*This is the American male’s favorite time of year. It’s his payback for all the holiday festivities he endured, all the super Dad stunts, for all those times he was shaken awake to check on a sound, for all the midnight runs to the store and for opening those hard to open jars. Yes, the NFL playoffs have become a de facto men’s holiday season with all of its testosterone-driven pomp and splendor.
So far this year’s playoffs are shaping up to be one for the ages. This past weekend pitted the soon retiring middle linebacker Ray Lewis and the new-school Baltimore Ravens offense against Dr. Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans vs. Tom “Terrific” Brady and the New England Patriots, the rugged and run heavy attack of the San Francisco 49ers vs. Aaron “Discount Double Check” Rodgers and the 11th ranked Green Bay Packers scoring defense, and Matt Ryan’s high-flying Atlanta Falcon vs. surprising rookie Russell Wilson and the over-achieving Seattle Seahawks.
The first tasty morsel of athletic excellence presented to us this past weekend was a clash between two of the marquee franchises in the NFL, Packers vs. Niners. Colin Kaepernick arguably had the greatest game by any rookie quarterback in the history of the NFL playoffs as he single-handedly destroyed the Packs’ secondary, and made their defensive front look dazed and confused.
The Packs’ defense looked as wobbly and uncertain as a toddler taking first steps almost from the moment the ball was snapped. After throwing an early interception, Colin Kaepernick threw for 263 yards, 2 TD and ran for 181 yards (NFL record) and 2 TDs. Kaep was making veterans like BJ Raji look completely foolish on several occasions. He caused Raji to jump off sides with a hard count in a critical situation, and made Pro Bowler A.J. Hawk look plain old silly with the read option. Hawk attempted to tackle or pursued the wrong guy at least 4 times that I could see. The score final score was 31-45, but the game didn’t even look that close.
The next game featured the vaunted, but aging, Baltimore Ravens defense and quarterback Joe Flacco against the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The game was a well fought, back and forth double overtime affair that turned on a rare mental mistake by the otherwise surgically accurate Peyton Manning. If I didn’t know any better I would have thought Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys was Manning’s stand in the way he rolled out and tried to force a pass to a receiver who everyone knew was covered. Everyone except Manning it would seem. Justin Tucker’s 47 yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the second OT sealed the deal.
The Broncos trounced a injury-riddled Ravens squad during the regular season leading some “experts” to believe they had no chance in the playoffs. So much for what the experts say. Final score 38-35. Manning and family displayed tremendous sportsmanship by staying and congratulating Ray Lewis. Respect due, but a loss is still a loss.
Those Saturday playoff games had sports fans salivating for more, and they may have been let down just a bit. Especially if they were fans of the Houston Texans. Tom Brady turned in yet another magnificent playoff game as the Patriots exploited a Texans defense that was ranked 10th in the league in scoring.
Brady proved to be the kryptonite to overcome it, becoming the winning-est postseason quarterback in NFL history with 17 playoff wins. Houston started the season with 11 wins and 1 loss. After losing to New England 14-42 in week 14, the Texans went 1-3 in their remaining games. Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick appears to have their number, and then some. He and the Pats seemed to rob the Texans of their confidence during their first match up, thus their losing record after meeting up with them. The Pats’ mercy killing put Houston, and their fans, out of their misery until next season. How nice of them.
The most exciting game of the playoffs thus far might just be Seattle vs. Atlanta. In the first half it it was like the Seahawks were getting undressed, taunted and embarrassed in a room full of anorexic supermodels by the high-octane offense of the Falcon’s defense. Down 20-0 at the end of the 1st half, Seattle showed tremendous resiliency in the second half.
Led by former 3rd round draft pick Russell Wilson, and clutch catches from tight end Zack Miller and wide receiver Golden Tate, the Seahawks stormed back and tied the game with 28 unanswered points, 21 in the 4th quarter. It seemed like Matty Ice and the Falcons were about to choke in yet another playoff game they should easily have won, for the 3rd year in a row. But a steady dose of late game blitzes proved to be Seattle’s undoing. The final score was 28-30 on a late field goal. Russell Wilson finished with an NFL rookie quarterback passing record 385 yards. Sheesh…whose going to lie and say they saw that coming?
