Well, Wildcard Weekend was a dud. I guess that was to be expected when teams like the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings make the playoffs. Shame on anyone who cheered for those two teams down the stretch this season (unless you’re a fan of those either of those teams, of course—loyalty comes ahead of viewing pleasure).
Anyways, without further ado, here were my thoughts on the Wildcard Weekend games from this past weekend.
Bengals @ Texans
- Closing odds: Texans -4, total 42.5
- Predicted outcome: Bengals 17, Texans 16
- Actual outcome: Texans 19, Bengals 13
- My wagers: 3* Bengals +4.5 (only if Chris Crocker is active) and 3* under 43.5
Luckily for my bank account, Chris Crocker was inactive for Saturday’s game against the Texans, so I didn’t take a bath on the Bengals. I caught a big break though because it’s not like Crocker’s presence would have mattered anyways. Cincinnati’s defense wasn’t the issue here—it was Andy Dalton’s complete ineptness. Dalton completed 14 of his 30 pass attempts for a whopping 127 yards an interception. Sadly, those numbers don’t even begin to demonstrate how poorly he played. The Bengals finished the first half with negative passing yards (that’s right), and Dalton failed to connect with A.J. Green until midway through the third quarter. Needless to say, most Bengals-backers will have a personal vendetta against Dalton for years to come.
I could go on and on about the Bengals, but I really only have myself to blame for completely overlooking the fact that Dalton is a lemon and that Marvin Lewis consistently gets outcoached in big games. Believe me, getting outcoached by Gary Kubiak is no easy task, but Lewis managed to get it done. Whether it was spending needless timeouts, refusing to involve BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the game, or general asshattery, Lewis seemed to be up to his usual tricks. It’s really a shame that this Bengals’ organization is stuck with Lewis and Dalton because the defense was up to the task yet again. Sure, they gave up 420 total yards, but they really stiffened in the red zone and held the Texans to a paltry 19 points. In today’s NFL, holding a team to 19 points should be good enough for a win, but not when your quarterback is missing wide open receivers all night.
While I’m making it seem like the Bengals did everything to lose the game, the Texans did a pretty good job of winning it. Houston was able to move the ball consistently for the majority of the game but settled for four field goals because of poor red zone efficiency. That was really their only blemish in the game, and one that they’ll need to get corrected quickly before next week’s game against the Patriots. Playing in his first career playoff game, Matt Schaub performed admirably with the exception of a telegraphed pick six that he threw to Leon Hall. A lot of credit goes to the Texans’ offensive line who didn’t give up a sack against one of the best pass rushes in the league. Impressive. Arian Foster also ran well for the first time in a while against any team not named the Colts, and victimized Bengals’ linebacker Rey Maualuga on many occasions. I’m not sure if Maualuga was still reeling from USC’s loss to Georgia Tech earlier in the week, but it didn’t appear as though he had his head in the game.
All in all, everyone (myself included) read too much into both teams’ form heading into the playoffs. Houston didn’t play well down the stretch but when you look at their roster from top to bottom, especially in the trenches, it’s no surprise that they didn’t have much trouble with the Bengals. As for Cincinnati, winning seven of their final eight games looked impressive on paper, but doing so against the likes of the Chiefs, Raiders, Chargers, Eagles, and backup Ravens squad makes that feat far less impressive. Remind me not to back the double lemon combination of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton if the Bengals are back in the postseason next year.
Vikings @ Packers
- Closing odds: Packers -11, total 44.5
- Predicted outcome: Packers 27, Vikings 23
- Actual outcome: Packers 24, Vikings 10
- My wagers: 3* Vikings +8 (only if Antoine Winfield is active)
My heart goes out to Vikings’ fans everywhere. Well, not really, but I do kind of, sort of feel bad for you… maybe. Minnesota beat the Bears, Rams, Texans, and Packers in the final month of the season, only to have all of that hard work squandered by a useless Joe Webb. Christian Ponder was suffering from elbow bursitis, a common Madden ’05 injury that I didn’t know really existed, which forced head coach Leslie Frazier to go with Joe Webb. Webb fucked me out of a $120,000 survivor pool when he knocked off Michael Vick’s Philadelphia Eagles as a 14-point underdog in Week 16 of the 2010-11 season, and he proceeded to fuck all Vikings backers by playing like a steaming pile of dog feces this past weekend.
There is no word to describe how truly awful Webb was in this contest. I’d say he was Dalton-esque, but that wouldn’t be fair to Andy Dalton. Webb led the Vikings on a solid first drive of the game, but threw a ball into the ground on third down, forcing Minnesota to settle for a field goal. From there, it was all downhill. Not a gradual downhill either, as it was more like a 90-degree drop. Webb finished the game 11-of-30 for 180 yards, one touchdown, and two turnovers. While those numbers are undoubtedly pathetic, they don’t show the several times that Webb tried to avoid sacks by tossing pop-flies in the middle of the field. I’ve never seen anything more atrocious in my life, and believe me, I’ve seen some atrocious things.
