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Week 2: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Arizona Cardinals Recap

Final: Arizona 40, Tampa Bay 7

It was a rough afternoon for Tampa Bay, Jameis Winston and company as they got crushed in the desert by a superior Cardinals team.  The Winston turned the ball over five times with four interceptions and one fumble.  Meanwhile Carson Palmer looked like himself with 308 yards and three touchdowns.  Let’s take a look at the top performers in this game.

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Jameis Winston had a rough afternoon, turning the ball over five times in a 33 point road loss to Arizona.

Offensively, there were many standouts on offense for Arizona, but the top performer had to be Larry Fitzgerald.  He showcased strong hands with his six grabs for 81 yards and a touchdown that saw him haul in a laser with defender Brent Grimes in his pocket.  David Johnson did struggle to find room to run the ball against what has looked like a very stout Tampa Bay run defense in the early goings of this year, but his speed out of the backfield as a receiver killed the Buccaneers this afternoon.  He actually lead the Cardinals in receiving yards with 98.  He did, however, almost cause Carson Palmer to throw an interception in the third quarter when being covered by the aforementioned Grimes.  Had he run the proper route, he likely would have beaten the veteran corner as he had lots of space to the inside of the field with no safety help.  Jaron Brown had a 51 yard score, but that was more the result of bad defense than anything else.

Arizona was swarming on defense.  The first match-up that went noticed in this contest was that of Mike Evans versus Patrick Peterson.  This was a fun, competitive battle that saw each star making impressive plays against the other.  If the lone bright spot from Tampa’s offense was taken away in this game, the beautiful back-shoulder fade to Evans for a third quarter score, it would be easy to say that Peterson won the contest between the two.  However, watching these two closely showed that Evans may have actually been slightly better than the all-pro, if it may only be for his sheer size.  He ran crisp routes and Peterson was beaten on a couple of plays.  That said, he had his fair share of victories as well with a couple of pass breakups in what was probably the best corner versus wide receiver battle so far this season.  Football junkies should go back and check out the tape on NFL Game Pass; it was entertaining to watch.

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With Doug Martin leaving the game very early with a hamstring injury, Charles Sims got a bit more playing time.

The big standouts for the Cardinals on defense were Deone Bucannon and, believe it or not, Brandon Williams.  Williams looked strong in coverage after getting picked on a week ago, and forced Jameis Winston to go elsewhere with the ball.  Winston instead targeted Marcus Cooper who had a mixed afternoon.  His stats looked pretty with two picks, however he was beaten quite a few times by the Tampa Bay wideouts.  Bucannon was easily the best defender on the field this afternoon.  He was knifing in and making plays at the line of scrimmage and breaking on the ball any time it was thrown in his direction.  This former cornerback converted to a near full-time linebacker is one of the more exciting players to watch on defense.

Tampa Bay had a dreadful day on offense and it started up front.  The offensive line, while looking good blocking for Jameis Winston on pass plays, created almost no push in the running game.  Arizona’s defense was able to stuff the run on nearly every play.  Doug Martin was lost for the game early on in the first quarter and things did not get any better with Charles Sims in there.  This made Tampa’s offense one dimensional, and that is a recipe for disaster on the road.  Mike Evans, as stated before, looked very good in this game.  Outside of him, there weren’t many performers for the Buccaneer offense.  Vincent Jackson looked lost at times and was slow in and out of his breaks while Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was completely blanketed for the most part.  Adam Humphries did a nice Julian Edelman impression for a lot of the game, but did run some bad routes in the process.  Jameis Winston was very erratic with his throws.  He rushed many of them and sailed a lot of them high.  Despite throwing four interceptions and missing many throws, he did look good at certain times under pressure connecting with Mike Evans for a couple of nice plays.  Unfortunately these moments were too few and far in between for the Buccaneers to show any success.

Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer threw three touchdowns against Tampa Bay this week in a rout.

On defense, the linebackers and safeties were absolutely torched.  The front-four was actually very good, mauling in the run game and creating pressure for Carson Palmer.  Gerald McCoy shined with a couple of pressures and tackles for losses in this contest.  The secondary for the Buccaneers was a mixed back.  Brent Grimes had a tough afternoon, being picked on by Carson Palmer multiple times and losing many of his match-ups.  Alterraun Verner and Vernon Hargraves looked very good actually.  Verner had multiple PBUs and was excellent in coverage.  Hargraves was awesome in man-coverage as well and showed that he is a solid tackler, making a couple of those on bigger players in the open field.  He struggles a bit in zone coverage, and that is something that will improve with experience.  Speaking of zone coverage, the Bucs were awful in zone not just in this game, but the one last week against Atlanta as well.  Chris Conte was beaten badly deep by Jaron Brown in a busted coverage where he just did not get deep enough on the zone.  Hargraves passed Brown off and Conte allowed him to run by without any issues and Carson Palmer did not miss him on a deep bomb.  The linebackers were not good in either man or zone coverage.  Lavonte David did not have a tackle in this game at all, which snapped his league-high streak of 56 straight games with five or more takedowns.  Kwon Alexander missed a couple of open field tackles and was not able to run with David Johnson.  The unit was not fast enough to defend the speed of the Arizona Cardinals receivers.

