It only took six games, but we finally got some good NFL playoff action. Prior to the Packers-Cowboys game, not a SINGLE playoff game was decided by less than 13 points. That stinks, and it’s bad for the league.
Unless your favorite team won, the wildcard round was a bust, and Atlanta and New England took care of their divisional round opponents fairly easily. But all was forgiven after what transpired in Arlington, Texas. In a classic playoff game, Aaron Rodgers was able to lead his team down the field for a game winning field goal. Though Rodgers gets most of the credit, we cannot forget about Mason Crosby (but more about that later). And maybe not up to the same level of hype, but a good game nonetheless, the Steelers took down the Chiefs in a bizarre finish in which a holding call (yes, it was holding) negated a successful two-point conversion by the Chiefs. This sets us up with Packers-Falcons on the NFC side, and Steelers-Patriots in the AFC. But before we look forward, it’s time to break down the takeaways from the divisional round.
Other than Russell Wilson, Earl Thomas is the best player on the Seahawks
First off, even if Thomas had played against the Falcons, they still probably would have lost. Matt Ryan would not be stopped. But if there’s one guy who should be leading a defense, it’s Earl Thomas, and without him, the Legion of Boom looked absolutely lost. Ryan torched them, and the Seahawks were left wondering what will come next. Thomas is 200 lbs. of fire, constantly flying around looking to make big plays. There’s been talk of the downfall of the Legion of Boom–don’t be fooled by it. When Thomas is back, this crew will be back to full force and ready to lead this team back to an elite defense.
The Texans are one player away from contending
It doesn’t need to be said, but Brock Osweiler is bad. How the Texans payed this man $75 million is beyond comprehension. It’s not just the decisions he makes, but when you watch him throw, it looks like it takes all his effort to make each pass, from windup to release. And despite his poor performance, the Texans were in this game. You wouldn’t know it from the score, but this defense came to play, forcing two Brady interceptions (after he only threw 2 all season) and a fumble.
But the offense just couldn’t keep up. Brock couldn’t keep up. And the defense can only play well for so long until their will is killed. However, credit Osweiler with a good play on the pass he made to Will Fuller, which was the turning point in the game. That would’ve put the game at 24-20, but instead the Texans were forced to punt. If Houston can figure out a way to sharpen Osweiler or find someone else to lead this offense, they will find themselves back in this round of the playoffs and possibly beyond in the future.
Kickers ruled the Sunday games
Kicking is no easy task in the NFL. And in a year that we saw field goal production dip, the kickers came to play in the Sunday games. In Kansas City, the Steelers might not have even bothered showing up without Chris Boswell–he kicked six field goals and scored all 18 of the Steelers’ points. It’s a testament to the Chiefs bend-don’t-break defense, but this will not get Pittsburgh past New England. Boswell can sit back comfortably and know he made his money this week, and must get ready to be there for the Steelers next week.
But the sequence that transpired at the end of the Packers-Cowboys was nothing short of spectacular. Dan Bailey and Mason Crosby went back and forth with three 50+ yarders in the last minute and a half, leaving fans on the edge of their seats. Bailey’s kick was a sure shot, but both of Crosby’s kicks looked like they were going wide. And for him to make a 51 yard field goal twice after Garrett tried to ice him – clutch, to say the least. So praise Rodgers no doubt, but lest ye not forget about Crosby.
Jared Cook may be Aaron Rodgers’ best weapon
When Cook returned from injury, he played the role of secret weapon, but there’s nothing secret about him. The man is 6’5″, 254 lbs., and he is a match-up nightmare. It’s unreasonable to ask a linebacker to cover him. While he will largely be remembered for his 3rd-and-20 tippy-toe catch, he was available for Rodgers all game, finishing with six catches for 104 yards and a touchdown. Adams is a deep threat, Cobb is a force in the slot, Geronimo is up-and-coming, and, when healthy, Jordy is Rodgers’ go-to guy. But right now, none is more valuable to Rodgers than Jared Cook, and he will need him big time in Atlanta this week.
The Steelers quietly have one of the best offensive lines in the league
Yes, Le’Veon Bell is the best back in the league, which makes the line look extra good. But someone has to block for him, and this group up front has provided excellent pathways to run through. And even more importantly, they’ve kept Ben off the ground this year, only giving up an average of 1.3 sacks per game, second only to the Raiders for best in the league. They will have to show up Sunday, as the Patriots are third best in the league at stopping the run, only giving up 88.9 yards per game to opposing backs.
The divisional round gave us some fantastic moments, and some what-the-heck-were-you-doing moments. There was drama, and, per usual, there was controversy. But the best four teams are moving on, with four of the best quarterbacks in the league. You’d be hard pressed to not tune in next week for Championship weekend.