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From the Press Box: Divisional Round

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From the Press Box: Divisional Round

Welcome to the divisional round where the prizes are higher but the competition tougher!

I was informed by my editor this week that unlike Wild Card Weekend which is an event, while the divisional round isn't.

I don't understand it either, but my point is, leave my capitalization alone.

With that out of the way, let's talk playoffs.

I broke down the various weaknesses of each remaining team at Bleacher Report, but I know some of you guys won't go there so I won't take it personally but will make it easier for you by talking NFL football here.

So let's see what we have on tap for this weekend.

 

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

This is going to be a tough one for the Saints to win—and that's even before factoring in potential thunderstorms.

The fact is that Drew Brees has looked shaky at times this season and he faces an opportunistic secondary in front of a loud and hostile crowd.

You can run on Seattle—St. Louis and, to a lesser extent, Tampa Bay, showed that—but Pierre Thomas is hurt and Mark Ingram has been inconsistent. Still it's probably the best tactic for New Orleans to undertake.

They're going to have their hands full defensively with a combination of Marshawn Lynch running the ball and Russell Wilson throwing it to Golden Tate. I expect Rob Ryan to have a few new answers for the problems the Seahawks game him in Week 13 (an embarrassing effort by an otherwise solid unit) but ultimately this is a team that is going to have a hard time stopping the Seahawks offense.

Let's not forget about Percy Harvin either. While I don't expect him to have a lot of impact in the passing game during his first game back in a long time (and only his second this year), he will field punts and kickoffs and is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL doing that. Field position will be huge and he could provide Seattle with some great starting points.

Ultimately, this is a game the Seahawks should win and I have them doing so to kick off the weekend straight up.

They are favored by 8, which is a tough line in a divisional game, and I wouldn't assume Seattle covers even if they win.

 

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Everyone seems to be on the Andrew Luck bandwagon, but let's pump the breaks on this a little.

We've seen Pats head coach Bill Belichick slap around young quarterbacks before and I expect to see a lot of pressure heading Luck's way to disrupt his rhythm. That said, the Patriots' defense is a mess of injuries that make the Packers say "Ouch." As has been the case all year, the Pats are prime to be beaten.

Ultimately though, the savvy duo of The Hoodie and Tom Brady will roll over Luck—mostly because as banged up as the Pats are, the Colts defense isn't all that exciting.While Alex Smith disappeared in the second half last week (along with the vaunted Chiefs defense), Brady doesn't do that and even with a an injury-decimated offense, he can move the chains.

Straight up, the Pats win this one, but as with the Seattle/Saints game, I'd take the points and the Colts as it should be closer than the 7 line says it will.

Still, in a last possession game, Brady is going to get the last possession and put this game away.

 

San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers

I've been pulling for the Panthers for months, but I think the story ends here and Cindy goes home without Prince Charming.

The difference here is simple: the offense the Panthers defense throttled in Week 10 didn't have Michael Crabtree or a healthy Vernon Davis (he left the game with a concussion).

That's not to say Carolina has no shot—I think unlike the Packers last week, the Panthers have the athletes to keep up with a scrambli9ng Colin Kaepernick as well as get past the offensive line to deliver pressure.

However it's too much to ask them to keep a lid on Crabtree, Davis, Anquan Boldin and Frank Gore. The Niners will move the ball and they will put points on the board.

On the other side of the equation, the Panthers have a banged up Steve Smith, Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell. Greg Olsen is then the biggest weapon for Cam Newton to throw to and it seems an awful lot to ask for him (Newton) to win the game without more support offensively.

In the end, the Niners should win this game and easily cover the one point spread.

 

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

To me, this is the upset in waiting for the weekend.

Over in the article at B/R, I wrote a lot about how over the course of their two games this year, the Chargers and Broncos were fairly evenly matched. The Chargers did an excellent job controlling the clock and the Denver defense is shaky enough to let them do it.

The key here might be the health of Ryan Mathews. Reports are that he is wearing a brace and planning on playing but it's clear he won't be a 100% and that's an issue. The drop-off from Mathews to Ronnie Brown is significant and Mathews is the only running back to have run for over 100 yards on the Broncos this season.

San Diego will want to control the clock and keep Manning off the field. Again, the Denver defense is vulnerable to that—they are statistically the worst defense left in the playoffs and while their offense is ranked No. 1 overall, the Chargers are No. 5—close enough to be a problem.

Something about this game screams for upset. I think Manning has a solid day, but the defense doesn't. While I say the Chargers win outright, even if you think Denver is going to win, the nine points is a great bet.

The Broncos outscored the Chargers in their two games a total of one point. That's all.

Even if the Broncos win, this game is going to be a lot closer than we think. Take the points.

