The NFL playoffs kicked off this week with 4 matchups, that unfortunately only yielded one game with the type of “playoff atmosphere” you’d expect. If you caught the games on Saturday (MIN/GB and HOU/CIN) then you were most likely left wanting, unless you were a fan of the two winning teams. If you didn’t have a horse in the race, however, you left the track wondering if the time spent watching these two games wasn’t better off being spent doing the laundry, or maybe taking out the trash. Something productive, at least. While 3 of the 4 games were a disapointment, (with SEA/WAS being the most entertaining, and even then….) it really shouldn’t come as a surprise. I’ll go ahead and breakdown my thoughts of each game, and give predictions for next week.
BALTIMORE VS. INDIANAPOLIS
Like I was saying, it wasn’t surprising that the games were a let down this week. The first round of playoffs includes both 5 and 6 seeds squaring off, and there aren’t always 5 or 6 teams worthy of being playoff teams from each conference, each year. For instance, the Colts really didn’t belong in the playoffs this year, which just makes the fact that they got there, all the more impressive. They drafted #1 in the NFL this past year, and while they snagged their franchise QB in Andrew Luck, you don’t pick #1 if you’re only a player away from contention, even if that player is a QB. They have issues, is what I’m saying. According to advanced metrics, the Colts suck. In the couple advanced stat sites I go to, they have the Colts at being one of the worst teams to ever make the playoffs. Now, records would indicate that there are worse playoff teams (10-6 2012 Colts compared to the 2010 7-9 Seahawks, for example), but that is a result of a extremely soft schedule. Those 7-9 Seahawks weren’t exactly scrubs according to advanced stats either, as they proved with their exciting win over the Saints. These 2012 Colts have issues on defense (woeful run D), their running game is barely passable (pun intended), and their offensive line has been of no help to Andrew Luck, making his season all that more impressive. Now, that’s not to say that these Colts aren’t promising. With Luck at the helm, they’ll contend for quite some time. They just need to get him some help.
All of this is to say, sure you won Baltimore, but I’m not sure I believe in you. There is just no identity on offense. You have Ray Rice and Boldin showed up in a big way, but I’m just not convinced. Mainly because I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team win a Super Bowl weeks after canning their OC. Maybe there’s a first for everything, but that’s a stretch. Their defense is decent, just like always, but their offense, man! There’s too much talent on that team for them to consistently be inconsistent. One series, they’re getting chunks of yardage like they can move at will. Then, they’ll follow that up with two straight three-and-outs. Find yourselves a long term answer at OC this offseason, for your own benefit.
HOUSTON VS CINCINATTI
GREEN BAY VS MINNESOTA
I’ll lump these two together, because I saw only about a quarter of these two games, combined. Cincinatti needs some help from their running game, and Andy Dalton needs a good TE or WR that he can use as a security blanket. AJ Green is a stud, but the rest of the offense is too inconsistent for Dalton to rely on when the game is on the line. I think CIN has the pieces to contend for quite some time, but not just yet, not this year. HOU managed to eke out the victory in this one, but they can’t be too confident walking into Gillette Stadium. What on earth happened to Matt Schaub? A consistent 4000 yds, 30 TD threat, Schaub has looked nothing like himself over the past quarter of the season. His stats aren’t too terrible during that span, but he’s been failing the eye test. He looks undecisive, and his accuracy comes and goes. According to ProFootballFocus, he’s only graded positively just once since week 12. Their defense has relaxed their deathgrip on opposing offenses as of late. They’ll have to dig deep to find that 1st half of the season mojo that had them looking to be a Super Bowl lock.
