Amazing the difference a week can make as the division round was a significantly better weekend of playoff games than the snoozers that were wild card weekend. Looking back at last week's column, you'll find a bunch of my predictions came true. Yes, I'll accept "blind squirrel" comments below, and don't feel sorry for me if I tear my rotator cuff with the back patting. Enough about me, though, let's take a look at the divisional games.
Baltimore at Denver
• John Fox deserves to be fired; his decisions were egregious. OK, maybe that's a bit over the top but calling running plays when you have Peyton Manning as your quarterback in critical situations (Jacob Hester on third-and-five?)? End of regulation on third down with less than two minutes left, and you run instead of throwing and potentially ending the game? Getting the ball back with 31 seconds left with two timeouts, and Peyton Manning is told to take a knee? Is there something to Peyton Manning can't perform in cold weather? Or is he hurt? There was only one downfield throw I can remember, a pass to Demaryius Thomas that Dan Dierdorf incorrectly called for defensive pass interference when Thomas initiated contact. John Fox was a coward back in Carolina as well; his decisions in this game didn't come as a surprise to me.
• The obvious story here is Trindon Holliday and his dominance in the return game. While Holliday gets a lot of credit, the Baltimore special teams (that didn't give up a score the whole season) played a role in his success. On the punt return, there were nine Ravens to the left of Holliday, leaving the right side of the field wide open. The loss Saturday was Holliday's first of the season.
• Knowshon Moreno getting hurt didn't surprise me; it just came four or five or six weeks later than I would have predicted. What happened to the Denver pass rush? It came alive when it came to offsides penalties but besides that, I didn't see a lot.
• Good for Justin Tucker. So much attention (and rightly so) has been brought upon the rookie quarterbacks, but the rookie kickers have been equally as good.
• Is Brandon Stokley guaranteed to be in Denver next season? Food for thought next season: Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker.
• The officiating in this game was terrible. There were numerous questionable calls on top of lengthy conversations to figure out said calls. Ridiculous. One of the biggest responsibilities of an official is to keep the game moving. That didn't happen.
Green Bay at San Francisco
• I had a few football columns last week and raved about the chemistry between Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is going to be interesting to rank among wide receivers next season, but I have to think he's easily in the top 7, probably higher. Crunching the numbers, if you pro-rate what Crabtree has done over his last six games to a full 16-game slate, he'd have 117 catches for 1,736 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Kaepernick was the fantasy stud of the weekend, scoring anywhere from 47 to more than 50 fantasy points depending on the format. Where do you rank Kaepernick next season? Top 7 among quarterbacks? Higher given that he could further develop next season?
• What was Mike McCarthy thinking by punting on fourth-and-four on the 50 with less than 12 minutes left? Why aren't these coaches called out more in the mainstream media for these terrible decisions? DuJuan Harris looks like he may be the solution to the running-back situation for the Packers, but the defense needs to be addressed. In the six losses this season, Green Bay gave up 45, 37, 38, 30, 14 and 30 points.
• Kaepernick looks Delanie Walker's way more than Vernon Davis. Unfortunately, the latter has much better hands.
• Did we really only see Donald Driver on special teams? He probably stayed a year too long but, in my opinion, was always one of the more underrated receivers in the league during his prime.
• Mason Crosby and David Akers, do they have jobs next season? Neither messed up this game as I thought they might, but both were shaky down the stretch.
Seattle at Atlanta
• Matt Ryan's first interception was completely on Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez hesitated coming out of his break or else the ball would have been right on the money.
• Seattle going for it on fourth-and-one in the second quarter was absolutely the right call but was accompanied by a predictable play call. It seems like almost on a weekly basis teams try to run the ball up the middle on third- or fourth-and-short and get stuffed.
• I understand that they weren't set but Russell Wilson got the snap off in time on the last play before the half. Go back and watch it in slow motion.
• I wish I could have heard the conversation between Roddy White and Richard Sherman throughout the game, especially after the White touchdown. I'm guessing it wasn't rated G or PG.
• Did Seattle have a historically good draft this year? It's easy to find a stud with the first three picks but the Seahawks didn't get to select a player until 15th. There they took Bruce Irvin (eight sacks), Bobby Wagner (139 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions), Russell Wilson (need I say anything?) and Robert Turbin (4.4 YPC).
• Had the Falcons suffered a loss, you would have to wonder - not assume - but wonder if Mike Smith's days in Atlanta would be over. He would have had the reputation of being able to make the playoffs but not delivering once there. Think Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego.
Houston at New England
• I was surprised that New England didn't use its timeouts right before halftime after the Texans got inside the 10-yard line. Brady could have gotten the ball back with about two minutes left and possibly a timeout or two. More than once this season Bill Belichick has taken his foot off the gas when he could have scored more, something he would have never done a few years ago.
• Gary Kubiak had plenty of opportunities to go for it on fourth down in plus territory before the game got out of hand. When you are a road underdog facing a superior team, you should always take some chances.
• Is there another player that cries more to the refs than Tom Brady? It's crazy how much he complains. I'm cool with a new rule with a penalty for complaining to the officials. Football is one of the few sports in which you can argue all you want with the official and as long as you don't make contact with them, you can get away with it.
• Sad to see Rob Gronkowski done for the playoffs. If you follow anything I've written or radio/media I've done, you'll know he grew up (with his brothers) 10 minutes from my house. Gronk is from a solid family; I hope for a speedy recovery even as a Bills fan (whom he's killed the last two seasons).
• J.J. Watt established himself as an elite IDP player this year. It doesn't matter where he lines up or if he's double-teamed - he got some pressure sunday after just missing Brady a few times during the first time they played.
• Good luck handicapping the backfield situation with the Patriots next season. I've backed Stevan Ridley as much as anyone this season, but Belichick doesn't use him in the passing game, and Ridley hasn't had 20 carries in any of his last six games. Shane Vereen was a higher pick coming out of California and could have more value next season than Ridley in PPR formats. It was so obvious this week that Vereen was a strong play in one-and-done leagues.
More Random Thoughts Coming Out of the Weekend:
• If you believe in regression to the mean, four favorites and four unders were not going to happen again. All four overs happened and two of the four underdogs (Seattle, Baltimore) covered as well.
• Alex Smith will be starting somewhere come Week 1 next season. Just hope it's your team if you need a quarterback (i.e. NYJ, BUF, ARI, CLE, SD, MIA).
• I know a lot of people are rooting for a Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl, but at the beginning of season would an Eli vs. Payton matchup have been more likely? I'm sure Rob vs. Rex would have been a distant third in probability out of this group.
• Television announcing over the weekend went to new levels of incompetence with Brian Billick, Dan Dierdorf and Phil Simms doing a terrible job. Billick and Simms each suggested a field goal late in their respective games when the obvious and logical choice was to go for the touchdown. It almost had me wishing for Jon Gruden. Almost.
• New England, who dropped a 31-30 matchup at Baltimore in Week 3, is a nine-point favorite at home against the Ravens while the Falcons are getting 4.5 at home against the 49ers. I reserve the right to change my decision, but I think there's going to be enough anti-Atlanta rhetoric in the media this week that the contrarian in me may take the Falcons and the points. The Ravens lost at New England in last year's AFC championship, 23-20, and haven't lost by more than six points over the last six head-to-head matchups, so my lean is to take them with the points.
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