NFL Playoffs Continue
January 14, 2016
The wildcard round of the NFL Playoffs gave us some exciting and controversial games. History was made as all four road teams won (I predicted this last week in these pages). Much was made of how Cincinnati self-destructed late against Pittsburgh. Did this really surprise you? The Bengals have now lost seven consecutive playoff contests. Seattle survived in frigid conditions in Minnesota as Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal as time expired to break the hearts of Vikings fans. The other two games were decided when the fourth quarter began. Green Bay pulled away from Washington and Kansas City won its 11th straight game with its shutout at Houston.
Here is how I see this weekend’s action. Let me start with the Saturday games.
No. 5 Kansas City (12-5) at No. 2 New England (12-4)....I am going to go totally against conventional wisdom here. Who in their right mind picks against Tom Brady and the Patriots when they are at home? I am basing my decision on two factors. The last time these two teams got together, the Chiefs destroyed the Pats by a 41-14 count. In New England no less. The game was early last season and it truly served as a wake up call for New England as it went on to win the Super Bowl. I also like the fact that Kansas City truly has a defense that can slow the Patriots down. Brady is playing behind an injury-riddled offensive line and will be running for his life against a fierce Chiefs’ pass rush. Question is, can Kansas City find enough offense. I say they do, but it will be close.
No. 5 Green Bay (11-6) at No. 2 Arizona (13-3)....I will go with conventional wisdom here. Back in Week 15, the Cardinals blew out the Packers 38-8. They did so with a devastating defensive effort that harassed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In fact, Arizona returned two Rodgers’ fumbles for touchdowns in that game. Prior to last week’s victory, Green Bay had only won four of its last 10 games. The Pack looked terrible against teams with a pass rush and with above-average cornerbacks. The Cardinals have both. Arizona will win by 10 or more points.
Here are the Sunday games.
No. 6 Seattle (11-6) at No. 1 Carolina (15-1)...I must admit, I have a bad feeling for Carolina in this one. These two teams are almost mirror images of each other. Both have top-five defenses and both have quarterbacks who can be unstoppable at times. They met in week 6 and Carolina pulled out a last minute 27-23 victory in Seattle. It will likely be another close one but Seattle is playing its best football of the season while I feel the Panthers peaked about a month or so ago. The Seahawks should be loose because they know they should be watching the playoffs on TV. I still can’t believe the Vikings missed that 27-yard field goal. Meanwhile, there is always some pressure on the number-one seed playing at home. I see Seattle ruining a storybook season for Carolina.
No. 6 Pittsburgh (11-6) at No. 1 Denver (12-4)...The winner of this game could come down to which quarterback is standing at the end of the game.
I find it ironic that even though Peyton Manning’s body has been falling apart for almost six months now, he might not be the most beat-up quarterback in this game. Ben Roethlisberger is dealing with a right shoulder injury that prevented him from throwing any deep passes during the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ win over the Bengals. If Roethlisberger can’t throw deep against the Broncos, I do give the Steelers a chance in this game. The Steelers will also stand no chance if Roethlisberger re-injures his shoulder, which isn’t out of the question because he’s probably going to get hit a lot on Sunday. The Broncos defense led the NFL in sacks in 2015 with 52. If the Steelers were healthy, I would take them. But I cannot take a team who will have a seriously banged-up quarterback who will likely be without wide receiver (Antonio Brown) and running back (DeAngelo Williams).
Clemson Comes Up Short
The National Championship Game on Monday night will go down as a classic.
The top-rated Clemson Tigers came into the contest as a seven-point underdog against an Alabama program that everyone is calling a dynasty. Clemson held its own but came up five points short, falling to the Crimson Tide by a 45-40 count.
The Tigers matched Bama from start to finish. In the end, Clemson lost because of three reasons. It forgot to game plan for Alabama’s O.J. Howard. They lost the special team’s battle and they did not play well with the lead.
Let me start with Howard. The Alabama tight end came into the game having not scored a touchdown since 2013. He also had under 400 receiving yards for the season. Howard roamed free at key moments in the game and ended up with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns.
Special teams got the Crimson Tide back in the game and helped them keep on top. Alabama recovered a surprise on-side kick in the second half and took a two-possession lead. The Tide also had a kickoff return for a touchdown late to virtually put the game away.
Lastly, the Tigers offense did not play well with the lead. This has actually been a trend for Clemson against good teams as Notre Dame and North Carolina almost rallied to beat the Tigers after falling behind early.
It happened again on Monday. Three times in the game, Clemson got possession of the ball when it had the lead. The results of those drives made things difficult later. The three drives totaled 12 plays and 22 yards while netting no points.
In contrast, here are the numbers from the six drives Clemson had when it was trailing. They also scored on each of these possessions for 33 total points.
Apparently, this team thrived on urgency.
Special teams and developing consistency on offense. Two items for the Tigers to work on for next season. And next season could be as special as this one as quarterback Deshaun Watson will be returning with a several key returnees. Experts actually spoke of next year being Clemson’s year. Watson will be the Heisman Trophy favorite as he became the first player in FBS history with 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards. The title game was a coming out party for Watson as he finished with 405 passing yards and four touchdowns against the best defense in the nation.