American Football

NFL Wildcard Round Preview – Part 2

Houston, you have a problem. Your quarterback is awful, probably way worse than we had considered. Brian Hoyer, for whom you’d have to feel sorry for after last night’s abomination, gave one of the worst performances in NFL playoff history.

Hoyer averaged four – yes FOUR – yards per attempt and also threw four interceptions. On the other side, Alex Smith was extremely composed, making some lovely throws, while even having a 65-yard rush ruled out for an illegal block in the back.

K.C. absolutely owned the Texans last night. No team should be beaten up that badly in their own house but the result probably goes to show how depressingly bad the standard has been in the AFC South this season.

The Chiefs are a bit like vintage-era Munster – not the depressingly shite Munster that got humiliated against 14 men last night – in that they do all the basics really well. Though largely unheralded, they will prove a very tough out in this postseason. In fact, we’ll go all out and predict that Any Reid’s men will be suiting up in Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco on 7th February.  This could yet prove to be the greatest year in Kansas City sports history.

Meanwhile, hostilities were resumed between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in a sodden Paul Brown Stadium. This was old-school, grindhouse playoff football between two rivals who have a refreshing sense of loathing for one another.

The Steelers appeared to have the game wrapped up before Ben Roethlisberger’s departure in the fourth quarter. Then, with 1:50 remaining in the game, AJ McCarron hooked up with AJ Green for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown.

However, these are the Bengals and this is the playoffs. The Steelers picked up thirty yards in penalties as a result of Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones personal foul and this disgusting hit from the not particularly likeable, Vontaze Burfict. And, to be clear, Burfict has previous with both the Steelers and wide receivers in general, so there can be no doubt as to his intent.

Anyway, while he may have revelled in the fact that he concussed a blindsided Antonio Brown, the joke is completely on Burfict, as the Bengals yet again found a way to inspire themselves to a seemingly impossible defeat.

The Steelers will be sweating on ‘Big Ben’s’ fitness after falling heavily on his shoulder but unless his arm falls off during the week, expect the incredibly tough, Roethlisberger to suit up against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

The Steelers know that the journey to the Superbowl will have to be done entirely on the road. Don’t be surprised though if, in a fortnight’s time, the Chiefs and Steelers step to it in Kansas City to decide the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl 50.

The NFC takes centre stage tonight as two recent winners, the Seattle Seahawks (2014) and Green Bay Packers (2011) hit the road to the tundra region of Minnesota and Washington D.C., respectively. Incidentally, the Seahawks and Packers last year participated in one of the greatest playoff games of all time, which will unfortunately, be remembered for Mike McCarthy’s numbskull play-calling and Brandon Bostik, like John McClane, being the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. The ‘Hawks won in overtime but it will take a pair of road victories for both sides if they are to renew hostilities this winter.

First, to Minnesota……

Minnesota Vikings -v- Seattle Seahawks: 9th January, 2016 (18:05)

On the face of it, this game should be a foregone conclusion. Just last month, the Seahawks destroyed the Vikings in Minneapolis, 38-7. However, scratch below the surface and the outcome becomes considerably less clear.

Now, to be clear, the Seahawks are rightly favoured, given their success over the past three years, including their demolition of the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 48, and their current form. But for some ridiculous play-calling last year, Pete Carroll’s side would be in the hunt for a hat-trick of Super Bowl victories. So, really, we don’t need to make the case for a Seattle victory.

Since that hiding, the Vikings went on a five-game winning streak, culminating in a road victory in Green Bay and a first NFC North title since 2009.  The result of the sides earlier meeting can’t be ignored but, like anything else in life, football is fluid and things can change.

The Vikings were minus a number of their key defensive players last month – Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr and Linval Joseph –  and the significance of their return cannot be underestimated. With their defence fully intact, the Vikings are an entirely different proposition. And, while offence is what many people come to see, Super Bowl winners with porous defences are few and far between.

Minnesota’s offence relies heavily on running-back, Adrian Peterson, and with good reason. Peterson, in the general news last year for the wrong reason, is the NFL’s finest running-back. Even at 30, traditionally the beginning of a running back’s decline, Peterson led the league in rushing this season.

He did have his feet up last year on the back of Roger Goodell’s characteristically badly-handled investigation, but Peterson’s achievement is something to truly marvel at. Every team knows that the ball is going to ‘All-Day’ but when his dander is up, teams have great difficulty slowing him down. Except, interestingly enough, the Seahawks.

