I hate to say it, but this Wildcard Weekend was kind of lame. In our preview post I mentioned that I don’t remember ever being so excited for a Wildcard Weekend…but now I can pretty confidently say that I don’t remember ever being so disappointed in a Wildcard Weekend. However, the games got better and better as the weekend progressed, and we can garner helpful information from each of them. Let’s review:
Game 1: Bengals at Texans (Bengals 13, Texans 19)
What We Learned: Sometimes history repeats itself because change is hard to come by…and that seems to be the case with the Bengals and the Texans in the playoffs. Last year the Texans had no problem sending the Bengals home on Wildcard Weekend, and some may argue that they had an even easier go of things this time around even though the score was closer. Both teams looked stunningly un-playoff-like, but it somehow felt like the Bengals were going to lose the game from the get-go.
What’s Next?: The Texans will travel to New England to face the Patriots in a rematch of a regular season game that was not unlike the Huns attacking Chinese peasants (sorry, Texans…but it’s true). The first game was billed as a potential AFC Championship game and was assumed to be intensely competitive, but in reality the Patriots had it in the bag from the moment Tom Brady stepped on the field. Final score: 42-14, Patriots. There are well-documented occurrences of regular season beat-downs transforming into playoff victories. The 2007 Giants and the 2010 Packers come to mind. However…I don’t think that’s going to happen this time around. The Patriots are too good and the Texans are too shaky.
Game 2: Vikings at Packers (Vikings 10, Packers 24)
What We Learned: Two things, really: 1. A decent starting quarterback, no matter how maligned, is the key to the engine. Joe Webb, try as he might, couldn’t make the magic happen in place of Christian Ponder on Saturday night. 2. If there is any team in which the starting quarterback is less essential, it’s the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is basically their entire offense. But less than a week after letting him run all over the place for nearly 200 yards (and over 200 a few weeks prior), the Packers figured out how to slow AP down and held him to barely 100 yards. It’s encouraging to see a team be able to correct a significant area of insufficiency so quickly, which bodes well for the Packers next week…
What’s Next?: The Packers will play the 49ers in San Francisco. The game is dripping with storylines. Historically, the Packers and 49ers have played some whoppers in the post-season (and history favors the Packers, but who’s counting?), and this game promises to be no different. Also, Packers MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers was notoriously passed up by his hometown team in the draft for Alex Smith, the QB they benched this season for Colin Kaepernick. This will be Rodgers’ first game in San Francisco. Final storyline: if the Seahawks win next week, the Packers road to the Super Bowl will go through the only 3 NFC teams they lost to this season: Minnesota, San Francisco, and Seattle. (And let me tell you, after the Fail Mary in Week 3, I am desperate for a rematch in the NFC Championship game.)
But as mentioned above, the Packers are going to have to employ the same kind of quick adjustments this week as they did last week. They haven’t seen any read-option offenses this season (a run-heavy offense with lots of variables) like the one the 49ers run, and had a little trouble with it when the Vikings ran it on Saturday night. Even though the two teams played each other in Week 1 (the Niners won), they’re both vastly different teams at this point in the season so the games are barely comparable.
Game 3: Colts at Ravens (Colts 9, Ravens 24)
What We Learned: One story ends, another begins. I had tears in my eyes
and running all over my face as I watched Ray Lewis come out of the tunnel for his last home game as a Raven. He makes the game fun to watch; he’s the ultimate defensive player. But what we saw throughout the game was the emergence of a kid who might end up being the ultimate offensive player: Andrew Luck. Man, I LOVED watching him play on Sunday. He’s all fight. It takes multiple players to bring him down, and even in the midst of getting tackled, he’ll still throw a laser right on target. For the shoes he had to fill, the adversity he had to overcome, and the sheer brilliance with which he’s played the position, he gets my Rookie of the Year vote, 100%.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the freight train that was Ray Lewis’s last home playoff game, but the Colts have nothing to be ashamed of this season. They went from being ranked 32nd (aka: dead last) to earning a spot in the playoffs with an 11-5 record. What they did this season was truly special.
What’s Next?: The Ravens head to Denver to play Peyton and the Broncos. The two teams faced off a few weeks ago in a decisive Broncos victory, but that was without Ray Lewis. Also, Peyton Manning has plenty of playoff demons to face (he notoriously struggles in the post-season). We’ll see how he fares in the playoffs this year as a Bronco. Things could be markedly different, or history might prevail once again, but either way, this looks like a great game.
Game 4: Seahawks at Redskins (Seahawks 24, Redskins 14)
What We Learned: Oh, boy. We learned that RG3 is only going to come off the field on a stretcher, basically. He was visibly affected by the gruesome knee injury he suffered a few weeks ago, and by the second half I think all of America was hoping that he’d still be in one piece at the end of the game. Keeping him on the field for as long as they did (he left in the 4th quarter after hyperextending his knee in a nauseating way) is ushering in quite a bit of controversy for the Redskins, specifically head coach Mike Shanahan. There’s plenty of blame to pass around, and it surely will be passed in large doses if it turns out that Griffin is seriously injured. But you have to wonder: would the result have been any different had the Redskins sent Kirk Cousins out in the second half instead of Griffin? Maybe, maybe not. The Seahawks played their way out of a 14 point hole and did so forcefully, so who’s to say.
What’s Next?: The Seahawks will face the Falcons for a battle of the birds. This is probably the only game in which the higher-seeded team (the Falcons) won’t be heavily favored. The Falcons haven’t been playing as well as their 13-3 record might indicate and have Matt Ryan’s 0-3 playoff record looming large. The Seahawks seem to be on the opposite trajectory.
Did you guys watch any of the Wildcard games? Questions or comments to share? Please do!