NFL Playoff Journal: Final Four

How else do you follow up a weekend where all road teams advanced than with a division round with all home teams advancing? As for my picks, I was not as good going 3-1 picking winners, and a measly 1-3 against the spread. Oh well, you win some you lose more, especially win going against Vegas. Let’s start this week wrapping up last weekend’s AFC games and looking ahead to Brady vs. Manning XVII, then we will take a look at the NFC.

Tom Being Tom

Brady (AP Photo:Stephen Senne)
Tom Brady dives for pylon against Kansas City (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Steven Senne)

In hindsight, I feel remarkably dumb for picking the Chiefs to cover, but in my defense they were on an 11-game winning streak.  It turns out, that Dennis Green is always right.  People and teams are who we think they are.  Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are playoff winners who do what they have to do to win.  Andy Reid is a successful coach who doesn’t come up big in the playoffs.  In fact, Reid is like an NFL version of Les Miles, a successful coach always teetering between hot seat and fan favorite who no one wants as the protagonist of a movie trying to stop a weapon counting down to world destruction.  Admittedly, this is the game that I saw the least of this weekend, but I saw enough to know how I feel about the Pats going forward.  New England is a well-oiled machine with Brady and Belichick as inexhaustible motors driving the thing.  Tom diving for pylons and screaming in his offensive coordinator’s face is just the latest example of the fact that no one cares more about winning more than Brady.

Reasons New England beats Denver

Tom Brady owns Peyton Manning.  Brady has aged much better than Manning too.  The Patriots are playing better football than Denver right now, at least for the last month or so they have been.

War of Attrition

Manning Slide Pass (SB Nation)
Manning with the epic “slide pass” against Pittsburgh (Gif courtesy of SB Nation)

Pittsburgh may have beaten the Bengals in the Wild Card round, but the case could be made that the Bengals, more specifically Vontaze Burfict, beat the Steelers this weekend.  No offense to the Broncos, they made the plays they had to make to win the game and they deserve plenty of credit, but you have to be at least a little curious what Antonio Brown and 100% Ben Roethlisberger would have looked like yesterday.  Roethlisberger was much healthier than I anticipated, but he still wasn’t full strength.  Denver’s defense came up huge again though forcing a Fitz Toussaint fumble when they had to have it to essentially ice the game giving them a double digit lead, after they tacked on a field goal, inside of the two-minute warning.

Another recurring theme on Sunday was the drops by Denver’s receivers.  Not all of those were on Denver’s receivers though.  Catching a wobbling duck at knee-level on a dead sprint is so much harder than guys make it look.  I’m not trying to pile on Manning when it seems like everyone else is too, but I think if you asked him he would agree with me here.  That being said, he made some big plays and deserves credit for putting up enough points to win.

Reasons Denver beats New England

Denver has success against Brady at home.  Denver does still have a top-notch defense and could very easily take away New England’s running game making them a one-dimensional passing team.  Speaking of which, the Patriots running game looked pretty non-existent against Kansas City.

AFC Championship Game Prediction- Tom Brady does what he does and New England wins comfortably 31-14

The “Double Hail Mary” Game

Rodgers Hail Mary (SB Nation)
Aaron Rodgers with the second of two unreal Hail Mary passes to send the game into overtime (Gif courtesy of SB nation)

The Cardinals-Packers game was easily the best game of the Divisional round, which is odd considering most, myself included, feared it would be the worst.  Green Bay limped into the playoffs, and even though they came alive against Washington most were skeptical that one game didn’t really meant they were “back”.  They gave Arizona everything they wanted though on Saturday night, and just when all seemed lost Aaron Rodgers showed why he is still maybe the best quarterback in football.  Green Bay has some soul-searching to do this offseason.  Aaron Rodgers is still in his prime, but with each passing year it becomes fair to ask, for how much longer?

As for Arizona, the confidence that so many of us had in them as Super Bowl contenders heading into the playoffs wavered more than a little bit this weekend.  Much of that had to do with Carolina jumping out to a 31-0 lead on the Seahawks before letting them battle back in the second half.  Equally as much of it has to do with the fact that Carson Palmer looked shaky in his first playoff win, and that Arizona struggled to finish off the Packers with a late lead.  However, Arizona got it done with a masterful, albeit short, touchdown drive in overtime, after an anything but masterful “coin flip”.

Reasons Arizona beats Carolina

Arizona’s secondary is stellar even without the Honey Badger, and could give even the soon-to-be league MVP problems.  Offensively, the Cardinals have enough weapons at receiver that they can avoid Josh Norman, and a good enough offensive line to give Palmer time to find those options.  David Johnson might be the best running back left in the playoffs.  Seriously, think on it.  I’m not saying he definitely is, but he might be.

The Disrespected One Seed

Cam Newton (Rob Carr:Getty Images)
Cam Newton doing his famous Superman celebration (Photo Courtesy of Rob Carr/Getty Images)

I have to confess to falling into the trap of picking against Carolina this weekend too.  Hear me out for a second though, there’s almost always a road win in the division round so not picking one usually ends up being wrong and here were the options: banged up Pittsburgh over Denver (would have picked it if every skill player on the Steelers offense wasn’t injured in some capacity), Green Bay over Arizona, Kansas City over New England or this game.  Seattle was the best of the four road teams (not up for debate).  You could make a legitimate case for Carolina being anywhere from one through three of the home teams, and Russell Wilson was the only quarterback in the league playing as well as Cam Newton at the time.  I know I was wrong, but I still defend my rationale.

That being said, Carolina jumped on Seattle from the get-go.  The Seahawks second half comeback was pretty impressive, but the Panthers did what they had to do to hold on (sound like anyone else we know?).  They get the next one at home too, and it’s time that all of us “haters” out there start to accept that they just might be a Super Bowl-caliber team.  The defense is unreal, especially the front seven and Josh Norman.  The offense masks an average receiving corps with a stellar line, the best non-Gronk tight end in the playoffs, and a quarterback who made the leap from uber-talented starter to freaking Superman this year.

Reasons Carolina beats Arizona

Cam Newton is the best player in football.  Carson Palmer didn’t look great even in his first playoff win.  The Panthers just might really be as good as that 16-1 record indicates.

NFL: Annual Meetings
March 20, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians answers questions from reporters during the annual NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction: Honestly I don’t feel good about this, but pre-playoffs I picked it and I was on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Birmingham, Alabama on Monday sitting in front of a middle-aged white man wearing a Kangol hat that sealed it for me.  I’m rolling with the Cards 27-24.

Credit Cover Photo to Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

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