Simply put, the Buccaneers got it handed to them in Glendale.  There is no doubt who the better team is out of these two.  The Cardinals looked like the juggernaut they were last season on offense in this game after looking a bit sluggish last week against New England.  On the flip side, Tampa Bay showed us all why they are not quite ready to take that next step and become a top-tier team like Arizona.  There were too many mental mistakes on their part and it was a very sloppy game from Jameis Winston overall.  They hope to rebound nicely at home against a Ram team that is fresh off of a 9-3 win over Seattle in Los Angeles next week.  Arizona will be taking on a desperate Bills team in Buffalo.  Each squad should be favored in these games.

Jameis Winston and Markus Golden
Jameis Winston and Markus Golden in action from Sunday 9/18/16

The Skinny:

  • After throwing four touchdowns and one interception a week ago, Jameis Winston reverses those stats this week with four picks and one score.  He looked uncomfortable and was off target with many of his throws in this game while turning the ball over five times.
  • Doug Martin left the game early with a quad injury.  He did not return to the field after the second series.  His health status is unknown at the time this article is being written.
  • Tampa Bay struggled in zone coverage yet again and were beat deep because of it.  The safety play has been bad, but the cornerbacks have looked good so far this season.
  • The Arizona offensive line was pushed backward a bit, but they held their water nicely against a solid Tampa Bay four-man rush.
  • Brandon Williams looked very good after being harassed a week ago by Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots.
  • Patrick Peterson was beat by Mike Evans but still contributed to a very good defensive effort.  Tyrann Mathieu is still working his way back from the ACL tear, so until then, Peterson is going to be at the forefront with this unit.

Super Bowl XLVIII: Seattle Seahawks 43, Denver Broncos 8- Post Game Recap

Unless you were an optimistic member of the “Twelfth Man”, you did not see this game playing out the way it did on the final evening of the 2013 season.  Many people out there predicted a Seahawk victory (I was not one of them) and even more anticipated a great game.  Instead, we got a dominating performance out of Seattle and an (altogether) uninspiring effort out of Denver.  Let’s break this thing down.

From the very first offensive snap of the game (a moonshot from the arms of center Manny Ramirez that went over the extended hands of Peyton Manning and into the end zone for a safety), you could just tell this was the Seahawks’ night.  Perhaps it was jitters, or maybe a mis-communication, but I could tell that the Broncos did not look ready for this one just by watching the first twelve seconds of this game.  This error was the first of many by an offensive line that had been dominant for the better part of the season.  From that point forward, the ‘Hawks sprinted out to a 36-0 lead over Denver and were able to hold the high-octane Bronco offense back because of the pressure they were able to get on Peyton Manning.

There was never really a point in this game where Manning seemed comfortable in the pocket.  For a majority of the contest, the Seahawks were getting a ton of pressure on him with just a four-man rush.  This was (and always has been) the key to slowing a Peyton-lead attack.  The defensive line of Seattle dominated up front and the back seven was able to do its thing in coverage.  Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman had outstanding games in terms of coverage.  Walter Thurmond III was picked on quite a bit during this game by Manning, but he was not completely exposed because more often than not he had safety help over the top.  This meant that the margin for error was larger than it would have been under normal circumstances.

The line-backing core of Seattle was excellent in this one as well.  Super Bowl XLVIII MVP Malcolm Smith had a great game.  He ended up in the end zone on the back-end of a pick-six late in the second quarter.  In addition to his score, he also racked up 10 tackles and a fumble recovery.  Bobby Wagner made some nice plays; blowing up potential screens and flowing towards the action.  This leads me to my next point, mainly concerning the Denver screen plays: the blocking by that offensive line just was not there.  On multiple occasions in this game, the Seattle defense looked fooled during screen plays.  However, the Bronco offensive line did not get out in front and do a good enough job paving the way for the backs and receivers.  Of course, the Seahawk defense was quick enough to react and correct their mistakes, but the poor blocking was able to help them in doing so.  I thought that Orlando Franklin had a tough game on the edge.  This season, the team has had a lot of success getting outside of the tackles on his side of the field and the running lanes just were not there in this game.  Louis Vasquez allowed a couple of leaks in protection, as did Zane Beadles.  Chris Clark was overpowered on a couple of different plays on the outside edge and obviously Manny Ramirez did not play a clean game.  Overall, the Denver O-line is what failed them the most in this game.

