Four Down Journey: NFL Divisional Playoffs

Welcome to another edition of the Four Down Journey where we look forward to seeing the Luck-Brady matchup, where Peyton Manning tries to prove that he can win as much rings as his younger brother, where three of the best linebackers in the NFL meet up in Charlotte, and where New Orleans hopes that something like this doesn’t happen to them again in Seattle.

As we get closer to the Super Bowl in New York, you have to wonder just how good the actual Super Bowl will be if there’s a blizzard. If the weather on Feb 2nd is as disasterous as it has been across the East coast the last two weeks, the NFL might regret playing this game outdoors in a place that isn’t 85 degrees and balmy. You also have to ask will the skill & talent be affected by trying to adjust to the elements. How good will a receiver run his route when he’s trucking through a foot of snow? I can’t imagine playing in weather this cold, especially after reading an excerpt from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback post about the effects that former Chargers QB Dan Fouts has gone through since playing in the coldest game in NFL History 32 years ago….

“When it gets cold, Fouts feels pain in both feet and both hands from the middle of the hand to the fingertips—and has since Jan. 10, 1982, the day of the AFC Championship Game in Cincinnati between the Chargers and Bengals that was played in wind-chill that reached minus-59 degrees. The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote about this the other day, and Chris Mortensen reported on it Saturday morning. I spoke to Fouts Friday. “Nothing you can do about it,” he said on the phone. “It’s history. You just had to play in the game, and you had no idea this would come of it. The biggest problem, really, was there were no gloves for quarterbacks in those days. Kenny Anderson and I didn’t have the luxury that day that the guys today have.”

Wow. I guess it’s worth the sacrifice….but is it???? It may look great & I may enjoy it as much as I enjoyed watching the Lions – Eagles game back in Week 15, but having a blizzard for example affecting the Super Bowl is much different than having it affect a regular season game with so much at stake. Anyway, continue to bundle up people (for those that are still freezing through this ridiculous cold snap) & let’s get into it….

FIRST DOWN: New Orleans vs. Seattle

To say that the last two times New Orleans had to play in Seattle did not go so well is an understatement. Three years ago, an 11-5 Saints wild card team had to go up to Seattle to face a 7-9 Seahawk team who had the right to host a playoff game as the winner of the shittiest division in league history at the time. With the 12th man in full swing, they ended up losing the game after Marshawn Lynch beasted through the whole team on his legendary drive that might still have Tracy Porter quivering every time he hears the words “Stiff Arm”. The next time they came to Seattle was in Week 13, when they got smashed 34 -7 & was dominated in all facets of the game, making Drew Brees look like J.P. Losman. Can the third time be the time they finally get over the hump?

This is not as crazy as you may think. New Orleans in the Payton/Brees era has proven that they are a reputable team & organization (as long as you ignore “Bountygate”) & will come to Seattle with a different game plan. Last week vs. Philadelphia, they showed off a running game gaining 186 yards. Mark Ingram, who until last week, was playing like his name was James Ingram had 97 yards rushing! If there’s one area where you can have some success against the Seahawks defence this season, it’s against the run. It will help Brees a lot as he will have a difficult time throwing against Richard Sherman and the best secondary unit in the NFL, so if they can open up some running lanes, it gives them a great chance to beat them. The key to this game will be Russell Wilson vs the Saints Defence. They may have looked like garbage their last time in Seattle, but New Orleans has the 4th rated D in the league, & they held Marshawn Lynch to only 45 yards rushing. The last few weeks, Wilson & their offense hasn’t been playing as good since that Week 13 game, & with 2 weeks of rest, they better hope rust doesn’t set into their game. They will be getting Percy Harvin back which is another weapon but I’m not entirely sure how much of a factor that will have considering he’s basically missed all season recovering with hip surgery.

