Divisional Playoffs Weekend: Defense Dominates Blog Posts

Waaaaaylp. The first playoffs weekend has come and gone, folks. I went a pretty impressive 3-1 picking the winners of the Wild Card in case anyone wanted to keep track, as if I wasn’t going to tell you anyway. While all of you lame people who whine about seeing the same teams in the playoffs every year and probably about individual awards in elementary schools too got to feel good about four new contenders playing this past Saturday and Sunday, the usual suspects will be facing off from here on out. Because they’re the teams that won enough games to find themselves here and in this great country we call America winners win and losers lose. Life doesn’t grade on a curve, folks, so get over it.

Besides welcoming some perennial winners back into our lives this Sunday we’ll also have the pleasure of seeing a large improvement in the quality of quarterbacks on the field. Wild Card weekend featured Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins, A.J. McCarron, Brian Hoyer, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roeslithberger, and Russell Wilson. Without the latter three signal callers, that group combined for zero playoff wins. Quarterbacks have almost always risen to another level in the postseason and one reason we can attribute to that spike in effort is the opportunity to face another quarterback with a resume more similar to their own. That and the whole, “win or else your season is over and you might lose your job and your own fans might boo you at home” thing.

If you’re a recent addition to the vast legions (read: maybe 20) of 4th & Gyas readers, I would be remiss not to warn you about the fact that I am a huge Patriots fan. What does this mean for you? As long as New England is still alive in the playoffs you will hear a lot about them. Nothing biased, of course, just cold hard facts about why they’re better than any other team they should happen to cross paths on the field with. Here’s the best illustration I can give to explain what this will be like: every Monday for the past couple of months I’ve been watching Monday Night Football at a restaurant called Yard House with a group of friends. Why Yard House? That’s easy, they have a happy hour that extends from kickoff to the end of the game and, among other things, there’s a plate of nachos the size of my head for about six bucks on said happy hour menu. So anyway, we got together for the College Football Championship (still heartbroken for Deshaun Watson who didn’t get the Heisman or Championship he rightfully deserved) and I was explaining my system for picking my Powerball numbers, because who isn’t trying to win that money at this point? My numbers of choice were as follows: 12, 11, 8, 7, 5, with the Mega Number being 21. Give up yet? 12 for Tom Brady, 11 for Julian Edelman, 8 and 7 for Gronk, 5 for New England’s impending 5th Super Bowl trophy, and of course mega 21 for Malcolm Butler the clutch man. Without hesitation my buddy Marcus lit up our group message with a few buddies who couldn’t make it. Yes, that’s what it’s actually like to be my friend. But now to the football! You know the drill people, all kickoff times listed in SBT (San Diego Beach Time).

(2)New England Patriots vs (5)Kansas City Chiefs, Saturday 1/16 1:35 pm SBT

I have to admit, I was a slightly personally offended by the league scheduling the Patriots in arguably the worst of the four game slots. Early afternoon on Saturday just screams snooze-fest. Then I remembered that Bill Belicheck has a time-honored tradition of mercilessly demolishing his divisional-round opponents and realized that the NFL is expecting more of the same from his team this season. Before the thriller against the Ravens last year in which Julian Edelman threw a now-famous touchdown pass, New England had beaten three divisional opponents in a row by scores of 45-10, 41-28, and 43-22. To say that history is not on the Chiefs’ side would be an understatement. However, the excitement of this league is the reality that (mostly) any team can beat (almost) any other team on any given [Saturday] so let’s take a closer look at this matchup.

The Kansas City Chiefs, riding an impressive 12-game win streak after their humiliation of the Texans in Houston, have two philosophies that will only be magnified for the duration of their playoffs run, however long that may be. The first: never turn the ball over. Kansas City posted the 2nd-lowest number of giveaways this season with 15, only 7 of those being Alex Smith interceptions. Their second philosophy, create as many turnovers as possible, worked out pretty well as they took the ball away from opponents 29 times this season. Those numbers were good enough for the 2nd-best turnover differential in the league. The Texans offense was a smorgasbord for Kansas City’s hungry defense, but their next opponent may prove to be a little less generous with the football. The Patriots, owners of the 5th-best turnover differential in the league, set the mark for lowest giveaways in the NFL this season at 14 while also recording the lowest fumble rate in the league. Tom Brady also threw a measly 7 interceptions against his league-leading 36 touchdowns. The first team to give the ball away (if they do at all) in this game could end up regretting it for a long, long time.