As far as the Seahawk offense is concerned, they were no juggernauts, but they were quite efficient.  Percy Harvin gave the Broncos secondary some headaches on a couple of fly-sweeps and the rest of Seattle’s receivers killed Denver on crossing routes.  Third down conversions were a big reason why the ‘Hawks were able to move the ball in this game.  They made good on seven out of their twelve third down attempts and most of them came on the back end of well-thrown balls to crossing receivers.  Russell Wilson played a great game and did not flinch under the bright lights.  The play-calling by Darrelle Bevel was excellent.  He did not dial up anything that Wilson could not do.  Most of the plays were easy for him to carry out and the game-plan came to fruition in the best way possible for Seattle.  In other words, the Seahawk offense executed in this game while Denver’s did not.

All and all, this was an utter domination in all three phases for Pete Carroll’s team.  Offense, defense, and special teams contributed heavily to this win.  Let’s not forget that Percy Harvin turned out to be the X-factor that many people thought he could be going into this season.  He returned a kickoff for a touchdown to begin the third quarter; a play that simply demoralized Denver and it’s fans.  That return touchdown served as the proverbial fork that was struck right into the hearts of the Broncos as they were already failing to crack the code of the Seattle defense.  Their own defense was not able to get off the field on third downs and when you combine all of these elements, it is easy to see why one team absolutely crushed the other.  As an NFL fan, I would have liked to have seen a better, more competitive game than this, but congratulations are owed to the Seahawks regardless.  They proved that they had the goods to deliver a title to the Emerald City, and showed the world that they were worthy of championship status.

NFC Championship: Seattle Seahawks 23, San Francisco 49ers 17- Post Game Thoughts

The Seahawks gut out a nice win en route to the franchises second ever Super Bowl via a 23-17 win over their division rivals in the 49ers.  To start, the Seattle defense did a great job in this game (save a couple of big Colin Kapernick runs).  They forced three turnovers and held the Niners to 3/11 on third down in this game (27%).  Against the running backs, they were great.  The ‘Hawks only allowed a total of 31 yards on 17 carries to that skill position.  Obviously Kapernick was able to shred them with his legs (130 yards on 11 carries), however it did not matter since he was not as effective with his arm.  Part of the reason why he struggled to throw the ball for a majority of this game was because the Seahawks did a good job at taking away Vernon Davis and forcing him out of the pocket on third down.  Pressure was something that showed up on tape but not in the stats (since Kap was only sacked twice in the whole game).  San Fran was never really able to mount a solid drive; their scoring opportunities often came after one big play.  They only scored one touchdown in the second half as well, and then the Seahawks rattled off 13 straight points and were able to come up with the big pick at the end of the game to seal the deal.  Marshawn Lynch had a nice game, running for 109 yards and a touchdown.  However, most of those yards came during the second half and a lot of them came on one play of 40 yards (which just so happened to land him in the end zone).  That said, all of those yards count and he was a big reason why Seattle is going to the Super Bowl.  I didn’t think Russell Wilson was that great, although he did make a couple of nice plays in the game.  If nothing else, he didn’t do anything to hurt the team’s chances at victory, and that is all you can ask for from a quarterback on a deep and talented team like this bunch.  Now these 53 men will be tested as they take on the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl for the Lombardi trophy.  That should be an outstanding game as it is a great and unique match-up of two totally different teams.

AFC Championship- Denver Broncos 26, New England Patriots 16- Post Game Thoughts

The Denver Broncos continue their remarkable season with an impressive victory at home over the New England Patriots.  Peyton Manning was, in a word, phenomenal.  He completed 32 of his 43 passes for exactly 400 yards with a pair of touchdowns.  Those 32 completions tied him for the most in a championship game as well, just another record that he has his fingerprints on this season.  The Patriots were unable to get their ground game going in the first half and then were forced to throw the ball late in the game.  Also, their defense could not stop the Broncos.  Other than their first drive (which ended in a punt) and their final drive (which ended with a Manning kneel down), Denver scored on all of their possessions.  They were held to four field goals, but it didn’t matter because their defense did a great job at getting off the field early on in order to help the team build a sizable lead.  Also, Aqib Talib left the game in the second quarter with a knee and rib injury and once he did, Demaryius Thomas had a field day.  Alfonzo Dennard struggled to cover him (as did Logan Ryan, when asked to do so) and the safeties were out of position at times and he tore the New England secondary up to the tune of 134 yards with a touchdown.  Simply put, the Pats’ defense and running game was not good enough to help them hang with the Broncos, and thus they lost the game.  Now the folks from the Mile High City have the chance to cap a great season with a win in the Super Bowl.  If they are able to get it done in East Rutherford on February 2nd, you could say that this was one of the most impressive seasons for any team in NFL history.  To do this, though, they will have to go through the Seahawks, which is no easy task.

