by NFL Gimpy
Well, I was 3-1 with my predictions. The only thing I got wrong was the Colts-Ravens game. Anquan Boldin was a monster and poor Andrew Luck couldn’t get blocking to save his life. I don’t mean to sound greedy, but the games this week weren’t great. The first 3 games didn’t really have playoff intensity. The aforementioned Colts-Ravens lacked the emotion you’d expect from Pagano returning to Baltimore and Ray Lewis’ last home game. With Christian Ponder out, the Vikings didn’t stand a chance (bet Vikings fans find that statement to be crazy). They got a garbage touchdown, but it was very obvious the Packers played it safe on offense in the 2nd half. Bengals-Texans was just bad football. On the bright side, the Bengals did show that expanding the playoff field is a bad idea because there were at least 3 teams in the NFC more deserving of a spot than they were.
Then there was Seahawks-Redskins. Thankfully, one game really got you excited from start to late 4th quarter. The Redskins marched down the field on their first 2 possessions for 14 points. They had 135 total yards on those two drives. Both touchdowns were 3rd down passes by RG3. RG3 was clearly hobbled, but passing the ball effectively. The Seahawks responded with a FG drive and a defensive stop, which slowed the game down and allowed the Seahawks to get back into rhythm.
I want to point out a play that was absolutely the turning point of the game, but most probably didn’t realize the importance of. The FG drive for the Seahawks started off poorly. Their first 2 plays netted -2 yards. It was 3rd and 12 and they’re about to go 3 and out for the second straight drive, down 14-0. If they fail on that 3rd down, they’re handing the ball back to the Redskins with good field position and all the momentum. It’s quite possible if this 3rd down fails, the Redskins march down again and make it 21-0 and the Seahawks never recover.
But, fate was on the Seahawks side. Russell Wilson got a low throw off to TE Zach Miller, who then made a great play to move the sticks. They got the FG, forced a Redskins 3 and out, and the rest is history. They scored a touchdown on the next drive and despite not leading until the 4th quarter, controlled the tempo the rest of the game. There were 2 reasons the Seahawks were able to control the game from that point. First, Seahawks defensive coordinator (and head coaching candidate) Gus Bradley made the necessary adjustments. Second, Mike Shanahan wrongfully kept RG3 in the game when it’s obvious his knee was making him ineffective.
How ineffective were RG3 and the Redskins offense? The farthest they made it on offense after their 2nd touchdown drive was their own 41 yard line. Think about that. For the final 3/4ths of the game, they never crossed into Seahawks territory. They had 74 total yards after that 2nd touchdown and only 1 first down. Even before his knee buckled on that lost fumble, I was suggesting Mike Shanahan send out Kirk Cousins. It has nothing to do with RG3’s abilities when healthy. It has everything to do with the fact that if his knee was as bad as it appeared, he can’t run or throw.
A lot of people are saying if RG3 wanted to be in, he should be able to stay. I call BS on that. Any QB worth his paycheck should have to be dragged off the field by his coaches. RG3 is like that. When you’re a competitor at that high of a level, resting yourself is not an option. It’s up to the coach to objectively look at his players and determine if they’re healthy enough to keep going. RG3 was not healthy enough to continue and Kirk Cousins has proved to be a valuable backup QB.
But, let’s not make coaching mistakes and injuries take away from a gutsy performance by the Seahawks. Even without of RG3’s health, the Seahawks won on the road after going down 14-0. That’s really impressive. A lot of teams panic in that scenario, especially with a rookie at QB. The Seahawks stayed calm and took control of the game and you know why? Russell Wilson. It’s incredible to see this much poise from a rookie QB. Even better, I love the way he plays. Not comparing skill level or anything, but you see that Tom Brady-level determination. Wilson simply refuses to lose.
A play that won’t get noticed by many was on Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run that gave them the lead. Lynch broke a tackle and got outside and Wilson turned on the Jets to block just enough of a Redskins DB up field. That block was the difference between a 20ish yard run and a 27 yard touchdown. The Seahawks only had 1 touchdown in 4 red zone trips to that point, so it’s fair to say the Redskins could have forced a FG if Lynch doesn’t punch it in. I. Love. That.
Other highlights and thoughts from playoff games:
-I’m pleasantly surprised by Joe Flacco’s play, but a lot of it does have to do with a subpar Colts defense. They made it a point to target Cassius Vaughn and it worked. Flacco’s primary read was frequently whoever was opposite of Vaughn. The Colts had an incredible turnaround this season, but as I’ve stated before, they’re not a very good team. They had a cakewalk schedule and some lucky wins. They desperately need some OL help, a better running game, and a lot of parts on defense. It’ll be another season or two until they’re ready for the big time.
-Ray Rice had 0 lost fumbles all season long. He had 2 on Sunday. The second one was due to poor technique. You don’t hold the ball on your inside when in the open field. You switch to your outside arm. Rice didn’t and he lost it. It was odd to see a veteran RB make such a rookie mistake.
