And then there were eight.
True, the wild card round of the NFL playoffs had eight games, but those games usually have expected outcomes. You know, like the Cincinnati Bengals losing in the first round for the fourth year in a row; or the Arizona Cardinals, with Ryan Lindley under center, failing to advance in their quest to play the big game on their home field; or the Detroit Lions not breaking their streak of 24 years without a playoff win. Okay, that last one is debatable this year.
But now we have wild card teams, like the Baltimore Ravens, that have proved themselves playoff worthy by knocking off a division champion. And the four best teams in football return from a playoff bye week to show us how they won so many games. Be warned: this is the last time this season we will have football on Saturday. So we’ll soon have to resort to basketball or hockey or cricket to make the whole weekend about sports.
This is the divisional round of asinine analysis.
Saturday, January 10
Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots
It’s a good thing the NFL doesn’t have the same playoff restrictions as MLB. If it did, last weekend’s rivalry matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers would have never happened. The whole seeding for the AFC would have been off the table, since all teams from the AFC North made the playoffs. Well, all except the Cleveland Browns, but that’s usually what happens anyway. The game wasn’t that great since the Ravens rolled over the Steelers. But it was grinding and dirty, just how I like my football.
Now the Ravens visit the New England Patriots in a rematch from the 2012 AFC Championship. It’s true, the Patriots probably redeemed themselves for that loss last year when they blew out the Ravens 41-7, but this is playoff football. Tom Brady is fresh off of a contract restructuring, which means that neither the quarterback nor coach Bill Belichick will be retiring any time soon. This also means that Tom Brady probably won’t be getting into professional mixed martial arts, even if he has improved his Cobra Kai leg sweep technique since that fateful playoff game in 2012.
All this game is missing is a prime Sunday-afternoon time slot, but that’s the divisional playoffs for you. Every game is deserving.
Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks
Normally when a sub-.500 team limps into playoffs and then wins, they are accepted as the real deal. They’re now on a hot streak, and should be feared by any team they play, regardless of home-field advantage. This is not so with the Carolina Panthers.
I’m not saying the Panthers defense didn’t look awesome, or that their running game wasn’t a clock-grinder. But let’s be honest here: the Panthers were playing an 11-win team that was starting their fourth-string quarterback (Logan Thomas is #3 in my eyes) and a running back I’d never heard of until Andre Ellington got hurt. This wasn’t the Arizona Cardinals that won 11 games. This was the Arizona Cardinals that lost five games.
Now the Panthers find themselves visiting cold and wet Seattle to take on the Seahawks and their version of the twelfth man. Most sports pundits have the Seahawks rolling over the Panthers, but I disagree. The Seahawks weakness is against the run, which Carolina thrives on. The Seahawks are also weak against press conferences, which the Panthers rarely have to deal with.
As long as Carolina return man Brenton Bursin stops his impersonation of an ’80s hair band rock god sliding to his knees whenever he’s about to catch a ball, the Panthers should ground the Seahawks.
Sunday, January 11
Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers
It seems that every year in the playoffs, there is one lingering call that sours every subsequent game for the team that benefited. The New England Patriots had the tuck rule. The Panthers and 49ers had a load of issues each, for the same game. Now the Dallas Cowboys have “home cookin,” as Matthew Stafford would say in the heat of a game that featured a crucial penalty that just magically disappeared. So in a battle between teams that have been inept in the playoffs (or even getting to the playoffs) for years, the Dallas Cowboys finally got a win. So Tony Romo probably had to suspend a few tee times for this week.
Now the Dallas Cowboys visit the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Officials will be on high alert, like they usually are after becoming the center of attention for the wrong reasons. The spirit of Vince Lombardi will probably be on hand, too, coaxing the Pack to victory. And let us not forget the most important individual, the reason that the Packers have come this far, the person that all eyes and television cameras will be trained on throughout the game.
That person, of course, is Olivia Munn.
Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos
This game between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos was fate. It couldn’t be more perfect unless these two teams were facing each other in the AFC Championship.
In one corner we have Andrew Luck, the third-year quarterback who has brought the Indianapolis Colts to the playoffs for the first three years of his career. This past season has been a stamp of legitimacy for Luck, who led the entire NFL in touchdowns by a quarterback and may be the first quarterback off the boards in fantasy leagues next year. With his first playoff win under his belt, Luck is proving all of those “Suck for Luck” shirts didn’t go to waste in Indianapolis.
In the other corner we have Peyton Manning, million-year quarterback whose place in the Hall of Fame is just waiting for him, who was second in the entire NFL for touchdowns by a quarterback. Manning was also the quarterback that the Indianapolis Colts tossed to make room for Andrew Luck. He has done his best to prove that was a mistake by taking the Denver Broncos to the big game last year.
This is the sort of game that was made for Sunday.
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.