Stewing Over the Playoffs: Wild Card Round!

Well guys the first three games of the playoffs straddled the line between terrible and unwatchable, but my oh my was that Steelers/Broncos game a helluva game or what?

Bengals/Texans

Burner: This game wound up being about as mediocre as one would expect from two teams who had each lost three in a row coming in. It started as a rookie nerves-fest and went into halftime close. Then in the second half the Bengals basically disappeared. They were unable to doing anything to stop the Texans’ running game and play action pass, one-two punch. Meanwhile on offense they were unable to move the ball against the Texans’ superior defense. Both teams basically played like this was a mid-season game and it was about as exciting as a week 8 match up. Even with the loss Bengals fans should still be excited about the future of their team, AJ Green and Andy Dalton will be a potent force going forward. And good for the Texans for going out and doing their business against a weaker opponent, they weren’t content with just making the playoffs for the first time. Houston will head to Baltimore next week in a game that is sure to test the mettle of rookie TJ Yates. The Ravens offense is nothing special this year though, so if Houston’s defense can keep human bowling ball Ray Rice contained they should be able to keep the game competitive. That said I expect that Baltimore will win a close one at home.

Kevin: Only got to watch the first half of this game and it was what I expected – a snooze fest. I agree with you that the atmosphere wasn’t playoff-like. That’s really all I have to say about this game, other than it’s still odd to see a ginger play in a professional sport.

Dave: I was busy playing board games during this game. It was on in the background but I really wasn’t paying attention. I do think that the Texans vs. Ravens game will be good as they’re similar teams. Baltimore has the edge on defense but Andre Johnson will be the best player on the field. The Ravens haven’t lost all year at home, however, and I don’t think that trend will change this week.

Lions/Saints

Burner: Last week I demanded 1500 yards passing and 105 points from this game and damn if they didn’t come close, clocking in with just over a 1000 yards passing and 73 points. Maybe they’d have gotten even closer if Detroit had been in this game in anyway in the second half. Two first half turnovers had Drew Brees and company looking vulnerable but they came out in the second half and straight up dominated the Lions. The Lions defense was made to look utterly incompetent unable to stop the Saints running or passing. The Saints did little to endear themselves to me in this game as they continued to pass the ball deep into the 4th quarter despite a huge lead and a running game that was nearly unstoppable in the second half. Sean Payton’s response, complete with smug little smirk: “We’re stat padding assholes, do something to stop us.”

I expect that next week we’ll be hearing a lot about how unstoppable the Saints are and how even Green Bay might not be able to beat them. There a few hings that should be kept in mind when you hear this though.

1. New Orleans has a history of over looking NFC West Teams. There’s last year’s surprise playoff loss to the 7-9 Seahawks and this season’s week 8 loss to the then 1-6 St Louis Rams.
2. New Orleans has lost games to shitty shitty teams this season. There’s the aforementioned Rams loss and a week 6 loss to a Tampa team that would finish 4-12. Yes those games were early, but the Saints are far from invincible.
3. New Orleans is going to have to leave the dome. The blustery conditions of San Francisco and Green Bay in January will be far less conducive to New Orleans’ New Great Show on Turf offense. The Saints have played 12 of their games in domes this season but baring an upset by the Giants over the Packers they’ll be out in the elements from here on out.
None of this is to say that New Orleans isn’t dangerous or can’t make it to the Super Bowl, they’re just things to keep in mind as Peter King stomps around on Monday knocking things over with his Who Dat Boner.

Kevin: I think the biggest thing that went completely unsaid in all of the write-ups about this game is how lucky Brees really was. I counted at least 4 passes that were just flat out dropped by Lions defenders. All should have been picks. It always amazes me how NFL caliber corners have concrete blocks for hands. That game could have easily flipped and the Lions could have taken control, but instead the drives were kept alive and the Saints eventually scored, putting the game out of reach. Monster games by Stafford and Johnson just weren’t enough. They’ll be scary good next year if they can get some corners and a safety.