-With all the attention on the Ravens D going to Lewis, Reed, and Suggs, it was Paul Kruger who dominated. Kruger made Andrew Luck’s day a living hell. 2.5 sacks, 5 total QB hits, and a deflection. Kruger is a very underrated player, mostly due to the superstar power of his teammates, but unsung guys need to make plays if you want to win a Super Bowl, and while I doubt the Ravens can even make it close against the Broncos, guys like Kruger will need to make plays if they’re going to win.
-Andy Dalton looked awful on Saturday. I wonder if his poor play will hurt Jay Gruden’s chances at becoming a head coach. Dalton had a bad game and a lot of it was due to a lack of pocket poise. It’s odd. Dalton’s flaws coming out of college were physical skills, not mental ones. His arm strength hasn’t been a huge problem, but his pocket presence and ability to read a defense have been.
-It’s odd to look at Matt Schaub’s stats (29/38 262 yards 1 interception) and think he had a bad game, but he really did. Schaub was ineffective in the red zone (1 touchdown in 4 attempts) and he was the main reason for that. On the trips he threw short of the end zone too often and missed when he went for 6. It was a close game because of his inability to close. That’s not going to work in New England this weekend.
-Joe Webb was dreadful on Saturday night. An intriguing matchup was ruined when Christian Ponder was declared out. Once it was obvious Webb wasn’t going to make plays with his arm, the Packers shut them down. A garbage touchdown made the game look a lot closer than it was. With no threat to pass, the Packers D did a great job keeping Adrian Peterson in check. This game became a snooze fest in the second half. Mike McCarthy called off the dogs a little bit too soon, but I’m guessing he’s saving some wrinkles for the 49ers.
Divisional Round Previews and Predictions
First off, let me say how excited I am for these 4 games. These are the 8 best teams in the NFL, hands down. Each team has the ability to win the Super Bowl for one reason or another. While I view some teams (Ravens, Texans) as unlikely champions, the talent is there to pull it off in one way or another. There are no lucky teams here. Each has earned their spot.
Texans @ Patriots
The Patriots are 9-1 in their last 10 with their sole loss in that time frame to a legit contender in the 49ers. The Texans limped into the post season with 3 losses in their last 4 games, costing them home field advantage, and proceeded to struggle against a weak Bengals squad.
Why the Patriots will win: They’re better. The Texans are struggling. The Patriots beat the Texans only a few weeks ago 42-14 and it was every bit as lopsided as the score suggests. The Patriots have one of the best QBs of all time in Tom Brady and he’s chomping at the bit to tell everyone that with his play.
As long as they don’t fumble, the RBs have been better than most years for the Patriots, which could come in handy if the weather is poor. The Patriots have a huge advantage in bad weather because Tom Brady excels at throwing in the snow. It’s odd to say that, but if you look back at games with snow, Brady consistently blows everyone away. We’ll see what the forecast is, but no way is it a warm, sunny day.
How the Texans could pull off the upset: Controlling the clock. In their first matchup with the Patriots, the time of possession was about equal. In the first quarter of their game against the Patriots, they went 3 and out followed by an interception on the next series. The defense faltered on both drives and it was 14-0 at the blink of an eye. The Patriots are going to score points and the best way to counter that is to keep the offense off of the field. This means Arian Foster will have to get in a groove and Matt Schaub will have to be efficient and get first downs. Even on drives without points, make sure you pin the Patriots deep, make them earn touchdowns (not that this stopped them last time).
Prediction: Patriots offense was already too much for the Texans defense to handle last time. The offense is still struggling and Tom Brady is the kind of QB who strikes when he smells blood. The Texans are bleeding and Brady is a hungry, hungry hippo. Or shark. Yeah, shark works better. Patriots win 34-21.
Packers @ 49ers
This game is a huuuge unknown. Colin Kaepernick has played well for the 49ers but the regular season and playoffs are two different things. January. This will easily be the highest profile game Kaep has ever started in. He had some bowl games at Nevada, but none were really anything more than glorified exhibitions. Aaron Rodgers knows how to win in January but he’s going up against one hell of a 49ers defense. The Packers D looked good against the Vikings, but beating a Joe Webb-led offense doesn’t say much.
Why the 49ers will win: Better overall team. Other than Aaron Rodgers and his WRs, is any position/group a better group than their opponent? Top to bottom the 49ers defense is certainly better than the Packers, especially the front 7. Running game? Huge advantage to 49ers. Offensive line? The Packers OL is awful. The Niners also get to play at home, where they’re 6-1-1.
Why the Packers will win: Aaron Rodgers. Make no mistake, if the Packers win, it will be on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers. Their running game has been inconsistent this season. His OL struggles to protect him consistently. The defense can be exploited, especially on the ground. If they’re going to win, the best player on the field has to play like it. Rodgers is fully capable of winning games almost entirely on his own. He’ll have to have a great game if they’re going to advance.
Prediction: 49ers as the better overall team pull off the win, 27-21. Frank Gore has a big game on the ground. Rodgers has a good game, but it’s just not enough.
Ravens @ Broncos
Peyton Manning returns to the postseason and Lucks out (pardon my bad joke) that he avoided the Colts. Not because I think they’d lose, but because facing your former team is always a story line that gets beaten to death. The Ravens are in for a tough test because all signs point to the Broncos as the superior team.