Let’s zoom in on Kansas City’s offense for a minute here. Andy Reid’s system features two main receivers: wideout Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce. This season they were first and second, respectively, in receptions, yards, and touchdowns on the team. After losing superstar Jamaal Charles early in the season Kansas City was forced to put their hopes in Charcandrick West at the running back position, who ended the regular season as the team’s leading rusher, edging Alex Smith by about 130 yards. Here’s some bad news for Andy Reid and Alex Smith: Bill Belicheck is best known for neutralizing whatever his opponent is best at, whether it be dominating the run game or driving the field with screen passes. This just went from bad to worse for KC because Jeremy Maclin suffered an injury in the team’s Wild Card win and may not be able to play this Saturday. Should Maclin be stuck on the sidelines, Matt Patricia’s defense could key in on Travis Kelce and force Alex Smith to depend on Albert Wilson and a slew of receivers Smith himself may not have even heard of. The return of middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower will bolster New England’s run defense and allow them to assign Jamie Collins to shadow Kelce throughout the game. Without a big receiver commanding double-coverage down the field, Malcolm Butler and the secondary will play physical man coverage against KC’s smaller receivers, giving Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard time to harrass Alex Smith in the backfield.

When it comes to defense, Kansas City may have one clear advantage that could define the game. New England was hit hard with injuries throughout the season, more a plague of locusts than a bug, notably losing several offensive linemen as recently as Week 16. Although left tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be ready to play on Saturday, the Chiefs’ group of pass rushers could prove too much for the shaky o-line to handle. As I mentioned on Wednesday, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston both returned from injury last week. They join Derrick Johnson, Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey, and Jaye Howard as quite possibly the NFL’s most fearsome pass rushing unit. If you saw the Chiefs in Houston last Saturday (I pray to God you were smart enough to skip that horrific dumpster fire) it seemed like one or more of these men were in Houston’s backfield on every single play. The good news for Tom Brady is the return of his other favorite targets, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Kansas City’s lack of a definitive coverage linebacker will force them to double-team Gronkowski all game long. When that happens, Edelman and Amendola will use their quickness and excellent route-running skills to find space quickly, in order for Brady to get rid of the ball as soon as possible. When the receivers are drawing defenders downfield, James White will be there to exploit the space left open by linebackers trying to disrupt Brady’s passing lanes. The KC secondary of Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, Ron Parker, and Tyvon Branch is among the best in the league, but I’m sure Richard Sherman and Co. would urge them to think twice before underestimating New England’s receivers. The Patriots march on, 30 – 17.

(2)Arizona Cardinals vs (5)Green Bay Packers, Saturday 1/16 5:15 pm SBT

The last time these two teams met in the postseason, Aaron Rodgers kicked away the game and Kurt Warner made one last run at the Super Bowl. History must have enjoyed the storyline she put together that season because once again we see an older, journeyman quarterback (Carson Palmer) revitalizing the Cardinals and trying to lead them to promised land. You know, kind of like how J.J. Abrams thought the original Star Wars was so good that he’d go ahead and make another one. Anyway, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will find this version of the Cardinals much more difficult to dispatch than Kirk Cousins and his amazing throwback Starter jacket.

Arizona’s 13-3 record this season was due in large part to their high-scoring offense that averaged 30.6 points per game, good for 2nd-best in the NFL. With Carson Palmer able to stay on the field and Larry Fitzgerald finally being able to share the workload with dynamic receivers Michael Floyd and Jon Brown, Arizona ran away with the division and never looked back. The Packers took a 38-8 shellacking when these teams met in Week 16 as Rodgers was unable to find any space amongst the Cardinals suffocating secondary. Arizona’s unrelenting defensive line ensured that Fat Lacy had to fight for every yard gained that day, all 60 of them to be exact. Bruce Arians will be hoping to find more of the same success against Green Bay this Saturday.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, who is unable to suit up for this game may end up proving to be more important than those who do. In the past three weeks, Arizona has had to place both defensive-line lynchpin Cory Redding and swiss army knife Tyrann Mathieu on injured reserve. It may not be damning to replace Redding, who was enjoying one of his best seasons since entering the league, but the loss of Mathieu completely alters what this defense is able to do on a weekly basis. Mathieu was a cornerback, safety, and outside linebacker at any given point in any game, and his versatility forced opposing quarterbacks to throw the ball with extreme caution. As we saw in Arizona’s Week 17 loss to the Seahawks, Mathieu’s absence was not an easy fix. As I mentioned about Green Bay’s receivers before, their inability to get open against tight man coverage has been their fatal flaw all season. With big, physical defensive backs like All-Pro Patrick Peterson, Justin Bethel, Tony Jefferson, and Rashad Johnson it won’t be getting any easier for those Packers receivers any time soon. This 19-interception secondary will be looking to goad Rodgers into ill-advised throws as he tries to keep his eyes downfield while running for his life from bear-in-a-human-disguise Calais Campbell.

