Welcome to the Wild Card Weekend of the Four Down Journey where 75% of the playoff games will be freezing cold; where Marvin Lewis hopes to get his first playoff win; where it will be cold wherever you’re watching the games; where Chip Kelly looks to get his first playoff win in his rookie season; & where the Seattle Seahawks spend their bye week loading up on “supplements” while waiting for their next opponent. Was that a shot as a lifelong 49er fan to my friend & diehard Seahawk fan Julian who I hope is reading this sentence right now? In the words of Bernie Mac, “You M****f*****’ right.” (Warning: This hyperlink has explicit language) This comment can backfire on me as soon as Sunday night I know, but I’m willing to risk it. On this edition of the Four Down Journey, we take a quick look at this week’s Wildcard games. Bundle up & let’s get it going…..
FIRST DOWN: Kansas City vs. Indianapolis
The first game to start off the playoff season, as well as the game most likely to be ignored out of the four or watched by most on the highlight reels. These are two teams who weren’t expecting to be here this season. Kansas City wasn’t expecting to be in the playoffs after the last two seasons of futility. They were expected to be a better team, but not to hit the 11-win mark. Indianapolis on the other hand was expected to be a playoff contender, but were not expected to be the champions of the AFC South. Especially not after losing Reggie Wayne for the season, & trading their 1st round pick for Trent Richardson only to watch him make his fellow teammate RB Donald Brown look like Jim Brown in comparison. However, thanks to Houston who decided it would be more fun to go on a 14-game losing streak than to compete for a Super Bowl, here we are.
Two X-factors here: How Indy’s O-Line does against a healthy Chief’s D; and can Alex Smith prove once and for all that he has another gear. The last time Indy played the Chiefs on Week 16, the Chief’s front seven was banged up (OLB Justin Houston missed this game), & barely presented a pass rush to Andrew Luck on the way to a 23 -7 defeat. But with that defence at full strength now, it presents an tough scenario for the Colts who’s had issues throughout the year protecting Luck. As a 49ers fan, I’ll always think about the good times whenever Smith’s name comes up. After seven years of going through coach after coach, he found the right coach in Jim Harbaugh to help him to play the best football of his career leading San Francisco back to glory. Sure, Harbaugh flirted with Manning as soon as the 2011 season ended, & then dumped him for Kaepernick last season when he sat out w/concussion-like symptoms, but I’m willing to look past that if he is.
The one problem with a Smith led offense is if he’s able to lead a comeback from a sizable deficit when his team is down, or will he be able to go blow for blow if the game becomes a shootout. He proved he could once versus New Orleans in the 2011 playoffs when he went toe-to-toe with Drew Brees & came out on top, but it’s not consistent enough which is why he was eventually traded to Kansas City. If he can do so versus the Colts, then they have a very real shot of moving to the next round to face Denver. Do I think this will happen? Not this year. I say that Luck does just enough to keep the Chief’s D at bay & the Colts defense which has been playing well in recent weeks will do just enough to stop Jamaal Charles from having a huge night & will move on to the epic Luck-Manning Bowl II that everyone will be waiting for.
Final Score: Colts 21, Chiefs 16
SECOND DOWN: San Diego vs. Cincinatti
As much as I would like to say that I have absolutely no faith whatsoever in San Diego coming into the frozen Midwest & snatching this game out of the hands of the Cincinatti Bengals, well…. let’s face it, they don’t have a shot here. Can this point of view be skewed to the fact that every time I took Philip Rivers in my fantasy football draft, he turned around & burned me right down to the bone? Or has his poor performances in the past few years directly affected my chances of winning even when he wasn’t my fantasy QB? I won’t lie….yes. More than that, they have a skill of knowing when to screw things up when you
least expect it. So much so, that last Sunday afternoon when it was confirmed that they would get into the playoffs with a win over Kansas city & their second-string lineup, I told my friends in our WhatsApp chat group that the Chargers would find a way to screw it up somehow…….& didn’t bat an eye when the Chiefs still took them to overtime before San Diego won by a field goal. This is what they do. My views shouldn’t be so slanted here at the same time because Rivers in the past has proven to be a pretty solid QB in the playoffs. However, considering that he will be going up against a Cincy D that has been downright destructive this season even while losing their two top defensive players in Geno Atkins (Torn ACL) & Leon Hall (Ruptured Achilles), & playing in their elements, this game could get ugly really fast. I can see Rivers throwing at least 2 INTS & the Bengals D scoring at least one TD.
