• Zone Blitz- Andy Reid, The Disappointing Bengals, and Your Official Divisional Round Open Thread




    Amy

    Hey Brian. Happy New Year. Since there are only 4 games, I'm doing a more in-depth look at each. Given the only other NFL news are coach firings/hirings, and Kluwe, which are all well covered on FPL, I wanted to focus on the games.

    Indy vs KC:

    The first half was a beatdown by KC. There was just one punt (by Indy) and Walt Anderson's crew had no impact on the game. They made two calls, both correct, and might have missed two or three calls, but none would have been game changing. However, Indy had two turnovers, a Luck interception and a Richardson fumble which killed drives. KC scored on 5 of it's drives, and almost on a hail Mary to end the half. KC has dominated the game, to this point, on the way to the 31-10 lead.

    The third quarter started with another Luck interception, the Colts third turnover. KC took advantage and the 38-10 lead seemed to say 'game over' with just less then a minute gone in the half. However, things got crazy! KC punted once, and Mathis forced a fumble that Indy got. While Luck was picked once more, putting KC up 4-1 in turnovers, the Indy offense lights thing up, getting 3 TDs to one KC FG. That let them cut the lead to 41-31 at the end of the third. On factor in this is that both Avery and Flowers have also been lost for the game by KC.

    The fourth starts with a great Indy drive. It ends in a fluky TD where Brown fumbles the ball, and it bounces to Luck, who grabs it and takes it it. 41-38 KC. KC loses backup RB Knile Davis on the next drive, which certainly doesn't help them. Later in the drive, LaRon Landry of the Colts goes down after blowing up a screen pass. He went head to the knee for the tackle, which could have caused the injury. KC gets the clock to 5:40 and take a FG and the 44-38 lead, but they use two timeouts on the drive, leaving them with just one. Indy gets the ball back with 5:36 to go, with a TD able to give them the lead. They have two timeouts. On the Colts next drive, KC loses Justin Houston with 4:44 left. 5 KC players out now. Injuries have played a key role and the game has been clean, no cheap shots. On the very next play, Luck finds Hilton for the TD and the 45-44 lead.

    With as beat up as they are now, KC has to play for a 4 minute FG drive, to give the Colts no chance to score again. KC gets a drive going, and on it Alex Smith is correctly called for grounding on 2nd and 7. They get 6 on the next play, setting up a 4th and 11, at the Indy 43, with 2 minutes to play. KC calls timeout, the last one, before the 4th and 11 play! If they don't make it, Indy will be able to kneel it out. The pass is caught OOB, and the game is over.

    MVP: T.Y. Hilton, who had over 200 yards and 2 TD. He was awesome.

    GOAT: Andy Reid! We saw everything bad about Andy in the game. His FG inside the Indy 1 early. *You never ever ever take the FG that close, unless you are down three and it's the last play of the game* Two timeouts used in the next to last KC drive because of slowness getting the play in costing them the ability to use them defensively. Uning the lastr timeout on the 4th and 11, for the game, *right after the two minute warning*. Every Eagles fan is nodding with me right now. Game management cost the Eagles often under Reid, and nothing's changed.

    Great rally for Indy, horrible loss for KC, and an exciting start to the playoffs.


    Brian

    Andy Reid + Alex Smith=

    Honestly, shouldn't we have already known the answer to that equation?

    T.Y. Hilton

    Yes, Reid has clock management issues, and yes, he made some curious decisions. But I'm not sure I can place the blame on him for losing that game yesterday. I could say that the players have to be held accountable too, but I'm not sure that's fair either. KC lost 6 players to injury, including their best player on the first series of the game, and yet they were up by 28 early in the 3rd. Alex Smith was playing lights out, and Knile Davis was running the ball very effectively. The defense wasn't getting burned in the first half, but I think that was more of a lack of execution on the part of the Colts. But with the way the flow of the game was, it never felt like the Colts were out of it.

    T.Y. Hilton

    There were a few keys to the Colts comeback (T.Y. Hilton). First was that play by Mathis, after they cut the deficit to 21. The Colts needed at least one big play on defense to turn the tide, and that play brought back momentum, and stole for them a desperately needed extra possession. The second key was Luck's response to his INT that set up a Chiefs FG that put Indy down 17 (sure, NOW Succop makes a 42 yarder). 25 yards to Brown, 30 yards to Brazil, then after 2 incompletions sandwiched around a Donald Brown 13 yard run, he hits Fleener for the 12 yard TD. A minute and a half later, it's back to a 10 point game with still a quarter and change to go. Then, you get the final key, which was KCs defense coming up big, and forcing a fumble by Brown, only to have the ball bounce straight into Luck's arms, with an open gap to the end zone in front of him. What could have been a game-ender, turned into an added momentum boost for Indy. Yet KC responds with a long drive, despite losing their 2nd RB of the game, and not being able to rely on Cyrus Gray. They did use 2 TOs, but milked clock, and were playing for a game-icing TD. Instead, they settle for a FG, and it was only a matter of time at that point. But then, even on that last offensive play after the Reid TO coming out of the 2 minute warning, the perfect play was called. Bowe was open, he just ran the route way too close to the sideline.