The Green Bay defense will have to find a way to contain Larry Fitzgerald and Jon Brown, each with over 1,000 receiving yards this season, along with Michael Floyd who posted a not-too-shabby 849 yards himself. Unfortunately, they’ll have to do it without star cornerback Sam Shields, their best man in coverage by far who was injured in Week 17. Expect Carson Palmer to test the Packers’ secondary deep down the field early and often. When Palmer isn’t throwing the ball he’ll have the option to hand it off to the rejuvenated leading rusher Chris Johnson or rookie touchdown-machine David Johnson. Clay Matthews and his pass-rushing cohorts will need to beat one of the league’s most stable offensive lines if they expect to bring down Carson Palmer or disrupt his passing rhythm. Green Bay will be depending on linebacker Nick Perry, whose 4th quarter sack of Kirk Cousins last Sunday was his first significant play since 2011, to take some of the attention away from Matthews and alleviate the double-teams B.J. Raji will see in the trenches. This game may not be the blowout it was just three weeks ago, but I see the Cardinals flying high, 35 – 24.

(1)Carolina Panthers vs (6)Seattle Seahawks, Sunday 1/17 10:05 am SBT

I’m banking on this game to be the most electrifying postseason matchup we’ve seen in years, although last year’s title race did give us some truly awe-inspiring moments. Or, if you’re a Packers fan, just sort of ruined your life and took away your hope for ever being happy again. Anyway, Cam Newton and the Panthers are out to prove that their 15-1 record this year was no fluke, but a notice to the NFC that they’re ready to play with the big boys. While Cam was smiling, dabbing, and giving footballs to kids all season, Russell Wilson saw his team get off to a rough start before putting up 25 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions over the last eight weeks of the season. Not to mention that Carolina hasn’t forgotten the way Seattle manhandled them in last year’s divisional round as they cruised into the conference championship game to the tune of a 31-17 win over the Panthers in Seattle. Much like how Peyton Manning finally beat the Patriots in Indianapolis with a comeback win that can only be described as dumb luck on his way to an equally lucky matchup with Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl, Cam will have the opportunity to dethrone the current kings of his conference on his home field. There’s no doubt that if the Panthers want to be seen as anything more than a pretty good team benefitting from a superhuman quarterback, they’ll have to beat the Seahawks. Meanwhile, Wilson and the Seahawks want nothing more than to play in a third consecutive Super Bowl and avenge their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots from last February.

Despite all of the dazzling numbers both Russell Wilson and Cam Newton have put up over this past season, make no mistake – this game will start and end with defense. Between these two opponents there were nine defensive players named to the Pro Bowl, Seattle’s five and Carolina’s four, and you’d better believe there’s good reason for it. 2015 was Seattle’s fourth season in a row allowing the least amount of points per game to their opponents, a measly 17.3 after 16 games. The Panthers weren’t far behind, allowing a respectable 19.3 points per game, while also leading the league in takeaways with 39, pretty impressive when you consider that the team in second place, Kansas City, forced 29 turnovers.