In the end, as much as I’m tempted to take the Saints who I believe will come out playing much differently than they did the last time these teams played, and as much as I believe that some rust can affect the way you start off a football game at times coming off that 1st round bye……. I believe the NFC Championship game will be played in the Northwest. Whatever jitters and rustiness the Seahawks will have, the 12th man will shake that out by pregame warmups. Contrary to what some people may think, this game will be a lot closer than you think it will be.

Final Score: Seahawks 28, Saints 24

SECOND DOWN: Indianapolis vs. New England

First things first, we have to give a hand to the Colts and how they came back to win that game vs. Kansas City. Last week, I wrote that the game between those two teams will be the most boring out of the four games & I largely ignored the game & went to sleep during the 1st quarter. Of course, I woke up & was not only stunned to see the Chiefs score 38 points by the 3rd quarter (w/no Jamaal Charles), but to see them beating the Colts at the time by 24 points. SMH. To watch Luck bring his team back from that major deficit tells me he’s still the best of the new young QBs that’s out there right now. Now mind you, he shouldn’t have been down by so much to make that comeback their last option in the first place (which included Luck’s 3 INTs). However, one thing’s for sure, he is surely comfortable when he’s playing and the pressure is on.

Since the start of his rookie year last season, the man is 18-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. EIGHTEEN AND TWO!! I had to triple check that stat when I first saw it. This guys doesn’t stop until the whistle is over, & he’s doing this without Reggie Wayne, and with mostly castoffs & underachievers. He’s helped to turn T.Y Hilton into a rising stud, with Donald Brown as his #1 runner out of the backfield, and with an O-Line that got him sacked 32 times this season. Yet, he’s still keeps coming.

Funny enough, across the field, he’s going up against Tom Brady who’s pretty good himself in that category. He & Bill Bellichek have also proven over the course of the last 12 years that they come as consistently as your monthly hydro bill. Both of them probably smirked when watching that game, then spent the next day completely breaking down the tape until they exposed every weak spot the Colts have. Even though the Pats have lost some major weapons on offense this season, they still put together a 12-4 record, got a 1st round bye & made Shane Vereen and Julian Edleman really relevant on this team. I do think that all their losses since last season will come back to haunt them eventually. You can’t lose stars like Gronk, Wes Welker, “Bishop” Hernandez, Steven Ridley’s ability to hold onto any object that are in his hands, take the hits they have on defense and expect to still win a Super Bowl. That time is coming, no question about it. Whichever team knocks them off though, it just won’t be the Colts.

Final Score: Patriots 38, Colts 23

THIRD DOWN: San Francisco vs. Carolina

**Disclaimer: I am a San Francisco 49er fan & have been since the mid 80s. I will try to be as unbiased as possible. Operative word: Try.**

Last week vs. Green Bay, before and during the game I was feeling a lot like French Montana, & in the end I was right. As much as I respect Aaron Rodgers, that’s how much respect I lacked for Green Bay’s defense overall. So I knew the 49ers would find a way to win the game in the Frozen Tundra that is Lambeau Field. Now this game vs. the Panthers in Charlotte? I’m worried ’bout sumthin/***** I’m worried ’bout sumthin’ . Heading to this game, the biggest worries for San Fran will be the Panthers D led by potential defensive POY LB Luke Kuechly, DE Charles Johnson & Greg Hardy. They may not get as much publicity as the Seahawks or the 49ers in terms of their defense, but they are every bit as good as those units. In Week 10, they came down to San Fran & won 10 – 9, holding Colin Kaepernick to 11 of 22 for 91 yards & an INT, sacked him 6 times & specifically confused him with different looks in the second half of the game. At that point, the Panthers officially became a contender in the NFC. The fear as well going into this game is that they don’t have a problem dealing with a strong mobile quarterback in Kaepernick because they play against one every day in practice in Cam Newton.

