Divisionals and The Conference Finals

I do not have the notes in front of me (nor the time to research) if this has been the least competitive playoff tournament in NFL history.  That said, it’s pretty darn uncompetitive.  Eight games in two weekends – only two true crackers, although certainly compelling.  One thing that we discover again though from the divisionals was the power of the bye.  It is easy to rally behind good looking wildcard winners – but bye winners get them for a reason.  Some quick thoughts:

Saints 45, Cardinals 14 – I tuned out at halftime.  This was a royal butt kicking, a demonstration of the Saints ridiculous speed, and the Cardinals pathetic defense.  80 points in 3 playoff halves does not a Super Bowl Champion make.  While Reggie Bush is a poor man’s Joshua Cribbs with a better agent, he had a humongous impact.  Really this was a good team that depends on speed, letting it loose on turf.  The Saints defense while not great, is excellent at front running.

Colts 20, Ravens 3 – The Ravens successfully threw the ball downfield on their first drive then stopped trying the rest of the way.  Their offense looked constipated and hopelessly dependent on Ray Rice, and had none of the nasty up front they showed against the Patriots.  Flacco was not especially good, but the game plan was really really mediocre.  I’m not sure John Harbaugh was even awake.  On the other side, the Colts speedy defense is built to eat this sort of vanilla crap up.  The Colts were so untested defensively that the offense did not have to be great, aside from a key drive at the end of the half.  Really a perfect result – a win where they held back tactically – really have to consider this great fortune.

Vikings 34, Cowboys 3 – Karma can be a bitch, and the Vikings blatantly running up the score in the 4th might come back to haunt them.  However, this does not discount what a tremendous game they played.  Favre of course was excellent – his first TD pass was beautiful and his little move to avoid the sack for the 2nd TD was savvy also.  The defense was dominant, stopping anything the Cowboys tried inside and giving Tony Romo so little time, I can’t even blame him for his performance.  The Cowboys did not go downfield – but I don’t know how much time they had to make any sort of 15-25 yard route develop!  The end runs by Felix Jones were the only plays they hit consistently, but that was not nearly enough.

Jets 17, Chargers 14 – The downside of being a defensively oriented, possession minimizing team is that it is hard to blow an opponent away.  The upside of course, is that it is hard to be blown out.  This game had a classic arc, akin to the Patriots highway robbery of the Chargers in 2006.  The Chargers executed quite the ass whoopin in the first half yardage wise.  They were moving the ball without a ton of difficulty while the Jets looked completely overmatched offensively.  However, with Nate Kaeding’s gakked 36 yarder, the Chargers could only take a 7-0 lead with them into halftime.  Sure the lead LOOKED huge because of the Jets incompetence on offense, and inability on paper to scheme their way from behind.  But it is still a 1 possession game – all you need is a play and some luck.  The break came from the Rivers pick on his side of the field, and suddenly the Jets had the short field which they cashed into the go-ahead TD.  Adding Shonn Greene’s run to make it 17-7, the Jets then had some luck when they managed to hang on to a perfect onsides kick.  Just like that, AFC title game bound.  Also, much should be said about Mark Sanchez – the rookie is a clear role player in this offense, but has made a lot of third down plays to keep drives going – and that is a hat tip in his general direction.

So what about the two games Sunday?

Colts 24, Jets 10 – Cinderella stops right here.  The Jets strength defensively is getting pressure on Manning and sealing off the outside with Revis.  Manning, as a terrific veteran QB, is adept at breaking the blitz down and finding the open receivers – heck, Rivers made the big mistakes last week, but still put up numbers showing that the Jets can be sliced apart if the line can keep the QB upright.  However, Dallas Clark is the key here.  The Colts can slice the middle of the field better than the Chargers (and definitely the Bengals) with their TE/Slot game – and that takes Darrelle Revis out of the equation.  The Jets will have to be judicious with their overloading and blitzing and their up the middle guys need to be able to match up.  Good luck with that.  The Colts defense will not be tested in the same manner – though the Jets physicality against their speed is an interesting matchup.  If the Jets had a reliable downfield game, this could be interesting – alas.

Saints 31, Vikings 28 – Should I be cynical and assume that Brett Favre will make one backbreaking interception at some point in the proceedings?  He has not done that virtually all year – so maybe the balanced offense will help here.  Adrian Peterson has been excellent this season if your standard is not skewed by Chris Johnson.  However the shock and awe has not been there.  Will that be a problem against the Saints – I don’t know.  The Saints speed in the backfield and aggressive pass rush make for a good team with a lead.  They will allow points.  So that leaves the Vikings stout D against the Saints wildly imaginative offense.  The Saints in the dome are hard to deal with, and the down hill inside running that the Vikings are so good at stopping is not essential to the Saint attack.  Can the Vikings stop their speed?  They will give it a go, but not quite.

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