I know I’ve made fun of kickers during various points in the regular season, but I will not send an ounce of shade in the direction of Minnesota Vikings Kicker Blair Walsh.
I get it. He missed a “chip shot” in a game that could have propelled his squad past the defending Conference Champion Seattle Seahawks and into the Divisional Round of the Playoffs. To be clear, I’m not one of these that plays the card that Walsh is a saint for kicking the nine total points that Minnesota did have, but paired with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater outperforming Seattle’s Russell Westbrook in the game based on yards and completion percentage the fact that’s glaring is that the alleged best running back in the NFL, Adrian Peterson can’t claim to have done his job in the contest. Only around two yards per carry and a fumble for the day. . . Yet, I haven’t seen one meme for him on Facebook or any criticism upon him to the same extent that was given a kicker. For those who need motivation for a Peterson meme and his playoff performances, I’d concentrate on him fumbling using this song:
As for any criticism to the Bengals’ Pacman Jones for his weekend exploits. . . 100% earned. On to the Student of the Game’s Match-Up Mania.
Chiefs v. Pats
I remember the last time these teams faced each other in the regular season going all the way back to 2014. 41-14 was the final scored where the Patriots we’re more embarrassed than a franchise busted for covertly videotaping an opponent’s pregame walk-through. Panic ran a muck through the lame-stream media and New England fan communities alike. Was future-Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady “done”? Had Head Coach Bill Belichick lost his rocker? Was it time for Jimmy Garoppolo to ring in the next era of the franchise? This game is largely forgotten because the Pats went on to win the Super Bowl on what might be the worst offensive play call in the history of the sport:
I mention all this to bring up that there are those who remember that Monday night massacre. . . those who wish to pay Kansas City back for the embarrassment imposed. And what better way to do it than through a playoff victory.
That’s not to say that game manger extraordinaire Alex Smith won’t be pumped to lead his team to his return to the promised land of Conference Championship Sunday. Smith hasn’t set foot upon that allowed ground since the 2011 season during his time with the San Francisco 49ers. Injuries are a factor in the game, but don’t expect me to list Jamaal Charles missing as a limitation for the Chiefs. Sure, they’d rather having him takings snaps, but Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have done their part in Charles’ stead to lead their team to a 10-game streak to wrap up the regular season. The Pats chances are all in the play of Sebastian Vollmer. If he takes the field and if he and the O-line successfully protects Brady from the pass rush, Kansas City will be in real trouble. In this game more than most, balanced offense is the key to keep an opponent’s defense guessing. He who does that and is most devoid of mistakes moves on to the next week.
Pack v. Cards
Somewhere in the 2nd quarter of last week’s Wild Card game, the Packers started to do something we hadn’t seen from them in a number of weeks. They started to look like themselves. Yes, they went down 11-0 early and yes, they gave up a safety in the 1st quarter. But that 11-0 could have just as easily been 15-0, and the safety was but one of two sacks allowed all game. Aaron Rodgers looked more accurate throwing the ball, James Jones and Randall Cobb found ways to get open and both James Starks and Eddie Lacey move the ball on the ground. . . and it was all against a team who hadn’t beaten a squad with a winning record in 2015. Props to Green Bay for beating the Washington Redskins — your reward is going on the road to play the Arizona Cardinals in the Divisional Round. I think I understand the point of view of Lieutenant Lionel Kaffe in the movie A Few Good Men:
That’s Carson Palmer, a dark horse MVP candidate, throwing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Michael Floyd with a Dave Johnson, a Rookie of the Year candidate in support. And by the way, their defense is quite stout as well. They are down Tyron Matheiu, but with all the other talent, my outlook becomes that of a honey badger — I don’t care. The Cards ‘D’ is still a force. Maybe a stent at “exotic Fort Leavenworth” isn’t such a bad idea after all.
This Packer team has to play in fashion we didn’t see from them in the final games of the regular season to win this game. This is why I’m doubtful they will advance.
Seahawks v. Panthers
These rosters have so many similarities. Both sides feature game managers that are the leaders of their respective offenses whose mediocre receiver corps have overachieved and running back committees have experienced injuries. Adding to the comparison, both teams’ defenses are among the top flight of the NFL. What’s most interesting of all is that this game features the 1st and 6th seeds and is in my eyes the most difficult to predict a winner.
That brings us to the intangibles that will impact the game. When it comes to the Seahawks, they are a lot like the famous platitude from the Wizard of Oz. . . “There’s no place like home”.
The ‘Hawks are famous for struggling away from their 12th man in Seattle when that crowd gets loud. And with all those Seahawk Green Jerseys, perhaps referencing it as the Emerald City makes this whole Wizard of Oz analogy worth while . . . ?
But Carolina scares me as a team that went into Week Sixteen overconfident and lost to the hapless Atlanta Falcons to ruin their undefeated season. Which one of these squads’ quirks takes over? For me, I think the Seahawks have been made humble by last year’s Super Bowl and are far more focused than the Carolina Panthers who showed me that they sluffed off towards season’s end. But I’ve been wrong before . . .
Steelers v. Broncos
There was a day when this battle listed on the schedule was exhilarating, but now it’s one shrouded in mystery. In Week Seventeen, Denver’s Brock Osweiler kept his team ahead of a Chargers team 7-6, despite 4 turnovers on offense — none of which were caused by Osweiler as he was campaigning to take the Broncos to the top seed in the AFC. But when he was pulled for Peyton Manning and the running game got right to produce and score points against soft San Diego, the fate of Manning starting this game was sealed.
Thing is, the Steelers’ team is not soft. I don’t see Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson combining for over 200 yards rushing. This means that Peyton’s passing performance must be prolific. With his throw velocity on the decline, starting the future-Hall of Fame inductee might be a mistake. That being said, #18′s best performance in 2015 was against the Packers after a bye week. In light of this fact and the weeks off he’s had recovering from injury, maybe Mile-High Manning does win the day.
Then there’s the Pittsburgh offense. Ben Roethlisberger is playing with a sore shoulder, Antonio Brown is in concussion protocol after the Wild Card round, and DeAngelo Williams is still questionable with a knee injury. Any of those pieces missing is tough to overcome battling against a defense as tough as Denver’s. But if Ben is upright, the Steelers are alright. He’s played through pain before.
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