I apologize for this being a few days later than I wanted it to be, but let’s take a look back at last weekend’s Wild Card games. These games gave us plenty to talk about and think about going forward so let’s get right to it.
A Bitter Rivalry Turns Ugly
So by now everyone is well aware that the Steelers-Bengals game from Saturday night was “chippy”. Ok, that was a major understatement. Vontaze Burfict has already been suspended three games for his hit on Antonio Brown, no one knows why Joey Porter was on the field, and Adam “Pacman” Jones has already deleted an Instagram post. Plenty of people voiced the opinion that the Steelers got lucky and the Bengals got robbed. Either the second penalty was ridiculous, or at the very least should have been offsetting penalties, and the Ryan Shazier hit on Gio Bernard should have been flagged.
I disagree. The second two of those three arguments do have validity to them, but the fact of the matter is that the Steelers just OWN the Bengals. When it mattered most, even win the Bengals had multiple opportunities to put the game away, the Steelers were the team who had the poise and composure to win the game, even with a quarterback who has a sprained acromioclavicular joint and torn shoulder ligaments in his throwing shoulder. Also, let’s not forget that if we are going to point fingers at referees, something I rarely condone, let’s point out that they hurt the Steelers, too.
One: They blow calling a guy down which leads to William Gay scoring a touchdown and drawing a celebration penalty. Yes, William Gay shouldn’t have drawn the flag, but that doesn’t change the fact that if the play had been correctly blown dead he probably wouldn’t have gotten the penalty. Two: If William Gay’s celebration was a “coordinated celebration” how is five guys running off the field into their tunnel with the game ball after an interception not a “coordinated celebration”? Three: We can debate whether or not the aforementioned Shazier hit should have been a penalty, but undeniably a fumble that was returned for a touchdown was blown dead. I know most of you are probably saying, “Yeah but that happens all the time!” Yes, it does, but that does not mean that it didn’t hurt the Steelers either. All in all, I thought the best team for the majority of the game ended up winning.
Reasons for Pittsburgh optimism vs. Denver
Pittsburgh at full strength might be better than Denver at this point in the season. Peyton Manning isn’t particularly scary at this point in his career, and it feels like the Broncos best football might be behind them.
Reasons for Pittsburgh pessimism vs. Denver
Pittsburgh isn’t at full strength and likely to be without their two best offensive playmakers. They are going on the road. Landry Jones isn’t better than 39-year-old Peyton Manning.
Prediction: Denver-23 Pittsburgh-20
The Blair Kick Project II: Ice Cold
Little did we know when Seattle and Minnesota kicked off last Sunday that the weather would only be the second coldest aspect of the game. Fate’s relationship with the Vikings’ fanbase won out yet again though. However, blaming Blair Walsh is harsh and short-sighted. He was still responsible for 100% of their points in the game, and Minnesota’s offense had a couple of opportunities to put the ball in the end zone and they couldn’t capitalize. Let’s not forget that Adrian Peterson had a key fumble, and that the defense had a key breakdown on a busted play that was the real momentum swing. It was a team effort and Walsh doesn’t deserve to be a complete goat. Also, LACES OUT DAN!!!
The Seahawks just seem to have the “it” factor though. Looking at those plays from another lens, Kam Chancellor ripped AP when a turnover was necessary and Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett both had the wherewithal to keep the play alive and make something out of nothing. Seattle is the best six-seed in a long time and will be a dangerous team going to Carolina.
Reasons for optimism vs. Carolina
Seattle has “been there” more than Carolina, and as mentioned earlier they have “it”. Russell Wilson might be the most dangerous playmaker left in the playoffs and the “Legion of Boom” is still around.
Reasons for pessimism vs. Carolina
It’s not in Seattle. Cam Newton is the league’s MVP and potentially the best quarterback in the NFL. Tight ends tend to be Carolina’s biggest matchup issue, and Greg Olsen is the best non-Gronk tight end in the playoffs.
Prediction: Seattle-21 Carolina-20
Houston, We Have a Problem
The Texans were doomed from the opening kickoff on Saturday, which has to be a bummer for a city and team long starved for a playoff opportunity. Brian Hoyer went “Full Delhomme” on Saturday, J.J. Watt got injured and Kansas City rolled to its eleventh straight win. Congratulations to Houston for making it to the playoffs, but unfortunately it might be an “enjoy it while it lasted” moment for the Texans. Indianapolis had the season from hell this year and as shocking as it sounds Jacksonville is improving. Houston has the bleakest quarterback outlook in the division, which usually isn’t a recipe for future success.
Kansas City, on the other hand, is the hottest team in the playoffs and heads to New England with their twelfth straight victory on their mind. Even without Jamaal Charles, this team has somehow found a running game and their passing game is light years ahead of where anyone expected. The good news is that Jeremy Maclin didn’t tear his ACL and there’s a chance he may be available in some capacity on Saturday. Eric Berry, the feel-good story of the playoffs, and the rest of the Chiefs’ secondary is remarkably strong and with Justin Houston back Ol’ Tom won’t be able to grab a lounge chair and chill out in the pocket and wait for guys to come open either.
Reasons for optimism vs. New England
Kansas City is the hottest team in the playoffs. We still don’t know exactly how healthy the Pats are, and the Chiefs have the secondary play and pass rush to frustrate even the greatest of quarterbacks.
Reasons for pessimism vs. New England
Andy Reid might do Andy Reid playoff things at any time. New England might be healthier than they’ve been in three months. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are still in New England.
Prediction: New England-28 Kansas City-24
House of Wild Cards
The intro to the Green Bay-Washington game was the coolest thing that happened in this game. Kudos Fox for the great idea and flawless execution! Washington looked to be in business in the early going, but ultimately they just couldn’t hold Aaron Rodgers and company in check. Part of it was that the Packers just put together their best all-around offensive game since Halloween. It also hurt that they missed a few early opportunities, most notably the Desean Jackson non-touchdown play and subsequently not being able to punch it in from the half-yard line. Many thought Washington might end up with the number one overall pick, so props to them on a great season and the future looks surprisingly bright with Cousins and Gruden.
Aaron Rodgers showed up when he had to, and finally got some help from his receiving corps and Eddie Lacy in the process. Davante Adams had a really nice game, unfortunately he also left the game with an injury and is unlikely to play in Saturday’s games. James Jones and Randall Cobb will have to step up, and the Packers absolutely need to keep utilizing Cobb out of the backfield and really in any way they can. The Pack will have their hands full in the desert, but Aaron Rodgers goes into the Tom Brady category of quarterback, a.k.a. one who always gives his team a chance.
Reason for optimism vs. Arizona
Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers. We finally saw the Packers we thought they were last week. That’s all I’ve got.
Reasons for pessimism vs. Arizona
The Cardinals have been playing unreal football, and Carson Palmer has been MVP caliber almost all year. Arizona’s defense is also outstanding.
Prediction: Arizona-31 Green Bay-21