NFL Playoffs 2012: Divisional Reviews and Conference Final Previews
The playoffs have been nothing short of outstanding so far this year, and I’m here to help you take in everything that has happened so far and preview what we might see next weekend in the AFC and NFC Championships.
Who’s off to the Super Bowl? Who’s leading their team down the field with two minutes to go (as if the picture doesn’t give that one away)?
Who will leave their mark on this year’s NFL playoffs? If I haven’t driven you away with those lame remarks, please do keep reading.
Recap: New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
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This was one game I was really looking forward to heading in to the Divisional Round.
The New York Giants came out really strong against the Atlanta Falcons and made a statement—crushing them 24-2. From that moment, I knew if anyone was going to knock off the Packers, it would be New York.
Their defense was great, their offense was flowing and their overall team effort looked impressive.
The Giants did just what I expected them to do: They upset the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the Green Bay Packers. The Giants’ defensive line ate up Green Bay’s offensive line all game, forcing Rodgers out of the pocket and into some rushed decisions.
In my opinion, that’s what really put them over the top. They found a way to pressure one of the league’s best passers.
Eli Manning had a strong output at 330 yards, three touchdowns and only one interception. Manning looked great out there, and that one interception really was a lucky bounce into the Packers’ hands. Manning will be very confident going forward.
Hakeem Nicks had yet another monster game for the Giants—posting 165 yards with two touchdowns. Nicks seems determined to lead the Giants to the Super Bowl this year, or at least re-establish himself as the go to receiver.
Sorry, Victor Cruz.
The Giants seem to have found a way to run the ball as well. Despite the misleading numbers, the Giants ground attack balances them out on offense and makes you really fear the play-action pass.
The Giants are looking really good and have drawn comparisons to the 2007 team that won the Super Bowl.
Tom Coughlin can rest assured that his job is safe—for now, that is.
Recap: San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints
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Despite being the No. 2 seed, many, including myself, had the New Orleans Saints picked as the favorite to win the game.
I did not believe that the 49ers defense was good enough to shut down Drew Brees and his offense, which would force Alex Smith into a shootout. Looking at those two names—Drew Brees and Alex Smith—almost begs for laughter. Alex Smith in shootout with Drew Brees? It was so laughable at the time, I even made a funny remark about it on Twitter.
Man, did Alex Smith prove me wrong.
With nine seconds left on the clock, Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis with a pass for the touchdown to win the ball game. The same man that was nearly booed out of the arena last year had just shown some shades of Joe Montana, delivering a clutch throw.
What a difference a year and a new coach can make for the man that had been labelled a big-time bust the year before.
Alex Smith had 299 yards and three touchdowns on the day—not bad for a QB that was deemed no good last year, eh?
Since I brought up Vernon Davis, how about his game? He had 180 yards and two touchdowns. Those are not TE numbers (unless you’re Rob Gronkowski). Those are the numbers of a go-to wide receiver. It was an incredible day for him: I think he really established himself as the man Alex Smith wants to throw the ball to.
Outside of him and Crabtree, there isn’t much receiving talent. Where oh where is Braylon Edwards now?
The 49ers defense was really key in this one. They proved they could shut down an elite offense. They’ll have their hands full next week when they host Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
Recap: Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans
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Another great matchup: two great defenses, two elite running backs and one great game.
I'm not too surprised at the outcome: I saw the Ravens’ taking this one the whole time. The Ravens were actually my preseason favourite to come out of the AFC, and they might just do that with one more victory.
The Ravens still win football games the old fashioned way (as opposed to the way every other team does these days), through great defensive play. The Ravens have had that amazing defense for what feels like forever.
Led by Ray Lewis, that defense headlines some solid players and playmakers. Lewis' robin, Ed Reed, the man that hopes to take the reins when Lewis is gone, Terrell Suggs, and the moving mountain, Haloti Ngata are only a few.
One thing they’ll have to do better next week is defend the run.
I still can’t believe those words came out of my mouth. Foster ran for a whopping 132 yards with one touchdown on the Ravens last week. I don’t care if he’s one of the best (if not THE very best) back in the league, I don’t care if he’s inspired to avenge an earlier poor outing against the team and I don’t even care that he was coming up big for his team in the playoffs.
