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David Akers Misses Two Costly Field Goals, Eagles Lose by Five

The Philadelphia Eagles lost at home to the Green Bay Packers on Wild Card Weekend Sunday 21-16. The Packers dominated the game much more than the margin would indicate. They out-rushed Philly, were penalized less, and found the end zone more frequently. Also, James Jones dropped a sure touchdown right before halftime that could have put the Packers up 21-3. But while we mention missed opportunities for Green Bay, the same must be said for the Eagles.

Kicker David Akers, who was named to his fifth Pro Bowl this season, went 1-for-3 on his field goal attempts, costing the Eagles six points. They lost by five. Akers missed from 41 yards out in the first quarter, keeping the Eagles from jumping out to a lead. He did connect on a 29-yard field goal in the second quarter but he missed a critical 34-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter. In a playoff game as close as this one, and against a team that seemed to be better, Philadelphia couldn’t afford to miss any opportunities. Akers, who was 30-35 on field goals in his career entering the game, cost them greatly when he hooked those two attempts.

Philadelphia did not play its best game, and Michael Vick was shut down by Green Bay, but they still had enough chances to pull out the win. Packers fans know where they should direct their thank you notes.

James Starks a Difference-Maker for Packers Against Eagles

The first time we wrote about James Starks, we cautioned fantasy owners not to get too excited about adding him. That was after the rookie running back broke out with 73 yards on 18 carries in week 13 against the 49ers. Turned out we were right, as Starks only had eight yards on six carries the following week. The next two weeks he was inactive due to a lack of preparation, but he played in the regular season finale against the Bears. Whatever issues kept Starks inactive towards the end of the season have clearly been overcome.

The undrafted rookie out of Buffalo was a difference-maker for the Packers in their Wild Card playoff game against the Eagles Sunday. On their second drive, he busted out with a 27-yard run that established his presence. The typically pass-heavy offense for Green Bay handed the ball to Starks four times on the drive and passed to him twice. They wound up with a touchdown on the drive and Starks ended up with 123 rushing yards in the game.

The Packers did something they haven’t done since losing Ryan Grant the first week of the season — hand the ball off consistently to a workhorse back. Starks’ emergence gives Green Bay another weapon and dimension the rest of the playoffs, and at least a complementary back to Ryan Grant when he returns next season.

Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images

Nnamdi Asomugha Has Contract Voided, Will Become Free Agent

When it comes to Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders, no news should really come as a surprise. The Raiders have done far crazier things than void the contract of their best defensive player.  They may have included a clause in Nnamdi Asomugha’s contract that forces him to become a free agent if he fails to achieve some strange incentives but, hey, at least they didn’t just give him to the Patriots, right?

ESPN’s Adam Schefter called our attention to an NFLPA document on Sunday morning which states that Asomugha will become a free agent after this season since he failed to play a greater number of defensive snaps in 2010 than 2009, and also did not improve upon his fumble recovery, interception and sack numbers.  More importantly, the clause also states that the Raiders cannot use the franchise or transition tag on Asomugha.

If not for the unusual clause, Oakland would have had Asomugha signed through 2011 with a team option for $16.8 million in 2012.  Now, the NFL free agent list has a new top dog on the defensive side of the ball.  At only 30 years old, Asomugha will be highly-coveted and likely demand one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history.

Marshawn Lynch Touchdown Run Video, Goes Beast Mode on Saints

In one play, Marshawn Lynch justified Seattle’s mid-season trade with Buffalo. The former Cal running back went beast mode at the best possible time, late in the game when the Saints were coming on and looking to defeat the Seahawks. Check out the Marshawn Lynch touchdown run against the Saints that will go down as one of the best playoff runs all-time:

By my count, Lynch broke nine tackles on that run, and there were five times I thought for sure he’d be tackled. Never happened. I guess the play signified that Seattle was destined to win that game. The only good news about a 7-9 team winning a home game in the playoffs is that the NFL may finally change the bad rule. What a freaking play.