    T.Y. Hilton

    If we want to nitpick that TO, that's fine, but I thought it was used kind of like a coach uses a time out at the end of the game in basketball. Reid knew that was his last shot, so when he saw the Colts' defense, he made an adjustment. And let's be honest, considering where they were on the field, with only 1 TO at that point, the Chiefs weren't getting the ball back with any time at a legit shot anyway. Take 7 seconds for each play, plus the 40 second play clock, and the Chiefs are punting with between 25 and 30 seconds on the clock. Even if it goes to the End Zone, they'd have about 20 seconds to drive 50 yards to get into FG position, assuming they can stop the clock. Their best chance to win was converting that 4th down, and never letting the Colts back on the field. In that case, a TO used for strategy was better served than saving the TO to preserve what would amount to just a little bit of time. Should they have wasted the previous 2 TOs? Maybe not, but they were able to milk clock with both, and knew that a TD likely puts the game out of reach. I actually think the Chiefs got caught playing to win, and it didn't quite work out. Blame the defense, or whomever deserves blame, but I don't think Andy Reid and his clock management were at fault even a little bit.

    T.Y. Hilton

    I think all credit goes to Indy for a truly remarkable comeback. Andrew Luck struggled in the first half, but showed amazing grit in the 2nd half, willing that team to a win. How many times do we see big comebacks, only to have a team expend all of their energy coming back, and then falling just a bit short. Indy had many chances to fall apart, yet they never did. We've known that Andrew Luck is going to be a superstar, but it wasn't until Saturday night that he officially became a superstar. Even if they lose next week, we've seen the first of what will be many career-defining moments for Luck. The Colts now know that they are never out of a game with him under center. KC deserved to win that game, but Luck refused to let them.

    Oh, and another thing-- T.Y. Hilton


    Amy

    Eagles vs Saints:

    Bill Vinovich is the ref

    First half: We have as many punts in the first 5 minutes as we had in the whole Indy/KC game. In fact, we have 4 straight possessions that end in a punt. The next possession ends in a Brees interception at the Philly 2. Philly has a nice drive, including a 4th and 1 conversion by Shady. Even with that, however, get nothing, as they miss a 48 yard FG. The Saints use a timeout and lose Hicks, at least for the moment. The Eagles drive carried us into the second quarter. The Saints have a great drive going. However, Brees finds Graham deep in Philly territory, and Graham fumbles with Philly recovering. It's a very close call, and I would overturn it on review. Bill Vinovich agrees with me, and the Saints keep the ball. After the overturn, the Saints have a 4th and inches, and go for it. They make it, but Watson is called for false start negating the conversion. The Saints settle for a 36 yard FG and a 3-0 lead. After a Philly 3 and out, the Saints are moving the ball nicely. The drive ends with Demco Ryans intercepting Brees. 2 turnovers for the Saints. Philly doesn't waste this one, as Foles finds Cooper for a 10 yard TD. 7-3 Eagles. The Saints put together a nice two minute drive. They have to settle, however, for a 46 yard FG. 7-6 Philly at the half.

    Second half: Philly starts out with a 3 and out. The Saints, however, march down the field, with Brees finding Moore for the TD. 13-7 Saints. I think Payton should have gone for 2. There is no real difference between 12-7 and 13-7. However, there is a difference between 13-7 and 14-7. The Eagles punt again when Riley Cooper drops a 3rd and 4 pass. Philly also used a timeout to set up the play. The Saints go for the throat, driving down against the Eagles. They even pick up a 3rd and 12 and end the drive with a 4 yard Ingram TD and the 20-7 lead. Each team has two timeouts left. On the next drive, Keenan Lewis hurts himself breaking up a pass to Avant. Lewis led with his head to Avant's shoulder, and he may well have concussed himself. Eagles drive and with a 4th and goal inside the 1 - just like KC had - they go for it and Shady gets the TD! 20-14, Saints lead at the end of the 3rd.

    The Saints punt to start the 4th and the punt is returned to the Saints 40 by DeSean Jackson. Lewis is doubtful to return with a head injury. Again, Philly has a 4th and 1, from around the 6, and he takes the FG. This turns out correct, as there was a false start on the attempt, and a 4th and 6 is not worth the risk down 6. It's good, which makes it 20-17 Saints with 11:14 left. The Saints move down the field, but like Philly, they stall deep. The 35 yard FG is good, making it 23-17 with 8:04 left. Eagles lose Celek on their next drive. The Eagles take a shot from the Saints 43, and there's a good PI against White at the 3. It's a huge play, and a totally legit call. Two plays later, Foles finds Ertz for the 3 yard TD and the 24-23 lead with 4:54 to play.