Again though, I believe the Chargers surprise everyone with a win in Denver.

 

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (35) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Arlo's picture

Watching today's games only shows how far the Pack have fallen behind the better teams. TT needs to be bold from this point on or just 'go away'. I remember the 70's & 80's. They were no fun at all.

murphy's picture

The Niners really stacked on the points against the Pack. What did they win by, 3 scores, or was it 4?

TommyG's picture

"fallen behind" is hyperbole. The defense needs some help, but other than that we are a very dangerous team. A couple of different plays or injuries and we would be in Carolina today, if not better.

notbadphotography's picture

One big "DITTO"

Uncle Louie's picture

Let's go Carolina! F the 49er's

TommyG's picture

The Panthers safeties tackle well. The Delay rush is really a weakness in the 9er line as well.

TommyG's picture

SanFran is making the Panthers entire effort look pedestrian.

Stroh's picture

Based on what I'm seeing the Packers are a better team than Carolina.

TommyG's picture

I agree. In the end the Panthers D was torn to pieces, having zero answers for the niners play calling. SanFran scores 23 and wins again. Hey, at least we put up 20 against them.

chris s's picture

I am pretty sure that if we played San Fran 10 times we might come away with one or two wins. The game was almost gifted to us last week and the D botched it by not getting turnovers when they landed in their lap or making key third down stops, which in my opinion is demoralizing.

We simply do not have any leadership on this team. I would have thought AR or CM3 but they never really seem to rally the team in a time of need, maybe AR but he cant really make the D play better I guess.

At this time I am just befuddled as to how we can play a great team four times and not win one of them while splitting the games at home. It shouldn't be out the realm of possibility to beat them once or 25 percent of the time IMO. At this point my only thoughts are that coaching and talent in San Fran is just exponentially superior to that of what is in Green Bay.

I am just at a complete loss as of what to think. I want to say well next year will be better when x, y, and z are healthy but we all know deep down inside someone with a significant impact will get hurt (I have my money on CM3's hammy). From a non subjective epidemiological perspective I am curious how in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 we ranked 25th, 30th, 16th, 32nd and 31st (2013 not yet complete, see: http://www.mangameslost.com/nfl-man-games-lost-december-3-2013/) in games lost due to injury, yet no training and staff changes have been made. The average comes out to around 26 or 27th concerning injuries (years other than 2012 and 2013 see: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2013/2012-adjusted-games-...).

I wonder if the evidence above doesn't suggest a move from the draft and develop philosophy and suggest reliable free agents are needed to maintain a high level of play. Its hard not to wonder if a balanced mix of the D and D (Green Bay) and FA (Washington) is what produces San Fran. Of curse there is always our suspect D but I am beginning to think more and more that poor injury management is the result of our suspect play in that phase of the game.

Sorry for my long rant, just wondering what others think. That and I am really bored watching other teams in the playoffs.

Stroh's picture

You mentioned SF and they have picked up a couple FA. But they aren't spending any money on a Franchise QB. Lets see how well they do when they have 1/4 of their salary cap in Kaeperdork and Aldon Smith like the Packers do. Thompson spent on Woodson and Pickett when he was in position to do it. SF spent on some FA and got a couple useful players that they wouldn't have been able to if they had 30M tied up in a franchise QB and pass rusher.

cLowNEY42's picture

So has any team won a Super Bowl with 2 guys taking up 25% of the salary cap?

If not, why do you think the Packers will be able to?

Might want to explore trading Matthews as soon as his contract gets to a point where doing so won't create a ton of dead $.

He's not as good as he's made out to be, anyhow.

Stroh's picture

I don't know... But I'm not talking about any other teams. Seattle, SF and Carolina are currently paying their QB's very little. I'm comparing how they were assembled to how the Packers were/are. Thompson spent the money for Woodson and Pickett when he was able. Now those teams have been able just like the Thompson did. Lets see who has more SB titles this decade. I think the Packers have 2 or 3 strong SB runs in them in the coming years. Seattle, SF and Carolina are going to have to cut players when they have to pay their stars! Do you seriously think they'll be spending money on FA when 1/4 of their cap is taken by the QB and a great Defensive player?! If you do your f'in delusional!

Or are you suggesting the Packers get rid of Rodgers and start over?

TommyG's picture

I think he means to trade CM to free up the cap space we need in order to sign some serviceable free agents, especially at ILB and Safety.

chris s's picture

The one thing I fear is that I agree with Cow on dumping Matthews and it possibly helping the team. CM3 is probably my second favorite player next to Nelson but it doesn't seem like the defense misses him all that much when he isn't there (i.e. appears to be a poor leader from my TV). Don't get me wrong CM3 brings something to the table no other LB or player for that matter on this team can, which is pure athleticism and maybe a "mean streak" but he does seem way too one dimensional (could be coaching and scheme, IDK anymore) and often injured. I have to wonder what kind of safety we could acquire without CM3's cap number (not that TT would even consider a trade or anything like that)? How high and how many draft picks could we obtain with CM3? With this all said, I probably prefer he remains a Packer.