Divisional Round: Denver Broncos 24, San Diego Chargers 17- Post Game Recap

The Denver Broncos defeat their rivals in the Chargers for the first time in the playoffs,  24-17.  The Bolts did a nice job making this game interesting, after trailing 24-7 with 8:12 left in the game.  They scored a touchdown and then recovered an onside kick to bring the score to 24-17, but overall the Broncos really dominated this game from the first quarter.  Their defense completely shut the Chargers passing attack down through the first three quarters and that is really what won Denver the game.  Their suddenly stingy pass defense came a bit of a surprise, as the team has struggled to defend the pass at times this year.  At any rate, the mares did a nice job at overcoming their third game this season where they were held to less than 400 total yards of offense (all against the Chargers).

San Diego had Denver right where they wanted them in this game; they held the Broncos to just 363 total yards of offense and 24 points.  If you had told Mike McCoy prior to the game that the defense was going to do the job that well for four quarters, he would have been ecstatic.  Unfortunately for the road team, their offense was more eclectic than electric for the better part of three quarters, and it was mainly due to poor pass protection.  Denver was hitting home on three-man-rushes and Philip Rivers was not being afforded a lot of time to scan the field.  I thought that D.J. Fluker and Jeremy Clary had poor games in protection.  Guys were shooting up the gut and getting immediate pressure in his face and, let’s face it, Rivers isn’t going to be using his athleticism to run away from defenders, so he was dead to rights most of the time.  His receivers also didn’t help him out all that much.  There were a couple of dropped passes and incomplete routes on the afternoon.  Until Keenan Allen caught fire in the fourth quarter, the receivers were not able to create much separation from the Denver corners and there were not a whole lot of places to go with the football.  My hat goes off to the Broncos for tightening up their pass defense and remaining solid in the run defense.  They really allowed the Chargers almost nothing in the way of rushing yards.  Of course, Ryan Mathews only played a half in this game, but still San Diego only managed 65 yards on the ground and the team went an abysmal 4/12 on third down.  They were unable to sustain drives in this game, and that was what ultimately cost the team the game.

Peyton Manning was pretty good in this game, and it was because his protection was very, very good.  Manning had all day to sit in the pocket at times (partially due to the fact that the Chargers brought a three man rush on many of their defensive plays), and he really frustrated the Bolts with his hard count in this game.  He forced the defensive line to jump into the neutral zone five times in this one, accounting for 35 free yards in penalties.  That, above anything else, was the biggest Achilles heel for San Diego.  By the end of the game, they had a real chance to tie it up when the defense had the Broncos in a third and 17 situation from their own 20 with 3:06 left in the game.  The Bolts decided to play a soft zone and Julius Thomas found the open area and sat along the sidelines for a 21 yard reception.  Then, with 2:12 left and a third and six from the Denver 45, Manning found Julius Thomas for a nine yard completion and a first down.  From that point on Knowshon Moreno ran for a first down and the game became academic.

Now the Broncos gear up for Tom Brady and the suddenly run-happy New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game next Sunday at 3:00 (e.t.).  If their defense can hold its water like they did this week in the running game and play good enough pass defense they should not have much of a problem next week.  Of course this is all a big IF, as we all know that playing well one week does not mean that you will play well the next.  Either way it should be interesting to see what happens since the Broncos now have built some confidence and Peyton Manning has his first playoff victory since 2009.  San Diego did give Denver a bit of a scare at the end of this one, but in all reality the Broncos had this game in their back-pocket for most of the game, mainly due to a great defensive performance and some timely play by Peyton Manning.

Divisional Round: San Francisco 49ers 23, Carolina Panthers 10- Post Game Recap

The San Francisco 49ers go into Carolina and dominate the Panthers en route to their third straight NFC Championship game, 23-10.  The Panthers jumped out to an impressive 10-6 lead early in the second quarter and their defense was holding the 49ers down for a while in the first half, but eventually their offense woke up and Carolina could not hold them back any longer and they just steamrolled their way to the “W”.

San Fran seemed to gain control of the game right at the end of the first half when they scored a touchdown with five seconds remaining.  They ran 12 plays and went 80 yards in 3:36 at the end of the second quarter and did not look back from that point on.  Colin Kaepernick was able to hook up with Vernon Davis for the toe-dragging touchdown (on the one yard line).  As it turned out, this was Davis’s only catch of the game, and it gave the Niners a 13-10 lead at the time.  The offense then found its bearings in the second half and the 49ers ended up scoring another touchdown and pulling out to a 20-10 lead.  From that point forward the team did not look back and the defense shut the Panthers down.

