After a great weekend of NFL games last weekend in which 3 out of 4 Wild Card games came down to a field goal, this week was a little more disappointing in terms of intrigue. Not one of the four games was really in doubt during the course of the weekend, as all four favorites handled their business and are now going on to play Championship Weekend in which might be the best Final Four in NFL History. Next week we will have the legendary QB matchup that we all wanted in Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady and the NFC West Blood Bath Part III, as the Seahawks and 49ers battle it out for NFC Supremacy. Before we begin breaking down these incredible games, let’s take a look as to how we got here.
Seattle Seahawks 23 – New Orleans Saints 15: Even though the final score shows a one score loss for New Orleans, anyone watching the game witnessed a one-sided Seattle win, despite New Orleans tacking on some points in the closing minutes. Marshawn Lynch went into “Beast Mode” with 140 yards and two touchdowns. His second TD run came with 2:40 left in the game and the 31 yard dash to end zone pretty much ended the game. Although Russell Wilson had a shaky game, the Seattle defense and running game more than made up for it. The best TE in the game, Jimmy Graham was held without a catch until there was 41 seconds left in the game, and his eight yard reception did nothing other than erase the zero on his stat line. Although Drew Brees ended up with 309 yards, he was only 24 of 43 in earning those yards and a big chunk of them came in the 4th quarter when Seattle began playing a prevent style of defense. Overall, the Seahawks took care of business and will now host the NFC Championship game in a building that provides them with the past home field advantage in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers 23- Carolina Panthers 10: In what was expected to be a low scoring defensive affair, the San Francisco 49ers kept their hopes of a second consecutive Super Bowl trip alive by beating the Carolina Panthers on the road. There was a debate about who the more reliable QB heading into the game would be, Colin Kaepernick who has done nothing but win in his career but doesn’t bolster the sexiest numbers; or Cam Newton, the #1 pick from three years ago who has the stats to backup his game but he was making his playoff debut. While Kaepernick didn’t wow anybody with gaudy numbers, he stayed true to form and got San Francisco into the end zone once with his arm and once with his leg. Cam Newton let the playoff nerves get to him a little bit and ended up throwing 2 picks along with only one touchdown. Twice in the game, Carolina had the ball inside the 49ers 3 yard line with first and goal. Both times, the stingy 49er defense stopped them from getting into the end zone, as Carolina settled for one FG and turned the ball over on downs. Frank Gore had a solid game as usual, running the ball 17 times for 84 yards. The veteran WR Anquan Boldin, whom the 49ers picked up from the Champion Ravens for moments like yesterday had a huge game, catching 8 balls for 136 yards. The 49ers stamped their ticket to Seattle where they’ll look to carry on their Road Warrior ways in what should be an epic battle.
New England Patriots 43 – Indianapolis Colts 22: This was the only game I got wrong in my predictions last week. Though I also felt that Andrew Luck was overhyped at this early stage in his career, I believed that the injury plagued Patriots would be vulnerable to the Colts. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was traveling to a bar to catch the game and by the time I reached my stool at 8:30, the Colts were in a 14-0 hole. Andrew Luck played like an Andrew Luck type of game, throwing for a lot of yards but combined his 2 TDs with 4 INTs. This is a recipe that will always lead to a loss, especially when going against a Bill Belichick coached. I never thought I’d see the day in which the Patriots score 6 TDs and Tom Brady was responsible for none of them, but that is exactly what happened. LeGarrette Blount tied the Patriot postseason record with 166 yards on the ground, adding 4 TDs to an incredible stat line. Stevan Ridley added 52 yards and 2 scores of his own as he attempted to redefine what has been an extremely disappointing season. With the run game in high gear and Brady still at the helm, the Patriots played their way into their 3rd straight AFC Championship game.
Denver Broncos 24 – San Diego Chargers 17: If you told the San Diego Chargers that they would hold Peyton Manning and the Broncos high power offense to 24 points, I guarantee you that they would have felt really good about their chances of winning. In a season in which all of the talk in Denver has been about the offensive weapons at Manning’s disposal, it was the much aligned defense which stepped up and lead the Broncos to victory. The Chargers were unable to get onto the score board until the fourth quarter, as Phillip Rivers only completed 18 passes for a meager 217 yards. San Diego has been living with it’s running game in recent weeks, but the Denver front seven only allowed the Chargers 65 yards on the ground. I couldn’t believe all of the chatter I heard this week in which the “experts” felt as if San Diego had the Broncos number. The fact that Phillip Rivers was 6-2 in his career in Denver and that Peyton Manning was 0-3 in his last 3 postseason games provided the fodder for this misconception. Peyton was efficient, threw for 230 yards and 2 TDs and most importantly, helped the Broncos convert 3rd downs at a 9 of 13 clip. Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball combined for 133 yards on the ground for Denver who controlled the game and will now be reward by hosting the AFC Championship game next week.
