What’s to make of this past weekend’s less-crazier divisional games? Here’s my thoughts on the divisional round and previews of the AFC and NFC Championship games.
New Orleans Saints 15 Seattle Seahawks 23
This was a rematch of week 13′s put down of the Saints by Seattle with a score of 34-7. New Orleans was anxious for another chance to prove themselves against the stout Seahawk defense. Even in pregame there was commotion. While the score wasn’t as diminishing as the first match up, Seattle still owned most of the game. The Saints defense held Seattle in check most of the game and gave the offense plenty of room to work with only allowing Russell Wilson to throw for 9 of 18 with 103 yards and no touchdowns. Marshawn Lynch was his normal self running for 140 yard on 28 carries with 2 TDs including a big run for a score in the 4th quarter.
Drew Brees just didn’t look himself this game and had many incomplete passes in the first half, but he fought back in the second half with getting his team back within eight late in the 4th quarter. He finished the game with 309 yards and a touchdown. Mark Ingram had a fumble early but had a decent game along with Khiry Robinson who had a score. Jimmy Graham was held in check the entire game and only caught one pass which was a big factor. Shayne Graham, who kicked the game-winning field goal against the Eagles, missed both of his attempts. The game ended when Drew completed a pass to Marques Colston threw a forward pass across the field instead of a lateral which then ran out the clock because of the penalty.
As a Saints fan this was a disappointing game, but there is much to look forward to. New Orleans finished 7-9 last season and had the worst defense in the history of the NFL. This season they hired Rob Ryan, finished with a defense ranked in the top 5, had a record of 11-5 and went to the divisional round of the playoffs. This was not a failure but something to look ahead to. They will no question resign Jimmy Graham and come back next season with something more to prove but the Saints must focus on their road game.
Indianapolis Colts 22 New England Patriots 43
The Patriots had six rushing touchdowns in this game.. that’s right six. Tom Brady didn’t throw a single touchdown pass but with a now established running game there’s no need to. Running the ball allows control of the clock and that’s just what New England did, controlling 35 minutes of the game. LeGarrette Blount had a breakout performance against the Colt’s 26th ranked rushing defense, racking up 166 yards and 4 scores on the ground. Stevan Ridley also contributed with 52 yards and 2 scores. Bill Belichick’s Patriots are looking as strong as ever.
I really didn’t believe this game would end up like the 2012 season match up that ended up a score of 59-24 with New England on top, but it kind of did. Indianapolis definitely kept it interesting, especially late in the 3rd quarter taking the game to 22-29. There’s 2 takeaways for the Colts in this game; Andrew Luck is super good and is on his way to becoming an elite quarterback but he can’t turn the ball over as much as he did (4 interceptions) and the Colts need defensive help. Luck went 20/41 for 331 yards and 2 touchdowns and had some help from Donald Brown with 63 yards. It’s clear T.Y. Hilton is the favorite with Reggie Wayne being gone, he finished 103 yards but LaVon Brazil caught both TD passes. Luck had an impressive comeback against the Chiefs last week but wasn’t able to pull it together against New England.
The Colts should be proud of their progress though. Andrew Luck has taken that team to the playoffs each of his first two seasons, the first time to the wildcard game and now to the divisional round. They need to put focus on making Trent Richardson an elite back again and giving Luck some receiving help but most of all, improve the defense. They simply allow too many points to keep up with at times. I love this team and I’m absolutely looking forward to Luck’s career in the NFL because trust me.. it’s very bright.
San Francisco 49ers 23 Carolina Panthers 10
This defensive showdown was full of showing off and trash talk but that’s exactly what we expected. Colin Kaepernick again proved he was the right choice for the 49ers offense. Kaep finished 15/28 with 196 yards and a score through the air and on foot. The momentum was in Carolina’s favor till Vernon Davis caught a touchdown pass just before halftime. The 49ers are just too tough of a team in both aspects of the ball. Anquan Boldin chimed in with 136 yards receiving and Frank Gore rushed for 84 yards. Michael Crabtree hauled in a few big catches as well. The stout 49ers defense also showed up big time on a 4th and goal stand and again on a 3rd and goal situation. This will now be Jim Harbaugh’s third consecutive NFC title game in a row since he’s been head coach.
The Panther’s made big mistakes on defense. Two unnecessary roughness calls and a headbutt penalty put the 49ers in field goal range for points in the first quarter. I understand it’s the playoffs and Carolina hasn’t been since 2008, but the defense has to hold it together. Showing off and mouthing off after every play isn’t necessary, especially if you’re down. I put most of this loss on the inexperience of this Carolina team in the playoffs. This was Cam Newton’s first game and he threw 2 big interceptions, including one late in the 4th quarter. Other than that he played well throwing for 267 yards and 1 touchdown which was a perfectly thrown ball to Steve Smith in the 2nd quarter. Newton also rushed for 54 yards. Smith finished with 74 yards, Ted Ginn Jr. with 104 yards and Greg Olson with 55 yards. Carolina’s rushing attack was for the most part a non-factor.
The Panthers shouldn’t be all that disappointed in this season though. Ron Rivera brought this team from 1-4 to a 12-4 record including taking home the division title normally owned by the Saints and Falcons. He’s manufactured a top 5 defense and a capable offense that just needs a little more help. Look for Carolina to make a big impact next season as well.
San Diego Chargers 17 Denver Broncos 24
These two teams split the season with the road team winning each time. The Broncos took care of business just like we all knew they would. Manning threw for 230 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 pick. Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker both caught a touchdown pass and Juluis Thomas had a big day with 76 yards including a big 17-yard catch to convert a 3rd and 17 situation to keep the clock running late in the 4th quarter. Knowshon Moreno racked up 82 yards and a score. I picked Denver to win the Super Bowl back in March but their habit of not actually putting away teams late in the game worries me, especially now losing DB Chris Harris with a torn ACL.
San Diego barely got into the playoffs and made quite a mark. Finishing 9-7 and then upsetting the Bengals at home was impressive, but I thought they would play better against their division rivals. The Chargers didn’t even score till the 4th quarter. Keenan Allen blew up late in the game with 2 touchdowns and 142 yards, This rookie has just been incredible this year. Philip Rivers went 18/27 with 217 yards and 2 touchdowns both to Allen and even threw a hissy fit when he couldn’t get the ball snapped. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead were non-factors for most of the game. I do, however, give credit to this team for making it a game late and having all of us worried of another Ravens-like ending.
The Chargers made some mid-season progress, winning 7 of their last 8 including a playoff game. I believe Philip Rivers needs some receiver help and can’t rely on just Keenan Allen and aging Antonio Gates. Malcom Floyd returning next season will help though. I like this team offensively and they have a solid quarterback in Rivers.
AFC Championship – New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Sunday 3:00 PM ET
Another rematch of Brady and Manning is among us. This season it ended with Brady outshining Manning in overtime after electing to give the ball to the Broncos first. I believe this will be an offensive showdown again, especially since Denver just lost DB Chris Harris due to an ACL injury. With the weapons both teams have and the elite quarterbacks running the show, expect a high scoring game. I have the Broncos topping the Patriots 31-27.
NFC Championship – San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks Sunday 6:30 PM ET
These teams hate each other, there’s just no other way of stating it. This game features arguably the two toughest defenses in the NFL and trash talking will be heard. Seattle and San Francisco split the season series with a Seahawks win at home 29-3 and a 49ers win at home 19-17. I think Russell Wilson finally plays out of the little funk he’s been in lately and gets it done. Both defenses will play great and it won’t be high scoring. I like the Seahawks to advance over the 49ers 20-14.