I’m back, baby. After getting only one prediction right in the wildcard round, I got three out of four games right in the divisional round to make me 4-4 in the playoffs so far, and I’m feeling good about the conference championships. I’m going 2-0 this weekend. Don’t call it a comeback, hater.
That said, the last round of games left the football world with a lot to think about and anticipate. Will defense or offense win out when the Ravens meet the Patriots? Is Alex Smith the most clutch player to ever be clutch? Will ESPN finally shut up about Tim “Not Actually the Second Coming of Jesus Christ” Tebow? Hint: the answer to that last one is no.
I’ll start with the Patriots game. I saw three things that, if they continue, will mean certain doom for the rest of the NFL. First, Tom Brady had all day to throw now with a healthy offensive line. The Broncos have a pretty good defense, yet they barely touched Brady all game. With all that time, Brady threw for six touchdowns on his first nine possessions. The Ravens must pressure Brady to win. Second, the Patriots defense looked nothing like the 31st ranked defense it was in the regular season. Maybe it was simply the Broncos making them look good, but they seemed revitalized by the return of Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung. Finally, the Patriots looked like they are out for blood. They took apart the Broncos efficiently and with surgical precision. It would seem they’re hitting their peak at the right time.
On the other side of the AFC, we have the Ravens. Their defense is as formidable as ever. Despite being led by rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, the Texans have some formidable weapons in running back Arian Foster and wide receiver Andre Johnson, and though they both gained significant yardage, the Ravens were able to hold them in check enough to win the game. However, one thing the Ravens didn’t do well was put pressure on Yates, as he wasn’t sacked in the game. As I said, if they can’t pressure Brady, they will lose.
The Ravens looked pedestrian at best on offense. Ray Rice was ineffective and Joe Flacco did just enough to win. The Texans have a great defense but they were also missing a few starters. Finally, the play of safety Ed Reed bears watching against the Patriots. He sustained an injury on the last play of the Texans game, and though it won’t keep him on the sidelines, it will be interesting to see if he is hobbled at all.
The NFC was far more interesting than the AFC. The Giants totally embarrassed the Packers, who many had picked to win the Super Bowl this year. The Packers only really scored six points on offense, as their two touchdowns came as a result of a phantom roughing the passer penalty and a fumble that was not ruled a fumble. Also, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are beastly. I’m not yet convinced that the Giants can sustain their current level of play, but the 49ers are certainly in for a tough game this weekend.
Speaking of the Niners, their game against the Saints was my personal favorite of the weekend. It showed to me that Alex Smith is a legitimate leader and is a threat with his arm because of how accurate he is. He is not going to beat himself with mistakes. That’s Michael Crabtree’s job. The Giants should focus on shutting down Vernon Davis. He is clearly Smith’s favorite target and he is an incredibly talented receiver.
The most important thing that I took from this game was that although only one elite offense is left in the playoffs, it takes both offense and defense to win in this league. Most of the Niners game was a defensive battle, but Drew Brees still threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns, and the Niners really only won once Smith started making plays on offense. Defense does not win championships. A balanced team does.
In conclusion, I have thoroughly enjoyed the playoffs so far. Defense is back in the NFL, which is awesome. No matter which two teams make the Super Bowl, I have a feeling it will be one of the best championships in recent memory.