The defensive units of these two teams are nearly identical in structure. Both employ hulking defensive lines with speedy edge rushers that can devour a quarterback faster than Ed Hochuli can throw a bogus “roughing the passer” penalty flag. For Seattle, Brandon Mebane (and his awesome belly roll) blows up the middle of an unfortunate offensive line by absorbing, and sometimes beating, a double team so that Michael Bennett can attack the “A gap” or the space between the center and guard. Meanwhile, Cliff Avril uses power “bull rushes” to overwhelm tackles and trap the quarterback in the pocket. On the opposite edge, Bruce Irvin uses his speed to “stunt” or deceive tackles, pretending to rush outside and quickly changing direction once his opponent has committed and opened a lane to the quarterback. Occasionally Irvin will just run by a tackle that simply doesn’t have the speed to contain him and make his way into the backfield. Seattle’s d-line quartet produced 25.5 sacks this season. In Carolina, the name every quarterback remembers is Kawann Short. Named to his first Pro Bowl appearance this year, Short excels at attacking the A and B gaps of an offensive line and using his hands to keep opponents from getting a hold of him while he works toward the quarterback. Short’s 11 sacks this season prove you don’t have a to be a quick guy on the edge to disrupt an offense in the backfield.

Let me just go ahead and warn you before we go any further, I absolutely love defense and these two teams feature some of the best you’ll see in the NFL. What that means for you at this present moment is that you now have a choice to make. Either you’re going to stick around for the next two paragraphs about each team’s linebackers and defensive backs, or just skip ahead to when I talk about how fast Cam is. It’s up to you, but if you think I’m not going to spend 1,000 words on the grace and beauty of a Kam Chancellor forced fumble or an Earl Thomas interception well… playedyourself

So anyway, let’s move on to the second level: linebacker corps. Both Seattle and Carolina are led, physically and emotionally, by linebackers they found in the 2012 draft. Luke Kuechly, the first-round media darling, and Bobby Wagner, the second-round pick with questions surrounding his NFL potential. Despite their differing circumstances entering the league, Kuechly (pronounced cooch-ly) and Wagner have cemented themselves as the best young linebackers in the NFL today. Both men are very similar in mold, able to dissect a play quickly and decide whether they are needed to stop a running back or shadow the tight end crossing the field behind them. Kuechly recorded 118 tackles this year, Wagner was right behind him with 114. Wagner is supported by K.J. Wright, an outside linebacker who excels in coverage, and the aforementioned Bruce Irvin, who spends most of his time in a three-point stance as opposed to a traditional outside linebacker role. Kuechly is joined by veteran Thomas Davis and rookie Shaq Thompson, who I just realized is only a few months older than me which is really just sort of depressing since I won’t be on a NFL roster any time soon. In fact, the Panthers franchise is a year younger than me and already a NFL franchise. I knew I should have gone to college, I could have been a NFL franchise by now. Carolina’s linebacker trio is among the best in the league when it comes to making tackles. It is a rare event when a back or receiver breaks out of one of the three’s powerful arms to gain more yards.

The only glaring disparity between the two defensive units, and the one factor that could ultimately decide the game, is in the secondary. Seattle’s Legion of Boom has lost a member to free agency almost every year since 2012 because there’s no comparison in the league for what those defensive backs are able to accomplish. Despite losing Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond III, and Byron Maxwell in the last few off-seasons, the LOB has remained the most imposing group of defensive backs in the NFL. The core members: cornerback Richard Sherman, free safety Earl Thomas, and strong (understatement of the year) safety Kam Chancellor work in harmony with each other to fool quarterbacks and produce turnovers. Sherman’s  ability to attach himself to a wide receiver and cover him step-for-step often leaves a whole half of the field untested. Cornerback Jeremy Lane, who was recently able to return to the field after breaking his arm in Super Bowl XXXXIX, is responsible for the other half. The lesser-known corner is adept at following receivers in the slot who prefer to work the shallow middle of the field, often forcing quarterbacks to look for help in the deep third of the field. However, waiting for them in that deep third are Thomas and Chancellor, the best safety tandem of the past decade. Thomas’ ability to see a developing play and figure out where the ball is going before the quarterback releases it makes him a threat to snag an interception at any time. His speed allows him to lure quarterbacks into bad throws, making it appear as if a receiver is open and then closing on the ball as soon as the quarterback falls for the trap. Thomas doesn’t lack for physicality either and has made a name for himself as one of the league’s hardest hitters as well as a superb coverage safety. The man known as “Bam-Bam” is the final piece to Seattle’s terrifying secondary puzzle. Chancellor has a tendency to blow a coverage from time to time, but makes up for it with his propensity to become an outside linebacker on a given play and stop a run, as well as stop tight ends trying to find space in the middle of the field. Not to mention the fact that his soul-crushing hits have been know to alter the entire course of a man’s life, like when he destroyed Demaryius Thomas in the 2014 Super Bowl. The LOB is known for their “swarm-tackling technique”, which means that as soon as one member of the defense makes contact with whoever might have the ball, two or more defensive backs make it their priority to take the ball away before the runner is ruled down. This technique worked to perfection last week in Minnesota when Chancellor began ripping at the ball as soon as K.J. Wright had begun to tackle Adrian Peterson. Kam is also known for seemingly forcing turnovers at the exact moment when Seattle needs it most, a skill (or celestial gift) that has been seen in both the regular and post season.