I think San Fran is gonna get rocked next week. The Saints offense has been clicking for weeks now. Winners of eight in a row, four of the last six scoring over 40 points. They’ll get ahead by a few scores and San Fran will have to beat them with the pass – not one of their strengths (almost last in the league).

Burner: Kevin makes a great point about all the drops by Detroit’s defensive backs, they could have made the difference in the game. Of course you know what they say about defensive backs, if they could catch they’d be wide receivers.

Dave: This was a very entertaining, 2011-style NFL game. Every time I turned around someone else was scoring a touchdown. The Saints do seem pretty unstoppable, however, they haven’t had to play outside yet. That seems to be the only thing that would slow them down. A Saints vs. Packers championship game seems like a best case scenario for fans of high scoring football so that’s what I’m rooting for, and I think it will happen.

Falcons/Giants

Burner: In our playoff preview last week Kevin said he’d rather hang drywall in his basement that watch this game. Well I watched this game and I think I’d have rather watched Kevin hang drywall. The highlight of the game, and the source of Atlanta’s only points, was an Eli Manning intentional grounding call in the end zone that resulted in a safety.(Aren’t Safeties the best? From the funny hand signal the referee uses, to the wacky 2 points you get for one, to the fact that the team who scores one gets points and the ball back, via free kick no less, its just a pile of oddities) After the safety Atlanta gave up 24 straight points to the Giants and looked utterly outclassed in every aspect of the game.

I think it may be time to hang the “Choker” tag on Mike Smith and Matt Ryan. Smith looked particularly choketastic calling for two fourth and one conversion attempts that ended in failure. Now look, I firmly believe that coaches are far too risk averse and it often makes sense to go for it on fourth down, but both of these attempts were terribly called. On the first they tried a Matt Ryan sneak despite that fact that the Giants had been getting great penetration up front so far. They barely move the ball and turn it over on downs. Then later, the game still close, Smith tried again to convert on fourth down despite only being down ten with lots of time left. What kind of play do they call? You guessed it, QB sneak. I guess when it work so well the first time, Smith just couldn’t help but try it again. If Fox male sideline reporter Chris Myers is to be believed this failed conversion attempt basically knocked out what little wind was left in Atlanta’s sails and it showed as they went to sleep and allowed two more Giants touchdowns before all was said and done.

Atlanta is a very talented team that collapsed completely in this game. It was the sort of collapse that made me really question whether Mike Smith should be the guy going forward for this team. I know it’s hard to fire a coach who consistently makes the playoffs, but three one and done playoff stints makes me think that he just doesn’t have the chops, the last two playoff losses have been completely noncompetitive. On top of that, I know the perfect guy to come in and take over an NFC South team that someone else built and win a Super Bowl with it.

Kevin: I was in the car while this game was on. If it was boring to watch, imagine how much more boring it was to listen to over the radio.

I think Atlanta’s gotta change directions. Three attempts is more than enough to be able to justify letting Smith go. He seems like a good coach, but for some reason he can’t get his team to peak at the right time. I’m not sure how much you can blame him for Ryan’s play though. He sounded pretty awful. I guess credit goes to the Giants D, but they’ve been pretty average the last few weeks. And Gruden? I approve. Anything to get him away from the booth. Maybe he can take Jaws as his QB coach or offensive coordinator.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Giants win at Green Bay this weekend. They could just as easily lose by 30. That’s the Giants for you.

Dave: Yep, this game was terrible. In fact I watched the IU game during the first half and was very happy I did. I was dead wrong about the Falcons winning, however, I still think the Giants stink. Green Bay should beat them by two touchdowns.

