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Football Mon Jan 07 2013

NFL Playoffs Notebook: Wild Card Weekend

Welcome to the NFL Playoffs Notebook! Catchy name, I know.

I'll give some observations from the Wild Card round. I hope that this notebook will be more entertaining than The Notebook, and less arrogant than Gregg Easterbook's notebook.

Bengals vs. Texans

• I'm not sure anyone would say that the Texans -- the favorites, the team that started 11-1 -- played particularly well on Saturday afternoon. Quarterback Matt Schaub was erratic at times (one pick-six interception), and didn't hit receivers down field. His longest pass was for 22 yards. Arian Foster had 140 rushing yards, but on 32 carries. His longest rush was for 17 yards. Houston didn't have many big plays, and they settled for four field goals.

But there was never a point in time where I thought they would lose. Cincinnati just didn't move the ball. Look at their drive chart. Six drives with six or less plays. Longest drive was 64 yards, for a field goal. Andy Dalton was bad news, completing 14 of 30 passes for a paltry 127 yards. The Bengals scrapped the running game too, calling only 16 plays on the ground (this was probably because they only had the ball for 21 minutes).

Yet Cincy almost stole the game! In the fourth, when Andy Dalton JUST MISSED AJ Green for the go-ahead 36-yard touchdown with three minutes remaining. The next play, Houston took over on a turnover on downs, and ran the clock out. That was that. The Texans let the Bengals hang around, and it almost came back to haunt them.

• It's odd to remember that the Bengals have made the postseason in three of the last four seasons. The team they call the Bungles! The team coached by the Marvin Lewis, who's eternally on the hot seat! The cheapskate sad-sack franchise that hasn't won a road playoff game ever!

• For the game, I baked a batch of bacon-wrapped dates. How were they, you ask? About what you would expect -- a mushy fruit, wrapped with bacon. The flavors didn't commingle, and I was fairly disappointed with the final result. If you're looking to make a snack, skip the bacon dates and just go with puppy chow. Who doesn't like puppy chow???

Vikings vs. Packers

• I went home for the weekend, and I picked up pizza from a local establishment. (Jeez, I really sound like a food-crazed maniac right now, don't I?) Anyway, they told me the pizza should be ready in 45 minutes. I knew the place would be busy, so I figured to get there a little later than the 45 minute estimate. I did just that, waited in line for 10 minutes, and when I went to pay, they told me to wait another 15 minutes.

This angered me. Why not just overestimate, especially when you know you're busy? Why not add another 20 minutes to the wait time, just to be safe? I'd rather schlep home a luke-warm pizza because they over estimated a little than wait around aimlessly for a half hour. Restaurants should tack on a few minutes to their time guesses when they're busy, so when that time passes, everything will be ready. Worst case scenario? You say my pizza will be ready in an hour, and it's actually 35 minutes. I'm stoked that I got my food earlier than expected. I'll feel that I caught a break!

• Christian Ponder was a late scratch, and Joe Webb started. Hearing this announcement, I figured that the Vikings had a much better chance of winning the game. Webb is an athletic, mobile quarterback, that had some moments in past seasons. I figured he could take advantage of a Packers defense that isn't ready for him. Ponder, on the other hand, stinks. He was 21st in QB rating, and he was 31st in yards passing per game.

Has that ever happened before? An ice cold backup takes the QB reins in the playoffs, and the team is figured to be better than with the starter? I want to say no.

• Pretty early in the game, we saw that Webb wasn't going to work out. The circumstances were tough, sure -- no playing time this season, no time to prepare for this game, a matchup against a red hot Packers team, on the road, in sub-freezing weather -- but Webb never got anything going.

He airmailed some passes. He grounded some throws. He was stripped. He was picked. The Packers defense keyed in on Peterson, bottling him up. Vikings receivers dropped passes. Green Bay jumped out to a big lead and cruised, knowing that Webb couldn't bring them back. His garbage time TD was the only highlight of the game, a game where Webb went 9-of-27 for 127 yards.

Basically, if this Vikings season was my franchise mode on Madden 13, my controller would be in pieces on the ground after Webb threw off his back foot and sailed a pass 15 yards ahead of my "X" receiver.

• On the other side, how great is Aaron Rodgers? I'll keep this brief, because this is a Chicago blog after all. Rodgers was able to do whatever he wanted all game, to the tune of 274 yards, a touchdown, and a 104.9 QB rating. My favorite play was right before half, when Rodgers faked a handoff, rolled out to his right, and uncorked a laser to Jordy Nelson, who was hanging out on the sideline near the Vikings 5-yard line. Just a perfect throw, on the run, a play that Rodgers always makes.