Now of course, it would be rude of me to ignore Carolina’s secondary although, honestly, it might be just as rude to talk about them. At the start of this season the Panthers’ core defensive backs were Josh Norman, gray-haired Roman Harper, and the shell of Charles “Peanut” Tillman, ousted from Chicago where he had once been a hero. Now Tillman’s injured, Tillman’s backup is injured, Roman Harper is still old and Julio Jones is scouring rulebooks to figure out how he can play for Seattle this weekend and have his way with this secondary for a third time this season. The bright spot, and I do mean bright, in this unit is cornerback Josh Norman. Norman cemented himself as a star on his way to a Pro Bowl selection as he lined up against opponents’ number one receivers week after week. Norman plays much bigger than his official 6”0’ height, using physicality and speed to keep receivers in front of him while keeping an eye on the quarterback so that he knows where the ball is at all times. Even though Norman is at a height disadvantage when facing most receivers, he uses superior jumping skills as well as his body to cut off a receiver’s path to a ball when it is in the air. Peripheral vision makes the “Dark Knight” one of the best defensive backs in the league when it comes to locating a pass in the air. Unfortunately, Norman has little to no real help in the secondary as Carolina emphasizes using pressure from the D-line to affect a quarterback’s timing and hopefully produce either sacks or poorly-thrown passes.

The final factors in this star-studded matchup just happen to be two of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. Besides rushing for at least 500 yards each this season, Newton and Wilson threw 35 and 34 touchdowns passes, respectively. Because Carolina might have to go another week without workhorse Jonathan Stewart and Seattle is still unsure about the status of Marshawn Lynch, it will be up to these quarterbacks to keep the opposing defense guessing. Luckily, there are no quarterbacks better at making plays with both their arm and legs than Cam and Russ, so each will be anything but one-dimensional should their running back companions be unable to go on Sunday. Miraculously, both quarterbacks have taken unassuming receivers and turned them into stars by sheer force of will. For Newton, drop-prone Ted Ginn Jr had the season of his life with 10 touchdown receptions, but could have recorded at least three or four more because, ya know, he still drops the ball. Wilson’s favorite target, Doug Baldwin, hit a new level of chemistry through the second half of the season, catching 12 of the 25 touchdown passes he threw in that span. When the game is on the line, both signal callers have proven that they can do what it takes to lead their team to victory. This Sunday it will all come down to who has the opportunity at the right time. Both of these squads can lay claim to the “team of destiny” narrative this season, but in the end I think Cam manages to find another gear and beat the bullies of the NFC, 35-31.

(1)Denver Broncos vs (6) Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday 1/17 1:40 pm SBT

The Pittsburgh Steelers are on a mission to once again march all the way to the Super Bowl as a Wild Card team, meaning they’ll have to win three straight road games in the playoffs. The Broncos want to avenge their humiliating defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Colts in last year’s playoffs when the team visibly gave up in the fourth quarter. To make it worse, Luck and his crew got absolutely ran through in Foxboro the next week, making Broncos fans wonder what could have been if only Demaryius Thomas could have stopped pouting long enough to run a route. Ah, well, that’s life. Now Denver will try to take full ownership of the home field advantage they earned in the AFC after New England inexplicably treated Weeks 16 and 17 like preseason games.

