By: Monte Perez
Last week every road team won (4-0) in the wild card playoffs. In the Divisional round, every home team won (4-0). In my preseason article I had the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship and the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. I was close but no cigar. Here is a recap and preview.
Kansas City Chiefs 20… New England Patriots 27- The Kansas City Chiefs miraculous 11 game win streak came to an end at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. The Chiefs played well but you can’t beat the Patriots with a conservative game plan. Late in the game, quarterback Alex Smith, moved the Chiefs down the field for a touchdown with 1:13 remaining. There was no sense of urgency by Smith and he rarely took a chance by throwing the ball deep. This is what Smith has always been, a “Game Manger”. Out of all the games that were played last weekend this was the one I would have bet the “farm” on. You can’t beat Tom Brady in a playoff game consistently with a methodical, conservative quarterback.
Seattle Seahawks 24… Carolina Panthers 31- If you watched the first 5 minutes of this game… that is all you needed to see. The Panthers came out and punched Seattle in the face early. Although they staggered back to make the game competitive, the Seahawks never recovered. Late in the first half trailing 31-0, Seattle’s Head Coach, Pete Carroll went for it on 4th down instead of kicking a field goal. The Seahawks didn’t make the conversion. Late in the game Russell Wilson threw an amazing touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse and cut the deficit to 31-21. If Carroll would have gotten points in the firsts half it would have made a world of difference late in the game. Rule #1 of coaching, when you are trailing big, late in the first half, you always take the points. He did not do this.
Pittsburgh Steelers 16… Denver Broncos 23- The Steelers came into this game beyond shorthanded. (Starting WR Antonio Brown and both RB’s Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams were injured.) The Steelers played about as well as expected. Late in the game Fitzgerald Toussaint fumbled the ball and Denver capitalized and pulled out a hard fought win. This wasn’t a pretty game to watch at all. Despite nursing several injuries Ben Roethlisberger threw for 339 yards in the loss.
Green Bay Packers 20… Arizona Cardinals 26 (In overtime)- I have watched football my whole life. I have never seen a game like this. I call this game. Divine Intervention in the Desert:
In the movie Rocky II (after the fight) Rocky’s Manager Mickey yells to reporters, “I don’t care what the hell them judges said, this is the man that won the fight!”
This is how I feel about Aaron Rodgers, the Packers lost that game but I have never gained more respect for an athlete in a loss. National syndicated radio talk show host, Colin Cowherd said this week, “Rodgers is like Kobe Bryant, he is a sensational talent but he doesn’t make anyone around him better. “With inexperienced wide receivers, Rodgers did everything he could.. The referees missed numerous calls late and when Arizona scored the go ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter the “zebras” swallowed the whistle and missed a clear offensive interference penalty. There was a dropped interception by the Packers, a tipped ball that ended up in the hands of Michael Floyd and on the Hail Mary, Rodgers avoided the blitz and completed the pass to send the game to overtime. The Cardinals won despite numerous mistakes. I have never seen a team have more luck despite trying to give the game away. Divine Intervention? Maybe. All I know is… critics of Rodgers have nothing left to say. ESPN reported that Rodgers is now 0-7 in overtime. Numbers LIE here. In 4 of those games Rodgers didn’t even get the ball on offense. When the game matter most, Rodgers was at his best. It was one of the gutsiest performances I have ever seen on the gridiron.
At the start of overtime the Packers called tails, the referee threw the coin up but it never flipped. The Packers captains saw it right away. Without hesitation the referee threw the coin up again and it flipped. After the game, Rodgers said he wanted to change the call to heads after seeing what happened but the referee didn’t let him. It makes no sense to me how a football game can be decided by a coin toss. If you play 4 quarters and the game is tied,make the overtime 12 minutes. Now, if the game is all even at the end of OT… make it first team to score. These two teams battled back and forth in one of the most exciting games in playoff history and this is how it end.