Colts vs. Ravens

• Since Ray Lewis announced that he would retire after the season last week, much ado was made about his final game in Baltimore. CBS televised the Ravens announcing the starting lineups, and of course Lewis came out last and did his famous dance.

The most interesting part to me was that, because Lewis picks up a chunk of grass before starting his dance, the Baltimore grounds crew actually had some pre-cut sod waiting for Lewis, so he wouldn't tear up the actual field! Imagine having that task -- preparing the fake sod for Lewis before his dance -- on your job description.

• I thought Andrew Luck looked good in his first career playoff game (28/54, 288 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT). He has excellent pocket presence, knowing where the pass rush is coming from, and he has the athletic ability to escape the collapsing pocket, rollout, and find an open receiver. The Colts needed an exceptionally good game from Luck to win, and they just didn't get it. Running back Vick Ballard was his typical 3-4 yards-per-rush self, the defense wasn't that strong, and the receivers didn't haul in some tougher catches. Luck wasn't able to override everything that Indy didn't do well.

• Ravens QB Joe Flacco wasn't great, either, going 12 of 23 for 282 yards. His throws were off target, and his final stat line was aided by a 47-yard Ray Rice screen play and Anquan Boldin's fantastic game. He made three difficult catches, all for big plays -- a 46-yarder, a 50-yarder, and a touchdown where he brought in the ball while a Colts DB had his arm between Boldin's arms. Boldin bailed Flacco out big time.

Bernard Pierce also emerged as a weapon for the Ravens, with 103 yards on the ground. He was hitting holes and running in the open field just like Rice does.

Seahawks vs. Redskins

• RGIII! Russell Wilson! Coming in, this game was thought to be a close one. The Redskins were red hot, winning seven straight games, including important contests against the Giants, Ravens and Cowboys. Seattle, meanwhile, has one of the most balanced teams in the league, with a great offense, defense and special teams. Should be close, right?

• Not so much. Washington started off the game right with two touchdowns on two drives, slicing up the Seahawks' defense. Alfred Morris continuously found gaps to run through (39 rushing yards on the first two possessions), and Robert Griffin threw deep and short, moving the Redskins with ease.

Griffin, who has been banged up the last few weeks, really started to hobble after the second drive, and was basically a shell of himself for the rest of the game. Washington never put another decent drive together, and Griffin started to throw and run more gingerly with his right knee hurt.

Clearly, RGIII's injury was affecting his play to the point that coach Mike Shanahan was going to have to take him out. What stood out to me was that the announcers and Twittersphere wasn't preaching the typical injured athlete narrative -- "Look how much he wants it! Playing hurt, he's a warrior out there!" -- but called Washington dumb for playing Griffin.

And it got worse with the final blow that knocked him out of the game.

• Lost in the Griffin subplot was the fact that Seattle was the much better team on the night. The Seahawks actually squandered multiple chances to put points on the board. Marshawn Lynch fumbled near the goal line, and the 'Skins got a couple of sacks that pushed Seattle out of field goal range. It was only 24-14, but it could have been 38-14.

• The play of the game was Lynch's go-ahead touchdown run. The key block was, strangely enough, from Wilson. The QB sprinted downfield for a block that freed up Lynch just enough for a score.

Next week

This week's slate of games didn't live up to the hype. The two AFC contests were snoozefests, and the Packers were simply on another level against the Vikings. The best game was Seahawks-Redskins, and that was marred by an injury rendering the most exciting quarterback this season useless.

Next week should be better. Ravens-Broncos. Texans-Patriots. Seahawks-Falcons. But the best matchup will the Packers at the 49ers. A stud defense against a finely-tuned offense, with some Colin Kaepernick breakout potential? Yes, please.

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james / January 10, 2013 12:42 PM

Wild Card weekend was crazy! I can't believe RGIII went out like that, and Russell Wilson is a BEAST! My Broncos had a bye, so they should be extra ready for the Ravens. Even with the addition of Boldin, Lewis and Ed Reed, it'll be tough going up against Manning at home. I'll be working at DISH during the games, but my Hopper HD DVR will be at home recording everything for me. I can store up to 2,000 hours on there, so recording and storing any game I want is no problem. I like that I have a DVR that can handle the load, and hopefully, the Broncos game this weekend will be one I will save for a long time.

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