This season’s Wild Card round may have been the craziest I’ve ever seen in my long 21 years of life. So bizarre was it that I found myself in a Redskins bar singing along to “Hail to the Redskins” and having my heart broken when the Packers remembered how to play football. The looming Divisional matchups are sure to dazzle and amaze, but before we move on let’s review what we learned about the four advancing teams. Losers will not be analyzed because winners write the history books, folks, and that’s just the way it is.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs, winners of the only uninteresting game from the past weekend, taught us the least out of any of the four Wild Card winners, who were all on the road by the way. KC’s lack of revelation was due in part to the fact that they were facing off with the undisputed worst team in the playoffs. The Houston Texans were perfectly positioned to make the Chiefs look like a Super Bowl favorite. Before I go any further let me clarify that Kansas City has now won 12 straight games and just shut out a playoff opponent on the road. However, Brian Hoyer threw four interceptions on Saturday and maybe one of them was actually directed at a Houston receiver. Hoyer’s passes were either on the ground or 15 yards ahead of his nearest teammate. Kansas City did have the benefit of seeing Justin Houston and Tamba Hali return from injury just in time to disrupt Houston’s one-dimensional offense. And by one-dimensional I mean when the Chiefs assigned double-coverage to DeAndre Hopkins it seemed like Brian Hoyer had absolutely no idea what to do. So we learned that Kansas City thrives on forcing as many turnovers as possible while rarely ever making any mistakes of their own which is as close as I can tell to a perfect playoffs strategy. Not a whole lot of excitement there.
The Steelers vs Bengals Wild Card Grudge Match Extravaganza was basically just two teams trying to hit each other as hard as they could until their opponents gave up. The first and most overlooked lesson from this game was the dominance of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. Between backup running backs Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint who you’ve still never heard of even if you watched the game, the Steelers gained 167 rushing yards against one of the toughest defensive units in the league. At this point Ben Roeslithberger could hand me the ball and still gain about six yards on first down. Whether or not DeAngelo Williams is healthy enough to play in the Divisional Round the Steelers can still count on their offensive line to create significant production in the run game. We also learned that when I tell you Martavis Bryant does nothing but score touchdowns I absolutely mean HE DOES NOTHING BUT SCORE TOUCHDOWNS. Bryant burned yet another secondary that keyed in on Antonio Brown and hoped for the best.
Finally, we all knew that Ben Roeslithberger is a sub-human cyborg who doesn’t actually feel pain like the rest of us do, but on Saturday he took this truth to a completely new level when he SEPARATED HIS SHOULDER and then led the Steelers to victory. It just defies everything we know about life itself and it’s beautiful, I tell ya. Oh, and we also learned that Joey Porter is still the biggest Bengals hater in the great US of A and somehow managed to get on the field after Antonio Brown’s brutal injury to bully Cincinnati just one last time.
What did we learn about the Seahawks this weekend? I barely know where to start! I’ll start with this: all due to respect to the Vikings and their up-and-coming defense, but had it not been -6 degrees on Sunday that game might have ended 30-9 in favor of Seattle. Russell Wilson’s “pedestrian” receiving corps consistently found separation behind Minnesota defensive backs Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes, and Trae Waynes. Were Wilson able to put his usual zip on the football, Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin would have torn that secondary apart. As it was, though, the field was colder than those few leftover burgers you put in the back of the freezer after a cookout and then forget about until two months later when you’re scraping them off of the wall. What we did learn about Seattle is that they’re still the same miracle-making demigods they were during their first and second Super Bowl seasons. In many crucial Seattle games there are key moments you can showcase as the exact point when fate turned in their favor. On Sunday, however, there were several to choose from. Exhibit A: Doug Baldwin’s ridiculous one-handed snatch in the middle of the field defied physics and what a man should be capable of doing with his body in those ridiculously low temperatures. Number B: The bad-snap turned 20-yard completion. I mean, does it get any more Seahawks than that play? Let’s break it down. Russell Wilson, not at all ready for the football to be snapped, sees it whiz past his head as he’s still adjusting his mouthpiece and getting set for the play. He then has to sprint at least 10 yards backwards to jump on the ball. Now, in this situation your average quarterback is going to lay on the ball and take the loss of down, more than happy to live with the lost yardage for the benefit of still having the ball. However, unfortunately for the Vikings, Russell Wilson is not your average quarterback in any sense of the word. Wilson then got up, scrambled to his right to avoid the oncoming surge of defensive linemen, and found Tyler Lockett in the middle of the field who had escaped his defender in the confusion. Locket caught the pass, headed for the sideline, and took the ball down to about the 10 yard marker. For me, there was no doubt in my mind about the outcome of the game after watching that game. #3: Kam Chancellor’s forced fumble off of Adrian Peterson solidified that Seattle was officially in control. When the Seahawks really need it, the defense almost always seems to come up with the exact play that demoralizes the other team while convincing Seattle’s payers that the game is not quite over yet. K.J. Wright basically put Adrian Peterson in a UFC-caliber arm bar leaving him only one hand to try and protect the ball with. When Kam Chancellor is on the field that’s just never going to be good enough, folks.
Personally, I learned that a bad penalty against a defense can make me root against anyone. When Kam Chancellor was flagged for pass interference in the fourth quarter because Kyle Rudolph ran directly at him and shoved him into the ground I immediately wanted nothing more than to watch Minnesota be sent packing. So was I screaming for Blair Walsh to miss that kick? Yeah, I did it. Did I laugh maniacally when said Walsh missed said kick? Yeah, I did it. Was I completely inconsiderate of the anguished Vikings fans sitting just 20 feet away from me? You bet ya!
Green Bay Packers
Coming into Sunday’s Wild Card showdown with the Redskins, Green Bay was on a losing streak in road playoffs games. In fact, they hadn’t won on the road in the postseason since their Super Bowl season in 2010. What we learned about the Packers this past weekend is that not a whole lot has changed. Had Desean Jackson paid attention to the goal-line for once his life and stretched out his left arm, Washington would have taken an early 9-0 lead after their defense forced a safety for the first score of the game.
Instead, Jackson didn’t score, the Redskins screwed up the ensuing drive and had confidence issues from that point on. It was the same old story for Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense for most of the game with his receivers unable to find space in the secondary. The less experienced Redskins defense became discouraged after two or three “Rodgers has too much time, scrambles for seven seconds, finds Randall Cobb for 20 yards” plays and couldn’t recover. As much as we may have begun to believe otherwise this season, we all learned that Aaron Rodgers can still take apart your entire defense at any given moment with both his arm and his legs.
The most important lesson learned by all this weekend was that the NFL playoffs are still the most exciting sporting event in the world and they’re barely getting warmed up. Not including that Texans-Chiefs game, of course, that won’t count as a playoff game because Houston wasn’t technically bowl eligible. Be sure to check back later this week for analysis of the big Divisional Round matchups headed our way this weekend. Until next time!