Things We Learned About the Winners from NFL's Divisional Weekend
What a weekend of football, as the top-seeded teams in the AFC remained on par with key playoff wins. The NFC had a divisional round for the ages that began with a seesaw battle between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers. The lead changed four times before the Niners claimed victory with seconds remaining in the game. Then, the New York Giants disrupted the Green Bay Packers' plans for a memorable season.
Here are the things we learned about the winners from divisional weekend:
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For most part, the Baltimore Ravens defense played well against the Houston Texans. Luckily, LB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed came up with big plays to help preserve the win. They need to do a better job of stopping the running game, as a good rushing attack will allow a quarterback to throw the ball more efficiently downfield.
Their pass rush was non-existent, as the Ravens recorded no sacks against QB TJ Yates last Sunday. The defensive secondary has far exceeded all expectations this season, but they will need some support if the Ravens are going to advance to the Super Bowl.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots defense has turned their game up a notch, as head coach Bill Belichick finally found all the right pieces to have them running on all cylinders. The subtle change of moving CB Devin McCourty to safety and S James Ihedigbo to the nickel back position has allow them to play their best ball all season.
The Patriots knew the Broncos were going to try to run the football, as the front seven clogged the middle and forced QB Tim Tebow to stay in the pocket. His receivers couldn’t gain separation from the secondary to extend the defense.
New York Giants
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New York Giants WR Hakeem Nicks has done more in two playoff games (13 receptions for 280 yards and four TDs) than most wideouts have done for an entire playoff career. Each of his touchdown catches have been momentum-changing plays in both Giants playoff wins.
Nicks has been precise in his route running, as he is looking to make damage once coming out of the cut. The entire Giants receiving corps has the ability to catch the short pass and turn that play into a long touchdown run.
San Francisco 49ers
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The verdict is still out on San Francisco 49ers QB Alex Smith as a signal-caller; some in the Bay Area feel the defense is the main reason for a NFC West Division championship this season.
Say what you want about him, but Smith does whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s running a quarterback sneak for a touchdown or splitting the defense with an accurate game-winning touchdown pass. He’s a terrific game manager that rarely makes the big miscue to lose a game.
Doubters will have to re-evaluate their opinion of him after the playoffs.