Green Bay is again a solid team. Aaron Rodgers will keep you in the game and their defense (for two weeks in a row!) bottled up a running back that was just absolutely having his way with the NFL. Frank Gore is on notice. Again, the lack of a running game hurts Green Bay, but their offensive line has been giving Rodgers plenty of time to make things happen in the passing game. In addition to the recent strong play of their rush D, their pass defense is opportunistic, lead by rookie Casey Hayward. They did what everyone expected them to do, once Ponder was ruled out of the game, and that was taking care of business. Minnesota, you have a wonderful thing when a guy, just around a year removed from major reconstructive knee surgery, can single handily will you into the playoffs. Unfortunately, even with Adrian Peterson, you won’t be winning any games with Joe Webb is in, playing like he did. Was a pretty gruesome offensive showing from a playoff team. That withstanding, after this season AP can hold his head high, and he leaves himself something to shoot for next season.
WASHINGTON VS SEATTLE
This was the game of the weekend. Plenty of storylines, and it ended up being pretty entertaining. After a quick start that had everyone feeling giddy, Washington (and moreso, RG3) fell into a rut and could not get anything going. RG3 lost his touch, missing several wide receivers, and the few times RG3 got the ball there, it was dropped. They could have gone with Morris more, as he had a respectable YPC. As good as Washington was for the 1st quarter, they barely showed in the next three. All the talk in the aftermath has been about RG3, his knee, and Coach Shanahan’s decision to leave him in the game. Look, having the mental toughness to play through pain is admirable. However, you don’t want to confuse playing through pain with playing through injury. RG3 should have kept himself from the game. But he’s a competitor, you can’t blame him for wanting to be out there. Shanahan should’ve made the tough decision to go with Cousins earlier. This was painfully obvious after a designed run to the left with 13:18 left in the 4th quarter. RG3 was left wide open, but made a straight line for out of bounds. He gained 9 yards, but you could tell the only thing on his mind was getting whatever yardage he could without getting hit. He was limping noticeably and had a grimace on his face the entire run. He was hobbled at that point, and with a game still within a score, the decision should have been made to pull RG3. But they didn’t.
The end result was a Seahawks victory. Something that I think has been lost on the majority of the media today. The headlines should read “Seahawks win game,” not “Redskins lose game.” The way everyone has been talking, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that Washington would have beat Seattle given a full bill of health for RG3. First, let me maintain that the game was not as close as the score indicated. After the 1st quarter (which Washington dominated), this game was all Seahawks, all the time. If their OC didn’t get a little too cute for his own good, and kept riding Lynch more (the hot hand), I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them win that game by 20. It was impressive. Also impressive is how Seattle just won a road playoff game for the first time since 1983, after finishing the season on a 2 game road win streak. They beat a Redskins team that was 13-2 at home in playoff history. The have ran up 6 straight victories, including a 3 game stretched where they outscored the opponent 150-30. This is a team that is playing just about as well as anyone has at any point this season. The only question is whether or not they’ve peaked. They have a tenacious defense, led by their huge secondary (all 4 starters over 6 feet), and a balanced offense that has had no problems scoring lately.
All that, yet hardly any mention of them after their victory. Frustrating time to be a Seahawks fan, I’m sure, but the east coast media bias knows no bounds. After the Seahawks scored to pull ahead in the second half, and Joe Buck/Troy Aikman would not stop talking about RG3, even after the Seahawks score, I knew we were in for a media shit storm. Called that. Best of luck to RG3 (I enjoy watching him play, just think it was a tough situation) and I hope for a speedy recovery. Washington will retool and be back jockeying for that top NFC East spot next year.
NEW ENGLAND VS HOUSTON
So, onto next week. Houston just doesn’t have any bite to back up their bark right now. This is a team that might have bought into their own hype a little too early, allowing themselves to rest on their laurels. The Patriots are a team that is always dangerous, given the Belicheck/Brady combo. I see NE taking this one in a bit of a shootout, as I foresee New England’s terrible secondary helping Schaub snap out of his rut. It won’t be enough, however, as New England moves on.
