It’s Division Round Weekend in the NFL, and just because the Bucs are on the outside looking in for another year doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the postseason as pure football fans. We here at The Pewter Plank took a moment to sit down and talk about what we think will happen this weekend and who will still be standing when the smoke has cleared on Divisional Round Weekend.
1. The Packers and 49ers met in Week 1 and San Francisco looked unstoppable. But while it took them awhile, the Packers look to be getting hot. Was last week’s game against the Joe Webb-lead Vikings a gimmie, or are the 49ers in trouble?
Josh Hill: Well I’d say last week’s game was a fluke, because the Buccaneers could have blown out a Joe Webb lead Vikings team. But there is the new variable of Colin Kaepernick that wasn’t there week 1 and I think that’s going to play the most pivotal role in the game. Alex Smith is a pocket quarterback, and Kaepernick is the guy the Vikings were hoping Joe Webb would be last week. The Packers haven’t really played a team with a mobile quarterback this season and I think if Kaepernick can keep his head straight the Packers are going to be in trouble.
Leo Howell: I don’t think what the Packers have done the past 2 weeks is all that impressive. In fact, I’d say they’re showing weaknesses on either side of the ball. The Packers are a strong team and the 49ers cannot think they’ll have anything “easy,” but the Packers late game success against the Vikings was more a product of Joe Webb’s ineptitude than the Packers performance.
2. The Houston Texans stumbled through their last few games an honestly weren’t that impressive last week against the Bengals. Cincinnati almost pulled off the upset, so does that mean the Texans are now motivated thanks to a close call or will the Patriots blow them out like they did earlier this season?
JH: It’s going to be a blood bath. The Texans are a good football team, but the Patriots live for playoff football and we see it every year. New England is slow out of the gate, they lose a few games they should win but as soon as December rolls around they’re an unstoppable force of nature. Tom Brady might be one of the best post season quarterbacks ever, as he lives to just crush other people’s dreams when it counts the most. Houston can run the ball, but their defense needs to put a clamp on Brady right away and even then it might not be enough to stop him.
LH: The scene is set for a blowout, but I wouldn’t count out the Texans. They have all the pieces to frustrate the Patriots, and now have a chip on their shoulder to perform thanks to the blowout earlier in the season. The NFL Playoffs always prove to be a different animal than the regular season, and the Texans need to start proving themselves as a top-tier NFL team. I would hesitate to agree with anyone predicting a blood bath, and would rather say the Texans will make it really difficult for the Patriots to advance.
3. Ray Lewis might be playing in his final game this weekend. If the Ravens are eliminated, will you be sad to see Ray Lewis leave the NFL, or are you indifferent to his status as an NFL icon?
JH: I was about 9 years old when the whole murder thing happened, so I really didn’t get as involved with it as other people did. Looking back, it’s a shady, shady series of events and I think it needs to be forever noted that he was in some way, guilty or not, involved with a murder. Having said that, the NFL is all about redemption and Ray Lewis personifies that. Here’s a guy who stood trial for murder and 13 years later he’s rehabilitated his image so much that the commissioner wants to make him his special aid to player relations. Ray Lewis is far, far from being a saint but he’s one of the first legends I ever grew up watching so it’s a pretty significant milestone in my life. I’m sad to see him go.
LH: I won’t miss Ray Lewis as a person at all. His dancing antics and over-the-top pregame speeches can go with him into retirement. The situation surrounding the murder trial is beyond what I feel comfortable judging definitively. But he was a FANTASTIC player, and for that he will definitely be missed. He made such an impact from the middle linebacker position, and was the heart and soul of one of the best defenses in the history of the league. When I set aside my bias against Ray Lewis the person, I am sad to see Ray Lewis the player go.
4. Some people said before the season that the Broncos look to be a one-and-done team in the playoffs. Now that they’ve caught on and secured the No. 1 seed, do you think Denver will be one-and-done or will Peyton Manning drum up some old postseason magic?
JH: Well you’ve got to look at two things: one is Peyton Manning is not the same guy even though he’s putting on a good act. He knows the pressure that’s on him and while he thrives under pressure, he might struggle in his new environment. In Indy, he knew the system and knew the unit and in Denver, he’s still learning the ropes to a certain extent. But the Ravens struggled at the end of the season and frankly, the Colts didn’t put up that great of a fight. If Baltimore struggles early, we might see Peyton lock this one up and manage the game, as that Ravens offense doesn’t give me a whole lot of confidence against that Denver defense.
LH: All week I have said that there’s no way the Ravens stand a chance, as their weakened defense will stand little chance of slowing down Peyton. But as game time approaches, and the scenes from Denver flash across the TV screen, I am beginning to have my doubts. Peyton is a precision quarterback who had his best days dominating inside a dome, and he will be forced to play in cold, snowy conditions. Home field advantage is certainly a big deal in the NFL, but Peyton is not a veteran of Mile High in January, and I think he may struggle just a bit. That being said, there is more to the Broncos than Manning, and his struggles may not sink the ship.
5. Russell Wilson is the only rookie quarterback left standing in the playoffs. But his chances are still pretty good of continuing this run, as he gets a Falcons team that has a gigantic monkey on it’s back. Will the Falcons find a way to screw up their post season for a third straight year, or will they finally figure things out and score more than two points?
JH: They’ll score more than two points, but this Seahawks defense isn’t one to sleep on. Matt Ryan is electric throwing the ball, but Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are two of the best cornerbacks in the league. If they start to rough up Julio Jones and Roddy White, we might see some passes sail incomplete because these guys don’t want to get hit too hard. It’s hard to have confidence in the Falcons and I’m not saying that as a snotty Bucs fan who wants to see them crash and burn. I actually pity them because they put together such awesome teams and fail so spectacularly. I think this will end up being the best game of the weekend but somehow the Falcons figure it out. I can’t say much more for them beyond that though.
LH: I don’t think that the Falcons have the killer instinct to win a close game in a big situation, and that’s what they’re going to have on their hands today. The Falcons seem to be like the early Dungy-era Colts, a good regular season team with weaknesses that are exploited in the post season. Matt Ryan has slowed down since his hot start to the season, and the Falcons lack anything resembling a running game. The Seahawks have an offensive identity and a defensive juggernaut. I think the advantages are clear for the Seahawks, and the Falcons will need to play a better than average game to have a chance to win.
6. Alright, let’s etch it in stone: who are the four teams that advance from Divisional RoundWeekend?
JH: Falcons in a close one, Broncos, Patriots and 49ers in another close one.
LH: Seahawks hold on to win, Broncos come back to win, Patriots win by a touchdown, and the Niners in a blowout.
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