Newton deserves every bit of the success he’s getting this season. At the end of September when they were 1-3, all of the talking heads & analysts were calling for Coach Ron Riviera to be fired and Newton to sit the bench. Since then Carolina has gone 11-1 & have arguably been the best team in the NFL. Newton has played with a confidence in the pocket that we’ve never seen from him since he’s gotten to the NFL. He’s backed by a 3-headed RB monster in DeAngelo Williams, Johnathan Stewart, & Mike Tolbert, a security blanket in TE Greg Olsen & WR Steve Smith, and still has something in the tank even if he may not be in his prime anymore. Here’s the thing going into this game that I will say: Playoff experience counts for something, & San Francisco has that in spades.

Since 2011 (including playoffs), only the New England Patriots have been to the Conference Championship and Super Bowl while still making it to the second round this season. They will have all of their weapons back on offense and defense & most importantly, they have been in many big games having proved they can win on the road to get where they need to go. Even in the Week 10 game, Crabtree was still rehabbing his achilles, Vernon Davis was concussed during the game, starting safety Eric Reid wasn’t available to play due to a concussion, it was Aldon Smith’s 1st game back from rehab, & Justin Smith was on a snap count. Now they will all be unleashed on Sunday. You can think this won’t make a difference if you want to, and that’s fine. Just know that the chances that the 49ers move on to Seattle (unless New Orleans wins & give San Fran one more game at Candlestick Park) are pretty high. It will be a close, great game, but I think that 1) Harbaugh & his staff will confuse Newton enough to be inefficient again, and 2) San Fran have more playmakers on offense to move the chains consistently and eventually get out of Charlotte with another playoff W.

Final Score: 49ers 28, Panthers 20

FOURTH DOWN: San Diego vs. Denver

Here’s what Peyton Manning has accomplished this season:

  • Guided his team to a 13 – 3 record & home field advantage throughout the playoffs;
  • Helped his team become the first 600-point team in league history (606 pts; 37.8 ppg);
  • Set NFL records for most TDs (55) & yards (5,477) by a QB in a season. Was also 2nd in passer rating with 115 QB rating (2nd highest of his career). He even ran for one TD this season too;
  • Clinched his 5th MVP of his career (two more than the 2nd most NFL MVP winner Brett Favre) by Week 8; and
  • Clinched his status as the best regular season QB in NFL history.

Here’s what Peyton Manning has going at stake going into these playoffs: With all the accolades he’s accumulated, if he does not win his 2nd Super Bowl or at least take his team to the Super Bowl in 3 weeks, we may have to start questioning where he’d be ranked alongside the all-time greats. In no way shape or form can he have 5 MVP awards, & only one ring to show for it after it’s all said & done. He doesn’t have to match Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, or even Tom Brady, but he has to have more than one. Has to. If his career was a painting at this moment, it would resemble the Mona Lisa….BUT it would have a faint red hand print across her chest. Still a beautiful portrait but you’re gonna notice the hand print, right? At some point, you’re going to have to ask about that, as great as he is & for everything he’s done for the game.

If he suffers another loss this weekend, his playoff record will go to 9-12 & NINE of those losses will be of the One-and-Done variety (either after a wild card game or after a playoff bye). That’s kinda hard not to look at. I’ll tell you something else, it’s quite possible this weekend that it can happen again. Their division rival San Diego, has played them well this season, with DC John Pagano historically giving Manning fits & Charger Head Coach (via Broncos OC last season) Mike McCoy having a good handle on how to go against him as well. Now last week, I thought the Chargers had no shot of winning whatsoever (Thank you Andy Dalton), but if they can keep Manning & the Broncos D off the field with how Philip Rivers has been playing & how inconsistent the Broncos D has been this year, then they’ll have a shot. Especially if they get an early lead & take the crowd out of the game, then that pressure builds. I’ll be surprised if the Broncos puts up big points vs San Diego, but I do think Manning makes it until next week to face his old Rival (Brady) one more time.

Final Score: Broncos 27, San Diego 17

Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

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