An outstanding effort by Wilson gives Seahawk fans plenty to look forward to next year. Peyton, though he fell short, is sure to bring the pain to divisional opponents all year in the 2013 season. The Texans? Though this is their best season ever, Houston has shown little to no intestinal fortitude in the playoffs in their short history. Always folding, always flailing and eventually failing. Can’t blame it on Matt Schaub this time around.
No synopsis of Green Bay necessary. As long as they have Aaron Rodgers, they are a contender. But that defense needs to be much, much better next time. You can’t expect to simply outscore all comers on the road to the Super Bowl. It rarely works that way. Especially if your name is not Tom Brady.
We’ve come so far from the start of the season up to this point, the NFC and AFC Championship games are looming in the short distance and we appear to be in store for a two more games that have the potential to have us at the edge of our seats.
The AFC Championship game will feature the NE Patriots against the Baltimore Ravens. Tom Brady has 3 Superbowl rings and, naturally, sportscasters try to put other contemporary quarterbacks in Tom Brady’s class, but the truth is he has no modern day quarterback rivals from a winning perspective. However, he does have a linebacker rival in Ray Lewis, who sports 2 rings of his own to go along with 14 playoff victories.
How appropriate is it that the Ravens play the Patriots in the AFC Championship game in Ray’s swan song season? Wow! Though the Patriots’ offense is capable of outscoring anyone if Brady’s jersey stays clean, the Ravens don’t like clean jerseys. Especially if it’s Tom’s. The Patriots will be without pass catching tight end Rob Gronkowski, who re-broke his left arm during the game against the Texans. New England is a surprisingly good running team, ranked 7th overall in the regular season. Running back Stevan Ridley ran for a respectable 82 yards, while back up running back Shane Vereen racked up 41 yards. Not bad at all, but I have a sneaky suspicion the Ravens are make a concerted effort to stop the running game early. Their run defense, down from its glory days, will play its heart out for Lewis in a heated contest of rivals. Whether successful in stopping the run or not, Baltimore can expect a steady dose of slants and short passes punctuated with big play attempts down field. Tom’s not going to play the opposing team’s game. He usually is the one imposing his will against others.
Ravens’ receiver Anquan Boldin has been ballin’ hard in these playoffs like he used to when he was in Arizona. Ray Rice is Ray Rice. He has done, and will continue to do, his thing. He blocks, he catches and, of course, he runs with reckless abandon. Joe Flacco has been more than serviceable at quarterback this post season. But I wouldn’t rely too much on him. He’s still gets rattled at times. Though Tom “Terrific” is still Tom “Terrific”, I think the Ravens overcome and take Lewis to his final Super Bowl in a 28-24 victory over the Patriots.
The NFC Championship game is looking like a complete and total blowout in my opinion. Atlanta’s defense nearly caused yet another collapse in a post season game, though I admit they are the reason the Falcons were finally able to put away the pesky Seahawks and their precocious yet explosive quarterback. The Falcons have shown that they have difficulty defending running quarterbacks all season.
They are 1-1 against a poor Tampa Bay Bucs team, 1-1 against a sorry Carolina Panthers team, 1-0 against the Redskins, and they barely beat Seattle this past weekend. These teams each feature a running quarterback with an arm cannon. I feel as though the read option play will confuse Falcons defenders allowing for big plays down field late in the game. But, even if Kaep does start playing like a rookie, the 49ers still have a tremendous advantage as far as defense and overall team toughness is concerned, in my opinion. Matty Ice and clutch are unfamiliar with one another, despite the Falcons win last week. I don’t think they become better acquainted anytime soon. Final score 35-21 Niners.
Bottom Line: If our scenario plays out, the Harbaugh brothers (Jim, coach of the 49ers and John, coach of the Ravens) – will meet each other in the Super Bowl. Wow, won’t that be an interesting story line.