Sizing up the NFL divisional playoff games

John
John Turner
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Last week’s NFL wild-card playoff games all lacked the usual drama and suspense, except the Seahawks-Redskins’ game.

This week’s divisional matchups have more competitive teams, great storylines and should all be entertaining football games.

Stat of the week

Vikings quarterback Joe Webb made NFL history being the first quarterback to ever start a playoff game without throwing a pass during the regular season. Anyone who watched this game, knows it was obvious he didn’t throw a pass all season.

Pet peeve of the week

Baltimore’s Ray Lewis, who is retiring at the end of the season, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and is known for his pre-game dance ritual that fires up his teammates and home crowd. 

However, there is no place in the game, even if it’s your last career home game, to be out dancing on the last play of the game while the Ravens were on offence. Not a classy move by a great football player.

Bonehead play of the week

If last week was Week 8 instead of Week 18 and the playoffs, would Washington rookie quarterback RG III be playing with that bad knee?  

There is a big difference between being hurt and injured, and he told Coach Shanahan he was hurt, not injured, and wanted to continue playing against the Seahawks. The Freak dislikes the Redskins, but you really have to admire the courage and toughness of this rookie. 

However, it should have been a no-brainer to Shanahan as you could definitely see that RG III was truly injured, and he should have been pulled out of the game earlier. Now, your franchise quarterback has gone under the knife to repair both a torn ACL and LCL, and could be out for up to a year.

Houston (12-4; road 6-2) vs.

New England (12-4; home 6-2)

The Texans slipped by the Bengals at home last week, but now face a different monster on the road in the mighty Patriots.

Houston played New England about a month ago, and was embarrassed on national television by Tom Brady and all his offensive weapons. You can expect the Texans’ defence to play better this time around, and if they stay committed to running the rock with Arian Foster (30 carries) and pass off play-action and bootlegs, this will keep Brady and company off the field and give Houston a fighting chance. 

The Pats’ defence is the lowest-ranked unit left in the tournament. You can move the ball on them, but the key is to come away with touchdowns instead of field goals, which is what happened last week against the Bengals. 

This game will be much closer, but with a healthy Gronk at Brady’s disposal and a decent running game with Stevan Ridley, Houston will not be able to match touchdowns with New England, which will head to another AFC Championship game.

Baltimore (10-6; road 4-4)

vs. Denver (13-3; home 7-1)

This game will ultimately come down to quarterback play between the Broncos’ Peyton Manning and Ravens’ Joe Flacco.

We probably would be talking differently of Flacco if Lee Evans catches the football in the end zone, or Billy Cundiff makes that chip-shot field goal against the Patriots in last season’s AFC Championship game. He made the plays in that game, and will need a repeat performance against Denver. 

However, Denver has a much better defence (second ranked), and can put big pressure on the quarterback with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. You know Manning is going to put at least 24 points on the board, even though he is 0-3 (won-lost) in cold-weather playoff games, against this below-average defence.

So, at the end of the day, you must ask yourself whether Flacco can or can’t outplay Manning?

The Freak thinks not, and the Broncos will host the AFC Championship game with a big win over the Ravens that has Darcy Ellis smiling.

Brady vs. Manning, but this time it’s Peyton and not Eli, which must be a huge relief for local Pats’ fans.

Seattle (11-5; road 3-4)

vs. Atlanta (13-3; home 7-1)

Can the Falcons finally get that 1,000-pound gorilla off their back with a playoff win after another great regular season?

Well, they were probably hoping to face the Redskins instead of these red-hot Seahawks, and will need to bring their best if they want to move on. Seattle’s defence really matches up well against the Falcons’ offensive stars, and what they like to do offensively.

Corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have the ability to match up man-to-man with Atlanta receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor are solid in coverage and can give problems to tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had his best season of his career, but is 0-3 in elimination games while Seattle rookie Russell Wilson has been very impressive and doesn’t seem to get rattled, but doesn’t have the big weapons.

Both teams can run the ball well, so what will be the difference in this game?

Seattle proved they could go into a hostile environment, fall behind by two touchdowns and still be able to persevere and win a tough road playoff game. This has to give them all kinds of confidence. Being the hottest team going into the playoffs, The Freak likes the ‘Hawks to pull off the upset. That poor old gorilla can’t get out of Atlanta.

Green Bay (11-5, road 4-4)

vs. San Fran (11-4-1, home 6-1-1)

The Freak believes this will be the most exciting game of the weekend, and don’t be surprised if the winner of this game wins the Super Bowl.

If it wasn’t for AP or Peyton Manning, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would be The Freak’s pick for MVP. Rodgers (sacked 51 times) plays behind a very weak offensive line, his receivers were hurt all season and really had no running game, but still put up MVP-like numbers with 39 touchdowns.

However, he hasn’t faced many defences like the 49ers, which are something special that will give Rodgers some trouble. Speaking of trouble, the Green Bay defence has not faced a read-option quarterback all season, and this is what Colin Kaepernick does well and will give the D fits all day.

Don’t you have a feeling that Coach Harbaugh will open up the playbook this week, and have Kaepernick running and throwing in different formations all day long?

By the end of this game, the forgotten one, tight end Vernon Davis, will not be the invisible man. He will be that game-breaker we have missed since the San Fran quarterback change from Alex Smith to Kaepernick at mid-season.

Hard to take a second-year quarterback over a stud like Rodgers, but The Freak just believes the 49ers have a more complete team than the Packers. Take the Niners in a thriller.

Last week: 3-for-4.

Season: 87-for-123.

 

John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to ssidespartansfootball@yahoo.ca.

Organizations: NFL, Ravens, Seahawks Redskins Bengals

Geographic location: New England, Denver, Seattle Houston Washington Atlanta Baltimore Atlanta.Green Bay Green Bay Summerside

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