Unlike the aforementioned defensive showcase between Carolina and Seattle, this game will start and end with the quarterbacks leading these teams, whoever they might be. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roeslithberger took a gruesome fall while being sacked by the Bengals last Saturday and landed directly on his shoulder, separating it in the process. Big Ben was apparently injured enough to justify sending out Landry Jones to try and win a playoff game who then, of course, immediately threw an interception. However, when Pittsburgh was given a second chance, it was Roeslithberger leading the team down the field for the comeback victory. It was clear during that time that Ben was unable to throw the ball very well and the Steelers commented in the ensuing days that his status for the next game would be questionable. Roeslithberger’s likely limited ability to throw, should he be on the field come Sunday night, will be a major factor for an offense that likes to throw the ball deep down the field at every opportunity. If Landry Jones is the starter when game time rolls around, well, Steelers fans should be a lot less optimistic about this game.

On Denver’s side, Old Man Manning  the Noodle Arm himself has been restored to starting status by head coach Gary Kubiak after he heroically handed the ball off to Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson in Denver’s Week 17 victory over the Chargers. Now before Broncos fans get too euphoric, let’s not forget that Peyton wasn’t starting in the first place because he threw 17 interceptions to only 9 touchdowns through the first 10 weeks of the season. Bailed out by the defense time and time again, Manning consistently put his team in compromising situations only overcome with miraculous fourth-quarter turnovers or overtime luck. Manning showed nothing two weeks ago to suggest that his arm had gotten better, that he would be able to get the ball downfield, or really that he’s anything more than a hit away from involuntary retirement, to be honest. Denver’s receivers are hindered in their ability to beat opponents deep when Manning is at the helm because he just can’t throw a pass 40 yards in the air when Emmanuel Sanders or Demaryius Thomas manages to burn some unlucky cornerback. Not to mention that out of those 17 interceptions he threw earlier this season, maybe 1 or 2 were just unlucky passes that got tipped up in the air and landed in the hands of a safety. Otherwise, he quite literally was throwing the ball directly at his opponents. Brock Osweiler, who took over for Manning for the last six weeks of the season, reportedly has a knee injury that would impede his mobility were he to be called on this Sunday, which he will after Manning’s third interception.

To compound Pittsburgh’s injury situation, Antonio Brown – the guy with 1800 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, took a gruesome hit from linebacker/assassin Vontaze Burfict that may keep him out of this Divisional contest. Brown would be Roeslithberger’s saving grace if he were able to suit up this Sunday because of his ability to take a screen or short pass and turn it into a 20, 30, or sometimes even 50 yard gain. The Steelers are hoping that DeAngelo Williams will be healthy enough to play in this game as well, otherwise it will be up to Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint to produce a steady running game against one of the toughest defenses in the league.

Denver will rely on Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to stabilize their offense this Sunday and find space on the ground on first down in order to keep Manning from facing too many third and long situations where he will be forced to try and throw far downfield. Hillman and Anderson, who rushed for 863 and 720 yards this season, respectively, have been reliable for the Broncos all season long, usually doing their best work late in the game when defensive lines are worn out. The high probability of snow on Sunday shouldn’t be an issue for this duo, who did some of their best work at Mile High Stadium in Week 12 against the Patriots in a game where the refs penalized New England for suspect offensive pass interference, phantom defensive holding, and converting third downs. I know, people, I was there. I saw it all. Anyway, Hillman and Anderson have been aces for Denver late in close games this season when Kubiak is terrified to let Peyton throw because there’s no way he tosses anything but a pick-six.

All things considered, this could be the perfect storm for yet another incredibly lucky situation for Peyton Manning and whatever is left of his right arm. Without Roeslithberger, Williams, and Brown the Steelers basically become an ineffective offense paired with what has been one of the worst defenses in the league throughout the season. As long as Denver’s defense can keep them in the game, which it should absolutely be able to under the circumstances, there won’t be pressure on Old Man Noodle Arm to make too many crucial throws. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this game would almost be a cake-walk had Vontaze Burfict not single-handedly beat their two most important players to an absolute pulp. As it is, I’m confident that this game will be painstakingly close, only to be decided by Manning’s ridiculous luck running out and Pittsburgh walks away with the 20 – 17 win.

What we’re looking at here is quite possibly the most exciting weekend of playoffs football we’ll get to experience for a long time. We also may see a game or two be affected more by the men on the sideline than the players actually on the field. We’ll also be reminded about the unrelenting dominance with which New England has ruled the AFC for the past 15 years. I don’t know about you, but I plan on drinking beer with/high fiving/hugging several random strangers this weekend during the Patriots game. There’s only so much football every year, folks. Get out there and experience all it has to offer.






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