    That 13-7 choice, rather than try for 14-7 is looking important now.

    The Saints get a legit break when Cary Williams is called for a horsecollar tackle on the kickoff. Brees starts at the Philly 48. The Saints take advantage, driving down into chip shot field goal range. I am not happy about this ending. Saints/Eagles should not be decided by a scared drive to set up a FG.

    But it is. 34 yard FG good. 26-24 Saints.

    MVP: No one.

    Goat: CC. He must have said like 25 times that if the Saints won it would put an end to the talk the Saints were bad in cold weather (which it wasn't), or on the road. But it doesnt. When a team has an identifiable weakness, even if they win one game against that weakness, it does not change the weakness. They have to do it repeatedly.

    Overall, at the end of the day, I'm disappointed. In both games, the team that was sloppier with the ball won. While KC/Indy was exciting, it was still not satisfying to see the Reid do the same things to screw up a game. Saints/Eagles was just a boring game. There was no standout player, no real wow aspect to the game. It should have been amazing. Instread, it was meh.

    In addition, it hurts the NFL. Next week, there's no drama - Seattle will beat the Saints. New Orleans gets destroyed in Seattle, even when they are the better team. Currently, they are not. However, Eagles/Panthers would have had drama, and storylines, and buzz. (Yes, I'm assuming the 49ers will win over the Packers in that comment). A boring game leading to another boring game is not good.

    Well, we always have tomorrow. I do want to say, as well, that the officiating in both games was very good.


    Brian

    The Saints Go Marching On

    The Saints ran the ball on 53% of their plays. The Saints. 53% run. As in, more than half. 36 runs, 30 passes, and 2 sacks. Drew Brees looked something significantly south of great in the first half. The Eagles were getting pressure, and even when they weren't, he was still feeling the pressure, and did what Drew Brees does on the road-- he threw 2 picks. But the Eagles weren't able to capitalize, only leading 7-6 at the half, and the Saints had already laid the groundwork. Mark Ingram looked great, and despite ending with 18 for 97, I thought they could have easily given him 5-7 more carries. In the 2nd half. Brees settled down and started picking the secondary apart as the Eagles' pressure magically disappeared. The run blocking of the Saints was dominant, and never more evident than on the (I want to say 4) QB sneaks that Brees was able to execute throughout the game. But I have no idea why the Eagles stopped putting pressure on Brees in the 2nd half. Perhaps it was simply a matter of NO doing a better job of accounting for the pressure, but it seemed like Philly backed off. In the end, I thought their decision to go to a conservative defensive strategy in the 2nd half was the difference in the game.

    My on-field MVP would be Ingram, but can the nation finally start to give Keenan Lewis some love? We Steeler fans know all about that guy. He completely took DJax out of the action. As soon as Lewis went down with a possible concussion, the Eagles were able to start taking advantage of DJax, with a 40 yard reception setting up one TD, and a 40 yard PI setting up the go-ahead TD. However, by that point, it was clear that the team with the ball at the end would win, and with New Orleans having established their running game, the Eagles weren't able to get them off the field, as the Saints bled the final 5 minutes off the clock and set up a chippy FG for the win.

    The Saints are an 18 point per game team on the road, and I thought Philly should have held them to no more than that. Their apparent decision to stop pressuring Brees was the difference in the game. At the same time, credit needs to go to Sean Payton, who was the real MVP of this game by deciding to go against his own convictions, and control the clock with a ground game. They completely wore down the Eagles defense by the end of this game.

    Alright Amy, one day down, and one to go. We've got Bengals-Chargers, followed by Packers-49ers. I'm looking forward to your breakdown of those matchups.



    Amy

    Cincy vs San Diego

    CBS already has me annoyed as they keep bringing up the 1981 playoff game between these teams. Who cares?? It was over 30 years ago, it has no bearing on this game.

    Jeff Triplette is the ref.

    First half: After the teams exchange punts, the Chargers do a running heavy drive that uses most of the first quarter. They end it with a Woodhead 4 yard TD run, and the 7-0 lead. The teams then exchange punts, then the Bengals put a drive together. It ends with a Dalton to Gresham TD pass of 4 yards. Dalton was nearly sacked. 7-7 with 6 left in the half. The Chargers punt, and then Cincy puts on a great drive. But it ends with a Bernard fumble inside the 5. San Diego recovers. But, they do nothing with it. A three and out gives Cincy the ball back with about a minute and a half left in the half and no timeouts. Cincy gets enough of a drive to try a FG to end the half. The 46 yard try is good. 10-7 Bengals at the half.

    Second half: Cincy leads off with a punt, and the Chargers put a drive together that ends in a 3 yard TD pass to Green. 14-10 Chargers with just under 7 to play in the third. On the Bengals next possession, Dalton scrambles on 3rd and 14 and fumbles and the Chargers recover. While the Chargers get a short FG for the 17-10 lead, they may regret not getting the TD. We have two to play in the 3rd quarter. Again the Bengals crumble. This time it's a third down pick that's returned inside the 5. While the Chargers get it into the 4th, they again settle for a FG for the 20-10 lead. But, that's twice that they settle for FGs inside the 10.