In my weekly NFL picks I am 154-110. I am not a betting man but if I was, this would be the two easiest games to pick all season. This will be the first time in history of the NFL that three number 1 picks are in the final four.
Peyton Manning (Indianapolis, Denver) 1998, #1 draft pick.
Carson Palmer (Cincinnati, Oakland and Arizona) 2003, #1 draft pick.
Cam Newton (Carolina) 2011, #1 draft pick
Tom Brady (New England) 2000, 6th round pick, #199 overall.
New England Patriots @ Denver Broncos (Sunday 3:05 PM, CBS)
This is the tale of two aging players. Brady is still an elite quarterback and Manning is now a “game manger.” (Stats below for the 2015-16 season)
Brady: 4,770 yards, 36 touchdowns, 7 interceptions 102.2 rating.
Manning: 2,449 yards, 9 touchdowns, 17 interceptions 67.9 rating.
The Broncos defense is one of the best in the NFL. But,in order for a team to beat the Patriots, you have to outscore them. Brady will put up points no matter who New England goes up against. The question here is, can Manning outduel him? The common theme on Twitter during the Broncos/Steelers game was that Denver’s wide receivers kept dropping the ball. This was true but after watching the game film, Manning’s passes were not on target at all. The football came out wobbly and his timing was off. Manning was second in the league in interceptions (17)… despite only playing 10 games.
Brady is 2-6 all-time in Denver but he is 11-5 against Manning. Brady and Belichick have won 22 playoff games together, that is the most in the history of the NFL between a Quarterback/Head Coach. The game plan is going to be simple, they are going to spread the Broncos out and “dink and dunk” down the field. Brady tied Steven Jackson for the most rushing attempts (6) last week against the Chiefs. I would be surprised if New England rushes the ball more than 10 times in the AFC Championship. To quote legendary broadcaster Dan Patrick, You can’t stop New England’s offense, you can only hope to contain them.”
I think the Patriots get an early lead and never look back. Brady and Belichick will be making a 7th Super Bowl appearance together.
New England wins this game 31-17.
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers (Sunday 6:40 PM, on Fox)
My first question regarding this game is… why is this the Primetime matchup? The whole world wants to see Manning vs. Brady one last time. When the Oregon Ducks made it to the college football national championship last year I wrote,“Marcus Mariota has taken them to the Finals despite head coach Mark Helfrich.” The same exact thing can be said about Arizona’s head coach Bruce Arians. Late in the 4th quarter against the Packers Arians made two crucial, “sophomoric like” mistakes. Instead of running the ball with time running out, he called a pass play that was incomplete. That gave Rodgers time to move the ball down the field. Then, inexplicably on the Hail Mary pass, Arians overruled his defensive coordinator. Instead of going into a prevent defense, he put pressure on Rodgers. If I were writing a book based on Arians decisions I would call it, “How to lose a football game in the final 2 minutes.” My only explanation as to how the Cardinals won the game? Divine intervention, oh and Larry Fitzgerald. “Fitz” continued his phenomenal play in the post-season. He had 8 receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns. If there ever was a player who willed his team to victory, it was the former Pittsburgh Panther All-American. In 8 playoff games, Fitz has 53 receptions, 972 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Carolina Panthers have been the best team all season long, they are 16-1 for a reason. They have done a great job of getting out to early leads and forcing teams to be on dimensional. You can’t run on the Panthers their defense is too good. They have forced 40 turnovers this season and have returned 6 interceptions for touchdowns. Linebacker Luck Kuechly and Defensive Back Josh Norman are two of the best players at their positions. The Panthers have a unique defense that combines speed and power.
Running back Jonathan Steward rushed for 102 yards and had two touchdowns against a very good Seattle defense. Cam Newton continues to lead this team and do whatever is necessary to win. With him in the backfield it is like having two 1000 yard rushers.
This game should be should be competitive on paper. But, if you watched Arizona’s Quarterback Carson Palmer in last week’s game, he looked like a deer in headlights. I expect him to have a below average game and the Panthers win this one 31-20