Oh my stars. I need myself a mint julep after all that excitement. Wait, what? Forget I said that. The NFL’s Divisional Round had a lot to live up to after the drama of Wild Card Weekend, but I’d say for the most part, it did its job. There was hard-hitting action, points a’plenty, and windy/wet action. (Hey gurl.) I came into the weekend’s action with a record of 1-2-1 against the spread. Time to see how I did in The Final Drive of the Divisional Round!
(14-3) Seattle Seahawks 23
(12-6) New Orleans Saints 15
An early 6-0 lead for Seattle turned into a 13-0 margin after the Saints’ Mark Ingram fumbled to start the second quarter. New Orleans’ special teams hadn’t done much of anything up until that point. with a 16 yard punt and a missed field goal on their resume. Those blunders gave Seattle excellent field position on their field goal drives. The game was barely a quarter old and it felt like the Saints had no chance whatsoever in the rainy weather of Seattle.
Percy Harvin tried to make his presence felt for the Seahawks, but he was nearly knocked out of the game from an illegal hit on a catch early in the first quarter and was evaluated for a possible concussion. He eventually came back into the contest, but was sent to the locker room again after laying out for a pass and falling awkwardly. He was ruled out with a concussion, which ended his comeback prematurely. It was a shame, but didn’t hurt Seattle’s chances, thanks to a stifling defensive performance from their secondary and a monster game from Marshawn Lynch. Lynch’s 140 yards and two touchdowns put this game on lockdown.
The Saints caught a few breaks as the game waned on. Drew Brees terribly under-threw Robert Meachem down the field, a throw that was nearly picked off by safety Earl Thomas. But it tipped forward off Thomas and into the hands of Meachem, turning a near pick into a 52 yard gain. Another Brees throw was almost intercepted, but fell to the ground. But New Orleans couldn’t capitalize off these opportunities until it was too late. Seattle’s defense was too stifling. The Saints special teams’ woes continued when Shayne Graham misses a 48-yarder with less than four minutes on the clock, his second whiffed field goal of the day. That miss came on the same drive as the 52-yard catch, negating the big play. (Missing two kicks in a game like this means the Saints will be searching for ANOTHER kicker this offseason.)
This was barely a game until the fourth quarter, when the Saints somehow found their offense behind Drew Brees and receivers that decided to catch the ball. But a late score from Lynch put the game out of reach (and I thought my prediction would hold true for a moment), despite a garbage time score from the Saints and subsequent successful onside kick. New Orleans’ offense couldn’t score a touchdown in the final seconds, especially after Marques Colston decided to throw a forward lateral instead of easily running out of bounds to stop the clock with two seconds left. The game would end with an eight point margin of victory. Which means…
My prediction results so far: 1-2-2
(13-4) New England Patriots 43
(12-6) Indianapolis Colts 22
Andrew Luck had the most foreboding of starts Saturday evening, throwing a near pick-six on the first Colt offensive play of the game. The Patriots used the short field to set up a LeGarrette Blount 2-yard, putting the offense on the scoreboard having barely broken a sweat. A Colt punt gave the Patriots the ball a second time, when Tom Brady started shooting lasers at his receivers on passing downs. But make no mistake, the Patriots were all about running the ball on Saturday, adjusting to the intense wind and rain. They ended up with 234 yards on the ground, proving they are a multi-dimensional offense, in case anyone forgot. (How could you forget?)
It was looking like a Patriots rout until a weird-ass safety in the second quarter. The long-snapper hiked it right over the punter’s head. Panicking, the Patriot punter (who remains nameless) ran the ball down before it crossed into the endzone and tried to make a shitty pass out of it. It obviously failed. (Because punter.) But the ball was pushed out of the back of the endzone, so it was only a safety and not a touchdown that the Colts scored. (Two points is worse than seven, or so I hear.)
The Colts closed the gap again in the third quarter, shrinking the Patriots’ lead to as low as six points. But the Patriots weathered their comeback with the first rushing touchdown from Stevan Ridley, who followed up with another run past the goal line for a 2-point conversion. Up 14, the 35 yard pass from Luck to LaVon Brazill halved the Patriots’ lead, but never game anyone the impression that the Patriots weren’t in control of the game.
When a fourth Blount touchdown was tallied early in the fourth, Patriots were just rolling all over the Colts and it was time for the ridicule. The Luck-Puns were flying all over the room. Some were obviously terrible, but others were subtle as hell. When Luck was seemingly at his worst, that’s when we whipped them out. (My friends and I had decided everyone got two Luck-puns per period, but that they rolled over if you didn’t use them. It was complex.) But Luck fueled the fire with something aside from his terrible decision-making when he came to the sidelines and made this face:
That’s going to haunt my dreams. He’s like a shaggy dog that’s just come away from the water bowl. Gross. Luck’s performance left a lot to be desired, especially when compared to the workman-like performance (and dashing good looks) of Tom Brady. Luck’s FOUR interceptions gives him a stunning seven in the postseason, after only throwing nine throughout the entire regular season. There’s work to be done for the quarterback in his second offseason. But it’s fitting that his first and last throws of this game were picks.
My prediction results so far: 2-2-2
I… wha… really? You’ve got to be joking here. Six games into the playoffs, I’ve pushed on 1 and 8 point spreads. It’s just absurdly odd.