Webb didn’t really get much help from Adrian Peterson in this contest either. After torching the Packers for 409 yards in the regular season, Peterson was only able to muster 99 yards on 22 carries. Green Bay quickly realized that there was no chance in hell that Webb was going to beat them with a deep ball and were able to play closer to the line of scrimmage to limit Peterson. In spite of my wager on the Vikings (which I realized was dead in the water at the end of the first half), I particularly enjoyed watching Peterson get shut down. I’m not an AP-hater, but I find it ludicrous that he’s even being considered for NFL MVP. Sure, he rushed for a ton of yards this season and that’s very impressive, but there’s no way he’s as valuable as other quarterbacks in this league. Hell, you could argue that the combination of Christian Ponder and Toby Gerhart would have likely had more success against the Packers defense this past weekend than Joe Webb and Adrian Peterson. According to ESPN’s Chad Millman, an injury to Adrian Peterson would only affect a Vegas point spread by three points. An injury to Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning? All seven points or more. That’s the definition of value.
Anyways, enough of the Vikings. It makes me sick that I even had to watch this pathetic excuse for a team in the postseason. I should take a page out of Cris Collinsworth’s book and proceed to give Aaron Rodgers fellatio for the next couple of hours. Rodgers was great. He threw for 274 yards on 33 attempts despite having constant pressure in his face and playing in a fucking freezer box. The Packers need to improve their third down efficiency as they only went 3-for-14 against the Vikings, but aside from that, their offense played fairly well in tough conditions. The Packers head out on the road to take on the 49ers next weekend but I don’t think there are too many Packers’ players that will be all that upset about playing in the 50-degree weather in San Francisco next weekend as opposed to the 20-degree weather in Green Bay.
Colts @ Ravens
- Closing odds: Ravens -7.5, total 47.5
- Predicted outcome: Ravens 34, Colts 21
- Actual outcome: Ravens 24, Colts 9
- My wagers: 4* Ravens -6.5 (3* if you can only find Ravens -7) and 3* over 47
It’s a real shame that these two teams played in the first round of the playoffs. Neither of these teams is any good, but Indianapolis is borderline awful, so Baltimore was definitely deserving of the victory. If you watched the entire first half of this game, it’s entirely possible that you had to be hospitalized for some sort of heart condition. It was deplorable. Whether it was lost fumbles, dropped interceptions, dropped passes, or missed penalties (the officiating was awful too), this was a tough game to watch.
The Colts’ moved the ball fairly well for the majority of the game but they really struggled when they got into Baltimore territory. You really have to feel bad for Andrew Luck because he was seemingly under pressure every single time he dropped back to pass. That doesn’t excuse his poor decision making though. Luck ruined his streak of three consecutive games without a turnover by losing a fumble in the first quarter, but things could have been a whole lot worse as Ed Reed dropped an interception early in the game, and Ray Lewis dropped the easiest pick you’ll ever see in your life, probably due to the bionic arm he was wearing. Simply put, the rookie looked like a rookie on Sunday afternoon. It also didn’t help that T.Y. Hilton and Donnie Avery were dropping passes left and right, and that Dwayne Allen was constantly slipping on every route. In the end, the Colts were able to get away with these types of mistakes against the Jaguars (twice), Titans (twice), Browns, Dolphins, Bills, Lions, and Chiefs in the regular season, but it was not to be against a team that is actually capable of playing quality football every once and a while.
And if you think that the Colts got unlucky, you’re dead wrong, because the Ravens played an awful game. Joe Flacco played a strong second half but he was absolutely atrocious in the first half, targeting Colts’ cornerback Vontae Davis more frequently than Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin. He literally did everything humanly possible to lose the game for the Ravens in the first half. On top of that, Ray Rice, who’s fumbled the ball only three times in the last three seasons (no, that’s not a typo), put the ball on the turf twice in Colts’ territory and lost both fumbles. In actuality, the first lost fumble in the red zone was recovered by Baltimore, but Mike Carey’s inept officiating crew incorrectly rewarded the ball to Indianapolis and the play was not reviewable. All of this didn’t matter though because the Colts’ defense has more holes than the plot of Looper.
I’ll give the Colts a bit of a pass here for having to play the full game without their offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, who was hospitalized prior to the game with an undisclosed illness. There were times where Indianapolis’ play calling was questionable to say the least and the mere presence of Arians on the sideline probably would have had a positive impact. But in the end, Indianapolis wasn’t going to win this game anyways. The Colts scraped by this season against the easiest NFL schedule in the last decade, and it was only a matter of time before they were going to be put in their place. To make matters worse, this miraculous run to the postseason will have the Colts picking late in the first round of the NFL Draft and watching juggernaut offensive linemen like Luke Joeckel and Chance Warmack pass them by. Was it worth it Colts’ fans?