There's no excuse to allow those kind of numbers.
I will give credit where credit is due: The three interceptions were great to see. It’ll be much harder next week, but they’ll need a few takeaways if they want the victory.
Another thing that has to be better: the play of QB, Joe Flacco. Despite the victory, watching Flacco at certain times was absolutely brutal. This is definitely not a game he’ll be telling his kids and wife about.
I know this sounds like a broken tape recorder, but for the love of God, Baltimore needs a new QB. Joe isn’t horrible, but I’d like a better option. Anyone want to roll the dice with Matt Flynn? I do. Until then, Flacco will have to step up if the Ravens hope to book themselves a trip to the Super Bowl.
Recap: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
Yeah, try Brady throwing an NFL record six touchdown passes (an NFL postseason record), with five of them coming in the first half (also an NFL postseason record), instead. Brady and the New England Patriots demolished the Broncos in this one.
Brady, as just mentioned, had 6 touchdown passes to go with 363 yards and a quick kick. Just felt throwing that last one in there. Despite all the talk about Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers this season, Brady once again proved why he is still the class of the league and undoubtedly THE best QB in the entire National Football League.
Maybe Drew and Aaron can cheer Tom on from home?
The Patriots tore apart the Broncos defense so badly in this one that I was ready to file a Missing Persons Report for every single player on that defense. Yes, I know they had one interception, but if I didn’t just mention it would you even recall it?
On the other side of the ball, the Patriots defense really solid for once. They really gave the Broncos a hard time: The Patriots stepped up in a big way on the defensive side of the ball. That’s definitely something to look for next week.
It's obvious Brady can win football games all by himself—he’s The Comeback Kid for a reason, but it’s nice to give him a helping hand regardless.
Brady and the Patriots will host the Ravens in what will be a classic matchup of offense vs. defense.
Preview: Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots
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Two of my favorite teams are going to do battle in the AFC Championship: the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots. No matter the outcome, this writer will be a happy man.
Nonetheless, I do have a prediction on this one.
The Ravens did an excellent job intercepting T.J. Yates last week, but Tom Brady is a whole different beast to tame. They need to get Suggs, Ngata or somebody in there to throw Tom off his game, because if he gets the protection he wants, then the Ravens might as well pack up their bags and leave. Brady was delivering absolute strikes last week against the Broncos—if he does that again, not even Ed Reed will save them.
On the other side of the ball, Ray Rice needs to slow down the pace of the game. He only had 60 yards against the Texans, averaging 2.9 YPC.
For Ray Rice, ouch does not do this one justice.
He needs to have a solid 100-plus yard game with a few touchdowns for the Ravens to hang in there. If anything, they need first downs to keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.
This one could really go either way: What really matters is if the Ravens defense can get to Tom, but I’ll assume they don’t accomplish that in this one. Brady throws for 300-plus yards, three touchdown passes and perhaps even a rushing TD at the goal line using the QB sneak.
Patriots win, 31-24.
Preview: San Francisco 49ers vs. New York Giants
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I keep going back and forth with this one.
So, I’ll do what most writers do when in a situation like this: make the biased prediction. I will take the Giants over the 49ers in a VERY close game.
Despite San Francisco being a tough place to play and the defense looking top-notch, I think the Giants will pull this one out. Hakeem Nicks tore it up in his first two playoff games. If they try to key in on him, then the Giants hit the home run because Cruz takes over.
If by some miracle the 49ers keep Nicks AND Cruz in check, there’s still a guy named Mario Manningham ready to do some damage.
The new and improved Giants defense looks like it can hang in there with anyone these days. So whether its a shootout with Smith and Manning or a defensive battle with the two teams, the Giants are ready for it.
Here’s the simple X-factor: The Giants are the hot team right now. Not only have they won four in a row, they won four in a row against the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers. Game by game the opponent got tough, and the Giants responded with a victory each time.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Giants are more than prepared and will take this one with a score along the lines of 24-21.
A Giants-Patriots Super Bowl rematch from 2007? I’m down for that.
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