    The Bengals have a great drive going when Dalton throws another pick. 4 turnovers for Cincy. 3 by Dalton. But, San Diego has a three and out, so with 8:06 left, Cincy gets the ball back. They put a new drive together, but there is a slowness to it, like they had the lead. But, it stalls when on 4th and 3, they go for a homerun and not a first down. Poor play calling. with 4:44 left, SD gets the ball back. The Chargers 3 and out, taking just 15 seconds off the clock. The Bengals use all three timeouts, but they'll still have time to make plays. Cincy drives, but fails on 4th and 13, and two plays later, a 58 yard Ronnie Brown TD seals it. 27-10 with 2;17 left.

    Chargers heading to Denver. Colts coming to Foxboro.

    MVP: None.

    Goat: Dalton.


    Brian

    Shaking My Head...

    Complete and total disappointment is the only thought I can muster regarding yesterday's game. Contrary to popular belief, I am not (completely) a Bengals hater. Clearly I root for the Steelers to do well at their expense during the season, but I don't have near the vitriol built up for the Bengals as I do for the Ravens, or as I used to have for the Browns. The Bengals are like the little brother who's all grown up, and with the Steelers out of it, I really wanted to see the Bengals at least get the monkey off of their back and win a playoff game yesterday. It's been too long since Boomer, and that fan base has put up with too much, so I feel like a playoff win has been deserved for a long time.

    Yet, what we see yesterday is the same old sorry Bengals we've seen in their previous playoff appearances. After a slow start, they looked decent enough in the 2nd quarter, I guess. And if Gio doesn't fumble, and they punch in a TD to make it 14-7, then I guess it would have maybe been a different game. But using AJ Green as a decoy continues to make no sense. The Chargers' secondary is not good. Someone... ANYONE had to find a way to make sure that Green got the ball, whether that someone is Lewis, Gruden, Dalton, or Green himself pulling a Dez on the sideline. And maybe that's the crux of it. They lack passion. From Marvin Lewis, to bizarro Gruden, to Dalton and AJ, they don't seem to have that fire burning in their gut. Yes, I know they're all competitive, and they care, but I watched a team yesterday that seemingly lacked that extra bit of determination-- the exact same determination that Indy showed on Saturday. Their defense does have some passion, and despite every effort of the Bengal offense to turn this game into a blowout for the Chargers, the defense fought hard right up until their spirit was broken by that 58 yard TD run by Ronnie Brown's corpse. But as a whole, this Bengal team is missing something. They had the talent to make a deep run this year, and while they still have a lot of youth, this didn't feel like the performance of a team that's ready to take the next step forward. If anything, I think they're primed to take a step or two back, unless something changes. While it's certainly not all on Marvin, in order for the organization to move forward, maybe it's time for him to move on, and let someone else take the reigns. Mike Zimmer has deserved his shot for a while, and I have a feeling the entire team could use a jolt of his intensity. Otherwise, I see them settling into a wave of mediocrity, where they're just good enough to build up the hopes of their fans, but not good enough to seriously make any noise.

    San Diego had the perfect game-plan yesterday. They did nothing spectacular, but they didn't beat themselves, and bided their time until Cincinnati would start handing them the game. Other than that, they showed me nothing that stood out. Rivers was good, but only had 16 attempts, and less than 11 yards per completion. The running game was solid, but nothing spectacular until Ronnie Brown of all people scooted for that 58 yard icer. Now, the Chargers head to Denver having already beaten the Broncos one at Mile High. For all of the talk about a cold-weather Super Bowl, and the performance of warm-weather teams in the cold, what would be more ironic than a 6 seed from San Diego running a winter-time gauntlet of Cincinnati, Denver, and New England on their way to a New York Super Bowl? While not likely, don't discount it. Rivers is playing the best football of his career, and their running game is legit. The defense leaves a lot to be desired, but they seem to be improving. I'm not saying it's gonna happen, but I am saying that we should probably not overlook the possibility that San Diego has more noise to make in this postseason.



    Amy

    Packers vs Niners

    My fave ref, Ed Hochuli, has this game.

    First half: The Packers first drive ends in a punt. The 49ers drive, and convert a 4th and 6 with a deep throw that leads to first and goal from the 4. However, they fail on three plays and kick the FG. 3-0 Niners. The Packers lose Shields and Neal on the drive. Then they have a 3 and out, the punt being just 28 yards. However, the 49ers squander the great field position, settling for a seond FG and the 6-0 lead. A third three and out leads to Boos coming from the fans at Lambeau. The next 49ers drive takes us into the second quarter. However, it ends when Tramon Williams picks off Kaep. Green Bay finally gets some offense after the interception, and they end the drive with a Rodgers to Nelson TD. 7-6 Packers with 5:50 in the half. The 49ers reply with an impressive drive, capped off by a 10 yard Gore TD run and the 13-7 lead. However, much like yesterday, they should have gone for 2. As I pointed out then, there is no real difference between 12-7 and 13-7. There is a real difference between 13-7 and 14-7. Green Bay puts together a nice two minute drive, and they settle for a 34 yard FG. They make it, making the halftime score 13-10, with the 49ers in front.