Why the Broncos will win: They’re better. I’ll be blunt, I have a hard time seeing the Ravens winning this game. Flacco put up good numbers against a bad defense last week, but when he doesn’t face an inferior opponent, he’s a liability. Their OL is susceptible to being beaten by pass rushers and Von Miller is one of the best. Factor in Peyton Manning and a really good receiving corps against a defense that has underperformed a lot this season and I could easily see a Broncos blowout.
How the Ravens could pull off the upset: Inspired defensive performance. Ray Lewis is set to retire after this season. Ed Reed could be too. All time greats will leave everything on the field. Ray Lewis is an all time great on the field and an even better leader. His presence has enabled the Ravens to take risks on guys with character concerns because of his leadership. When you’re held accountable by Ray Lewis, you stay in line. This defense is capable of incredible feats even if they haven’t done it often this season. If they win, it’ll be Ray Lewis and the defense willing them to it, most likely with some turnovers.
Prediction: Broncos win handily after getting off to a quick lead. All the emotion of Ray Lewis will be diminished if they’re down 14-3 in the 2nd quarter. Add in the home field advantage and Broncos run away with this 31-10, setting up the matchup every wants to see, Manning vs. Brady.
Seahawks @ Falcons
It’s odd that I view the NFC matchups as toss ups and the AFC matchups as anything but. It would legitimately surprise me if the Texans or Ravens win. I won’t bat an eye at whoever wins the NFC. I said throughout the season that the NFC top to bottom is better than the AFC and this holds true in the playoffs. The AFC for most of the season was Broncos, Patriots, Texans, and everyone else. The Texans have faded as of late and most have lost confidence in them.
While the Falcons had a great regular season I wonder if once again they have peaked too early. They lost 2 of their last 4 to non-playoff teams and as a result haven’t won since before Christmas. It’ll be 21 days between meaningful games since home field advantage was wrapped up in Week 16. The last playoff team they played? Week 5. The Seahawks will easily be the best team they have faced all season (given that the Skins were still figuring things out in Week 5). So while the Falcons have the better record, the Seahawks have 6 straight wins with 2 of their past 3 against playoff teams.
Why the Falcons will win: They hate monkeys. I’ll elaborate. The Falcons have this monkey on their back. They’ve had great regular season success the past 3 years (30-9) they’re 0-2 in the playoffs. Not only have they lost, they’ve lost 48-21 and 24-2. They weren’t even close. Losing is simply not an option for them. If they lose, a lot of jobs would be in danger, starting with Head Coach Mike Smith. Going 30-9 in the regular season yet losing every single playoff game is not acceptable. Matt Ryan and his great WR duo have to step up and not be bullied by the Seahawks secondary.
Why the Seahawks will win: Momentum. The Seahawks haven’t lost a game since November. They’ve practically been in playoff mode since that loss. One loss in that time frame could have cost them a playoff spot (like their victory over the Bears). The Falcons have been coasting since Thanksgiving. I also think the Seahawks have a much better playoff type of team than the Falcons. They run the ball better, stop the run better, and can win in multiple ways. The Falcons have one real asset: Matt Ryan and his WRs. The Seahawks have a great CB duo and a top notch FS in Earl Thomas. The best strength of the Falcons plays into the strength for the Seahawks defense. The Seahawks are great at running the ball and the Falcons (21st in the NFL) aren’t exactly good at stopping it.
Prediction: Seahawks pull off the “upset” and win 31-23. The subpar Falcons D lets Lynch and Wilson run wild.
-College Football prediction for tonight. Bama wins big, 31-13. Nick Saban is the best college football has to offer and with 3 titles in 4 years, even Urban Meyer has to admit Saban is the best.
-So far only 2 head coach openings have been filled, Andy Reid to the Chiefs and Doug Marrone to the Bills. I love Reid to the Chiefs. They’re a QB away from contending and if Reid gets a defensive coordinator that allows him to focus on the offense, they’ll be a playoff contender very soon. Despite many more wins, I think Marrone has a tougher task ahead of him than Reid. The Bills are awful on defense and have to decide if they’re going forward with Ryan Fitzpatrick or moving on.
-HOCKEY IS BACK!!!!!! I’m really excited. My wife and I are eagerly awaiting the schedule so we can figure out which games we want to go to.
-No MAQB Rookie of the Week stuff since only Wilson won. No overpaid/underpaid players since everyone is getting like $20k per game. Just making it to the playoffs earns you that chump change.
-One more note and final rant on the whole RG3 injury situation. I see a lot of people on twitter complaining that “the same people who criticized Cutler for sitting out are the same ones who are criticizing RG3 for staying in.” What in the world are people talking about? I have yet to see a single person criticize RG3 for playing. It was obvious watching RG3 he needed to be benched. The criticism is on the coach for not making the right move and I sincerely hope the rumors about the extent of the damage to RG3’s knee are wrong. No player is going to bench himself. It’s the job of the coach to do that and Mike Shanahan failed to do what was best for the game and for RG3’s career. RG3 is going to do whatever it takes to stay out there as any franchise QB should. That’s why the coach has to make the call. Get well soon, RG3.