The Carolina offense was not all that bad in this game, but it was ineffective at times that were most inopportune.  For instance, they stalled twice inside of the five yard line.  The 49ers defense stood up and held the Panthers out of the end zone on seven goal-to-goal plays.  Ron Rivera opted to go for it on fourth down on the first play of the second quarter (from the one yard line).  Ahmad Brooks crushed ruined that play when he penetrated into the backfield and stuffed Mike Tolbert for no gain.  The Niners did go three and out and Cam Newton found Steve Smith for a beautiful 31 yard touchdown on the ensuing drive, but that didn’t change the fact that they could not slam it in from the one yard line the series before.  They were barred from the end zone on their next drive as well when Frisco stopped them from scoring at the one yard line again.  The cats had to settle for a field goal after possessing the ball for 8:59.  In the third quarter there was a drive where the Panthers held the ball for 8:20 and did not score anything.  Cam Newton was sacked on consecutive plays and the team fell out of field goal range.  As coach Brian Billick would say, drives were you hold the ball that long and don’t score are kind of like empty calories on a diet.  They don’t do you any good and really only hurt you in the long run.  If you include the drive where Carolina was stopped on fourth down at the one yard line, the team wasted a combined 21:59 to score only three points.  That is the biggest reason why they fell by 13 points.  They simply struggled to capitalize on their time-consuming drives, unlike the 49ers did.

San Francisco’s defense did a good job in the second half getting pressure on Cam Newton.  They rarely allowed him to escape outside of the pocket and when they did the secondary did a nice job chasing him down.  His long run on the afternoon was 11 yards and he carried it 10 times.  The major impact player on the 49ers in this game was Anquan Boldin.  He made eight catches for 136 yards.  Last week, Michael Crabtree seemed to be the go-to guy for Colin Kapernick and this week it was definitely the former Cardinal and Raven.  This bodes well for San Fran down the stretch; the fact that Kap can find different go-to receivers on any given Sunday in different situations.  It is going to be tough for teams to cover the trio of Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, and Michael Crabtree down the road.  Luke Kuechly did a good job blanketing Davis in this game, but later on in the playoffs (like next week against the Seahawks) it is possible that Vernon has a nice game while Boldin and Crabtree are covered.  Simply put, it is looking like the Niners have too many weapons for one team to cover.  When you couple that with the mobility of Kap, the strong running game, and solid defense you have a team that looks primed for a Super Bowl victory, in my opinion.

So the moral of the story for the Panthers is this: don’t waste scoring opportunities.  That near 22 minutes that ran off the clock all turned out to be wasted time for a team that needed every opportunity they could get to score against a stingy defense.  This was a game of missed opportunities for the black cats and the 49ers are too good of a team for you to hope to beat while scoring only 10 points.  Obviously they were able to win against them earlier this year while scoring only 10, but that was in a game when the 49ers didn’t have Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in the second half.  With all of the weapons in place, San Fran dominated this game.  They won it in typical 49er fashion and they are easily the hottest team going into Championship Sunday.

Divisional Round: New England Patriots 43, Indianapolis Colts 22- Post Game Recap

The New England Patriots turn the clocks back to the mid-80’s and run the ball down the Colts throats for a strong 43-22 win.  All six of the Pats’ touchdowns came on the ground and the team came up one rushing TD short of tying the Chicago Bears for the all-time playoff record.  It certainly was a throwback game and New England was able to impose their will all night long on a weakened Indianapolis defense.

Andrew Luck was good in this game, but not spectacular.  He ended up throwing four interceptions (all though you could argue that two of them were not his fault).  The first one he threw (which came on the Colts opening drive of the game) was the ugliest of them all.  He tried to fit the ball in to Griff Whalen on a third and two situation and Alfonzo Dennard was able to pick it off and return the ball all the way down to the one yard line.  LeGarrette Blount hammered it in for his first of four touchdowns on the night on the first play of the ensuing drive.  Besides his four interceptions, I thought that Luck had another strong outing.  He made a couple of precise throws down the field and completed some of his passes with defenders right in his lap.  The offensive line for Indy did not impress me all that much.  They were beat like a drum in certain situations and the interior pressure became too much to handle.  Jamie Collins was a menace all night long; he came up with a sack and multiple pressures.  He also intercepted Luck down the field in the fourth quarter when he was trying to fit it in to Coby Fleener.  While Blount was the offensive MVP for New England, Collins had to be the defensive MVP for a team that seems to be peaking at the right time.

Tom Brady, after a pretty hot start, seemed to cool off a bit down the stretch, but I thought that he was on on this night.  He made a couple of brilliant throws in between coverage and floated a pretty deep ball to Danny Amendola in the third quarter.  Other than that, he was not really all that great, but with the game-plan in place he didn’t have to be.  The thing about this game for the Pats was that they didn’t need Brady to be a world beater.  If they needed him to light the Colts up, I would think that he could have gotten the job done.  However, the plan going into this game (with the rainy conditions) was to hand the ball off, and that is what Tom did.  The Pats ran it 46 times in this game (out of their 73 total plays).  The commitment to the run was admirable and it was something that the Colts were not expecting.  The identity of this Patriots team is changing and behind the legs of LeGarrette Blount (with an occasional sprinkling in of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen), these guys are becoming a scary team.