    Second half: The 49ers start with a 3 and out, and they also use a timeout, giving them 2 left for the half with 14:37 left in the 3rd quarter. After the Packers punt, the 49ers put together a drive. But, they stall out, get no points, and use timeout #2. The next two combined possessions end in punts. Green Bay then put a drive together that carried us into the 4th quarter. It almost ends with nothing, but on a 4th and 2, Rodgers escapes a sack and finds Cobb at the 4. Two plays later, the Packers get a Kuhn TD for the 17-13 lead. Just a little over 12 to play. San Francisco quickly strikes back, a fast drive that ends with a 28 yard TD catch by Vernon Davis. The 49ers go up 20-17 with 10:30 to play. Green Bay answers with an impressive drive of it's own. However, they stall and settle for the tying FG with 5:06 left. It wasn't enough. The 49ers took the ball down the field, and aided by some strange clock management by the Packers, and an 11 yard Kaep run on 3rd and 8, they line up for a FG as the last play of regulation. The 33 yard attempt is good. The Niners advance 23-20.

    Today's games were better in my view. However, three road teams: Saints, Chargers, and 49ers won. That makes me nervous for next week and should make all the home teams nervous.

    Bring on the Divisional Round!



    Brian

    49ers Advance

    I don't see how the Sunday games were better than the Saturday games, but this game was very good, and full of drama throughout. I was a little disappointed to see that the temperature never quite dropped below zero. Psychologically, I feel like I would have enjoyed the game even more if we would have been able to attach a negative sign to it. But it was clearly cold, and clearly piqued my interest, if for nothing more than the fact that I know the extreme cold is on its way to my area as we speak.

    As for the game, what stood out to me was the QB play by both teams. Finally armed with all of his weapons, Colin Kaepernick again looks like a dangerous QB, who has the potential to be the best hybrid-style QB this league has ever seen. However, Kaep is not currently as explosive running or throwing as he was last year, as I think the league has made some adjustments. That's not to say that he won't adjust next year, and take another step forward, especially with a fully healthy Crabtree in toe. But for this year, the 49ers just aren't quite as good as they were last year either offensively or defensively.

    My MVP of the game was Aaron Rodgers, even in a losing effort. He started out the game rusty, much as he had against Chicago the previous week. But there were two teams that looked to be completely outclassed this past weekend, only to be lifted up by their QB. One team was Indy, and the other was Green Bay. In the first half, the Packers' OL looked horrific, and Rodgers didn't have a chance. But as the game wore on, Rodgers was magnificent, best exemplified by his multiple Houdini...errrr.... Eli-like play where he hit Randall Cobb for 26 yards to set up a go-ahead TD early in the 4th. The only thing missing was Cobb invoking his helmet to make the catch. Without Rodgers, the Packers lose that game by 2 scores or more. With him, they only lost because they didn't have the ball last.

    Back to you Amy. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we officially start to look ahead to next week's Divisional round?



    Date: Mon, 6 Jan 2014 11:09 AM
    From: Amy
    Subject: Re: Blitz
    To: Brian


    Andy and Alex:

    Alex Smith played well. He has for the last three years, ever since Harbaugh got to the 49ers. I don't put this loss on him at all. I do agree with you on KC timeout #3. However, timeouts 1 and 2 were wasted. They were called by Alex Smith because the plays - being called by Reid! - were coming in late in crunch time. This is not new! In Super Bowl 38, the Eagles should have beat the Pats, but the last 2 minute drive was glacially slow, in large part due to slow playcalling.

    I am not trying to take away from the Colts at all. Luck, Hilton, Mathis and the rest played great. They could have folded but they did not and they earned the win. I just feel that Andy Reid once more came up small in the playoffs. He's a great coach, but this is a trend.


    Eagles/Saints:

    Nothing has changed for me. I am very disappointed in the game. Not only the outcome as I feel Eagles/Panthers and Seahawks/49ers would be better games, but because this should have been an exciting game. And it wasn't. Honestly, it was boring. I say that as someone who likes seeing the Eagles play under Chip, and as someone who respects the explosiveness of the Saints.

    It just seems with the way this panned out that we have 3, not 4, games next week. San Diego can (and has, this year), win in Denver. Indy can win in Foxboro, the 49ers can win in Charlotte. I just don't think that this Saints team can win in Seattle. I don't even think it will be close. Maybe I'll be wrong, we'll have to wait and see.