We will be breaking down each matchup in detail later this week and give our picks for the games…next week will be unbelievable as the four best teams in the NFL are alive and all four of them are candidates to win the Super Bowl this year. Stay tuned and enjoy the hoops and puck until the weekend arrives…
1. Cam Newton is officially in a Sophomore Slump. After a stellar Rookie year which lead to some NFL “experts” predicting an MVP type season, Newton has struggled out of the gate and has led the Panthers to a 1-4 start. In last week’s game, Cam did literally nothing the entire game, but due to a Carolina defensive TD to open the second half, the Panthers found themselves on the 5 yard with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter. With the score 16-10 on 4th and goal, the Panthers rolled Cam out to the right and had a wide open man in the end one for a game winning score. Newton decided to throw a bounce pass at his target, channeling the great John Stockton. Unfortunately, on a football field, the ball doesn’t bounce off the turf and even if it does, the referees will usually call it incomplete (unless they are replacement refs). Cam, it’s time to quit the Superman act if you keep playing like Quailman.
2. The NFC West is much better than we thought. My Superbowl Champion pick from May, the San Francisco 49ers are coming off two dominating performances in which they outscored their opponents by 84. The Arizona Cardinals are sporting a 4-1 record and look to have the defense to keep up the good play in the next few weeks. The Seattle Seahawks at 3-2 have played reallly well as Pete Carroll has led his team to wins in Carolina, against the Packers and even their two loses were close games at both the Giants and Cowboys. Rounding out the division is the 3-2 Rams, who have played much better under Jeff Fisher, as they are coming off a Thursday night victory in which they handed the Cardinals their first defeat of the year. Two years ago, the NFC West was won by Seattle with a 7-9 overall record and NFL fans were calling it one of the worse divisions in history. Obviously, all 4 teams have rebounded well in a very short period of time.
3. Andrew Luck does not look like a Rookie. One of the most surprising teams in the league thus far has been the Luck lead Indianapolis Colts, as they honored their Head Coach Chuck Pagano with a shocking win against the Green Bay Packers. Pagano was diagnosed with a curable form of leukemia early last week and nobody would have blamed the Colts if they came out against the Packers slow. Andrew Luck would not allow that to happen. The overall #1 pick went toe to toe with the defending MVP Aaron Rodgers, and outlasted one of the best QBs in the game for a thrilling 30-27 win. He went 31 for 55, throwing for 362 yards, 212 of them to Reggie Wayne. He is quickly making Colts fans feel better about their divorce form the legendary Peyton Manning. Luck brings the Colts into Met Life this week to face the Jets, in what will be a make of break game for both teams. As a Jet fan, I’m not feeling overly confident.
4. NFL Records are not nearly as big a deal as MLB records. It was cool to see Drew Brees break Johnny Unitas’s record of consecutive games with a TD pass, but on the real, I had no idea the record was held by Unitas or what the number was. There are a few NFL records that do stand out from the others, Emmit Smith’s all-time rushing record, Rice’s insane amount of receiving feats, Favre’s consecutive games played, the 17-0 Miami Dolphins, but overall, football is not a sport built on these statitistics. All sports fans know about Cal Ripkin’s streak, DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak, CY Young’s victories, and the numerous HR records that have unfortunately been set by juicers in recent years. Baseball is a game about numbers, football is game based on action and violence. Not to take away from Brees’ accomplishment, it is truly impressive. To me, it’s just really not as exciting as the media and NFL made it out to be. Hell, they even let Sean Peyton in the building to watch!
5. It’s almost time to pull the plug on Michael Vick. The athletic, talented dog killer has become a huge liability for the Philadelphia Eagles. Vick seems to be allergic to the football lately. He has fumbled the ball 8 times, losing 5 of them in the early season. The Eagles are a very lucky 3-2 and could easily be 0-5 due to Vick’s carelessness. With his 5 lost fumbles, Vick has also thrown 6 picks to lead the league with 11 turnovers (thats even more than Sanchez!) With all the weapons Vick has in Philladelphia, he needs to get the ball out of his hands and let his playmakers like Lesean McCoy, Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin make plays for him. I don’t think it’s time yet to make a move, but Andy Reid’s job is on the line and if he doesn’t at least alter his game plan to hide Vick’s flaws a little bit more, Reid will find himself on the unemployment line at the end of the season.