With the exception of the Lions-Cowboys game, Wild Card Weekend was anything but wild. A Pittsburgh Steelers team looked lost without star running back LeVeon Bell, falling tamely to their rival Baltimore Ravens. The Red Rocket, Andy Dalton, sputtered once again when the Cincinnati Bengals season ended in Indianapolis against the Colts, and Arizona set an all-time playoff record for offensive ineptitude when the Cardinals lost to a surging Carolina Panthers team.
Despite all the bad football the NFL is seriously considering adding two more teams to the postseason. Great idea, Roger. Give the man a pay raise!
Let’s go back to the Lions-Cowboys game for a second, a game I didn’t get to watch. Thanks, Dish Network! How can that happen? It’s the NFL playoffs and a major satellite carrier doesn’t have “Fox.” Impossible. I did catch the highlights, though, and that should have been a pass interference penalty. Not as egregious as Lions fans (wait there are no Lions fans), non-Cowboy fans want to think, but still, that should have been a foul.
The Dallas defender made no play on the ball and ran through the receiver. His hands went up at the last moment, but by then the receiver’s path to come back to the ball had already been disrupted. It absolutely should have been a penalty, because the official through a flag! Had the official not thrown a flag at any point I don’t think there would be a controversy.
Again, it wasn’t an egregious foul, but the official did throw a flag, and it’s hard think of a logical reason why they overturned the initial call. Despite the call, or non-call, Detroit still had the ball fourth-and-one and elected to tuck tale and punt. Let’s go Detroit! You haven’t won a playoff game in my lifetime and you’re playing not to lose, instead of playing to win? I don’t get it.
The Divisional Round promises more excitement. Just take a look at the quarterbacks still playing in each conference. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Joe Flacco. It’s a who’s who of NFL passers. Five of the eight are former Super Bowl champions. It doesn’t get much better than this.
BALTIMORE RAVENS @ New England Patriots -7
This is a nightmare matchup for the Chowder Heads. I would not be surprised at all if the Baltimore Ravens went into Foxboro and got the victory. I’m not predicting it, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Baltimore is not intimidated by New England. These teams have met in the playoffs numerous times in Belicheck-Brady era and Baltimore has had success playing in New England.
The Ravens have a championship quarterback, one that mysteriously plays better in the postseason. Baltimore also has a pass rush, with Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, that can bother the once impervious Tom Brady.
Like Brady, New England’s aura of playoff invincibility has eroded in recent years, but this Patriots team has a much improved defense from its recent predecessors. Everybody wants another Manning-Brady AFC Championship game, and that may happen, but the Ravens relish the spoiler role.
Patriots win 27-24
Carolina Panthers @ SEATTLE SEAHAWKS -10.5
You have to knock the champ out when you have him on the ropes! The Seattle Seahawks were floundering at 3-3 amidst all the Percy Harvin turmoil. A road win in Carolina righted the ship and got the team back on track. Now the Panthers have to travel to Seattle to face a rejuvenated defending champion.
The Seahawks are on a roll, perhaps greater than any they experienced during last year’s Super Bowl run. The defense in particular has been stifling, and leads the league again in virtually every notable category. The Panthers have a stingy defense of their own, but it’s unrealistic to think a young Carolina group can match what’s becoming a legendary defensive unit in Seattle.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has moments of brilliance, but isn’t accurate enough as a passer to threaten the Seahawks secondary. This will be a close game through the first half, but ultimately Seattle will pull away behind a seismic home field advantage.
Seahawks win 31-6
DALLAS COWBOYS @ Green Bay Packers -5.5
Dallas may have escaped with a narrow victory over the Detroit Lions a week ago, but don’t discount their chances against another NFC North team in Green Bay. Dallas can run the football, behind an effective offensive line, with DeMarco Murray.
Keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline will be the key to a Cowboys victory. Especially with Rodgers ailing from a banged up calf
muscle. Keep Green Bay’s defense on the field and Rodgers leg will feel the effects of Wisconsin weather in January.
Of course, Green Bay has their own stud at running back in Eddie Lacy to take some of the pressure off the quarterback. It’s hard to see this being anything other than a very competitive, four-quarter game.
In the end, Tony Romo finally gets the postseason gorilla off his back and leads the Cowboys on a game-winning drive in the final minutes. That’s something I never thought I’d write.
Cowboys win 24-21
Indianapolis Colts @ DENVER BRONCOS -7
Are we living in the Twilight Zone? Suddenly, it seems everyone is jumping off the Peyton Manning bandwagon. Manning may not be the quarterback he was five years ago, or even last season, but he’s still wearing No. 18.
I expect Manning to have a monster performance against his former team and the quarterback many believe to be the next Manning, Andrew Luck. The Colts defense is somewhere between bad and really bad at stopping the run. A rediscovered rushing attack led by C.J. Anderson will only enhance Peyton’s ability to play chess on the football field.
Luck won’t hide from the moment, and behind some brilliance of his own, the Colts will keep the game tight through the third quarter, before Denver pulls away. The end result will be one last Manning-Brady showdown in Foxboro with a trip to the Super Bowl and career legacies on the line.
Broncos win 38-24