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Football Mon Jan 16 2012

What You Missed: NFL Divisional Weekend

I was sick this weekend, but that just meant I had license to stay in and watch all four divisional playoff games this weekend. It was a nice silver lining.

I learned seven things:

1) The Giants really are road warriors. But not these Road Warriors. And really, there is no definitive explanation why. My best guess? The team is led by such dominant personalities (Osi Umenyiora, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, and even Eli Manning) that they are fueled by challenges like "Nobody believes in us," "Everyone here in this stadium is rooting against us," and "Let's show them!" They did it before in 2007, and they're doing it again now.

They really played Green Bay well Sunday, rushing Aaron Rodgers like crazy. For every time Rodgers ended up sidestepping the pressure for a rushing first down, the Giants D forced a sack, fumble or rushed throw. On offense, Manning was great, hitting open receivers all game, and the ground game was good enough for a couple of key runs, including Bradshaw's rush to set up the Hail Mary, and Jacobs' touchdown run to ice the game. A masterful performance by New York.

2) The regular season determines playoff seeding and who gets into the playoffs ... and that's it. I can't imagine a team having a better regular season than the Packers, who were an offensive juggernaut. One bad game in Kansas City, a game where they almost came back to win, ruined what would have been a perfect 16. Meanwhile, the Giants had a totally underwhelming regular season. They lost four straight games at one point, lost a big game at home to the Washington Generals Redskins in Week 15, and snuck into the playoffs after beating a turmoil-filled Jets team in Week 16 and a reeling Cowboys team at home in Week 17. Now? They have the inside track to the Super Bowl.

This isn't to take anything away from the Giants. They were the better team on Sunday. But... you have to feel that anything up until Week 15 or 16 didn't really matter much this year.

3) Fantastic dome teams are neutralized playing outdoors. Atlanta put up two points last week in the Meadowlands despite having a top-10 passing offense (with Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones all having great seasons). This week, outside in San Francisco, New Orleans looked average. Granted, 462 yards (!) and 4 TDs from Drew Brees is not bad by any means, but the Saints offense struggled to get going, trailing 17-0 early, and didn't take a lead until 4:02 was left in the fourth quarter. Plus, San Francisco totally took away the Saints rushing game (only 37 yards), so New Orleans had to throw the ball to gain yards (hence, Brees' 63 passing attempts).

4) Alex Smith is not a total bust. Sure, he's had his struggles in San Francisco since 2005, but the two biggest plays for the Niners were due to him. His rushing touchdown got San Francisco the lead and his throw to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left won the game. He was part of two plays that will go down as some of the most memorable (non-Super Bowl) moments in 49ers history.

5) New England is really good, and Denver was not that good. But, the Broncos should hold their heads up high. To get that far after starting the season 2-5 is something to be proud of.

The Patriots really tore them up that game, though. Tom Brady threw for six touchdowns, and other than a brief lull late in the first and early in the second quarter, Brady was just about perfect. Even though I was rooting for Denver, I was totally in awe of what Brady was doing out there. It was like he was playing Madden on "Rookie" difficulty. And the Broncos were a good defense!

6) Baltimore Ravens games aren't much fun to watch. Wait... we knew that already.

The Ravens had their home crowd going, forced a fumble, intercepted three passes and only allowed 184 passing yards, but they still kept the Texans in the game until the very end. They failed to stop Arian Foster (132 yards rushing) and Andre Johnson (111 receiving yards), and the offense was yawn-inducing. Joe Flacco didn't even throw for 200 yards, and Ray Rice had a frustrating day (21 carries, 60 yards, no TDs).

The result? A boring game with only three points scored in the second half.
But there was this. Who doesn't love a sick one-handed grab?

7) A rematch of Super Bowl XLII is very likely. And I'm all for it.

 
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