Indianapolis has struggled to run the ball for a majority of this season, and not being able to make room on the ground in this one really hurt them.  The receivers on this team are not going to be able to wreck a game each and every Sunday if the running game falters and defense.  I think Andrew Luck is a great quarterback, but there is only so much he can do when the rest of his teammates are not holding their water.  Take, for example, the Patriots.  Tom Brady was without a ton of his weapons for a majority of the season, but he was able too lean on a strong running game (especially down the stretch) for the team’s twelve wins.  Indy did not have that luxury this year and it ended up costing them in the playoffs.

The Patriots are now becoming a team that is built to win in any condition and I would be scared if I were the Broncos.  If they have a good running game and a competent defense to back that, they will be golden since they still have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in this league on their roster.  They are also under the tutelage of Bill Belichick, and with the team evolving its identity, they are still maintaining their winning ways.  There is plenty to be optimistic about if you are a fan of the Pats right now.  As an NFL fan, I am optimistic because I love seeing teams run the ball like there is no tomorrow to win games.  That was, by far the biggest story to come out of this game.  LeGarrette Blount ran for 166 yards and four touchdowns.  Stevan Ridley added two touchdowns in the game, even though the Gillette crowd was clamoring for Blount to pound it in for a fifth time.  Anyways, the Pats had their way with the Colts and were able to dominate this game in the trenches.  That is the mark of a good team.

Divisional Round: Seattle Seahawks 23, New Orleans Saints 15- Post Game Recap

The Seattle Seahawks advance to the NFC Championship Game with a hearty 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints in the Emerald City.  They made it a bit tougher on themselves than it needed to be as the Saints were able to recover an onside kick and threaten to send the game to overtime, but all and all the ‘Hawks dominated this contest from the opening whistle, at least on defense.

Russell Wilson really struggled to make big plays in this game (for the most part).  He was limited to just nine completions and 103 passing yards with a few carries for 16 yards on the ground.  I thought that Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette did a brilliant job in this game, keeping contain on the mobile quarterback.  There were quite a few times where the initial pressure wouldn’t hit home and Wilson would be able to escape to the side of the pocket, but the two would not allow him to get around the edge.  This was key in limiting the Seahawks’ from creating explosive plays down the field.  The running game for Seattle was a bit of a hit and miss throughout the game.  Marshawn Lynch was solid, although not spectacular.  He did run angrily throughout the duration of the game and proved to be a tough tackle (as per usual), but the Saints did do a nice job at stuffing him on various occasions.  The man they call “Beast Mode”‘s numbers looked pretty by the game’s end; 28 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns, but many of those yards came on the one 31 yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.  I thought the Saints did a good job slowing him down for the majority of this game, but they really shined in pass coverage.  Percy Harvin was knocked out of the game on two separate occasions and eventually left the field in the second quarter due to a concussion.  Keenan Lewis was solid in man coverage for the second straight week and he did not let the likes of Golden Tate beat him deep.  Many of Wilson’s slant routes and short sticks were thrown a bit inaccurately too, which helped New Orleans’ cause, but the coverage was solid nevertheless.

Speaking of solid coverage, what plastering the Saints corners were able to do was overshadowed by what the Seahawks’ secondary was able to accomplish.  Simply put, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were spectacular.  Thomas had an outstanding game with seven tackles and a few pass breakups.  Sherman filled in during the running game on a few occasions and was good in man-to-man, especially with Jimmy Graham.  The big tight end was virtually a non-factor throughout the game, what with his one catch for eight yards.  Marques Colston became Drew Brees’ go-to guy by the end of the game (with eleven catches for 144 yards) but that was because so much attention was being put on Graham and the backs the whole time.  The other Seahawk that stood out was Bobby Wagner.  Wagner was a tackling machine in this game (with nine of them).  He showed great sideline-to-sideline speed and even accounted for a couple of pass breakups, including a deflection that took place on a fourth down in the second quarter.  If it hadn’t been for Earl Thomas’s incredible game, I think Wagner would have been the MVP of this one.  Anyways, Seattle’s defense was great in this game and is the reason why the team will be playing football again next Sunday.

The final series of the game was pretty bizarre.  New Orleans recovered an onside kick with :24 left in the game.  The Shayne Graham kick bounced and ricocheted off of Golden Tate’s arms and rolled right to Marques Colston.  So, with those 24 ticks remaining, the Saints had to go 59 yards for a touchdown (and then they would have needed a two-point conversion just to tie the game and send it to overtime).  With :11 left in the game, Drew Brees was able to hook up with the aforementioned Colston on the sidelines for a 13 yard gain.  He was wide open and could have stepped out of bounds at the Seattle 38 with about :02 left (giving the Saints one last play), but instead he decided to throw the ball across the field to Travaris Cadet.  The ball was thrown forward, though, making it an illegal forward pass which (coupled with the ten second runoff) ended the game for the Saints.  Obviously he should have stepped out of bounds to give his team one last play and with a bunch of tall receivers, who knows, maybe they could have made something out of it.

