by Ryan Meehan
Divisional Playoff weekend has always been my favorite weekend during the pro football season. There’s four games, usually for the most part all of the teams deserve to be there, and it’s the last Saturday of the year that there’s football on at night. We start off in San Francisco, where the analysts were saying Alex Smith was about to get outdone by somebody who knows a little bit more about playoff games than Alex Smith…
49ers 36, Saints 32
This started out as a wild one. Two quick Saints turnovers led to two equally quick 49ers touchdowns, and then on the ensuing kickoff the Saints turned the ball over again, with return man Courtney Roby fumbling twice on one play, the second of which he was not able to recover. So here were the 49ers with a fresh set of downs and ready to go up 21-0 on the most dangerous scoring machine in the NFL with twelve minutes to go. Only problem was, they couldn’t seal the deal. They were able to salvage a field goal in order to get at least three points out of the special teams mishap. Then the Saints started to show signs of what the Saints really look like, with Brees throwing two touchdown passes – one to Marques Colston and another to Jimmy Graham.
After the Saints caught up, the third quarter turned into a bit of a field position battle and ended with the Saints driving into San Francisco territory. By the time the fourth quarter started Drew Brees had already thrown 47 passes, not shocking as it wasn’t exactly their game plan to hope to run all over that 49ers D line. They added a field goal, and then the Niners added one as well.
Alex Smith took a big step forward here as it looked like Drew Brees was about to come in to his house and show him how it’s done in the crunch time. As it turns out, as spectacular of a throw Brees made to Jimmy Graham it ended up being for nil because they left the 49ers with just enough time on the clock to come back and win the game on a pass to Vernon Davis. (And their defense is bad. Real bad.) There were four lead changes in the last five minutes of this game, and it ended up being one of the better contests to watch in recent playoff history.
Patriots 45, Broncos 10
The Patriots got smacked in the mouth by the Jets pretty hard during divisional round last year, and they looked determined to change their haters’ idea of what they are in 2012. Google today’s news about both the Jets and the Patriots and then do the same with They were given a bit of a gift though, as there was nobody that they matched up against in the playoffs better than the Broncos.
I didn’t expect Denver to show up here. I wasn’t blown away by the fact that they were able to beat the Steelers last week…Pittsburgh is getting old and I figured fuck it, these things are going to happen; someone is going to reap the benefits of it and the Broncos got free cake last week. New England isn’t like that, they don’t rely on other people’s mistakes. They have three tight ends (all of which are currently healthy) and none of them are greedy enough to want the ball every down. This game was a perfect example of that: Wes Welker caught one touchdown pass in, but for the most part was a diversion so that the Broncos secondary and linebackers would focus less on Aaron Hernandez, who ended up having a huge day. And the whole thing between those two ended up being a distraction so that they could REALLY focus on getting Gronkowski the ball. Gronk is at the point where he almost can’t be used as a diversion, as he’s just shoving people into lockers as of late. It’s bully as hell, and it’s working.
I don’t have a whole lot of stats to throw around here: Sure, there are the obvious ones: Tom Brady had five TDs in the first half, six total, and Tim Tebow finished 9 for 26 for a hundred and it doesn’t really matter yards. This game was over at halftime. My only real criticism of the Patriots is that since this game WAS over at halftime, they should have pulled Brady sometime in the third quarter. And I’m the type of fan that genuinely believes that there is no such thing as running up the score, but there is such a thing as leaving a guy who is a first ballot Hall of Famer out there when the two most important games of the year are coming next. One missed block and some guy named Joe Flacco all of a sudden has the upper hand.
I’m not going to bullshit anybody: New England does look really, really, really, really good. And I can honestly say that they don’t appear to be any sort of false sense for hope: They have three tight ends and all of them are sick. I hear: “They don’t have a running game!” Look, in an age where the league is protecting the quarterback more than ever I’m not going to sit here and listen to that argument anymore. This is the same league where Colt McCoy drops back 61 times in a game and doesn’t die. Sure it helps to have a Maurice Jones Drew or an Adrian Peterson, but you can get to much higher places without a running back these days.
Ravens 20, Texans 13
Most of us expected some boring football here, and boy did we get it. I didn’t experience this, but I would assume that watching this game with a hangover would have been an extremely difficult thing to do. The Texans went up on the first possession with a field goal, but after Baltimore scored Houston didn’t lead the rest of the game. Since Alex Smith may have finally shed his “game-manager” title after his heroics on Saturday, maybe that brand will now permanently belong to Joe Flacco. Flacco went 14/27 for 176, TJ Yates went 17/35 for 184. The difference here was that Yates threw three interceptions but no touchdowns, and Flacco had two touchdowns and zero picks. So even though it may seem like a tired argument, the importance of turnovers can not be understated.
