MAQB – Divisional Round

by NFL Gimpy

While the results may not have been what you wanted, can anyone deny that this was one insanely exciting weekend of football? With a huge upset (Ravens over Broncos), a game that had 2 lead changes in the last 35 seconds (Falcons over Seahawks), and a record setting day by a QB starting only his 8th career game (49ers over Packers), can you ask for more? A competitive Patriots-Texans game maybe, but I for one enjoyed a little comfort by not sitting on the edge of my seat for 3 more hours.

I went 2-2 this week with my predictions, making me 5-3 in the playoffs so far. I got the Ravens-Broncos wrong and the Seahawks-Falcons wrong…but I was right on both with less than a minute to go in the game. The NFL Playoffs are a crazy thing. Anything can happen in one game and that is blown up to ridiculous proportions in January.

Did anyone else think Champ Bailey would be used and abused by a 2nd year WR? That an underthrown deep ball would be flat out missed by a safety and send the game to OT? I certainly didn’t think Peyton Manning would commit a cardinal sin of QB play: throwing across your body, on 2nd and 6 in the 2nd overtime nonetheless. Those 3 unpredictable things all happened in one game. If any of those 3 don’t happen, we get Brady vs. Manning. Instead, we get Ray Lewis’ last hurrah and a chance for revenge after losing to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last year.

The real crime of this past weekend’s playoff games is that 3 of them ended after 4 quarters. Did you really want Seahawks-Falcons to end? I really wish the incredible Matt Ryan drive with 30 seconds to go was to force OT, not to win. When it became 27-7, I got a little depressed, not only because I picked the Seahawks, but there were so many missed opportunities that led to the 20 point deficit. Two red zone trips in the first half that came away with 0 points (mostly due to poor play-calling) and a lost fumble led to the first half shutout.

Then all of the sudden a 4-minute drive by the Seahawks narrowed the gap to 27-14. A few plays later Matt Ryan underthrew Roddy White and it was picked off by Earl Thomas. The Seahawks punched it in 4 plays later and we now have a ball game. As everyone knows, the Seahawks took the lead with 31 seconds to go and Matt Ryan led a clutch FG drive to close it out. I get pumped just thinking about it. That’s exciting football.  

I won’t do any play-by-play for the other playoff games, but here are some other random thoughts about those games:

-I subtly mentioned this already, but Joe Flacco’s game tying touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones should have been an interception. It was a bit short of Jones and Rahim Moore was in position to pick it off. He just fell down and missed it. Flacco would have been the goat, not the savior if Moore does his job properly. I will give him credit for challenging Champ Bailey though. It’s clear the Ravens thought they could exploit that and they were right.

-I won’t dive into Peyton Manning and whether or not he was hurt (he looked like it) but the inability to run the ball really hurt them. Knowshon Moreno reverted back to being a bust. The Colts with Vick Ballard had 4.5 yards per carry with their backs and receivers against this defense. The Colts are inferior to the Broncos on just about everything offensively. That shows you how much they missed Willis McGahee.

-Had Matt Bryant missed his FG attempt, Russell Wilson and the Seahawks would have done two incredible things. First off, they would have been the first West Coast team since 1989 to win back-to-back East Coast playoff games. Second, they would have been the first team to win 2 playoff games with a rookie at QB. I have a feeling Russell Wilson will make history many, many times in his NFL career.

-The most surprising thing in the Seahawks-Falcons game was the Seahawks run defense. The Seahawks had a top 10 rushing defense in 2012 and I assumed if the Falcons were going to win, it would be via the passing game. Nope. Slow motion man Michael Turner and 2nd year player Jacquizz Rodgers combined for 162 yards on 24 carries. That’s 6.75 yards per carry. Matt Ryan had 7.1 yards per pass. Atlanta had the 29th ranked rushing attack overall and averaged 3.7 yards per carry. That’s one of those bizarre one-game things. Turner had 2 games better than that all season.

-Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers broke numerous team and NFL records. They set the team record for yards in a playoff game. For most NFL teams, that’s not a jaw-dropping thing. But this is a 49ers team that has had multiple Hall of Fame players who played together. You know Montana, Young, and Rice on offense. Terrell Owens could very well be a Hall of Fame player one day. So could Roger Craig. Outside of an over the hill Randy Moss, there isn’t a single Hall of Fame player on this team. Kaepernick and Crabtree are young enough to possibly get there one day, but the odds area against them.

-While the Green Bay Packers did not look good on defense, the result was much more due to the execution and superior talent by the 49ers than poor play by the Packers. Take Crabtree’s 2 touchdowns in the 2nd quarter. First one was 3rd and goal from the 12. The Packers were in zone, pretty much lined up across the end zone. They were in good position. Crabtree caught the ball at about the 5 or 6 yard line under the zone and had the explosive power to punch it in. That’s execution, not poor defense. An inferior WR probably gets tackled short. The second touchdown Kaep threw on a frozen rope to a well covered Crabtree. That was a classic example of a perfect throw beating coverage.

Regarding the zone read plays (follow @smartfootball for more details on this stuff, like the pistol offense, his info is incredible), again, it was execution and talent. The Packers knew these plays were coming and they still worked. Why? Kaep made the right reads and when he got into the open he was simply too fast to contain. I said in my preview Aaron Rodgers has to be the best player on the field to win the game. He had a good game, but it wasn’t great. He needed to be great and the 3 points in the 2nd half while the game was still in contention wasn’t good enough.

-Not too much to say about the Texans-Patriots game. The Patriots were the better team and they played like it. The Texans made it competitive, but they got outscored 21-0 the first 17 minutes of the 2nd half. At that point the game was out of hand. The Texans made it a little interesting at the end, but unlike the Falcons, the Patriots are too good to give up that late lead.