As it turns out, it will the the Seahawks who advance to the Championship game, and they were the most deserving team out of these two anyways.  They played the most complete game and their defense was phenomenal.  If they can play like this again next week against the 49ers, I would like their chances at making it to the Super Bowl to take on the winner of the AFC Championship game.  My predictions for both contests will come later on in the week.  Be sure to check it to read my two cents with regards to Championship Sunday.

2013 Season: Divisional Round Predictions

Only eight teams remain as our quest to crowning a Super Bowl Champion draws nearer to a closing.  Among those eight teams we have two #6 seeds (New Orleans and San Diego) and a #5 seed (San Francisco), all having played last weekend.  The #4 seeded Colts will join the trio as the fourth team to survive the Wild Card stages and will have their hands full when they head to chilly Foxboro to take on New England.  The Panthers and 49ers are primed for a rematch of their Week 10 thriller, as are Seattle and New Orleans AND the Bolts and Broncos.  That’s right, for the second straight week we have three rematches from regular season games (that makes my job in previewing them a little easier).  So with that being said, this is the makings for another great weekend of football.  Let’s have a look-see at what the Divisional Round may have in store for us, via my crystal ball.  Here we go!

Saturday, January 11th, 4:35 e.t.

New Orleans Saints (12-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (13-3)

The last time these two teams teed off in the Emerald City, it was the Saints who got throttled.  To avoid taking one on the chin this time around, they are going to have to run the ball well, much like they did in Philadelphia last week.  Drew Brees will also have to do better than 250 yards with two interceptions if New Orleans is to have a chance.  Back in Week 13 when the ‘Hawks won 34-7, the crowd was a major factor.  You had better believe that the twelfth man will be in full throat on Saturday afternoon, making the offense’s job that much tougher.  Jimmy Graham is going to have to be better than he was last week as well; three catches for 44 yards against the leagues worst pass defense was barely passable.  Look for him to be more of a factor up the seam in this one.  When all is said and done, I think that the Seahawks have too much muscle on defense to be pushed around by the Saints.  Also, playing a Saturday afternoon playoff game in Seattle isn’t exactly Sean Payton’s cup o’ tea.  Give me Seattle at home.

Seattle 27, New Orleans 16

Saturday, January 11th, 8:15 e.t.

Indianapolis Colts (12-5) @ New England Patriots (12-4)

January is here, and along with the flip of the calendar we have grown used to seeing a Colts/Patriots face-off, dawning in the new year.  Only this time it is going to be Andrew Luck’s Colts, not Peyton Manning’s.  Nevertheless we should see an entertaining quarterback duel featuring two of the league’s premier passes.  I do believe that Luck should be mentioned among the greats in the league today, and Saturday night he has a chance to prove himself.  It is one thing to lead a 28-point comeback at home, but it is an entirely different thing to take the show on the road and down the Pats in front of their friendly crowd.  However, the Patriots have not fared all that well in recent years during home playoff games.  In fact, they are only 3-3 at Gillette during the playoffs since 2009; a number that is surprisingly low when compared to the amount of success they have there during the regular season.  That record, if nothing else, could serve as motivation for Bill Belichick’s team and I see them pulling this game out.  Simply put, I don’t have a lot of confidence in that Indy defense.  They allowed the Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs drop 44 points on them last week.  That is a recipe for disaster.  I like New England to advance to the championship game with a big win at home over the Colts.

New England 28, Indianapolis 13

Sunday, January 12th, 1:05 e.t.

San Francisco 49ers (13-4) @ Carolina Panthers (12-4)

The San Francisco 49ers are looking more and more like a team that you do not want to play down the stretch here in the playoffs.  They went into a frigid Lambeau Field and stole a victory away from the Packers, and now heading into a mild (with the temperature expected to be in the high fifties) Carolina, I would be scared of them.  Their defense seems to be gaining some momentum and Colin Kaepernick is looking like he is turning into the force that steered the Niner’s playoff-mobile to Super Bowl XLVII last season.  Would betting against them be very smart?  I don’t think so.  Thus, I am taking the 49ers to get the win in Carolina this weekend.  In the game we will see two formidable line-backing duos squaring off (Kuechly and Davis versus Bowman and Willis).  Expect there to be some hard hitting, a few fracases, and a couple of big defensive plays.  The edge in this one, I think, goes to the Niners.  Carolina’s offense has not looked all that stellar when they have been unable to run the ball, and I don’t know if I trust Cam Newton to carry his team on his back against a red hot opponent (without the aid of his running game).  I think San Fran shuts the Panther rushing attack down and limits the passing offense, which is already hindered by a less than 100% Steve Smith.  All signs point to a 49er win here.