Speaking of which, another thing that can’t be understated is a team’s ability to spread the ball around. One of the Texans’ problems in some of their later games this season was their inability to get tight end Owen Daniels involved. And if you look at the stat sheet, the Texans will win most games where a healthy Arian Foster has 132 on the ground and Andre Johnson has 111 receiving. Some teams can get away with the lack of diversity when they have an amazing quarterback and/or a WR or RB that can carry the whole team themselves throughout an entire playoff runs. Now we know it goes without saying that the Texans are obviously not one of those teams.
So this is the part where I’d usually say congratulations to the Texans, and how TJ Yates has such a bright future, but I think we all know that’s not true: Matt Schaub will be starting next year, Yates will likely be on a different team, and the Texans don’t have the depth to take on the upper echelon AFC squads such as the Patriots or the Ravens. They could easily fall back right into mediocrity in 2012-13.
Oh, right…the Ravens. Well, they didn’t have an glorious stat sheet – Other than Anquan Boldin you can’t say they had their offense designed around one specific guy. They weren’t hugely dominant in the run game like they had been in some of the other matchups this year. Not to go back to how old the Steelers are, but it almost reminds me a lot of…how old the Ravens are SUPPOSED to be. The Ravens are supposed to be old. Yeah, I know Ed Reed got hurt here and that might seem slightly contradictory to my point, but the Ravens are only as old as they want to be. They can be a scrappy bunch of guys that looks young for all the right reasons or a crappy bunch of guys who look juvenile for all the wrong reasons. Lately they’ve been the first. They’re about to get a serious test, but when you think about it with all of the times they’ve been in here you’d figure they would have struck gold at least once since 2000. The Ravens know the playoffs just as well as anybody, they just can’t punch the horse in the mouth. Not like any prediction from me is sacred anyway, considering what happened next.
Giants 37, Packers 20
I was actually quite impressed that the New York Giants made it to the divisional round. Almost everybody in the country had the Falcons winning that Wild Card game, including myself. But his one? Didn’t see it coming at all.
Sunday’s game against the Packers was a “next tier” type of thing where I felt the Giants became all the more intense once and for all: Took care of business and didn’t look one bit nervous. And in all fairness, it is a huge achievement: Lambeau Field is supposed to be this gallows for everyone to go up to Wisconsin and just walk right up to their inevitable death without a fight…yet these last two times the Giants have won in Green Bay it doesn’t seem like the Packers have had much of a home field advantage at all.
New York came out like my hand to the Lord when that game started. And they stayed on top throughout the whole thing. As for Green Bay, turnover after turnover they were the most consistent team in the NFL. They kept giving the Giants the ball and the Giants were playing to strip like crazy anyway so in all likelihood, they would only really be able to head one of two ways: 1) Make it look easy and the Giants will self-destruct like a lot of the times they have this year. You figure they’ll beat themselves by blowing enough tackles you’ve got the situation under control. Or 2) Fail miserably, which is exactly what they did Sunday. The Packers looked lost at timed…the defense got torched on big plays and when you get torched on big plays, guys like Hakeem Nicks are going to beat you and send you home. Aaron Rodgers rushed for six first downs? There’s no way that was the game plan. The Giants were in there early and often, and he was being forced all sorts of places he didn’t want to go.
The Giants will probably lose next week to the 49ers. But either way, you have to admit this was pretty hilarious. Green Bay, American football Mecca…15 and 2. Again I didn’t call this, but as a fan this was pretty big. There was a horseshit call late on Osi Umenyioura for a personal foul, and if you’ve seen it online it’s priceless. The guy could have held the door for him and still gotten a flag. The NFL needs to back off calling hits like this and remember that the last image they should want is to be run by a bunch of flaccid investment firms. (Here’s an example: If you heard some douchebag was going to buy your team and for some reason thought he’d be a shitty owner, as a fan you wouldn’t be out of place expressing your concern. But if Larry Csonka came to town, you’d be more than likely to support it regardless because Larry could throw you through a restaurant window. See the difference?)
So next week’s matchups will be:
AFC Championship: Baltimore Ravens (14-3) at New England Patriots (14-3) 2PM CBS TV
NFC Championship: New York Giants (11-7) at San Francisco 49ers (14-3) 5:30 PM FOX TV
Friday or Saturday we’ll have our annual FOH Championship weekend preview where we’ll take a look at both of the games and see what the many possibilities are. As of right now I’m calling Patriots/49ers in the Super Bowl. I’ll take New England as a five and a half point favorite.
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