    Sunday Retort

    I disagree with you a little (on San Diego-Cincinnati). Yes, Rivers only had 16 passes, but that's all he needed. They ran for something like 5 yards a carry for the game. Cincy never adjusted to the Chargers coming at them. When something works, why change? SD had a game plan, it was working, and they stuck with it.

    I do agree with the Green Bay comments. I would like to point out that on both Cobb TD passes, vs the Bears last week and the 49ers this week, there was uncalled holding that helped Green Bay

    However, that brings me to the last point - refs were great this week. I have no complaints at all!

    Just 7 games to go, and I hope the Pats are in 3 of them!



    Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2014 2:02 PM
    From: Brian
    Subject: Re: Blitz
    To: Amy


    I am not an Andy Reid apologist by any means, and agree completely that he has major clock management issues that hold him back. However, the major difference between the Super Bowl and this past game is that in the Super Bowl, he was trailing. In this game, KC had the lead, so one of their major goals on that drive was to eat up clock. Whether or not Reid got the plays to Alex Smith too late is up for debate, but considering the speaker inside Smith’s helmet is shut off at a certain point in the play clock (at the 15 second mark?), I don’t think slow play calls were a factor. I simply think both Smith and Reid wanted to get it right, knowing that bleeding the clock AND scoring a TD would ice the game. At that point, you’re not thinking about the possibility of needing to save your TOs in case you give up the lead. That’s a loser mentality. Instead, you play to win at that point. I rarely say this about an Andy Reid coached team, but I honestly had zero issue with their clock management in that game.

    As Amy alluded to, there are only 7 games left in this NFL season (8 if you count the Pro Bowl), and 4 of them are going down this week, in the best NFL weekend of the year. Much like Amy, I hope that the Pats play in 3 of them as well, but only because I happened to end up with Tom Brady and Shane Vereen in a playoff draft method fantasy league, where you roll with the team you drafted from start to finish. I also ended up with Marshawn Lynch, so a Pats-Seahawks Super Bowl would be primo.

    Divisional Round Preview
    The weekend kicks off with New Orleans heading off to Seattle for a 4:35 kick on Saturday. This is a rematch from week 13 when the Seahawks thoroughly dominated the Saints 34-7. Despite allowing 4.6 yards per carry, good for 29th in the league, the Saints held Marshawn Lynch in check in their last meeting, and limited the Eagles to under 4 YPC last week. But the Seahawks defense not only held the Saints to a season low 7 points, they allowed the Saints only 188 total yards-- a full 159 yards less than their next lowest total of the season, 347 yards in week 5 vs. the Bears. Brees was held to under 4 YPA in that matchup, and his 144 yards passing was his lowest total since only attempting 5 passes in the 2006 season finale, and represented the first time he was held under 200 yards passing since the final game of the 2010 season. For the Saints to win, they’ll have to find a way to free up some passing lanes for Brees, likely through another strong effort on the ground by Mark Ingram. They’ll also have to continue to contain Lynch, while also limiting Russell Wilson, who lit them up in that game for 300 and 3 TDs. Sean Payton is dangerous, and will find a way to give his team a chance on Saturday, but that’s a large mountain for the Saints to overcome. I’m expecting the Seahawks to roll, 31-17.

    In the Saturday night headliner, Andrew Luck will try to accomplish something that Peyton Manning was never able to do while in Indianapolis, and that’s beat New England in a playoff game in Foxborough. While Luck and Brady will garner all of the headlines, I think the key player to watch in this game will be Donald Brown. NE’s defense has been very suspect against the run ever since they lost both Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, and while Trent Richardson has been a colossal disappointment, Donald Brown has looked fantastic in recent weeks for the Colts. If he can create some big plays early, it should open things up for the dynamic TY Hilton, who reminds me a lot of Antonio Brown. For New England to win, I keep seeing that Alex Smith overthrow of Cyrus Gray from last Saturday running through my mind. Over the last 5 weeks of the regular season, the Colts allowed 5 and a half catches per game to RBs, and the Patriots have the perfect weapon to exploit that hole in Shane Vereen. I see a big game from Vereen, but I think the Colts somehow find a way to shock the Patriots and claim a spot in the AFC Championship. Colts 27-24.

    On Sunday, San Francisco travels to Carolina to face a Panther team that has already beaten them once this season, 10-9 in San Francisco in week 10. There are no secrets with this game, as it’s going to be a slugfest. SF has the experience, and with Crabtree back in the lineup, have a more explosive offense than the one Carolina faced two months ago. The Panthers are expected to have Steve Smith, but how effective he’ll be while dealing with a knee issue is anyone’s guess. I’m just not sure that San Francisco is quite as good as they were last year. Colin Kaepernick had that great postseason last year, but is not catching teams off guard this year, and really struggled in their first matchup. Cam Newton also struggled in the first game, but has some big-game experience himself (BCS National Championship Game), and has had some clutch game-winning drives @ San Francisco, vs New England, and vs New Orleans in a game that essentially sealed the NFC South for the Panthers. This game is about as even as it gets, but in a bit of an upset, I like the Panthers to take out the defending NFC champs at home, 20-17.