(14-4) San Francisco 49ers 23
(12-5) Carolina Panthers 10
This was the game we all expected it to be, right down to the hard-nosedness and toughittude that everyone predicted. San Francisco was the recipient of an early INT from Cam Netwon, who threw it behind Brandon LaFell. LaFell got a hand on it but couldn’t reel in the ball, keeeping it alive for Patrick Willis, who made his first ever playoff interception. *Golf Clap*
Riverboat Ron was on full display early for Carolina, going for it on fourth and goal inside the two yard line. Newton was denied on a quarterback sneak, but the Panther defense nearly forced a turnover (could’ve been the shortest pick six ever) and got the Niners to punt. A great return from Ted Ginn put the Panthers in striking distance yet again. Then Newton threw a 31-yard dart to Steve Smith, who was streaking into the endzone. It was now 7-6 Panthers and the home crowd was roaring. Too bad the Niners didn’t care.
The Niner defense held tough with two goal line stands in the first half. The first ended in the aforementioned turnover on downs, while the other gave way to a field goal that kept Carolina’s short-lived lead to only four points. Four and a half minutes later, Colin Kaepernick found Vernon Davis in the endzone for a one yard score, pulling ahead before the break. After throwing it all throughout the first half, the Niners hunkered down with their lead and only threw it four times in the final two periods. The Niner offense wasn’t electric, but they committed to the run with 34 attempts. Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin eight times for a whopping 136 yards, continuing Boldin’s string of epic playoff performances. The Panther defense wasn’t at its best, but it was put in too many precarious situations.
Carolina had two drives in the second half that looked as though they were finding a rhythm against the aggressive Niner defense. If I said a team had a 13 play, eight minute drive, you’d think it should have ended in at least a field goal, but you’d be wrong here. Two sacks at the end of the series netted the drive only 25 total yards and resulted in no points whatsoever. That was a waste of time that would prove precious to Carolina. Their next drive after looked promising as well, especially after they earned 15 yards and a free first down courtesy of a questionable roughing the passer call. But under pressure on nearly every throw, Newton killed his team’s chances by throwing a pick right into the heart of the defense, snagged out of the air by Donte Whitner, who was sitting in zone coverage.
Carolina’s defense started out agitated and ornery, and pretty much stayed that way throughout the game, drawing three personal foul penalties, including a headbutt. One Panther even swung a lame punch. The secondary was especially undisciplined, though to be fair Anquan Boldin was being a tool the entire first half. He needs to draw penalties for all that mouthing off he does. I’m not completely against fun trash-talking. (And to be honest, I love the fights.) But Boldin just does it ALL THE TIME it seems. A single penalty would be a nice way of saying “hey, yes, we notice your BS.”
The Niners are a complete team with another complete win under their belts, and now they head into Seattle for a the rubber match with their NFC West rival. Jerks.
My prediction results so far: 2-3-2
(14-3) Denver Broncos 24
(10-8) San Diego Chargers 17
This was just a prolonged chess match as far as Peyton Manning was concerned. The Crusher of Dreams drew San Diego offsides throughout the game, with a final tally of five neutral zone infractions. (It was hilarious every time, just in case you were wondering.) He played efficiently and didn’t force throws into coverage and the wind, instead relying on his running game to do the damage.
The Charger defense tried to keep it close, giving up only two touchdowns in the first half. Even after Eric Decker drove a punt return deep into Charger territory near the end of the second quarter, the Chargers fended off Manning. Denver drove the ball to the red zone and were nearly guaranteed a field goal when a pass bounced off Eric Decker and into the arms of Darius Butler. San Diego escaped the first half down only 14 points, which is astounding. To better illustrate the Broncos’ first half dominance, here’s a fun stat: the Chargers had 1 yard passing in the first half. ONE. They had 45 yards rushing, but their offense had nothing going for it when the intermission began.
Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen took it upon themselves to rally the Chargers in the fourth quarter, connecting multiple times on the Chargers two fourth quarter touchdown drives. Allen had a tremendous game, racking up 142 receiving yards. (If he’s not Offensive Rookie of the Year it’d be ridiculous.) After the second score, the Chargers successfully converted an onside kick, getting the ball right back and keeping it away from Manning and company. Their drive for a field goal put Denver’s lead at only seven points, and I was sitting pretty with my spread prediction.
Denver received the kick-off and proceeded to milk the clock thanks to clutch throws from Manning to Julius Thomas, who had been finding the holes in San Diego’s coverage all evening. His 76 yards on six catches led the team on a day when the wind was certainly a factor in play-calling. Between Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, the Broncos had 134 yards on the ground, winning them the time of possession advantage over the Chargers for the first time this season.
The Bronco defense wasn’t phenomenal and they certainly never found an answer for Allen, but they sacked Philip Rivers four times and made life difficult for him. They had a great first half, which ended up being enough to earn Denver the win. They’ll be hosting Tom Brady and those pesky Patriots in the AFC title game.
My prediction results so far: 3-3-2
Okay, so I can’t win fake bets gracefully. So sue me. I really didn’t want to end this week with a loss. But I’m not exactly tearing it up. I’m so damn average it hurts.
But that’s it for the weekend! There are only three NFL games left! (Do not mention the Pro Bowl or you will be mercilessly heckled.) Check back later in the week for The Opening Drive of Conference Championship Sunday!