Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Wild Card Weekend

1st Down

What a great weekend of action we have had for the first week of the 2011/12 play-offs.  This week we have witnessed a major upset and our first glimpse of the new play-off overtime rules introduced last year.

During the play-off editions I shall be reviewing that weeks match-ups and myself and EJ will continue with our pros for each team left on how they can advance to the next round.

As always with my very slight AFC bias ;) I shall be starting off with the Bengals vs Texans and Steelers vs Broncos.

Saturday night saw the battle of the two rookie QB's with the starter Andy Dalton taking on the third string TJ Yates.  There were also two of the leagues best defences on show in this one.  It started off as tight as we were all expecting with the first big play being a heave down the field from Dalton to AJ Green leading to a pass interference call which gave the Bengals great field position.   It proved to be a costly penalty as the drive was capped off with a 1YD TD run by Benson.  

We skip forward now to inside the last two minutes of the first half.  With the scores tied at 10 all, we got the key play of the game from JJ Watt.  I still do not understand how he managed to intercept the pass that close to Dalton but he did and ran it back to the house giving the Texans a 17 – 10 half time lead.  Unfortunately for the Bengals it was downhill from there as Dalton threw a further two picks as the Texans defence started to dominate affairs.

Another key factor was the running of Foster and Tate, with Foster running for 153YDS and 2 TDS to help the Texans control the clock and the game.  Although I had the Bengals down to win this one  I was happy to see the Texans win their first play-off game purely because of Andre Johnson, well him and my good friend Justin of course!

Now we move onto what was supposed to be the one-sided affair that was the Steelers vs Tim Tebow's Broncos.  I for one thought the Steelers would not only win this game but were my pick to win the Superbowl.  It just goes to show that in football anything can happen, well that and that Tim Tebow is the Devil lol!  Tim Tebow has had more escapes than the great Houdini himself in my humblest opinion.

Anyway onto the game itself, it was a great spectacle and the only downside for me is that Tebow will once again get all the press but for me this win rests with the game plan of their offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.  Talk about pulling the wool over someone's eyes, like the rest of the world the Steelers defence was so focused on Tebow and the running game that they forgot Denver actually has wide receivers as well!

Denver totally surprised everyone early by throwing and completing some big passes down the field, it's almost like Tebow is a quarterback or something!!  To be fair to Tebow he played very well and executed the game plan to perfection.  Denver despite going down 6 – 0 in the first quarter Denver exploded in the second quarter with touchdowns from Eddie Royal and Tim Tebow, this was rounded off by two field goals of their own taking a lead of 20 – 6 into half time.

In the second half the Steelers made the necessary adjustments and limited the Broncos to just a field goal as they went on to tie the game at 23-23 in the fourth quarter.  This leads us nicely into overtime.

Now the question I have is this, when you have held your opponents to just 3 second half points by dropping a safety into permanent deep coverage why do you then on the opening play of overtime bring 11 up to the line of scrimmage and get beaten by a deep play action pass from Tebow to Thomas going for the game winning 80YD TD pass?

2nd Down

Now we move onto the NFC and the match-ups of the Saints vs Lions and Giants vs Falcons.  I shall start with the Giants vs Falcons.  I think we all had a feeling the Giants would win this one as they were both the home team and the team on form going into the play-offs by sneaking in on the last day of the regular season.

Not only were the Giants on form, people have been questioning the Falcons form away from the Georgia Dome all season.  The game started off intense with both defences dominating early on with neither team being able to get a drive going.  It even got to the point where the Falcons D were the first side to put up points with the pressure getting to Manning and chasing him out of the pocket into the endzone where an intentional grounding call resulted in the award of a safety and 2 points.

Sadly for the travelling Falcons this was the only scoring they would see their team get all afternoon.  The Falcons have some great tools on offence with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Michael Turner and the great Tony Gonzalez.  Unfortunately despite all of these weapons their offence was shut out by the underrated Giants defence.

With the defence holding strong it was left to Eli Manning to win the game for the home team.  Eli started slowly but was able to clock up 24 unanswered points with 2 touchdowns to Hakeem Nicks and 1 to Mario Manningham.  For a game that was billed as a close contest it turned out to be the most one sided affair since New Orleans demolition of the Colts in week 7.

OK so with that in the books lets move ever so swiftly onto the Saints vs Lions.  This was the late game on Saturday night, for me kick off was 1am.  I mention this as due to the timing I remember drifting in and out of sleep so my apologies if the review is a little hazy!

So this one was billed as Brees vs Stafford, the shoot-out at the Super Dome, a battle between two hot QB's.  It started off as just that with each team trading touchdowns.  The Lions managed to take a 14-10 lead into half time   In the second half it seemed to be a tale of missed opportunities for the Lions as they had a couple of plays on defence which should have been interceptions but ended as just incompletion’s allowing the Saints to sustain their drives.

The Saints finished the second half outscoring the Lions by 5 TD's to 2TD's.  Darren Sproles had another monster game and the Saints continue to not lock back after letting Reggie Bush at the start of the pre-season.  Although he only finished with 85 YD's from scrimmage it was his big plays and 2 TD's that destroyed the Lions hopes of advancing into the divisional round of the play-offs

Here is the confirmation of all the scores from this weekend of wildcard action:-

Cincinnati 10 vs 31 Houston
Pittsburgh 23 vs 29 Denver
Atlanta 2 vs 24 New York Giants
Detroit 28 vs 45 New Orleans

3rd Down

Lets now look forward to this weeks divisional play-off action with the Patriots and Packers making their way into the chaos of the play-offs.