    In the final game of the weekend, we get Peyton Manning and the Broncos playing the role of heavy favorite. We all know how that exact same scenario ended last year, with a shocking loss to the Ravens. This year, the Broncos get division-rival San Diego—the same Chargers who beat them a few weeks ago in Mile High. The weekend weather looks pretty good in Denver, with a current high of 50, along with partly cloudy skies predicted for Sunday. It really would be ironic if a warm-weather team like San Diego would ride the road gauntlet of trips to Cincinnati, Denver, and New England all the way to an all-California Super Bowl in Northern New Jersey. But while Manning has struggled coming off a playoff bye in the past, I think the big key to this game is Knowshon Moreno, who did not play in last year’s loss to Baltimore. Moreno has run the ball great this year, is fantastic in pass-protection, and is an excellent safety valve for Manning, meaning that Peyton should be able to keep himself clean. While San Diego’s defense has been steadily improving throughout the year, I have a hard time seeing how they can contain Demaryius Thomas for the entire game. And while Rivers has been great this year, and would get my vote for Comeback POY, I’m not sure the Chargers can muster quite enough offense to keep up. Give me Denver, 37-28.

    That gives me a final four of Carolina vs. Seattle, and Indianapolis vs. Denver. Yes, a 3rd Manning Super Bowl appearance comes down to a matchup with the Colts. What say you? Your Divisional Round Open Thread is now officially open for business.

    Comments 146 Comments
    1. msclemons's Avatar
      I'll have you know, I have not spent the entire day in my bathrobe pointing my wiener at Alex Smith fans and laughing.

      That was not me.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by msclemons View Post
      I'll have you know, I have not spent the entire day in my bathrobe pointing my wiener at Alex Smith fans and laughing.

      That was not me.
      Yeah, right.

    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      In a {totally bizarre move} which will {baffle absolutely everyone}, the Miami Dolphins and General Manager Jeff Ireland have {mutually decided to part ways}.

      http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/0...m-ireland.html

      Fans react.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Sally Jenkins of the WaPo, who does good hit pieces, does a good hit piece on Robert Griffin III. The essence of the message is that Griffin is a finger-pointer who lost his teammates. Man, I understood that after winning three Super Bowls the devil would demand his due from the Redskins and the teams like the Browns have had it harder, but enough already!
    1. Ragar's Avatar
      Think we need to have a full blown 2pt conversion thread, and a TO thread at some point this offseason.

      I completely disagree with you Amy as there is a huge difference between 13pts or 12pts, where as getting to 14pts in that situation is not worth the risk of getting down to 12pts. Blowing 2 pt's conversions early tends to force teams to go for 2pt conversions later to tie games/get back to 3pt games, as would have been the case in the Packers/SF game. (to get back to 20SF-17GB).

      My theory on game planing this is the better your offense/match-up, you want to extend games by keeping you within 1 score or as I am labeling it "possession equal"(8pts/3pts) at all times; conversely the worse your offense/match-is, you want to extend to 9pts/4pts. The obvious exception is towards end of games, you must maintain at least a 3pt lead to prevent a FG loss.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Oh, and clem, you might want to throw an edit at this post. You know, since I totally didn't just capture it for posterity and will {totally delete it later}. {totally}.

    1. Nancy's Avatar
      There are no secrets with this game, as it’s going to be a slugfest. SF has the experience, and with Crabtree back in the lineup, have a more explosive offense than the one Carolina faced two months ago. The Panthers are expected to have Steve Smith, but how effective he’ll be while dealing with a knee issue is anyone’s guess
      I don't see Kaepernick getting the room to run against the Panthers that he did against the Pack, but (the return of Steve Smith notwithstanding) there's just not a lot of offense going on here. If the defense gives up more than 20 points, doesn't get turnovers or lets Kaepernick and Bouldin get in a groove, this is going to be tough for the Panthers. If they get after Kaepernick like they got after Brees and Ryan, I like their chances.

      T.Y. Hilton, who had over 200 yards and 2 TD. He was awesome.
      Still can't believe this. The Chiefs are a good defense, and T.Y. is pretty much all the Colts got. How the hell did this happen? I'm glad it did, but you know, they had one guy to worry about...
      The Colts have to come up with some other options this week--the Pats will not let T.Y. get away from them. Personally, I'd like to see more Da'Rick Rodgers.

