Are you finally ready for some playoff football? After the NFL’s experimental trial of having a bye-week for all teams between the end of the season and the start of the postseason, we’re finally ready to get back to playoff action this week! And what a stacked slate of games it is: Seattle at Atlanta, Pittsburgh at Kansas City, Green Bay at Dallas, a fourth game I’m forgetting but I’m sure is on-par with the others. It’s hard to believe this is how the run to the Super Bowl starts. It’s only going to get better once…
Oh wait. There was “football” this weekend, wasn’t there? I thought I managed to mentally block such a terrible experience, just like I managed to forget the time I peed my pants in third grade and tried to dry it off with the class hamster. Actually, I guess I’m not that good at this forgetting thing after all.
Ironically, this weekend’s games were so forgettable that they’ll be remembered for just that. In all, home teams won every game by an average margin of 19 points. Yet, even though this weekend was full of sit-so-far-back-in-your-seat-you-find-the-lost-remote action, we can still glean a few lessons from the games to apply to the future. Let’s look back at Wild Card Weekend.
Wild Card Weekend Recap
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans
1.) Surprisingly, this duel of “backup” QBs only gave us one terrible passing performance to mock. It seems ridiculous to give kudos to Brock Osweiler for having a completely average day under center, but him not being a total tool was the X-factor in this game. With Houston leading by six and receiving the ball with just over two minutes left in the first half, it seemed like the Texans would just play it safe like they had for 28 minutes. But Bill O’Brien actually allowed Osweiler to sling it, and he responded with three professional grade throws to lead Houston to a touchdown. The insurmountable 13-point lead allowed them to take zero risks in the second half, and let Connor Cook sink his own team.
2.) Speaking of Cook, the rookie was not good in his debut start, save for the brief moments when he was in the no-huddle offense. Working with a smaller playbook, Cook was able to lead the Raiders on a pair of touchdown drives when the offense was up-tempo. I get that Bill Musgrave had a game-plan he wanted to stick with, but once it was obvious that little else was going to work against a vaunted Houston D, the Raiders should’ve turned the game over to Cook.
3.) If you’re a completely unrealistic Texans fan, even you’d be hard-pressed to find any signs that this team can do anything but lose to New England by 40 points. Against a backup left tackle and a dumb ol’ rookie QB who holds the ball too long, Houston still had trouble getting consistent pressure, finishing with just three hits on Cook in 48 drop backs. Against the Patriots back in September, they only registered one sack of Jacoby Brissett, and Tom Brady has a much faster trigger than a rookie making his first start. If they can’t pressure Brady, they’d better hope Jadeveon Clowney can keep up his J.J. Watt impression and bat down/pick off more balls at the line of scrimmage.
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks
1.) You feel that? That wind pulling you in from the Northwest? That’s the Seahawks trying to suck us all into their trap once again. Seattle reverted back to its old Super Bowl-winning formula of dominating in the ground game, having completely random receivers make potential catches of the year, and benefiting from spotty refereeing.
Is @prich10 for real?!
No regard for the defender.
— NFL (@NFL) January 8, 2017
Don’t let their dominant win over Detroit be the siren song that crashes your boat though. (Ugh, given how much yacht talk is coming this week, I probably should’ve used a different metaphor.) Seattle owned a bad Lions team at home, where they’re always good. Playing in Atlanta will be a vastly different story, especially against a Falcons team that feels like it got robbed in its tight Week 6 loss in Seattle.
2.) Ultimately, the book on the 2016 Lions should be filed away under fiction. This was a bad team that needed straight-up sorcery to win and stumbled once its grand wizard broke his spell-casting finger. But it’s not the Lions fault they crashed the playoff party; ample NFC teams had a chance to take their spot, including Tampa Bay and Washington. So if you hated this game like I did, blame Kirk Cousins.