The X-Factors to this game is Chargers RBs Ryan Matthews & Danny Woodhead, as well as Bengals QB Andy Dalton. Matthews in particular had a surprising bounce back season (1,255 yards, 4.4 ypc, 6 TDs Rush, 1 Receiving), coming back from multiple injuries & inconsistent play in the past few years. I don’t see him having a huge game against a defence that was one of the best in the league versus the run. If he can somehow, that will help Rivers immensely in opening up the rest of his offense to get the ball to his old reliable Tight End Antonio Gates & his new prized rookie WR Keenan Allen. With Dalton, he has had some HUGE games this season. If the Dalton who had games throwing for 400 yards &/or 4 TDs at a time shows up (which is possible as absolutely no one scares you on the Chargers Defence), the Chargers have no chance. Whether or not that happens, I expect AJ Green to have a humongous game & have us talking about if he’s the second best WR in the game behind Calvin Johnson by Saturday night.
Final Score: Bengals 41, Chargers 17
THIRD DOWN: New Orleans vs Philadelphia
This is the high-scoring game most people will be waiting for on Saturday without question, but here is the big question:
Can New Orleans play better on the road?
Haven’t proven it all season so far. Now, mind you, they are a better team on the road than their record indicates. They were two last minute plays versus New England in Week 6 & against Carolina in Week 16 from being 5-3 on the road, getting a 13-3 record & clinching a 1st round bye along with Seattle. However, they are a completely different team on the road than they are at home (8-0), which is alarming for what was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. History shows that normally dome teams play better inside than they do in the elements, but it was disarming how shaky at times they looked this year on the road. Best examples in the last few weeks:
- Week 13: 34 – 7 L vs Seattle. Thoroughly dominated in a game where Brees threw for 147 yards. Not a typo.
- Week 15: 27 – 13 L vs. the under .500 Rams, a team that New Orleans should have taken care of, especially since the Rams play IN A DOME!
- Week 16: 17-13 L vs Carolina. Granted, they weren’t dominated, but their performance was nothing like the 31-13 victory they had at home vs. the Panthers two weeks prior.
Even when they beat the Falcons 17 – 13 & the Buccaneers 16 – 14 earlier this season on the road, it was far from a dominant performance. Now they head outside again to face a hot Philly Team who’s offense is clicking on all cylinders. Nick Foles actually took one of the remaining QB stats this year that Peyton Manning didn’t own, beating Manning in the Passer Rating category 118 – 113, while throwing 27 TDs & only 2 INTs. LeSean McCoy lead the NFL in rushing (1,606) & at times looks like a video game on the field. The defense has played better than they did at the beginning of the year & are heading into the playoffs on a roll. Desean Jackson is probably even more dangerous in bad weather, & I’m not even sure what to say about Riley Cooper this season. Dude went from N-word bombing with the risk of being cut, to playing like a star WR. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere with Cooper, his performance playing for Michael Vick compared to his performance playing for Nick Foles, but I won’t explore it. I won’t do it.
The key questions to this game: Can NO stop the run? Can Foles continue his streak of not turning the ball over? WIll NO’s new kicker be able to handle the pressure when called upon? Will Philly’s secondary be able to hang with Jimmy Graham & the rest of the Saints receiving core? While I don’t want to say Philly is a team built for winter, they have by far the best run game in the NFL & the most dynamic one in MCoy to get the job done. While Brees is a Top Tier QB & wouldn’t be surprised if he has an incredible game, I’m just not 100% confident that they’ll be able to stop McCoy from gashing them from big plays & controlling the clock. Eagles take this game at home.
Final Score: Eagles 34, Saints 28
FOURTH DOWN: San Francisco vs. Green Bay
In my opinion, this is THE game of the weekend. Green Bay is now considered to be a threat with Aaron Rodgers back behind center & WR Randall Cobb healthy after fracturing his tibia in October. Before I get into this preview, it needs to be said that last week’s game between the Packers & the Bears might have been the game of the year. Considering what was at stake, the back & forth shots between them; the star players stepping up on both teams making great plays; the clutchness of Rodgers. How incredible was that play by Rodgers on 4th & 8, the season on the line, barely missed getting creamed by Julius Peppers for a season ending sack, spinning off that & throwing the game winning TD on the money to Cobb??? Not only that, but that was the THIRD 4th down of that final drive. An amazing performance by a top-tier QB.