      CBS already has me annoyed as they keep bringing up the 1981 playoff game between these teams. Who cares?? It was over 30 years ago, it has no bearing on this game.
      I can't really talk about Bengals-Chargers anymore...I've stepped back from the ledge, but it's just too stinkin' depressing. However, as far as CBS talking about the 1981 AFC Championship--yeah, it had nothing to do with Sunday's game, but it's still the greatest day of my life as a sports fan; it was an amazing performance by my favorite team of all time (they honored the members of that '81 team before the game Sunday), and it was overshadowed by Montana, Dwight Clark, and "The Catch." So who cares? I sure as hell do
    1. mikesteelnation1's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      Oh, and clem, you might want to throw an edit at this post. You know, since I totally didn't just capture it for posterity and will {totally delete it later}. {totally}.


      Ummm... Uhhhhh... Yeah.. put that thing away "trigger"...

      The scotch haze days of "Alexcuses" apparently run and die hard in niner land...

      I'd say more but I'll keep it clean and pc for fp..

      I'll just simply say this... What a set up for SOOOOO many inappropriate, non pc comments...
    1. iwatt's Avatar
      Too much imediacy bias for the 49ers. How exactly are they scoring against the Panthers?
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      {The Lions are really ringing the bell with their head coach interviews}

      Kubiak? Really?

      http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-...ch-gary-kubiak
    1. Wordsworth's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      {The Lions are really ringing the bell with their head coach interviews}

      Kubiak? Really?

      http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-...ch-gary-kubiak
      Want To Sell: Backup QB, 32 years old, Cancer

      Kubiak is definitely not a flashy hire. I think he could be good for Stafford's development and will likely run a tighter ship than Gym Shorts. He's not a Superbowl caliber coach, though. Not in my opinion.
    1. Patrick Sullivan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Wordsworth View Post
      Want To Sell: Backup QB, 32 years old, Cancer

      Kubiak is definitely not a flashy hire. I think he could be good for Stafford's development and will likely run a tighter ship than Gym Shorts. He's not a Superbowl caliber coach, though. Not in my opinion.
      I have zero faith in Kubiak as a head coach.
    1. Wordsworth's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Patrick Sullivan View Post
      I have zero faith in Kubiak as a head coach.
      I'd have more than zero, but he's not going to take you to the promised land. Whisenhunt is a much more logical hire for what Detroit needs.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by iwatt View Post
      Too much imediacy bias for the 49ers. How exactly are they scoring against the Panthers?
      I agree, and I'm a little surprised SF is favored this week, on the road, against a team that has already beaten them in San Francisco. I guess it's the "been there, done that", but while I'm not sure either team can score a lot on the other, I think a close, low-scoring game clearly favors Carolina.

      But this is the most even game of the weekend.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      Chris Johnson opened his mouth again. As usual, it wasn't a good thing:

      http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/10...years-use-more

      Every running back hoping to make $8 Million in any future season has called and asked him to shut up. He responded by insulting his offensive linemen again.
    1. Rich Gapinski's Avatar
      According to Football News Commandment-Maker Adam Shefter, Josh McDaniels has withdrawn his name from the Browns HC "race." The source said that the meeting went well but it wasn't the right time for McD to be coach.

      My guess at the translation: Even McDaniels could tell that the Browns were too far gone to be solved and he would like a real shot to become successful in his second try.
    1. Andy Freeland's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by msclemons View Post
      I'll have you know, I have not spent the entire day in my bathrobe pointing my wiener at Alex Smith fans and laughing.
      So not the entire day?
    1. brauneyz's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Rich Gapinski View Post
      According to Football News Commandment-Maker Adam Shefter, Josh McDaniels has withdrawn his name from the Browns HC "race." The source said that the meeting went well but it wasn't the right time for McD to be coach.

      My guess at the translation: Even McDaniels could tell that the Browns were too far gone to be solved and he would like a real shot to become successful in his second try.

      I'd like to think this is a sign of maturation for McDaniels. Good for him, and better for Pats!



      Plus, Cleveland is really hosed. Good gawd, I give credit to you Brownie fans. Patient and virtuous are you!
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Sir Alex Ferguson once told a head coach hopeful that he should scout the owner, not the team. In the NFL, that roughly translates into scouting the organization. But rarely does a candidate do that. The jobs are so scarce that most guys take even the toxic ones when they're offered. It's the rare candidate who can refuse an offer, secure in the knowledge that another one will come his way.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      I can definitely see San Diego beating Denver. I can't believe the spread is 9. Both games were tight, Mile High obviously wasn't a deterrent, Bolts are physical and smart and Rivers can take advantage of that secondary.

      If being road warriors doesn't wear them down, I can definitely see them in the SB.

      In other news, the Falcons hire Mike Tice as o-line coach. Nothing agains the guy, tremendous player, but he's not known for being a great line coach, or a great coach of any kind. I think his principal asset is that Mike Smith worked with him before, and Mike Smith likes hiring guys he has worked with.

      The Falcons are making noises that they want to go back to being a physical team. Truth is, they never were, despite Smith's devotion to the concept. The closest they ever came was with Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl. Even then they weren't physically dominant, just nasty as heck and full of cut blocks. Now they're not even nasty. Just a bunch of easily-beaten, not very strong milquetoasts.