by Ryan Meehan
Wild Card weekend in the NFL this year began on a very rainy afternoon in Charlotte, was split down the middle by the unfortunate death of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott early Sunday morning, and ended with a debate over a flag picked up in the most intense match-up out of the four games. The NFL’s one-and-done playoff structure is necessary given the brutal nature of collision sport, but it’s also one of the reasons it makes for the most interesting postseasons in all of the sports landscape. When the smoke cleared, four teams emerged victorious but were rewarded with the looming danger of much more challenging games next week in the divisional round. Although not an amazing weekend of football, it was certainly a sight to behold so let’s pull back and take a look at what happened during Wild Card weekend.
Panthers 27, Cardinals 16
Regardless of the outcome of this football game, I still can’t help but wonder where the hell the Carolina Panthers were the first twelve games of the season. I suppose if you want to get hot, you’re going to want to do it at the end of the year instead of the beginning. No finer example of such poor winning streak placement would be Arizona, who has had a rough couple of months to say the least. This game was a continuation of that, as the Cardinals held a 14-13 lead heading into halftime of this one. But sure as the regular season led us to believe, they were almost blanked in the second half and eventually succumbed to the Panthers and their now finally balanced record. One key reason for that would be that the Carolina Panthers defense held Arizona to an incredibly low 78 yards of total offense, setting an NFL playoff record in the process. It was a fantastic performance on all fronts, and they should be very proud of themselves…But what does that stat really tell us? It tells us that Arizona’s offense was a mess and can’t do anything productive at all. As for the immediate future of the franchise, it’s not the end of the world here…Arizona is going to still be a good team next year, but a lot rests on the health of Carson Palmer. I think we can all agree that if he gets hurt again, all of that money they just gave him is likely to have been wasted and then Arizona is back to being a team that floats around .500 although they have a solid defense. Carolina deserves credit where credit is due, although I’m not sure that this is the place for that kind of talk. I don’t think it’s going to matter much, as they’re headed to Seattle for a beatdown next Saturday Night.
Ravens 30, Steelers 17
As much as it pains me to do so, I have to give it up to Joe Flacco. 10-4 in the playoffs and 13 TDs in his last 5 playoff games is impressive regardless of how boring you sound when you get to the podium. The Baltimore Ravens were the better team on this day…Although they struggled in the first quarter they put up ten points in each of the last three, and when you have that kind of double digit consistency to rely on late in the game you are going to win 90% of the time. The Steelers having three turnovers was integral in them dropping this game, but at the same time the first one was a lot more important than the later two. There’s nothing more depressing than when you see your team make the first mistake knowing that it won’t be the last on the day. Pittsburgh will be back in the thick of things next year, and while not having their star running back in this contest wouldn’t have likely have made up for the two possession difference in scoring it definitely could have ended up affecting the overall momentum that they would have had if Le’Veon Bell had been healthy. As an added note I want to say that even though I have good friends who are Patriots fans, there were other people out of that camp who I happen to be connected with on social networking sites and were mocking Ben Roethlisberger’s struggle in this game. This is pure insanity – The results of this game mean that the Patriots will get to host the Ravens, which in my opinion should be the last team they want to see a week from now. Baltimore is a damn good football team right now. Although they won’t be favored, they have the best chance to win next weekend out of all of the underdogs.
Colts 26, Bengals 10
The main reason that Cincinnati lost this game is that they probably should never have been here in the first place. The AFC North was so congested this year that three teams from that division made the playoffs, yet two of those teams were eliminated in a 24 hour period. One of those two teams were the Bengals, who didn’t look all that bad in the first half of this game. But with no AJ Green, Giovani Bernard quickly became their go-to guy and he only had 46 yards on eight receptions. It probably also didn’t help that Dalton’s QB rating was 20, and to make matters worse he had the second most running yards on the afternoon so you know Cincy wasn’t getting it done on the ground. But it wasn’t just the rushing attack that was affected, the Colts defense really jammed up the middle as Dalton’s avg. yards/throw were 3.8 compared to Luck’s 8.2. Speaking of Andrew Luck, he went 31/44 for 376 and I have a feeling this won’t be the last playoff game in which we see him being successful. It probably didn’t hurt that TY Hilton had a big day with 103 receiving yards, Indianapolis won the time of possession battle by nine minutes, and that is very representative of how dominant they can be when everything is falling into place. As for the Bengals, Andy Dalton losing in the first round of the postseason is slowly turning into an American New Years’ tradition. A lot of people are bashing his lack of ability to show up in close games, but at the same time – what did they really expect from him to begin with? I guess I never seem to be disappointed every time this happens because I don’t really view Andy Dalton as the firecrotched version of Joe Montana. I even heard a radio host this weekend say something about how this method of how we judge quarterbacks based on their postseason performances is the product of the twenty four hour sports news cycle…Huh? What in the hell is he talking about? It’s not like the Dan Marino discussion just opened itself up this past summer. Cincinnati got what they should have known they were getting – a guy who can get you to the first round of the playoffs. They just shouldn’t have paid that much for him.
Cowboys 24, Lions 20
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, there was a pass interference flag that was picked up late in this game which crippled the Lions’ chances of winning. After heading into the locker room up 17-7, Detroit appeared to be in complete control of this one. But in the third quarter they began to sputter, and eventually lost the lead on Dallas’ final meaningful possession. The flag for pass interference was picked up by the officials with no explanation over the loudspeakers whatsoever. To complicate matters, Dez Bryant ran onto the field with his helmet off and started jawing the refs and wasn’t flagged. Since when are players allowed to do that? I hate to be the conspiracy theorist guy here but you have to understand that every single time this happens although the league might benefit from a better match-up the following week, a seed of doubt is planted in the hearts and minds of those who are casual fans of the game. Those of us who write about it and live and breathe NFL are going to show up regardless, but it’s those people on the fence who are struggling to get past these incidents which seem like there may be portions of the NFL which appear scripted. Long story short, it just looks bad. That stated, I do think that Dallas did play much better than the Lions down the stretch and probably deserved to win anyway. This is the part of the piece where you are likely wondering when I am going to begin gushing about Tony Romo. Guess what? No dice. Let’s take a look at the stat line and see if we can find out why: 19/31? Meh. There are a lot of average NFL QBs who put up that completion percentage. 293 yards? Not 300. 2 TDs? Come on – this league is full of guys who can do that, especially when you consider how the NFL protects the quarterback these days. I will give Tony Romo credit for the zero interceptions, but I still didn’t see a Super Bowl quarterback wearing a Dallas Cowboys uniform on Sunday. Now, he did keep his cool and ignite a hell of a comeback but his defense had a lot to do with that. Detroit looked great at the beginning of this one, but when the shit hit the fan they panicked and it was obvious they didn’t have the veteran leadership that could have very well made the difference in a four point contest.
Next week the divisional round is here and we’re all set to go for the most exciting and action-packed weekend of the NFL season!
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.