Seahawks @ Redskins
- Closing odds: Seahawks -3, total 45
- Predicted outcome: Seahawks 28, Redskins 24
- Actual outcome: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
- My wagers: Pass
This was probably the best game of the weekend but that’s not really saying much. Washington jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and I enjoyed every second of watching Pete Carroll squirm on the Seahawks’ sideline, but in the end, Seattle scored 24 unanswered points to win the game the game comfortably. What happened to the Redskins? Well, Robert Griffin III seemed to re-aggravate his knee injury late in the first quarter and went from having limited mobility to zero mobility. Griffin was no longer a factor in the running game and his accuracy dwindled considerably when he was no longer able to step up in the pocket to make a pass. In all reality, Mike Shanahan should have pulled Griffin in favor of Kirk Cousins much earlier in the game, but apparently Shanahan didn’t think that he was putting Griffin at further risk by allowing him to play on a hobbled leg. Inevitably, RG3′s leg blew up (see image above), and the rest was history. I firmly believe that the Redskins would have won the game had RG3 not suffered a setback, but there was always a high risk that this would happen, so I’m not sure why there were people willing to back Washington here.
I gotta say though, I rather enjoyed watching RG3 collapse on the field after trying to pick up a botched snap. Not because I want to see players get injured—I’m not that big of a scumbag—but rather because I loved seeing the faces of Redskins’ fans in shock around the stadium. That was gold. As a Cowboys’ fan, I’d love to see RG3 leave the NFL to pursue a career as a priest, but I really hope that there isn’t severe damage to his knee and that he’ll be on the field to start next season.
As for the Seahawks, you really have to tip your cap to them for coming from behind to win the game. I had a conversation with a good friend of mine on Friday night and he didn’t believe the Seahawks were legit because he wasn’t sure that they were capable of playing from behind. Anyone else who echoed that sentiment has now seen that it’s entirely possible. After trailing 14-0 at the end of the first quarter, the Seahawks outgained the Redskins 371-74 in total yardage for the rest of the game. After a slow start, Russell Wilson played really well down the stretch, throwing for 187 yards and a touchdown, while running for 67 yards on eight carries. Marshawn Lynch was also dominant, rushing for 132 yards on 20 carries, despite fumbling the ball away on the Redskins’ 1-yard line in the third quarter.
All in all, the better team won. Seattle lead Football Outsiders’ Team Efficiency ratings at the end of the season because they’re one of the most complete teams in football, and they’ve proven in the last month that they’re more than capable of winning away from home. This isn’t the same Seahawks team that you’ve grown accustomed to in the past.
Division Playoffs Early Lines & Thoughts
Ravens @ Broncos (-9, total 45.5)
It won’t be a landslide but Denver is going to get the majority of the action in this game. After all, the Broncos disposed of the Ravens 34-17 on the road in Week 15, and Baltimore has been one of the most dominant home teams in football for the past few seasons. There’s no doubt that this line is slightly inflated (Denver was -10 at home to Cleveland and Baltimore isn’t only one point better than the Browns) but I can’t make a realistic case for Baltimore to keep this game close. The Broncos were 6-1-1 ATS at home this season, averaging 32.5 points per game and only allowing 16.4 points per game. These teams are in different leagues.
Packers @ 49ers (-3, total 45)
I really don’t have a strong feel for this game. I think that most people will simply blindly bet on the Packers any time that they’re an underdog, and for the most part, that’s proven to be a winning strategy in the last few seasons. Still though, I can’t get the 49ers-Packers matchup from Week 1 out of my head. I had a 5-unit play on the Packers -5 in that game and they were absolutely dominated from start to finish… and that was with Alex Smith at quarterback against a pretty healthy Green Bay squad. I really think that these teams are pretty equal so I think that a -3 line with the home team is fair.
Seahawks @ Falcons (-2.5, total 45.5)
People still aren’t sold on Seattle. Early reports have approximately two thirds of the action coming in on the home team right now, which actually surprises me a little bit. Sure the Falcons were 7-1 straight up at home this season but they played a creampuff schedule, and frankly, they’re just not as good as Seattle. I think the Seahawks have gotten over the hump of not being able to win on the road and I think they have the better offense, defense, and special teams in this matchup. For me, this one is going to be a no-brainer.
Texans @ Patriots (-9.5, total 48)
I could make a solid argument for both teams here but I’m going to guess that New England will be the most heavily backed side in the Divisional Playoffs. The Patriots obliterated the Texans in front of a national audience in Week 14 and I doubt that the general public has forgot about that game. If you’re going to back New England this week, you’ll definitely be paying a premium as the Patriots closed as 7-point favorites in that home game with Houston in Week 14; and the opening line in that game was only 4.5. If I had faith in the Texans to score red zone touchdowns, I’d jump on Houston +9.5 for several units, but right now, I’m really hesitant.