The wild card playoff games are done and there are now eight teams remaining. Two more wins and you are in the Super Bowl. Lose and your team has to wait until next season for a chance for a championship.
My bracket is still intact. For now.
As for records. I went perfect through the Wild Card Round while Ms. Roberts went 3-1. Her lone blemish was picking the Steelers.
RAVENS AT PATRIOTS, 1/10 NBC 2:30 PM (MT)
Last Saturday Night the Ravens went into Pittsburgh and came away with a 30-17 win.
In the game Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 18 passes on 29 attempts for 259 yards and 2 touchdowns. Flacco found receiver Steve Smith for 5 passes and 101 yards, one of which was a 40 yard reception that was part of touchdown drive that extended Baltimore's lead to 20-9 in the third quarter.
With the Steelers trailing by 8, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception to linebacker Terrell Suggs which was caught in between the linebacker's legs. On the very next play, Flacco found Crockett Gillmore for a 21 yard touchdown pass
With their playoff victory, the Ravens as a franchise are now 14-7 in playoff games. John Harbaugh has coached the Ravens to 10 of those wins and under Harbaugh the Ravens have never lost a playoff opener. 7 of those wins have come on the road with two of them coming against the Patriots.
After a 2-2 start, New England finished by winning 10 of their final 12 games to clinch the AFC 1-seed. The team may have changed but they still have quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick. Despite no team scoring 500 points, the Patriots ranked 4th in points scored and 8th in points allowed resulting in the best point differential.
Beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh should not have come as a shock to anyone. It didn't come as a shock to me because I do this thing called research.
Is there the possibility of another deep Ravens run in this playoffs a la the one from two years ago? The Ravens did beat the AFC 1 seed in January 2013 and beat the New England Patriots en route to their third Super Bowl title in the franchise's comparatively short history.
If there is one matchup to watch it will be if cornerback Darrell Revis lines up against wide receiver Steve Smith. Revis led the Patriots in pass deflections with 14 and intercepted 2 passes. Smith has shown that he can have an impact game as he did last week in Pittsburgh and in his previous playoff appearances with the Panthers.
As I mentioned earlier the Ravens have 2 wins in their 3 matchups against the Patriots. Their lone loss was the 2011 AFC Championship Game.
There are talks that the Ravens could give the Patriots the most trouble. I think a lot of people expect this to be one of the best games of the divisional round.
PATRIOTS 24, RAVENS 19
PANTHERS AT SEAHAWKS, 1/10 FOX 6PM (MT)
Madden NFL 15 opens with the NFC Championship game with your team trailing 26-21. You take over on offense after one of the teams fumbles the ball with less than two minutes to play and your goal is to lead a game winning drive. The computer controlled team is trying to protect their lead and secure the victory.
The teams involved? Seattle and Carolina.
There are two things wrong with that intro. First, the play-by-play team for Madden NFL 15 is the CBS lead crew and would not be calling the NFC Championship Game. That game will air on the sweet non-judgmental Fox Network on 18 January.
The second is that the intro was in the NFC Title Game. This game in reality (or is it?) is taking place in the divisional round.
Cam Newton led the Panthers to their first playoff win since a divisional round victory over the Chicago Bears in January 2006 which resulted in the Panthers ending their season in the NFC Title Game… at Seattle.
Carolina has a chip on their shoulder. A lot of people are saying they don't belong in the playoffs because of their 7-8-1 record. Hey, four years ago Seattle won their playoff game at home as a 7-9 team.
As referenced in a previous post, Seattle started 6-4 and was looking at possibly missing the playoffs. Since then the Seahawks defense has only given up 39 points in their final 6 games.
Over that time period quarterback Russell Wilson has thrown for 1,456 yards and 7 touchdowns vs. 2 interceptions. Included in his passing stats, Wilson is an effective runner having rushed for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns over the 6 game winning streak.
Despite a self imposed gag order towards the press and rumors surrounding his future with the team, running back Marshawn Lynch is letting his play speak volumes. In the same 6 game winning streak Lynch has rushed for 439 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Carolina and Seattle have played each other close over the last two seasons in the regular season, a 2013 Week 1 Seattle 12-7 win at Carolina and a 2014 Week 8 win by the Seahawks again over the Panthers in Charlotte. In both games Russell Wilson threw the winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
In the 2013 matchup, the Seahawks took a 12-7 lead with 10:21 remaining and the Seahawks forced a fumble to get the back to lead a clock killing drive by Wilson and Lynch to secure the victory.
