This is an exciting weekend in the NFL! Well, for a little less than 1/3 of the NFL teams and their fans. That is because the playoff road to the Super Bowl begins this weekend with the wildcard round, in a brand new year. And with the new year, we can reflect on the past. Or, in my case, my past football analyses.
We can reflect on how wrong I was about the Oakland Raiders being the worst team in the NFL (Thanks a lot, Titans and Buccaneers) and how right I was about T.Y. Hilton finally taking his place in the tier of elite receivers. We saw Colt McCoy get his shot, something I wait for every season. Granted, McCoy started because every other Redskins quarterback was injured, but I’ll take it!
We now see that I was both wrong and right about what would happen to the New York Jets at the end of the season. John Idzik was fired: I was right! Rex Ryan was fired: I was wrong! It even took until the absolute last day of the season to find out if I was right about who would win the NFC South. Technically I was wrong, since the Atlanta Falcons didn’t take the division. But when a a 7-8-1 team wins a division, there are no real winners.
To bluntly sum it up, it has been a wild NFL season, with the playoffs looking to be even wilder. This is wild card weekend of asinine analysis.
Saturday, January 3
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
Of all the playoff games to be played, this game between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers is the crown jewel of wild card-ness. This isn’t exactly a great thing in terms of good football, but it is a treasure trove in terms of football news.
The Arizona Cardinals turned a lot of heads this season, racking up a 9-1 record with with Drew Stanton, when Palmer had his seasonal “old man” injury. The Cardinals’ defense was crushing runs; Andre Ellington was eating up the clock and the NFC West crown was within reach. Then Drew Stanton went out with an injury, leaving the Cardinals with rookie Logan Thomas and a veteran Ryan Lindley, who both started the same number of games last year. Suffice to say, the Cardinals dropped a pile of games at the end of the season and limped to a wild card berth.
The Carolina Panthers? I’m not sure if they’re the best worst team of the season or the worst best team of the season. The Panthers took the NFC North with a 7-8-1 record, which isn’t the worst record for a division champion, but it comes within half a game. Maybe their blowout against the Atlanta Falcons last week was a statement game. Maybe it was an anomaly. Either way, the Panthers are hosting a home playoff game, which means that they will have to endure the sort of criticism that the 2010 Seattle Seahawks endured with their 7-9 playoff-bound record.
With these two teams stumbling into the wildcard round, it’s really anyone’s guess who will continue to stumble deeper into the playoffs.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
John Harbaugh doesn’t get the respect he deserves. Just because he doesn’t wear khakis, or take the ball away from his quarterback during pregame warmups or showcase what are either dance moves or temper tantrums on the sidelines, John Harbaugh has lived in the shadow of his younger brother Jim for the past few seasons. Even a Super Bowl victory against his brother’s San Francisco 49ers didn’t help John earn the respect he deserves. I think he should start wearing a shirt that says “The Winning Harbaugh” so that we pay attention to him. He just may be on the road to another Super Bowl.
The Pittsburgh Steelers also seem to be on their way to a Super Bowl, which nobody would have suspected. Sure, Ben Roethlisberger keyed up on Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell wasn’t hit with a suspension this past season. But it didn’t feel like a winning season. The Steelers lost to the New York Jets. How great of a season can it really be? With Bell out and the Steelers defense still searching for the Fountain of Youth (and finding James Harrison instead), this may not be a happy weekend in Pittsburgh.
It’s division rivalry football during the wild card round of the playoffs. At the very least, you know someone’s feelings will get hurt.
Sunday, January 4
Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts
The Bengals made the playoffs! I know, I was surprised, too. But Red Rifle Andy Dalton managed to do enough not to lose more games than the Bengals won. Yes, the Bengals were almost shut out by the Cleveland Browns (final score: 24-3), but they returned the favor later in the season with a true, full-blown shutout (final score: 30-0). Giovani Bernard has come into his own as the featured running back, with rookie Jeremy Hill acting as a change-of-pace back. The defense hasn’t been spectacular like in recent years, but it’s good enough.
The Indianapolis Colts have been the exact opposite. Andrew Luck has reached the star status that I thought would happen next season. Most Colts fans have forgotten that Peyton can be a boy’s name too. Trent Richardson did his best impersonation of last year’s Trent Richardson. The defense didn’t do much of anything, just like in the Peyton days. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw surprisingly almost lasted a full season before getting injured. SO CLOSE!
Now the Colts host the Bengals team that they shut out earlier this year, in what should be an extremely offensive game. Luck’s beard and Dalton’s Joker smile won’t help matters.
Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Ndamukong Suh didn’t consciously try to crush Aaron Rodgers’ leg when the Detroit Lions played the Green Bay Packers for the NFC North title last week. That’s a lot of body to just stop dead in its tracks, especially after a 350-pound offensive lineman has been pushing you backwards. It looked like Suh’s decision was to step backwards on Rodgers or topple right on him, which could have caused some major damage and, ironically, an upheld suspension for the first week of the playoffs. So the Detroit Lions defense will stay as strong as it has been all season, balancing out the team’s high-powered offense. It’s this balance that got the Lions into the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The Dallas Cowboys have some good balance too, for once. And they proved me wrong about having the worst defense in the NFL. I was wrong, guys. I’m sorry. They were only the 14th worst. DeMarco Murray put on a running back clinic that the Cowboys haven’t seen since Emmitt Smith, and almost got through the season injury-free. Tony Romo didn’t fumble the ball in the crucial last seconds of the last game.
Unfortunately, one of these teams will have to revert back to their normal postseason status: sitting around the pool, or playing golf, or beating punching bags with pictures of quarterbacks taped to them. I’m rooting for the team with blue on their jerseys.
Patrick Emmel is a sports humorist who once punted a soccer ball fifty yards to his teammate, who then scored the only goal for his college intramural soccer team’s season. Seriously, that kick was placed PERFECTLY. He is also still a believer that Colt McCoy is going to break out as an NFL quarterback. You can read more of his obnoxious commentary at This Jeer In Sports and heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.