San Francisco 20, Carolina 10

Sunday, January 12th, 4:40 e.t.

San Diego Chargers (10-7) @ Denver Broncos (13-3)

I so badly want to pick the Chargers to win this game, much like I did last week.  And since I haven’t selected any shockers to win this week, I am going to stick my neck out here and take the road team.  I’m good for at least one curve ball per week (or at least I try to be).  With that being said, the question remains: how does San Diego win in Denver for the second time this year?  Quite simply, they do it in the same fashion as they did the first time around.  They run the ball and control the clock; keep Peyton Manning off the field.  He can’t hurt you when he is sitting on the bench.  Also, if they can limit their penalties, stay out of third and long situations, and avoid turning the ball over, the Bolts will be in great shape to pick up this “W”.  While I do think that the Broncos are the best team in the NFL, I do know that they can be beaten if they are attacked in the right way.  If anybody has the know-how to get it done, it is the road team here.  Also, it seems like Peyton Manning is always losing to Philip Rivers in big games.  It will be a struggle for San Diego to win twice in Denver over the course of five weeks, but I think they may be able to get the job done.  If the Chargers play this game the way they want to play it, they should win.  Ryan Mathews has been heating up over the last month of the regular season, and he has historically been very good running the ball against the Broncos.  I would look for him to carry the ball 20+ times with an additional 10+ carries going to Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown.  The balance of the Chargers and their suddenly stingy defense could be enough to carry them to the championship game.  That is what I am banking on with this pick.

San Diego 30, Denver 23

These are my picks for the Divisional Round.  As per usual, you may check back here after the games go final as I will be giving my in-depth analysis of all four contests.  I am hoping to be able to see all of them, but if not I will be sure to catch myself back up via NFL Replay (what a great buy, if I do say so myself).  Anyways, I will be here on Monday, so please come on back to see my thoughts of each of these games!

My Projected 2014 Championship Round Match-ups

AFC

San Diego @ New England

NFC

San Francisco @ Seattle

Wild Card Round: San Francisco 49ers 23, Green Bay Packers 20- Post Game Recap

Much like the New Orleans Saints, the San Francisco 49ers go on the road in cold weather and kick a game winning field goal as time expires to pull off a narrow victory.  The temperature really didn’t seem to have a major effect on this game.  A couple of the throws that were made were under-thrown, but for the most part the ball came out clean and got to the intended receivers.  Michael Crabtree was the man for the Niners in this game.  He, as he has been all throughout his career, was Mr. Third Down; converting on third and long situations on a couple of times in the game.  When these two teams first played, Anquan Boldin was the man who killed the Packers.  This time around it was Crabtree.  Vernon Davis also chipped in with a nice touchdown in the middle of the field in the fourth quarter.

The Packers’ offense was pretty stagnant through the first quarter.  They were unable to do anything, until they got their ground and quick pass game going.  Aaron Rodgers was under duress for a majority of this game (when he was forced to hold the ball).  There were a couple of instances where he was able to move around in the pocket, escape the pressure, and either scramble for a first down or throw the ball down the field.  There was an instance on a 4th and 2 (13:28 in the fourth quarter) where Rodgers was able to escape a sure sack and then toss the ball down the field to Randall Cobb for a 26-yard gain.  This set up a one yard fullback dive by John Kuhn for the go-ahead touchdown.  Rodgers played well in this game, but unfortunately for him and his team, they were not the last team to possess the ball in this one.  That was San Francisco, and Colin Kaepernick did a great job putting together a championship drive in the waning moments of the game and sealing away the victory.

That final drive was a thing of beauty as far as San Fran is concerned.  They held on to the ball for the final 5:06 of the game and drove it 63 yards in 14 plays for the “W”.  The converted three different 3rd down situations, including a 3rd and 8 where Kaepernick was able to scramble for 11 yards.  Had he not picked up the first down in that situation, this game almost certainly would have gone to overtime, a situation that probably would have favored the Packers, as their offense was beginning to heat up.  Anyways, it was a good job by “Kap” to use his athleticism and escape to the outside and kill Green Bay’s dreams for the second year in a row and the third time in his career.

These 49ers are going to be a tough out for the rest of these playoffs.  They can beat you in so many different ways.  I have seen them run the ball, throw the ball, and play good defense.  They may be the most complete team in football, and right now they are the hottest team in football.  Carolina will have their hands full next Sunday when they host these guys.  To me, the Niners are simply playing some good football, and they are probably the team to beat this January.  It will interesting to see if these guys can get the job done on the road two more times.  If they do make it to the Super Bowl, I can’t find any reason why they would not be able to win it all.  Going on the road and clipping the Packers in icy weather says a lot about these guys and it gives them a lot of momentum as the head to the Queen City next week.