Divisional Round Review
A week after one of the most exciting playoff weekends in the NFL, the Divisional Round of the 2013 season was one that lacked the excitement and shocks of recent years. For the first time in a decade, all four favorites heading into the second weekend of the postseason won their contests to progress to the championship games and none of the match ups were particularly close. After three-quarters, the closest game was New England against Indianapolis, where the Patriots led the Colts 29-22 with 15 minutes to play, but after that they scored 14 unanswered points to have the largest margin of victory of the weekend, 43-22. The other three contests of the divisional round all saw fourth quarter comebacks by the underdogs, though on each occasion they fell short of causing an upset. Perhaps the closest was the least likely, as the Saints rallied from 16-0 and 23-8 down to score a touchdown with 26 seconds left and then recovered an onside kick to get the ball back. On what should have been the second to last play, Drew Brees threw a pass to Marques Colston on the sideline and, if the wide receiver had simply stepped out-of-bounds, they would have been able to run one more down to try to get into the end zone. However, Colston – for inexplicable reasons – decided to keep the play alive as if time had already run out and attempted a cross-field lateral that not only failed to find its target, but was also thrown forward, thus bringing a penalty flag and a run-off of the remaining time on the clock, ensuring the Seahawks progressed to the NFC Championship Game.
Seattle’s opponents in that game will be the 49ers, who followed up their victory in Green Bay with a 23-10 defeat of the Carolina Panthers, who had beaten them in San Francisco earlier in the season. Although Colin Kaepernick had nowhere near as dominant a performance as he had against the Packers in the Wild Card round, he still threw one touchdown pass and got another on the ground, which gave him the opportunity to mimic Cam Newton’s Superman style celebration, a reference to the fact that the Panthers quarterback had been selected first – 35 slots ahead of Kaepernick – in the 2011 draft. However, the real super hero in this 49ers renaissance is Jim Harbaugh, who has taken San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game in all three of his seasons as head coach and has the opportunity to reach the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
In the other matchup last weekend, Denver led San Diego by 17-0 heading into the final period and despite Phillip Rivers leading the Chargers to that many points in the fourth quarter, another touchdown by the Broncos and some crucial third down passes by Peyton Manning helped the home team progress to the AFC title game. During the first half, much was being made of the fact that Manning kept on shouting “OMAHA!” during his snap counts, with the tourist board for the city in Nebraska with that name tweeting about it; and the steak company with that title suggested they could work on a deal if Peyton wanted to give them some in-game advertising should they make the Super Bowl. The actual reasoning behind it was more impressive, as Manning utilized the fact that Denver’s old offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, was now head coach for San Diego and had tried to tip off his defense about the quarterback’s habit on his snap counts; instead it was Peyton who got the better of his former coach, as he got the Chargers to commit five neutral zone infraction penalties – the most for any team since 2001.
Championship Round Preview
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos, Sunday January 19th, 3:o0pm ET
Also known as Brady vs Manning XV, or the contest to cement a legacy. Despite his regular season dominance, Peyton Manning needs a victory on Sunday just to get his playoff record to .500 (it currently stands at 10-11) and he only has one Super Bowl ring to his name, one fewer than his brother Eli. Peyton is not the only quarterback with something left to prove however, as Tom Brady – who has won three Super Bowls with the Patriots – will be hoping to end a nine-year drought, during which time New England have gone to the big game twice, losing both times to Eli Manning and the Giants. Brady has been in the AFC Championship game in 8 of his 12 seasons as a starting quarterback – an incredible record – and a victory on Sunday would mean that he has taken his team to the Super Bowl six times, or in 50% of the campaigns he has played (both excluding 2008, when he suffered a knee injury in the first-half of Week 1 that ruled him out for the year). When the Broncos and Patriots met in Week 12, Denver led 24-0 at the half, but Tom Brady rallied New England to eventually win in overtime, one of only three losses Peyton Manning’s team suffered all year. There are of course 52 other players on each team aside from the two quarterbacks and both relied heavily on the running game in the wins last weekend, but when the reports of this contest are written, it will be the success and failure of Brady and Manning that will be the focus of attention. Prediction: Numerous injuries finally catch up with the Patriots who will not be able to stop Denver from scoring. Broncos to win.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, Sunday January 19th, 6:30pm ET
In their last five contests, the Seahawks have managed to score just 100 points for an average of 20 per game – compared to 28.3 in their previous 12 – and their record in that time is 3-2, while they went 11-1 in their first dozen contests of the 2013 season. One of those losses was against the 49ers in Week 14, but that was played in San Francisco and the last time the two met in Seattle, the final score was 29-3 to the Seahawks. As much as the AFC Championship Game looks like being a points-filled extravaganza, the NFC contest is a meeting between the two teams that finished 1st (Seattle) and 3rd (San Francisco) in points allowed during the regular season and promises to be a defense-dominated game of attrition, with the contest perhaps coming down to which side has the most people left standing. There is also a rule now that you cannot discuss a game being played in Seattle without mentioning the “12th man”, the Seahawks fans who make lots of noise, so there it is, there will be people in the stadium cheering for the home team. Amazing. Prediction: 49ers to advance.