So, the war in Cincinnati has left some considerable battle wounds. After last week’s thuggery from Vontaze Burfict and the subsequent reaction of his teammate Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, the Bengals, for so long lovable losers, have definitely climbed a few spots in the most hated team in the NFL.
Burfict caught Pittsburgh Steelers’, Antonio Brown, with a late, illegal hit which forced the NFL’s leading wide receiver to leave the game under the concussion protocol. The Bengals lost, thanks, almost exclusively to late penalties against Jones and Burfict.
In the aftermath of the game, Pacman Jones – he of the ‘makin’ it rain’ $14.7 million lawsuit – said Brown was over-exaggerating his injuries because obviously, a guy wants to leave the field in his team’s most important game of the season. However, if nothing else, Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones is a bastion of magnanimity and, he graciously offered that if Brown failed to clear concussion protocol for Sunday’s game in Denver, he would apologise.
Lo and behold, Brown hasn’t recovered sufficiently to play tomorrow and Jones, the venerable gentleman that he is, kept his word and apologised. No doubt, the apology will subside Brown’s anger.
This week sees the top seeds in the AFC and NFC enter the fray after their bye-week last week. Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers are the number one seeds in their respective so, in a perfect world that follows seedings perfectly, these sides will enjoy home advantage all the way to San Francisco in February. Which, is certainly an advantage but, as last week proved, when all four visiting sides won, home advantage isn’t everything. That said, the seeding system in the NFL is extremely flawed with a divisional winner often finishing with a worse record than the teams in the wildcard positions. Anyway, that’s another day’s discussion.
Still, there are plenty of examples of Superbowl winners doing it the tough way: the 2008 Giants were the supreme road-warriors, ultimately ruining the New England Patriots unbeaten season with the most ridiculous catch in NFL history. Then, in 2012, Tom Coughlin’s side once more took to the road and again took down the Patriots in the Superbowl. So, being on the road is obviously disadvantageous but it’s certainly not fatal to a side’s chance of claiming the Lombardi Trophy.
Which, leads us to the AFC, and our favourite team remaining in this year’s playoffs. (It’s not the Patriots)
New England Patriots -v- Kansas City Chiefs, 16th January (9:30 p.m.)
Kansas City Chiefs continue to roll. Last week’s demolition of the Houston Texans saw Andy Reid’s men register their 11th straight victory, comfortably the longest winning streak of the sides remaining in the playoffs. Still, the Chiefs are garnering very little respect.
Perhaps, people are still refusing to believe in the tandem of coach, Andy Reid and quarterback, Alex Smith. Reid spent 14 years in Philadelphia, taking the Eagles to the playoffs nine times. However, in the eyes of people who measure success on Superbowl victories, Reid was perceived as a failure in the playoffs. We’re inclined to think that keeping a team at the top table for more than a decade represents unquestioned success, but Philadelphia’s sports fans are notoriously demanding and Reid was told to pack his bags after the 2012 season.
We already spoke about Smith’s relocation to Kansas City in 2012 and so it was that the unlikely duo set out on making the Chiefs a legitimate playoff team once more. And, the last three months have shown that this team are for real. Despite losing star running-back to a season-ending ACL injury, the Chiefs have perfected a game based on excellent pass-rush, a dual-threat running game and in Smith, a quarterback who knows how to protect the ball. Still, they enter Foxborough this evening as five-point underdogs.
This favouritism is hard to credit, particularly when the status of Rob Gronkowski is up in the air. ‘Gronk’ is absolutely vital if the Patriots are to make a deep run into the playoffs. It’s hard to describe him, beyond a 6ft 6in, 19st freak, with exceptional hands and a tendency to make opposing defenders look like flailing children. In effect, he is an auxiliary wide-receiver, which at that size is plain unfair.
However, it is reported that he got an injection in his knee on Thursday and even now, it’s unclear whether he’ll suit up. Returning from a broken foot tonight is Julian Edelman, Brady’s alternative to Gronkowski. At best, both will be banged up, while the worst-case scenario sees only one of Brady’s star catchers line up.
Brady is better than Alex Smith, of that there can be no question, but both show an equal regard for ball protection, the prevention of turnovers. That said, both men will be faced with exceptional pass rushes – K.C.’s Justin Houston will be a game time however – so the likelihood is that we’re going to see a lot of grinding three and four yard carries up the middle.
Brady does have that knack of making plays when it matters but his team has been extraordinarily vulnerable in recent weeks, losing four out of six, and the feeling is that Kansas City are playing at maximum efficiency at the moment.
Kansas City, a small sports market by U.S. standards, has already seen the Royals win the World Series in November. There hasn’t been this much excitement in Kansas since Dorothy Gale and her best buddy Toto got whipped off to Oz. OK, KC is in Missouri State but, anyway, we just get feeling that the Chiefs have grabbed that great intangible, momentum, and there is an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding the Patriots.
It won’t be pretty by any stretch but that’s just how the Kansas City Chiefs will want it.
Kansas City Chiefs by 3
Arizona Cardinals -v- Green Bay Packers, 17th January (1:00 a.m.)
We very stupidly fought with logic last week and went against Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs. Just the night before we noted that Houston had one a shitty division and that the visiting Chiefs were a superior side. The Washington Redskins won an equally awful, NFC East, and yet we chose them as the home side over the playoff veteran, Green Bay Packers.
After a dismal opening quarter, Rodgers dragged his side back into the game with a late flurry before half-time. The Packers cruised from there but it would be remiss to heap all the praise on Rodgers as the Packers defence was immense for the final three-quarters of the game. However, we’re still wondering whether Washington was an average side, which ran amok over its divisional rivals, or whether Green Bay just made a statement last week.
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Green Bay are badly hamstrung by Jordie Nelson’s absence and Eddie Lacy’s ridiculous lack of professionalism but they still have Rodgers and an underrated defence. Tonight, however, they head to the desert and a rematch with the team who gave them a good, old shellacking in Week 16, the Arizona Cardinals.
Arizona overcame the Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC West, and are one of the surprise packages of this year’s regular season. They did lose 36-6 at home to Seattle on the final day of the season but it would dangerous to read too much into the result of a meaningless game.
Led by a resurgent Carson Palmer – who only a few years back was slipping into laughing stock territory – and a superb defence, Bruce Arians side silenced their critics with a game plan that combined explosive offence with an unrelenting defensive unit. Palmer’s go-to guy, the legendary Larry Fitzgerald has been joined by John Brown and Michael Floyd, to form one of the most underrated receiving corps in the NFL.
Meanwhile, in the defensive backfield, the Cardinals possess one of the best ball-hogs in America, in Patrick Peterson. Peterson has risen to the lofty heights of Richard Sherman and Josh Norman, where opposing quarterbacks simply avoid throwing to his side of the field. It makes for a boring night for Peterson but, more importantly, decommissions the opposing team’s number one receiver for the night.
Admittedly, this current Arizona roster lacks playoff experience, and Rodgers was born for nights like this, but, whatever way you look at it, Arizona are a superior team. The Cardinals will be smarting from that home defeat to Seattle, while the Packers rarely get shamed by the same team twice.
How fitting would it be to see a shootout in the desert from two of the game’s premier quarterbacks. History and intangibles say Green Bay but for us, the Cards are quite simply the better team, playing at home.
Arizona Cardinals by 4
S.U.S. Picks: Kansas City Chiefs to beat New England Patriots (2/1)
Green Bay Packers (+7.5) over Arizona Cardinals (5/6)