We shall mix it up and start with the NFC games beginning with the meeting of complete opposites at Candlestick Stadium between San Francisco and New Orleans.  Here you have the high powered Saints offence against one of the toughest defences in the League.  First up is EJ with the pro's for the Saints:-

EJ - Can the 49ers ground and pound offense keep the Saints offense off the field? They will need to do this to keep what I believe to be the hottest team and offense in the league on the sidelines. If New Orleans gets an early over. This is due to the fact that the 49ers win by their defence being very stout and the offense just making enough plays to earn a victory. They cannot play from behind as they don't have the fire power to catchup with the Saints. New Orleans needs to focus on scoring first and not turning the ball over. If they don't do this, they will press and make the game much closer than what it should be.

Adri – You are spot on their EJ, the 49ers have been a solid team all year because their defence has been so good and Alex Smith has been able to manage the game on offence as well with the help of Frank Gore.  I think in the same way that when teams play the Patriots they try to keep Brady of the field, this is the same way to beat the Saints by keeping Brees off the field.  It is essential for the 49ers to play smart football and utilise their run game.  If Frank Gore has a good day then we could be looking at our first upset of the weekend.  I know the Saints are seeded lower most people see the Saints as the better team due to it's offence and the coaching of Sean Payton and his staff.  Also despite having a bad defence the Saints are capable of getting turnovers and so in throwing situations Smith needs to be focused and not give the ball away.  If they play solid defence and smart field position football the 49ers can move onto the title game.

Now onto the other divisional game in the NFC, the Giants vs Packers in a rematch of their week 13 encounter which the Packers escaped victorious thanks to a last minute field goal from Crosby.

EJ - I feel this is the game of the weekend. The Giants are playing very confidently, however Aaron Rodgers and Company are just too tough. Plus, they are playing in Lambeau Field, where they haven't been beat in who knows how long. I believe it is the best home field advantage in the league. The Packers will also be playing for their offensive coordinator, who just this week lost his son in an unknown incident where his body was found in a Wisconsin River. I feel the Packers are still the team to beat and will be playing with a chip on its shoulder. Priority #1: stop Eli Manning! He has had his best season throwing to targets like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Packers D has got to hit him and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket.

Adri – Whilst the Packers may have an added incentive this week EJ I have a feeling that the Giants may just pull off the upset of the season by beating Green Bay in their own back yard.  For me whilst playing at Lambeau Field is an advantage normally that is because of the weather as well as the crowd.  Lets not forget the Giants play in New York and are used to it being uber cold this time of year.  The Packers defence also lets them down at times as between them and New England they are the worst two this season.  Eli Manning is in the form of his life at the moment and he will be able to take apart the Green Bay secondary like he did in their earlier meeting.  Lets also remember the Giants pass rush led by Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul.  Your right it will be the tie of the round and will have me glued to the TV no doubt!

4th Down

OK so lets finish off this week in the AFC with the games New England vs Denver and Baltimore vs Houston.

Lets start at the M&T Bank Stadium with the Ravens vs Texans:-

EJ - TJ Yates did just enough for the Texans to beat Cincy. How did he do it? Its simple....hand off to Arian Foster. Houston needs to ride on Foster's legs all day through the run game and pass game on screen plays. It was good to see Andre Johnson, who has had an injury plagued year at WR, step up and have a big play. He will need to have a couple of those against a vaunting Ravens defence. I am not a firm believer of Flacco yet, so if the Texans can contain Ray Rice, I feel they can make this game interesting. The Ravens like to throw it deep to Torrey Smith a couple of times a game, so they need to be continually on the lookout for that.

Adri – The Texans really showed up last week on both side of the ball however the Bengals defence is not as strong as Baltimore's.  Baltimore have a tough front 7 who will make it really hard for Foster and Tate to control the game like they did against the Bengals and it is also full of play makers like Suggs and Reed.  Reed and the defensive backs will make it hard for TJ Yates to complete even the simplest passes.  Lets also not forget that with the emergence of Torrey Smith this season coupled with Ray Rice means they can score from anywhere on the field and it will be difficult for the talented Texans defence to contain.  This should be another great tie but I could also see it being very low scoring.

Lastly we have the Devil Driven Broncos vs the Brady led Patriots:-

EJ - The Broncos will have to play their best game all year if they stand a fighting chance against the Patriots. New England destroyed Denver in Denver about a month ago and made Tebow look like he was lost. I have a hard time believing as does everybody, that Tebow will be able to replicate what he did against the Steelers in the first round. He will need to play just as well and Demaryius Thomas needs to keep coming up with long reception plays. The Broncos running game needs a 100 yard plus rusher to keep the potent New England offense off the field, so McGahee needs to step up! The Broncos D simply need to knock Brady around. Teams that have beaten NE have been able to make Brady feel uncomfortable. Welker and the Gronk/Hernandez combo make NE dangerous. Denver faces a daunting task both on offense and defence.

Adri – The Broncos showed last week that they can pass the ball as well as rely on their running game.  The problem they have this week is there is no shock factor if they do come out passing thanks to last week.  You can bet your bottom dollar that Belichick has been sat in his office all week dissecting where the Steelers went wrong and how they were able to contain Denver in the second half.  We also have that amazing offence of New England which in their earlier season meeting proved to be too powerful for Denver's defence.  New England has a lot of weapons that can hurt you all over the field.  You have the record setting Gronk, Wes Welker and when they are covered you have Branch and Hernandez to defend and they are not too shabby either!  I think this one should be dominated by the Patriots from about half way through the second quarter and they wont look back.

This week sure looks like its going to surpass the excitement of last week and baring the Texans vs Ravens game there will be bags of offence to feast your eyes on!

I hope you have enjoyed my weekly spin and as always ladies and gents 'Thanks for Stopping By'

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