Hyping up the Match-Up Mania as I have for the previous few weeks as a public service announcement, I feel that it is my duty to make an appeal for other like-minded fans. Week Eleven has plenty of excitement as two of the biggest games we’ve had in a while are scheduled. But the amount of exuberance I hold here doesn’t come close to my affection for playoff football.
Despite fewer games to analyze and only the cream of the crop to feature, it is often true that the best game of the year happens during this time before the Super Bowl is decided. In short, the Playoffs are exemplary of quality over quantity.
On occasion, last year included, an 8-8 team — or worse — will limp their way into our beloved tournament and taint the proceedings by hosting, and in some cases even winning, a game during the glorious living memorial to the season that was in which they had no right to even take part. In 2014, the NFC insulted us by submitting the 7-9 Carolina Panthers from the South.
With the Giants atop the NFC East with a 5-5 record, it seems we are in real danger to behold the same fate in an unprecedented back-to-back maelstrom of mediocrity in the desecrated 4th seed. But it becomes even more grim when the AFC offers a South division, on the heels of a Monday night upset of the formerly undefeated Cincinnati Bengals, a 4-6 Houston Texans team currently commanded by the resurgence of TJ Yates at the helm.
The Giants and their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory along with the Texans literally suffering more quarterback issues than a team who lost their starter in the offseason when he was punched in the face by a teammate leaves a state of dread for fans forecasting the upcoming postseason.
My plea is simple. STEP YOUR GAME UP. A rule change can’t help us in the 2015 season, meaning it falls to the players and organizations that currently top these flaccid football divisions. Earn the right for the exalted honor of hosting a playoff game. Don’t let it become a worthless formality . . . like making the playoffs in the NBA East.
Now, I’ll step off of my soapbox and into the MuM.
Packers v. Vikings
“R-E-L-A-X . . . Relax.”
Last season, Packer quarterback and franchise face, Aaron Rodgers used this quote in a press conference to remind his fan base that Green Bay isn’t facing pending doom. I bring this to light because when a team loses back-to-back games against undefeated teams, panic is ridiculous. However, when it becomes the third straight ‘L’ at the hands of the Detroit Lions, the response of the football public will be P-A-N-I-C. Making matters worse, now the Minnesota Vikings are currently in sole possession of the NFC North divisional crown rising up from the 5th seed to the 3rd. (Incidentally, ruining my Seasme Street-esque tribute to the number ’5′ over the past couple of weeks.)
On paper, the Packers are the clear choice, but the intangibles seem to keep stacking up against the Lords of Lambeau. People are questioning Aaron Rodgers as a top talent in the NFL (albeit foolishly); the defense has fallen under scrutiny; the offense has become unbalanced with Rodgers throwing the ball 61 times in Week Ten in the absence of running back Eddie Lacy; receiving targets are playing below 100% battling injuries. . . I imagine that at some point Cheeseheads feel like this:
In my mind, this is the chance for Minnesota to melt the Cheese and take firm control of the division. Whether literally due to their upgraded NFC ranking or figuratively in no longer flying under the radar while “incriminating” themselves as competing in the conference, the Vikings can have ceased to plea the fifth. This game effectively subpoenas Adrian Peterson and company to answer the question, “Just how good is this squad?”.
For the Pack, step one is to stop AP running the football. I expect to see Clay Matthews playing more inside linebacker to accomplish this and for the secondary to dare game manager Teddy Bridgewater to throw the ball down the field. We’ve seen great things from Stefon Diggs receiving, but the deep ball is still a weakness for this offense.
Conversely, if I’m a Purple People-Eater, I go on a diet this game and drop back into coverage. With the ground game producing so little, such a nutritional choice may lead to a reward of an abundance Wisconsin Cheddar to feast on as a reward.
Bills v. Patriots
My personal frustrations about defensive players trying to “arm-tackle” New England Patriots MVP Rob Gronkowski aside, the Pats are great, but weakened. Dion Lewis is out as a running back and Julian Edelman is a preferred pass target who may miss the rest of the regular season. If the Bills had an opportunity to close a trap game, this is a good week for it based on New England’s depleted arsenal.
Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor still has the unenviable task of outscoring the talented Tom Brady. Maybe he’s a system quarterback, maybe he’s profiting from talent around him, but the worst case scenario evaluating Brady’s talent is that he knows how to work with what he’s got.
The Bills defense must be at least as sharp as they were in the previous pairing save one thing: Keep a better eye on Gronk. I’m not saying that’s an easy job. In a comic book universe, I’m certain Rob Gronkowski attends as special school for gifted people headed up by Charles Xavier as one of the X-Men. But if they don’t neutralize him, I see the Buffalo circling wagons only for this to happen to them:
Bengals v. Cardinals
I find it interesting that a quarterback that has about as many passing touchdowns as Tom Brady while playing a schedule that is miles more difficult isn’t even among the top four quarterbacks in Pro Bowl voting. Yet the Cardinals’ Carson Palmer shows that as long as he’s healthy, he can get it done. This Sunday he faces off against his former team in the most significant game he’s the played without a striped helmet.
With the Bengals’ receivers posting more drops than the balance of a bank account attached to a daily fantasy sports website in their Week Ten Monday night loss to Houston, the confidence of passer Andy Dalton is likely to be diminished. What an opportunity for Palmer to silence the Red Rifle with the help of his defense and further kick his former football home while its are down.
That aside, it’s not as if Cincinnati is a mere bunch of kittens on defense either. This could prove a difficult task for Arizona.
Bottom line, this is a battle of resolve between the field generals and who eventually makes fewer mistakes. It’s not a matter of genius to say that the team with fewer turnovers wins, but with a pair of quarterbacks that have questions of mental fortitude on their respective résumés, it is a point that is further accented. Here would be a dramatization of what that battle might look like:
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