Jim Harbaugh Has Right Mentality to Lead San Francisco 49ers to the Top

49ers fans are rejoicing with the news announced on Friday — they got their guy. Jim Harbaugh will become the new head coach of the fabled 49ers, signing a five-year deal. After years of doom and gloom, there is renewed hope for Niners fans that the sun will come up tomorrow.

Harbaugh had become the most highly sought after commodity in football after leading his Stanford Cardinal to a 12-1 season and a 40-12 BCS Orange Bowl beat down over Virginia Tech. Already a fan favorite in the Bay Area, Harbaugh is choosing to stay close to home, which will be a perfect fit. The victory starved fans in the Bay Area are a loyal bunch — give a little and they will give back more. Market St. never looked better than during a victory parade, just ask the Giants.

This was a very smart hire for the 49ers on several accounts. A fertile offensive mind like Harbaugh’s will free the weary fans from choking on the three clouds of dust and the punt they have been forced to witness time and time again. Season ticket holders will no doubt be much more inclined to renew. They will want to see what Harbaugh can do with a group of players many people felt should have performed better.

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Two Parent Homes Attractive for Character Conscious Scott Pioli

About a month ago there was a fantastic feature in SI written (of course) by the great Joe Posnanski about Chiefs GM Scott Pioli. Pioli is private and often avoids interviews in an effort to keep his personality and business methods to himself. In this sense the GM is able to maintain a competitive advantage over his competition — keep in mind, Pioli played a large role in forming three Super Bowl-winning teams with the Patriots.

The SI piece (well worth your time) provided excellent insight into Pioli’s ideals when building a team. He searches for high character team players who love the game, want to win, and aspire to achieve greatness for their teammates. One aspect for Pioli in identifying high character players is finding ones who come from two-parent homes.

This point was brought to my attention while watching Inside the NFL on Showtime. I didn’t realize it, but this was actually the subject of an article in the Montreal Gazette two weeks ago, and though it doesn’t mean Pioli restricts himself to players from two-parent homes, it points to the stability two-parent homes provide that is appealing for the Chiefs. Six of the seven players they drafted were captains of their college teams. 11 of 17 key players on their squad came from homes where their parents played a prominent role in their lives.

Kansas City may not have the absolute best players, but they’re going for the right players for what they want to do. And that’s not to assemble the greatest collection of talent in the NFL, but to create the best team.

Dolphins Handling of Tony Sparano is Completely Unprofessional

When all the dust clears, it’s likely that Tony Sparano will return to coach the Miami Dolphins and feel fortunate to still have a head coaching job in the NFL.  However, that doesn’t mean the relationship between he and Miami owner Stephen Ross won’t be strained.  Why shouldn’t it be?  The Dolphins have been openly and actively considering new candidates for their head coaching position — a position that has remain filled by Sparano the entire time.

Miami is 25-23 in three seasons under Sparano.  That record is nothing phenomenal, but it’s not all that poor either.  Whether or not he deserves to remain the coach of the Dolphins is beside the point.  While Sparano was still under contract with the team, Miami was courting Jim Harbaugh and setting up meetings with Eric Mangini.  Harbaugh has since accepted a position to coach the 49ers and Ross insists the meeting with Mangini was for nothing more than to pick his brain as a “consultant” who has intimate knowledge of the AFC East, but I doubt any of this talk made Sparano feel all warm and tingly.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Dolphins may end up making a “financial apology” to Sparano now that they realize he is their best option and don’t want to fire him afterall.

The bottom line is Miami’s front office has handled the situation in a completely unprofessional manner.  News is now circulating that Sparano will be “back” next season, but the problem is he never left.  Teams are never allowed to talk to other players who are under contract with other teams, so why should they be allowed to interview coaching candidates when they don’t have an open position?  If I were Sparano, I’d make sure that “financial apology” had a lot of zeros on the end of it.