This season's matchup was a field goal battle. The Panthers took a 9-6 lead on a Graham Gano 46 yard field goal with 4:41 remaining in regulation. Wilson led a game winning scoring drive completing 4 passes on 4 attempts for 53 yards and rushing twice for 21 yards. The final pass on the drive went for a touchdown with 53 seconds for their first lead in the game.
Both teams have quarterbacks who can frustrate a defense and both teams have defenses that can frustrate an offense.
I agree with those that say that the Panthers could give the Seahawks a game in Seattle because of the talent on both sides the ball for Carolina and the Panthers held the Cardinals to 78 yards in their win. It should be noted that the Cardinals had quarterback issues which is something that the Seahawks do not have.
As the offense in the Madden 15 intro, the goal is to lead the Panthers to victory and Jim Nantz is overheard in the fadeout saying the Panthers are heading to the Super Bowl.
However… there is a video out there showing the Seahawks winning the game (meaning you decide to blow it).
The game is in Seattle. The Seahawks won't blow it.
SEAHAWKS 28, PANTHERS 10
COWBOYS AT PACKERS, 1/11 FOX 11AM (MT)
On Sunday afternoon the Cowboys escaped from their home playoff game with a 24-20 victory over the Lions. Detroit led 17-7 at the half and at one point led by 13. The much maligned Cowboys defense came up big when it mattered when defensive end Demarcus Lawrence sacked and stripped Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and recovered the fumble to preserve the victory.
The play of the game appears to be the non-pass interference call on linebacker Anthony Hitchen that forced a fourth down. The Lions appeared to go for fourth down, but it was an effort to draw the Dallas defense offsides. Instead Detroit took the delay of game and punted. The punt traveled 10 yards and gave Dallas excellent field position to begin their game winning drive.
Tight end Jason Witten caught a 21 yard pass on 4th and 6 that kept the drive alive and set up quarterback Tony Romo's second touchdown pass to wide receiver Terrance Williams who caught a 76 yard touchdown pass earlier in the game that gave Dallas their first points late in the second quarter.
Detroit had a chance to win. It was a four point game and a touchdown wins it. The Lions season ended not because of the non-pass interference call, but when quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked and stripped of the ball. The Lions played better for most of the game, but essentially played not to lose after leading 14-0.
As for the non-pass interference call, Detroit could have gone for it on 4th down. They had one yard to gain against a Dallas defense that was questionable coming into this game if the Lions managed to find a way to keep that defense on the field for most of the game. Earlier in the game they did, but the Cowboys defense was playing better as the game went along.
Yahoo! sports made five observations about why the Lions can't blame this game on the one call and I think this point highlights it:
"If they beat the Packers in Week 17, they wouldn’t have played at Dallas."
The Lions will have an entire offseason to think about "shouldhave-couldhave-wouldhave." Unfortunately, they don't win playoff games. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is now 0-2 in playoff games along with 0-18 streak in road games against teams with winning records. Head coach Jim Caldwell started his coaching career with the Colts going 2-0 in the playoffs, but since then has lost three straight playoff games including Super Bowl XLIV and the 2009 Wild Card against the Jets. The Lions head into the off-season knowing that if they are to break their championship drought they need to find a way to win the NFC North and could be faced with a tough front office decision. Defensive end Ndamukong Suh could be a salary cap casualty.
I mentioned Green Bay and they won the NFC North on the last week of the season. The Packers have this trend of starting the season 1-2 and making the playoffs. This season and in two previous seasons the Packers have started 1-2. They made the playoffs, but their seasons have ended with a loss to San Francisco either in the divisional round or the wild card round.
The Packers earned the bye week and rested key players such as quarterback Aaron Rodgers who has a slight tear in his calf. To no one's surprise he will play on Sunday.
This is the first playoff meeting since the 1995 NFC Championship Game in Irving, TX. The site of the old Texas Stadium became a construction staging site and was recently the site of a few earthquakes. I have seen the game re-aired on the NFL Network and it is something to watch.
