The surprises continued in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. The upstart Seahawks ran out of steam and were trounced by Chicago, but two road underdogs prevailed and may have become the Super Bowl favorites along the way. Thoughts in summary…
Parity or no parity, what is parity? We’ve spent the entire year throwing this word around. I think for much of the season we actually confused it with mediocrity, but now with four teams left we might finally have our definition. Home teams and favorites haven’t had much of an advantage in these playoffs. The perceived best team was one and done. Of the four teams remaining, two are wild-cards and you could make the argument that all four could fairly easily win the Super Bowl. The Packers are currently the betting favorites, but no remaining team is higher than 4:1 odds.
Defense seems to be the common thread that ties the four remaining teams together. The Jets threw the equivalent of a defensive no-hitter on Sunday. The Bears defense totally dominated the Seahawks until the game was out of hand. The Packers defense turned Atlanta over, and allowed them to streak out to a comfortable second half lead. And, despite giving up some points, the Steelers defense did enough against Baltimore and was the best unit in the league for most of the year. Their offensive attacks are different, they don’t all have a stud quarterback (though they have at least QBs playing well), but a year after it was 3/4 offensive juggernauts in the semi-finals we have 4 of the league’s best defenses.
Speaking of defense, I think that is ultimately what let the Patriots down on Sunday. If you want to know the difference between this Patriots team and the ones that won Super Bowls years back, look no further than that side of the ball. They improved over the course of the year, and certainly weren’t terrible, but the one time the offense needs bailing out in the last 2 months and they weren’t there. The Jets final TD drive was the death blow in some ways, sucking away momentum, field position, killing the crowd. The Pats needed a stop, and it wasn’t there. The dynasty Pats would have found a way to win that game ugly.
It is amazing what you can do with good coverage. If you watch football you always hear that cliché, you can only cover receivers for so long. Well, yesterday it looked like the Jets had no-limit to their blanketing skills. Time after time Brady would roll around in the pocket, and you’d think, “someone has to be open,” but they weren’t. The Patriots couldn’t hit a big play, the Jets secondary just stifling their every move. When it is that much work, that tedious (12-15 play drives), it’s tough to score a lot of points. I also think the Pats could have used a big play threat yesterday. I’m not saying Randy Moss in particular, I’m just saying…
My hindsight call of the week….the fake punt was a real disaster. It was the area of field where you fake, and I suppose if it worked, then we’d all be talking about how ballsy it was, but the time of the game and score seemed to dictate it wasn’t necessary. In fact, there was a hint of desperation. Down 7-3, the Pats were going to get the ball after the half, the Jets offense wasn’t blowing them out of the building. It was just a bogged down, ugly game at that point. To go for it, giving the Jets momentum and field position, which they’d use for their 2nd score didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Again, another example where the defense had a chance to step up, erase a miscue, but they couldn’t manage it.
Despite Rex Ryan’s bravado and his ability to back it up thus far, I think the emerging star of the playoffs is Aaron Rodgers. He’s been amazing. I think the destruction of Atlanta is the most thorough performance we’ve seen in the playoffs this year. Rodgers is three for three in the playoffs. They lost to Arizona last year, but no blame can fall on R0dgers there. In three playoff games, Rodgers has 969 yards, 10 Tds/1INT and a 129.4 QB rating. That’s decent. To put it in 3PT terms, his game Saturday would have checked in around (-60) DA points. If the Packers can finish the job here, it will catapult Rodgers into the best quarterback in the NFL discussion.
In regard to the Packers winning it all, I’m sure there are Eagles fans who are thinking if they only squeaked by Green Bay, they’d be the team that is sitting as the Super Bowl favorite. I might agree that the Packers would have been the Eagles toughest game in the NFC, but I wouldn’t beat myself up too much about this if I were an Eagles fan. This team had big problems, and really it was the Packers making a couple of mistakes and relaxing a bit that even had the Birds in that game at the end. I think the stumble was inevitable this year, it just happened to come in the first game.
Playoff Pick ’em Run Down:
- Grossy 4-4
- Kraft 4-4
- Dub 4-4
- JCK 4-4
- Nichols 2-6
Not a lot of success in Pick ‘Em these days. I did a dead reversal of last week when I lost the Saturday and won the Sunday games. This week started 2-0, and it just made Sunday’s losses all the more painful. I’m sure you could find someone out there who is sitting at 7-1 or something, but I think it’s been a hard lineup to pick. No real rhyme or reason to favorites, home teams, public teams…it’s all over the place.
The “At Least the Seahawks are Out.” Pick of the Week: Well, I guess I should give it to Dub, because he was the only one who picked the Jets, but Kraft was 3-1, which was the only 3-1 we’ve had in either week. So, for someone finally stepping up and breaking through, I think I’ll take his Chicago pick. I think he nailed it right on the head with the line telling you that you had to go Chicago. A team wins the biggest game of their year and still is getting 10? That’s a huge red flag. I ignored it, but that’s because I hate the Bears. Don’t let the final score fool you, this was a pretty easy cover.
The “Sean McDermott Pack Your Sh*t Skippy,” Awful pick of the Week: Obviously, I have to go Nichols here. He talked himself into an 0-4. Rough times. He should listen to his first sentences. Re: the Pats…”I hate this pick.” Re: the Ravens: “My first inclination was to take Pitt at home.” That’s what picking games does to you. It messes with your head. In the end though, I’ll select the Atl game for his opinion that the Falcons defense would come up big when it counted. Or not.
And, if there were to be a DA award, go ahead and clear some space on the mantel, Matty Ice. That was awful.