Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wildcard Weekend: 11 Things I Know I Know

1- I know if a team wins its division, they deserve a home game in the playoffs. The Seahawks quieted all of the "no team with a losing record should be in the playoffs" talk, and I couldn't be happier.
It was assumed by nearly everyone including me (point 11) that New Orleans would roll over Seattle. Of course, it didn't happen, and the game set the tone for a great weekend of football.
2- I know the two biggest plays of the Jets-Colts game were the Antonio Cromartie kick return and the timeout Jim Caldwell called in the last minute of the game.
The Cromartie return put the Jets in scoring position. The importance of this play is obvious.
A somewhat less obvious play of importance was the Caldwell timeout with 0:29 left in the game and the Jets facing a second down at the Indy 33. 
There was no intelligent reason for Jim Caldwell to call timeout. What could he possibly have been thinking? "Let's give the Jets more time to put Nick Folk in closer range for a field goal"? Seriously, what was he thinking? Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth didn't make a big enough deal of this during the live broadcast. As a Jet fan, I only cheered louder once all night (as the winning field goal was going through the uprights) than I did when Caldwell called timeout.
The San Diego Chargers comes out of this one pretty happy as well. Because of the New York victory, the Chargers get the Jets' second round pick as a result of the offseason Antonio Cromartie trade. Had New York lost, it would have been a third rounder.
3- I know the Jets were in a position to win late because of the defense's play early. The Colts' first three drives went three and out. In fact, they all stalled on 3rd-and-1 at their own 29-yard line. Not many people will be talking about these early drives, but they allowed the Jets to hang around just long enough for their offense to awaken.
All of Rex Ryan's talk about his defense was warranted this week.
4- I know Peyton Manning shouldn't be blamed for this one. He had the Colts in position to win with under a minute left in the game. Not much more can be asked when three backups were starting along the offensive line, their tight end missed the entire season, and they lost their third and fourth best wide receivers. It was just too much to overcome, and the lack of skill finally caught up.
5- I know the Chiefs won the right games this year, but they simply could not compete on this level. Kansas City won one game all season against a team with a winning record (Week 1 against San Diego), and they were simply outclassed by the Ravens. Nice season, but it ended appropriately.
6- I know Aaron Rodgers grew up today. With under a minute to go in the first half and the Packers leading 14-3, Rodgers threw a perfect pass to James Jones which should have gone for a 63-yard touchdown. It would have given Green Bay an 18-point lead at the half. Instead, Jones dropped the pass, and the lead remained at 11.
On the first drive of the second half, Rodgers lost a fumble, and the Eagles scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, cutting the lead to four with 27+ minutes to play.
Rodgers calmly led the Packers on an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive which bumped the lead back up to 11 points. It was a tremendously important drive and ultimately was the difference in the game.
7- I know that the coaches leading playoff teams are incredibly talented. With 16 weeks' worth of information, each coach can find, identify, and exploit their opponents' weaknesses. The Seahawks challenged the Saints' defense repeatedly. The Jets took away Reggie Wayne. The Ravens shut down the Chiefs' passing game forcing them to be one-dimensional. The Packers spied Michael Vick.  
The teams that come out victorious are the ones that can adjust on the fly.
8- I know all the talk about "not drafting safeties too high" is bogus. Every year around draft time, we hear something along the lines of "he would go higher but he plays safety." Can we stop all of that talk this year? Look at the top three drafted this year: Eric Berry, Earl Thomas, and Nate Allen. What do they have in common? Their teams all made the playoffs. I don't think this can be chalked up to luck as each of these players had a major impact on his team's defensive success (although Allen was lost late in the year to injury).
Look for players like UCLA's Rahim Moore and Florida's Ahmad Black to be the biggest beneficiaries this April.
9- I know the Bears are the luckiest team in the NFL. 
They had the "Calvin Johnson Play" in Week 1. Every game against tough non-divisional competition came at home (Philly, New England, NY Jets), and they were able to win two of those three games. Then, they back into the number two seed thanks to a Philadelphia collapse at home against Minnesota. Now, they get the Seahawks at home instead of the Saints? Wow.
10- I know the AFC will feature two of its best rivalries in the Divisional Round: New York at New England and Baltimore at Pittsburgh. This will be the third matchup this year for each of these teams (each team won once). I cannot wait. 
11- I know road teams won't be as lucky in the Divisional Round as they were on Wildcard Weekend, but I expect two of them to emerge victorious: Green Bay and New York.
In Week 12, the Packers nearly won in Atlanta (the Falcons were saved by a late Matty Ice drive). They finally may have found a running game and are riding waves of momentum. The Saints laid the blueprint for success against the Falcons two weeks ago.
The Jets have a lot to prove after being walloped during Week 13 at New England. Two things that give me hope: a) the Patriots have completely avoided the turnover bug, and that cannot last; b) the New England defense has been terrible. Rex will exploit that weakness.
Oh yea, my Packers-Jets Super Bowl prediction still lives.
"11 Things I Know I Know" is my feeble attempt to trump the untrumpable's Peter King and his "10 Things I Think I Think" which happens to be my favorite article each week.

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