Troy Aikman is a broadcaster… on Fox. Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders are NFL Network analysts. Brett Favre continued to play until 2010. You can follow Packers safety Leroy Butler on Twitter. The last NFL game John Madden called was Super Bowl XLIII. Matt Millen was a sideline reporter for this game, but he is known for spectacularly failing in the Lions front office resulting in their 0-16 2008 season. Ed Hochuli was the referee for that game and is still one to this day. Jason Garrett was on the sidelines for this game as a Cowboys backup quarterback and today he is again on the Cowboys sideline as the head coach.
No one plays on actual Astroturf any more. The replay-challenge system would not come to the NFL until 1999. Fox was wrapping its second year broadcasting the NFL and it was in its first iteration of their score bug which is ancient compared to what is shown on television today. There was no cable camera. No first down line.
How did we survive…?
One thing that hasn't changed since that game aired.
Other playoff meetings between these games include the 1994 NFC Divisional Round, 1993 NFC Divisional Round, 1982 NFC Divisional Round, and 1966 NFL Title. All of these games were played in the Dallas area.
The most famous of these matchups was the last time they played at Lambeau Field for a playoff game, 1967 NFL Title Game (Ice Bowl).
All this Ice Bowl talk got me thinking of my stay on the Lambeau sidelines 48 years ago. #tbt #DALvsGB pic.twitter.com/jJ32uDUcQh
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) January 8, 2015
This game being called Ice Bowl II. For the Ice Bowl, game time temperature was minus-13 degrees.
Not Celsius… Fahrenheit.
It will be cold in Green Bay on Sunday. Just not that cold. Temperatures in Green Bay are expected to be 23F and cloudy. No precipitation is expected.
Lambeau Field used to be a slam dunk for the Packers with their but since 2000 Green Bay has gone 4-5 at home in the playoffs.
The Packers are 8-0 at home, but the Cowboys are 8-0 on the road this season.
Rodgers has not thrown an interception at home in 2 seasons. Over the last five games Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has thrown 14 touchdowns vs. 1 interception. Both quarterbacks are in the consideration for NFL MVP.
The matchup I am watching will be running back DeMarco Murray taking on the Packers rush defense. Murray led the NFL in rushing with 1,845 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. In the win over Detroit Murray carried the ball 19 times for 75 yards and a touchdown and caught 3 passes for 22 yards. During the regular season Murray had 12 100-yard rushing games, but those 75 yards were against a Detroit Lions defense that gave up a league low 69 rushing yards per game. The Packers gave up 120 rushing yards per game which was 23rd in the NFL and worst among teams remaining the playoffs.
If the Cowboys control the ball and keep Rodgers and his receiving corps off the field long enough, they have a good chance at advancing and playing in their first NFC Title Game since January 1996.
COWBOYS 27, PACKERS 24
COLTS AT BRONCOS, 1/11 CBS 2:30 PM (MT)
The first game of the season for the Broncos was when they hosted the Colts for the first Sunday Night game of the regular season. Denver scored the game's first 24 points but held on for a 31-24 victory.
Now the Broncos first playoff game of the playoffs is against the Colts.
In last week's win over the Bengals the Colts shut the Bengals down in the second half outscoring them 13-0. The dagger was this 36 yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to receiver Donte Moncrief.
In their most recent game, Denver made short work of the Raiders coming away with the 47-14 victory and secured the AFC 2-seed. For the second time this season Peyton Manning did not throw a touchdown pass in a game. Manning in the first eight games of the season threw for 2,572 yards, had a completion percentage of 67.3%, and 24 touchdowns vs. 5 interceptions. The last eight games Manning has thrown for 2,155 yards, completed 64.9% of his passes, and 15 touchdowns vs. 10 interceptions. Denver's record in the first 8 games (6-2) was the same in the last 8 games (6-2) so despite Manning's stats declining from the first half of the season to the second half Denver kept winning.
The Broncos discovered they have a running game that can come to the aid of Peyton Manning with C.J. Anderson having rushed for 767 yards and 7 touchdowns in the last 8 games.
While quarterback Andrew Luck has broken Manning's Colts single season passing yard mark, his arm might not be enough to beat the Broncos. The Colts only advanced because they drew a team that has been one-and-done over their last four playoff appearances.
Luck could have a career day in Denver but it doesn't mask the flaws this Colts team has with the lack of a consistent running game and that even though his stats are down from the first half of the season to the recent half, Peyton Manning will figure out how to dissect this defense.
There is no other way to say this, but the Broncos will advance to the AFC Championship Game.
BRONCOS 31, COLTS 20