Steelers/Broncos

Burner: Whew! Well that is why Playoff football is the best. Sure the first three games were pretty heavy on the boring, but damn if this game wasn’t pure excitement. With a mostly wounded Steelers team facing off against a moribund Denver offense this one had all the makings of a 7-6 game with the winner being Boredom. Instead we two quick Tim Tebow touchdowns (one on the ground, one through the air) and an early Broncos lead. For a while there it really looked like Denver would win this game going away. While Pittsburgh may be old and beat up, they’re also a team of veterans that don’t give up easy. Slowly over the course of the second half they worked away at the Broncos lead, eventually chipping away all 23 points of it. With the score tied the Broncos took the ball with 3:44 left to play and it looked like it would be Magic Time, but Denver faltered around midfield, the drive ending when Tebow hideously under threw a wide open Demaryius Thomas. After the punt the Steelers drove back to midfield and crossed into Denver territory. There the Broncos defense stood up, strip sacking Rothlisberger for a big loss. After that Pittsburgh couldn’t get back into field goal range before time ran out.

The start of over time prompted a long discussion of the new system which basically says you can’t win the game on a first possession field goal. Though this being the NFL that fairly simple concept had to be laid out in the most complex legalese with all of its permutations examined. Then it all became hilariously moot as Tebow dropped an 80 yard bomb to Demaryius Thomas, who bitched off a Steeler with a stiff arm, and sprinted down field for the game winning touchdown. Kevin and I agree that giving both teams a chance at the ball regardless of the manner in which the first team scores makes the most sense, but it’s pretty tough to argue with how exciting that play was. As regular readers know, I’m not much of a fan of either of these teams (truth be told I was sort of rooting for this to happen), but this was a damned exciting football game that’s got me really excited for next week. Oh, uh the Broncos head to play the New England team that dominated them at home just a few weeks ago, so let me be the first to welcome the Patriots to the AFC Championship game.

Kevin: TEBOOOOOWWWWW! What a performance. What else is there to say? Dude runs the ball great and makes throws when he needs to. I can’t believe Pitt didn’t keep a safety back after getting burned about 5 times. #coveragefail Impressed that Mr. Graydick brought them back one-legged, but he couldn’t out Tebow, Tebow. I suspect the Broncos will get crushed at New England next week, but the Tebow factor remains in effect. And the first game would have been much more competitive without the turnovers. Limit those and who knows what will happen…

Re: the overtime system: Burner and I talked during the game that it always seems the NFL is half-assed about implementing new rules. Think of instant replay when it started (very limited) versus the instant replay system we have now (every score). Why they couldn’t just go all the way with the new overtime rules is beyond me. Is it that difficult to come up with a system where both teams get the chance to receive a kickoff? What’s with this both teams have to have the ball unless the first team scores a TD on the first possession? That just negates the main point behind altering the overtime rules to begin with – allowing TEAMS, who have played equally for 4 quarters, to use all three phases of the game to try and win. It sucked when superior offenses had the upperhand. I don’t feel they really addressed that with these new rules. Just kick the ball off twice. If they both score FG’s or TD’s, great, we get to watch more football. If not, at least we know that no one phase of the game would determine the winner without the others being involved. I’m sure will get there, but it’ll take 5-10 years.

Dave: Hahahaha… sorry, I’m still recovering from Kevin’s HILARIOUS and ORIGINAL Ben Roethlisberger joke. ANYWAY…I didn’t start watching this one until Kevin shot out the Teboooow! texts. He’s already acting like a proud father. When Tebow gets beat by 21 points next week against the Patriots of course Kevin will distance himself from him as quickly as possible. That’ll be fun to watch. I just hope we don’t have to watch a Ravens vs. Patriots game, however. I might have to take up drywall if that happens.

Burner: Dave you’re not excited about a possible Baltimore/New England game? You said you didn’t think Baltimore/Houston would be interesting because they’re too similar. I have to think you can’t get much different that the Patriots and the Ravens. High powered offense against great defense. Crummy defense vs crummy offense. Seems like it should be an interesting match up, the Ravens have really only turned in bad games against bad teams this year so they should play up to New England’s level.

Dave: Alright, you got me. I’m not really excited about any of these AFC teams. I just think that New England will roll and that will be the worst thing ever.

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