Seattle’s famed ‘Legion of Boom’ are known mostly for the damage they inflict in the secondary but, in tandem with their defensive line, they are exceptionally effective at slowing the rush. Peterson’s impact was completely negated earlier in the season so he clearly has considerable motivation. The best running back in the league, versus the best run defence? Something has to give.

Perhaps the greatest factor, and the one that has garnered all the media attention this week is the fact that the landscape in Minneapolis has, as is customary at this time of year, transformed into the ice planet, Hoth.

Taking wind chill into account, temperatures will drop as low as -23 degrees in tonight’s game. Now, Seattle are no strangers to trying conditions but the Pacific Northwest deals almost exclusively in rain, not arctic cold.

Hoth

The venue for tonight’s showdown between Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks.

Further, the Vikings will line up on the north sideline, which probably has you thinking, “wow, this is probably the lowest ebb of your useless information.” Please, bear with us. The north sideline has the benefit of sunshine until deep into the game. This can actually mean a difference of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, this may seem minimal but it surely gives the home side an advantage. The Seahawks can beat their chests all they want, but the majority of the team will never before have endured what awaits them tonight.

Seattle is further hampered by the fact that Marshawn Lynch, their incredibly explosive running back, has been ruled out by an ongoing abdominal issue. Still, while the ‘Hawks would unquestionably be boosted by Lynch’s presence, their superb run system means that they won’t suffer excessively by leaning on third-string, running-back – Thomas Rawls is also injured – Christine Michael.

The defences are very evenly matched and there may be very little to choose between either side’s run-game. Seattle do enjoy massive supremacy at quarterback, though, as Russell Wilson – a Super Bowl winner in his first season – comfortably trumps the home side’s second year, conductor, Teddy Bridgewater.

RW

Russell Wilson’s experience could prove vital tonight in getting Seattle over the line in a tricky road game.

And yet….. given the temperature, the Seahawks might as well be playing in South Georgia. In keeping with the weekend’s other games, this one’s going to be a low-scoring slog. The Vikings have already achieved their goal for the season so, in a specific sense, they have little to lose. Still, experience is king in the playoffs.

Seahawks by a field goal.

Washington Redskins -v- Green Bay Packers: 10th January 2016, 21:40

To the weekend’s final game, in the U.S. capital, where the Washington Racists entertain Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

If this game was played at start of the season, the Packers would have been eight point favourites. However, after a bizarrely topsy-turvy season, the hosts topped the NFC East, while the Packers found themselves in the unusual position of staring up at the Minnesota Vikings when the dust settled.

The bookies actually have Washington as marginal favourites, effectively making this game a coin toss. How did this happen? Well, the Redskins played in the unquestionably weak NFC East, while Aaron Rodgers lost his main target, superstar receiver, Jordy Nelson.

Nelson went down with an ACL injury during pre-season and ever since, Rodgers – arguably the best quarterback in the NFL – has struggled to find a go-to guy.

Their run game, which came on in leaps and bounds last season has been crippled by Eddie Lacy’s inability to stop eating. The second-year running back has shown glimpses of last year’s brilliant rookie season but has refused to approach anything resembling consistency.

Eddie Lacy 2015

Eddie Lacy in 2015

AND……..

EL 2016

Eddie Lacy now. See if you can spot the difference…..

 

With the RGIII disaster in the rear view, Washington have actually unearthed a half-decent quarterback in Kirk Cousins. Two year ago, it appeared that Cousins was on the brink of an imminent trade but the equal parts odd and sad deterioration of Griffin cast him into the starting role, almost by default.

Cousins thrived as the year progressed and it isn’t as if his coaching staff have tried to hide him. He has a legitimate end-zone target in Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson’s sprinter speed provides the ability to stretch defences and make game changing plays.

The defence has been quietly efficient all season, while a seemingly listless, Alfred Morris, at running back is slowly coming to life once more. Still, as last night’s cautionary tale in Houston proved, winning a weak division can often conceal a side’s deficiencies.

Green Bay’s deficiencies are clear. They have no reliable ten-catch, 100-yard receiver and Rodgers while a certainty to enter the Hall-of-Fame in Canton in the future, is having a down season, by his extraordinarily high standards.

Neither of these sides will be in the conversation come February and it’s difficult to take a good read on this game. Nonetheless, the home side has improved discernibly over the last two months, while the Packers look uncharacteristically toothless.

Cousins and Washington to sneak it in overtime.

S.U.S. Predictions

Minnesota Vikings + 4.0 (20/21)

Washington Redskins to beat Green Bay Packers (20/23)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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