However, I think their stakes changes for them playing the Niners Sunday afternoon. Let’s remove the “Warm weather teams cannot play in cold/bad weather” reasoning out of the way right now, because the Niners have proven during the Harbaugh Era that their game travels, no matter the climate. Also, San Fran has won the last 3 meetings vs. the Packers handily (including a 45-31 beating during last year’s playoffs), so Green Bay will have its hands full. The key to Green Bay winning this weekend is Eddie Lacy. A big running back, he has given Green Bay it’s best running attack since Ryan Grant was their lead back 4-5 years ago. Lacy’s 1st pro game this season was against San Fran in Week 1. He collected 41 yards & a TD which isn’t bad for fantasy football, but that won’t get it done on Sunday. He is nursing a sore ankle but should be ready to go this weekend. Considering that the 49ers have had a top 5 run D the last 3 years running, Green Bay will have a lot of work to do.
On defense, unless Packers DC Capers has something up his sleeve, they don’t have an answer for Kaepernick & haven’t proven to have one since he’s been the starting QB. Without Clay Matthews on the other side of the ball after undergoing surgery, it will make things much worse for them. With all the healthy weapons Kaep has at his disposal going into the playoffs, I just don’t see how Green Bay pulls this off, no matter how great I think Rodgers is.
Final Score: Niners 31, Packers 23
Jerry Jones really can’t be serious with his desire/wish that the NFL needs to add 4 more playoff teams is he? Seriously speaking, Jones is great for football & has done incredible things to keep the Dallas Cowboys as the largest brand in football, but he might need to stop talking for a while. This is the definition of loser talk if you haven’t heard loser talk before, & yes it looks like he’s on board with this because his teams can’t make the playoffs under the current setup. Also, he needs to step out of his own way and find a real GM that can put his team together properly. I know his ego won’t let him do so, especially since he’s been trying to prove he can put together a Super Bowl winning team that doesn’t have Jimmy Johnson’s hands all over it (since 1997), but his way of running the team doesn’t work. Now he’s bringing back Jason Garrett again for another season & standing behind his 33 year old QB Tony Romo fresh off his second back surgery? Good luck….. Michael Rosenberg from CNNSI.com has a good read on the dysfunction of the Minnesota Vikings & the owners Mark & Zygi Wilf, especially on the sketchy details of the lawsuit that the Wilf family lost recently…… What’s with all the injuries with NBA point guards recently? Derrick Rose is done for the year with a torn meniscus in his right knee (I still feel so sorry for him), Russell Westbrook won’t be back after having his 3rd knee surgery in 8 months after never having any kind of prior injury history (he must HATE the living daylights out of Patrick Beverly right now, I don’t care what he says publicly), Deron Williams having problems all season with his ankles, we’re still waiting on the return of Rajon Rondo & hoping he doesn’t have any setbacks, & now Chris Paul separates his shoulder & is done for the next 3-5 weeks. The all star game this year might look really odd in the back court for both the Eastern & Western conference in February if they all don’t come back in time. It’s starting to get a little depressing injury-wise in the NBA this season, & I haven’t even touched the other positions that have players nursing serious injuries or have been shut down for the season altogether…… I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime, but thanks to one of my friends this morning, I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a flying midget stripper before. (Warning: Explicit nudity) I can now cross that one off my bucket list…… I don’t mean to keep harping on the New York Knicks. Seriously, I really don’t, & I have no vendettas against them either. But after the whole Bargnani thing, how does another player (who looked at Bargs like the biggest moron in the world after his shot) come & do the exact same thing not even 3 weeks later? JR Smith channeled his inner Andrea & jacked a three after Tyson Chandler (again!!!) grabbed an important offensive rebound to get the last possession at the end of a game. Of course, Houston grabs the rebound & almost predictably, Beno Udrich fouls/tackles the Houston rebounder. Take a wild guess who ended up winning the game? I’m actually starting to feel sorry for Tyson & wondering when in the season will he finally snap & punch one of his teammates in the face. I know he’s a good guy & he won’t do such a thing, but if he channeled his inner Charles Oakley or inner Anthony Mason, you couldn’t blame him. Also, if Bargs & Smith did this on those mid-nineties Knicks teams, let’s just say it wouldn’t have gone over smoothly in the locker room. Look how they use to treat knucklheadededness ON the floor (fast forward to 1:30 mark)……. Wildcard Rider of the Week goes out to this Alabama Football mother who decided to take matters into her own hands against a Oklahoma Sooner fan in the stands of last night’s Sugar Bowl. Listen, anytime a cougar has their eyes on a prey or a target, look out. This goes for private & public gatherings, during & after work hours, at a bar or a stadium. If YOU happen to be their target or prey & they’ve had some drinks in them, I’ll tell you like I do anyone around me who sneezes, “God Bless you.”
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
Happy New Year everyone & welcome to 2014! Hope you go after your dreams & achieve them this year. #Achieveyourdreams #Noresolutionsneeded