold move.


"All Reid did in 14 Eagle years was win 140 games. Conclude from that what you will."

I conclude that King thinks it means we should hit up the 7-11 that sold a winning lottery ticket because it means that particular 7-11 is very likely to sell another one.  Reid is a great coach, but the fact that he was a little known QB coach in Green Bay before that means absolutely nothing. Especially since it's an entirely different staff and structure there now. If the Browns use that as the deciding factor in their coaching search they will literally be telling the world they don't have a clue about what they're doing.


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Really, I think King is a fantastic writer. One of the best for sure. However, for a weekend like this, we need a mind like Dr. Z. who might miss on all of his picks but would have something, I don't know, that we don't already know. He might say something about some interior lineman technique, or have a caveat gleaned from who knows where. It would make you think. While PK kind of just expands on what we were all suspecting... 


Peter, you oughta' have enough on your plate w/out assisting NFL's 'Plotters & Schemers Dept' in mucking-up the best day on the NFL calender ("give each championship game its own day").  But can't un-ring that bell now.  Oy vey.


New England vs. Indy

What some people are overlooking is that, after the colts scored to cut it to 10, Alex Smith threw a bomb that was just out of the reach of Davis that would've put the game away. Now ask yourself, would Tom Brady make that throw? I'd say he does 100 out of 100 times.

NE 31

IND 20

Freaky fact: These are the last 4 teams before this year to play the Eagles in their home opener:

2009: NO

2010: GB

2011: NYG

2012: BAL

Chargers vs. Broncos

Those 4 teams all won the SB that year. The team this year? The Chargers. I'm sorry, but Peyton Manning has to win a playoff game in Denver before I believe in him fully, and the Chargers have had Manning's number over the last several years

SD 35

DEN 34

Seattle vs New Orleans

Enough games, Seattle will blow New Orleans off the field. They could barely best a Philly team that clawed their way to an NFC East title, and needed a career day by Mark Ingram in order to do it. I highly doubt they will beat a rested Seahawks team off a bye, with Percy Harvin back. The Saints need to establish the run early, and I don't think they will.

SEA 38

NO 16

49ers vs Panthers

This maybe the most balanced game of the week. Both teams have great defenses, Lane Kuechly is staring at a DPOY award on his mantle this time next month. Panthers have beaten the 49ers "beat (always hold grudges.)" the Pats on MNF, and the Saints. We all know Kaepernick can get it done, but Cam newton is coming in this game with a chip on his shoulder. Eddie Lacy put up 81 yards on San Francisco's Run D, I'm pretty confident that the Panthers can break 100. It will come down to the passing game, and I'm giving Panthers the slightest of edges 'cause of the "west coast team playing a 1:00 playoff game on the east coast."


CAR 19

SF 16


Take emotion and passion aside here is the prediction based upon reality for this weekend's games...

Panthers 21

49ers      14

Note:  SF, if not for a couple of third down runs by Kaepernick, probably would of lost a do or die game last week against an ailing GB team.  After this emotionally draining game traveled back to SF and now has to travel all the way to Carolina and play a 10am game against a better team with an outstanding defense.

Look for Carolina to win by more than most people would believe would happen.

Seattle 31

NO      14

Note:  It won't be close. Congrats to NO last week for finally winning that elusive playoff road game.  That win against was just a little hill compared to scaling this Mount Everest of a game.  It won't happen and it won't be close.  Look for Harvin to have a big game.

Denver 35

SD      14

Note:  Broncos are just a better team and Manning just a better QB than Rivers.  SD made it farther than most people gave credit for.  But Denver's offense is too good.

NE 28

Indy 10

Note:  Any team that found itself down 38-10 to KC in the third quarter at home then tie the game and then lost the lead only to win in the end is a team I would not bet on.  Look for Brady and company to approach this game as business as usual and get the win. 


So telling Peter King says re: Whisenhunt and Lions "when Chargers lose" rather than "when Chargers are finished in the playoffs." Wrong last weekend, wrong this weekend too.


Only miss here is that the Colts will beat the Pats.   everything else looks good.



Yawn... it's not a freaky fact. It's called a statistical anomaly. They happen all the time but humans are evolved to notice positive associations (OMG: my horoscope said that I would meet a Virgo today. And I did!) and forget the millions of things that never happened.


@JPG Look for Harvin to have a big a decoy.


@JPG Why wasn't Denver's offense "too good" the first two times they played? 


@JPG Reality=Chargers lose by more than double the margin they have lost the entire year.


Dude peter king is the best in the biz. Stop being a hater.and im from seattle and i dont sense any bias. Or just stop reading his articles fool.


@ChucksterYeah, only time the Colts have played in NE they got clobbered. Keep dreaming though....


@Richard--RamirezYeah the Colts, playing in NE are a "lock". No one goes into NE being a "lock". Last time they played there they got their hats handed to them.


@Richard--Ramirez , I always laugh when people use the term "locks".  There is no such thing.  Sure, some 'favorites' might very well lose, but there are no locks.  And in your list, most of those picks are expected to lose.


Umm... why wouldn't they give Harvin the ball? Or, is that just some very lame smack?


@jackieau87 Not much of a biz if PK is the best. PK is the quintessence of mediocrity, the sort non-threatening, cliche-spewing hack who spends more time currying favor with players and officials rather than being a truly critical and impartial judge of the games, and unfortunately is more and more what passes for a sportswriter these days. He seems to spend much of his effort trying to get out of Dr Z's shadow, but that shadow is so very big, and he is so very small.