-Doug Farrar of Yahoo Sports said this on twitter and I couldn’t agree more: “Matt Schaub is the worst kind of QB—just good enough to keep you from replacing him.” Schaub is not a top tier QB. He’s good enough to win 10-12 games in the regular season and a playoff game, but if you have to rely on him to have a great game in the playoffs, you’re probably going to lose.

-I have a thought process on the difference between good and great QBs. Good QBs can win you 10 games and maybe a playoff game too. Great ones can win 2. That 2nd win is really what separates Matt Schaub from the elite guys. We’ll see if Matt Ryan can win 2. Joe Flacco and Tom Brady can. I’m more than willing to give Kaep a full season as the guy before I make that judgment, but one-upping Aaron Rodgers certainly makes me believe you can. If you have a QB that can win you 2 games, you’re a Super Bowl contender if you make the playoffs. That’s what makes Eli Manning and the Giants so dangerous. All they need is to get there.

-The Texans desperately need to invest in a WR opposite of Andre Johnson. Their TE corps is good, Arian Foster is a top RB, but another threat at WR could blow open that offense like Julio Jones has done for the Falcons.

Championship Game Predictions

49ers @ Falcons

I firmly believe the main reason the Seahawks lost to the Falcons is poor coaching. Pete Carroll and OC Darrell Bevell made some bad decisions in the first half that put them behind early. I don’t think Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman make those mistakes. The 49ers are also well rested, with a bye week and no travel, where the Seahawks had back-to-back east coast trips.

To the Falcons advantage, the 49ers are going to look a lot like the Seahawks on offense. The 49ers run a lot more read option (Wilson rarely takes it himself on designed runs), but both teams use physical running games and mobile QBs. They aren’t going from New England to Houston in terms of offensive differences. They also get that monkey off of their back. The pressure now is to make a Super Bowl, not to prove that you aren’t playoff chokers.

Why the Falcons will win: Confidence and home field

The Falcons were a much more confident team yesterday than they were the previous 2 years. Their last second comeback was top notch. I expect Falcons fans to be fired up and make a lot of noise. That will make it tough on a QB making only his 9th career start and first road playoff game. The Falcons truly believe they’re ready now. I see the Falcons kind of like Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on their Super Bowl run. Back-to-back disappointing seasons started off the Rodgers era. After they got their first playoff victory, they won the Super Bowl a few games later. That first win is huge for a talented yet underachieving Falcons team. If Matt Ryan wants to enter the upper echelon of QBs, he has to win.

Why the 49ers will win: Talent and coaching advantage

For my money, I think Jim Harbaugh is the 2nd best coach in the NFL right now, after Bill Bellicheat (sorry, saw the phrase Spygate on my Twitter feed today). The Packers and Falcons D both lack the speed to contain Kaepernick. They’re also poor tacklers in the secondary. I firmly believe better coaching in the first half means a Seahawks win on Sunday and I don’t think Harbaugh makes those mistakes. One thing that the 49ers could do on defense that the Seahawks couldn’t is rush the passer. If DE Justin Smith has a good game, Matt Ryan is in trouble. With Smith injured, the 49ers pass rush has suffered. I think the 49ers can win if Smith doesn’t have a good game. I do not anticipate a Falcons victory if we see a dominant Smith.

I wonder if the read option will be as tough to cover for the Falcons as it was the Packers. As I mentioned earlier, very rarely does Russell Wilson keep the ball on the play. Kaep will keep it. Perhaps the tendency to play the RB, no matter how many times it’s drilled into their heads during the week, will hurt the Falcons.

Prediction: Unlike the Seahawks, the 49ers don’t start slow and SF wins 34-27.

Ravens @ Patriots

I said the Ravens would need an inspired defensive performance to beat the Broncos. If you had told me only 21 points allowed by the defense with a pick-6 early and an interception in overtime, I would have said that’ll do it. Obviously 2 return touchdowns forced Flacco and the offense to do more, but the Ravens D had one hell of a game. Flacco had a lot of luck and was bailed out a few times by his teammates, but it doesn’t detract from a better game than I expected from him.

The Patriots looked exactly like I expected them to. They were the better team and by the time the Texans got the ball rolling it was too little too late. Tom Brady was Tom Brady and the running game continued to get the job done. Ridley and Vereen combined for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 22 rushing attempts.

Why the Ravens will win: Another inspired defensive performance with a little luck

If the Ravens hold the Patriots offense to 21 points and force 2 turnovers, they have a very good chance to win. I highly doubt Flacco and company can score 35 or more points again. If the Ravens D isn’t great, I expect an easy Patriots victory. They need to force turnovers, 3 and outs, and give the offense good field position.

Why the Patriots will win: Tom Brady.

It’s Tom Brady. It’s the playoffs. The only thing that has been able to really stop him is Eli Manning’s dumb luck. Sure, the Ravens should have won last year…but they didn’t. Tom Brady probably launched a magic loogie into Lee Evans’ hands and caused him to drop the ball. Then a well timed sneeze caused Billy Cundiff to shank a 32 yard FG. If the game is on the line and Tom Brady has the ball, you just know the Patriots will win.

Prediction: Patriots win 27-17.

Feel free to mock my Colin Kaepernick mancrush on Twitter. Stay tuned here on Scouts Notebook for details on all of the great pre-draft stuff Tommy, Matt, and David have coming. It’ll be a very interesting draft due to the lack of bona fide top tier players. There’s no Andrew Luck, RG3, or Trent Richardson here. I’ll have some overview type stuff coming, but the real fun is in the individual player analysis. With College All Star games starting up, it’s time for the good stuff.

Make sure to follow Gimpy on Twitter.  Reading his “brilliance” just once a week cannot possibly be enough.

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