3.) Cris Collinsworth is a divisive character, as all color commentators usually are, but nights like Saturday are why I’m in his corner. He’s able to avoid painting entire offensive lines with the same brush, highlighting why George Fant sucks one play, before pointing out the strengths of Mark Glowinski on the next. He also just flat out said where there was a missed call, rather than do the typical announcer thing where they “don’t know about that one.” Finally, when a game is way out of hand, talking about who you chose for MVP is far more interesting than addressing who Mychal Rivera’s sister is.
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers
1.) Like Oakland-Houston, the door for this game to be competitive was slammed shut right before halftime. Trailing by 14, Miami had the ball in the Steelers’ red zone with 27 seconds to go. Pittsburgh lined up to rush four, before James Harrison moved out wide, covering the slot receiver. Rather than account for one of the best pass rushers of our generation, the left side of the Dolphins o-line focused entirely on blocking Leterrius Walton. Harrison blitzed and got the strip sack to confirm what we already kind of knew, Miami wasn’t winning this game.
2.) Finally, Pittsburgh had a full team come playoff time, and it was every bit as scary as we thought it could be. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both had a pair of TDs in the first postseason game to feature all three Killer Bs. Sunday’s Steelers had the look of a team that could give the Chiefs a walloping once again, but (as is now a yearly tradition) only if Big Ben is healthy. Roethlisberger apparently re-aggravated an old foot injury late in the Miami game and could be hobbled for the Divisional Round.
It’s bad news that Roethlisberger will be less than 100-percent, considering he wasn’t playing all that great beforehand. Brown’s catch-and-run touchdowns accounted for more than half his passing yards on Sunday. He also had a pair of interceptions and completed just two passes in the second half. Against a fierce Chiefs D looking for revenge, he’ll have to be better.
3.) Miami was clearly an inferior team, yet even they are allowed an excuse.
I now understand why the Dolphins lost. I mean, the Giants spent one afternoon in Miami. The Dolphins were there the whole week.
— Adam Rank (@adamrank) January 9, 2017
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
1.) YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE! Of all the deplorable games last weekend, this one actually looked outstanding on paper. And for a half, it was. Then, Aaron Rodgers did his usual thing of making incredible plays that for him just seem average. That included exacting revenge for the Giants 2011 Hail Mary with a pre-half bomb of his own. Rodgers finished with an astounding 362 yards and a 125.2 passer rating, neither of which were playoff highs for him. He did, however, tie his playoff high with four touchdown passes. Oh, he also did that without his top receiver against arguably the league’s best defense.
The rest of this Packers team is hardly Super Bowl worthy; they can’t run, or defend the pass, and their offensive line isn’t great. But none of that matters because, when you wear no. 12, you’d better be able to lift your team to a Super Bowl. And Rodgers is showing once again that he can.
2.) The party yacht narrative was already crafted no matter how the Giants lost this game. But it definitely lost most of its punch when New York got – excuse the pun – boat raced by 25 points, the biggest margin of defeat this weekend. (Did I mention I thought this game would be good?)
For the boat crew, Odell Beckham led the charge with a career-high three drops (one of which came on a terrible Eli overthrow that no one would’ve blamed him for if his reputation as a Spiderman didn’t precede him). Yet, this Giants offense had been terrible for weeks before this game, so scoring under 20 for the sixth-straight week shouldn’t have come as a shock. The only hope for that unit was that Manning might be able turn it on like he has for playoff runs of years past, and that never really happened.
Also not on the yacht: any members of the defense, which allowed over 30 points for the first time all season; a running back too unaware to secure a live fumble; Ereck Flowers; Bobby Rainey. This was a whole team loss, but throw in Beckham’s apparent outrage after the loss, and he’s the media’s easy target. (Meaning, if Eli was part of the media, he’d overthrow him.)
3.) What was Damarious Randall thinking trying to run back an interception with the game sealed? Your secondary is already banged up and a bad karma play like that is just inviting an injury. Kneel on it, dummy!
4.) Legitimate question: is there only one spot you’re supposed to Lambeau Leap? It seemed like Aaron Ripkowski went on quite an adventure before he chose his spot.