Houston 28, New England 38
SAN FRANCISCO VS GREEN BAY
This is the toughest matchup to call this week. Both teams have been near the top of the power rankings all year. San Francisco hasn’t come through the end of the year quite unscathed, losing a beat down to Seattle after letting a Rams game slip away from them earlier. They have been playing consistently well though, and are about as solid as they get, coming from an advanced stats viewpoint. Gore is healthy and running hard, their defense has been up to standards, and Kaepernick really adds an X factor that Alex Smith was severely lacking. Green Bay is doing well themselves. Rodgers is looking like he’s on the top of his game. His line, known for getting him in trouble in the past, has been giving Rodgers plenty of time to make plays downfield. His play more than makes up for a weak running game, but they have enough ground game to keep defenses honest. Their D is always opportunistic, but has been lacking consistent pass rush, outside of Clay Matthews. I see Kaepernick having plenty of time to make plays, fueling his connection with Crabtree, and getting points on the board. Just enough points, in fact, to hold off a late Green Bay surge, and preserving a bay area victory.
Green Bay 24, San Francisco 28
DENVER VS BALTIMORE
I’ll be upfront on this. I see Denver winning the Super Bowl. They are just so freaking good with Manning at the helm. THE hottest team coming into the playoffs, I just don’t see Baltimore threatening their 11 game winning streak. Their defense, led by Von Miller, doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. They play the run well, get to the quarterback, and can cover downfield when the pass rush fails. Getting Mcgahee back would be a huge bonus for this team, and you know you’re never in a rut for points when Manning is back there, slinging the ball. Baltimore’s offensive woes will have them hurting when Manning leads the Broncos to a quick lead. They’ll have to abandon the run early in the second half, leading to even worse playcalling and handcuffing them to their fate. Denver moves on. Even though the jersey changed, the Manning and Brady rivalry is on again.
Baltimore 17, Denver 34
SEATTLE VS ATLANTA
Now, because I am so confident in this pick, I most certainly will be getting this wrong. The way my gut sees this game is a complete dominating performance by Seattle. I think they just matchup well with Atlanta. Atlanta is another team that should not struggle as much as they do on offense, much like Baltimore. Their defense is soft in the middle, and doesn’t have much of a defensive line. Seattle will be able to attack them relentlessly with Marshawn Lynch, and I see him gouging the defense for over 150 yards. After going for 200+ rush yards in 5 straight games, Seattle really leans on their ground game in this one, opening things up early on for Russell Wilson. Speaking of Wilson, the play action is going to be his best friend, and his keen decision making will allow him to consistently find the open man, moving downfield in bunches. If he ever decides to scramble, the Atlanta defense just doesn’t have the athletes needed to contain him.
On offense, Atlanta needs to get their running game going. They need it, but I don’t expect they’ll get it. Michael Turner, as I’ve been saying for over 2 years now, is washed up. He can’t run the ball as a feature back anymore, and based of the degradation of his skills, I don’t think you’d even want him as a backup. He’ll be gone before 2013 training camp. With no RB on the roster capable of getting the ball 20+ times, they’ll try to incorporate some screens to Jacquizz Rodgers, and try to get guys in space in their short passing game, freeing up the deep ball. That’s their gameplan, but I don’t think it’s going to work. Seattle’s front 7 can both stuff Atlanta’s run game, and generate consistent pressure on Matt Ryan without sacrficing coverage. That allows 4+ DBs to stay back to cover Roddy White and Julio Jones, and Seattle has the athletes that are capable of hanging with these guys. I can’t see them shutting them down, as those two WRs are too good, but they’ll nullify their presence, frustrating Matt Ryan into forcing the ball into coverage, and picking him twice. Seattle continues their hot streak, and emerges from Georgia on path for a NFC West showdown.
Atlanta 23, Seattle 30
And there you have my thoughts. I really need to learn how to boil these things down into a 3 sentence paragraph like the paid (I don’t like calling them professional) experts do. Looking forward to an exciting week of divisional playoffs!
P.S. Welcome back Ron Rivera. I have faith in you for 2013, but if you cross me, so help me god, I will yell at you from my side of the TV screen SO hard.