Another interesting facet to consider is what do the Packers typically get for their soon to be free agents? With TT being so conservative does he hang on to guys too long? Like Raji, who will soon hit FA and result in some sort of compensatory draft pick for the 9th overall draft choice (assuming he leaves). If you ask me that is a poor return on investment. We saw this with Cullen Jenkins (traded for) and Greg Jennings (2nd round draft pick) and probably will with JJ(3rd round draft pick). Not sure if teams are better at trading guys like this, as I never really pay attention to them, but it seems like we should really be getting something for them other than an unknown late round draft pick.

Stroh's picture

Curious where you get one dimentional for Matthews? He is a great pass rusher, plays the run very well and the few times he's been in coverage in his career has shown to be very good in that regard. IMO he's one of the most well rounded 34 OLB in the NFL. He can excel in any defensive scheme!

I would like to see him be more of an on field leader, so I'll agree w/ that aspect.

As for what kinda safety he could bring? Try what kind of Safety Pair could he bring. You can get 2 nearly all pro Safeties for Matthews salary. But safeties by and large are among the least important players on the field. If you find a Great one it can make your Defense very good, but you can be very good w/o a top Safety too. 34 OLB is THE most important position for that Defense.

chris s's picture

I refer to him as one dimensional because on 95 percent of the plays I watch he is running at the QB except for when the defense goes prevent. I know rushing the qb is his best attribute and important but if he is better in coverage than the other LBs why isn't he in coverage more since this is a passing league?

Stroh's picture

Cuz he is far and away our best pass rusher. I know he rarely plays in coverage, but don't think for a second he can't play in coverage. Not to mention his play vs the run. He is the most well rounded 34 OLB. A couple might be as good rushing the QB, not many. A couple might be as good vs the run, but again, not many.

Phatgzus's picture

Congratulations! Your Matthews comment has been nominated for the "Fucking Duh Comments of the Year Award"; if you win you'll be presented with a plaque made of macaroni spray-painted gold, and your choice of a nail gun, or pruning shears that you may put to use for self-lobotmization or castration
respectively. Best of luck!

Alternatively, maybe they Will restructure his contract, though it's not like they've ever done that before...

WKUPackFan's picture

Chris, the rational answer to your overall question is probably SF presents mismatches that GB just can't overcome in the course of a game. That's usually the explanation when one team consistent success over another in close games. That and a dose of luck. It's frustrating from a fan's view. The situation is very much like Dallas in the 90s, although the circumstances are different.

Bad mismatches magnify the others errors during a game because there less margin for error. The strategy mistakes, missed assignments, and mental and physical breakdowns that happen during every game take on more importance.

TommyG's picture

I remember the Cowboys in the 90's. We simply could not beat those guys. The last few years it had been NY, but now it's the 9ers. The 9ers, in turn, are chasing Seattle. Sure, they can beat them at home, but they are getting embarrassed when they have to travel to Seattle.

The luck aspect cannot be over looked either. If Hyde grabs that INT, we would've played today. Back in 2010 Philly was walking down the field. Vick threw to the end zone and the ball was somehow picked off. Just a few inches difference back then would've sent the Eagles to Atlanta.

chris s's picture

I get what you are saying and I know we had the same problem with the Cowboys in the 90's, but I always felt with those teams we could knock them off, however we never did. Maybe I was too young and optimistic and now I am a bitter old Cow (get it?) but I don't feel like we could ever go to San Fran or Seattle and beat those two teams, and I literally mean NEVER. The only way I could envision it happening in my tiny little brain is that they come to Lambeau, which happened last week and we played in my opinion the best game we could have and still lost. Probably no real answer to this question other than cap and coaching (i.e. everything).

Stroh's picture

We went to Seattle last year and won, if not for a completely blown call by the refs on the last play of the game. Soon enough both Seattle and SF will have to pay their QB's, that'll take a lot of other star players off their rosters. This year we were one play away from beating SF. I think next time we face them we'll get over the hump. They have a very short term advantage since their QB's are on rookie contracts. Within 2 years that advantage will be gone, same w/ Carolina who will have to pay Cam Newton soon.

Uncle Louie's picture

What language is Shannon Sharpe speaking in, I can't understand a word he says. Hard to believe the great TV jobs a lot of these loud mouth ex-jocks have. Some are very good and entertaining, most are obnoxious, self serving and in love with themselves.

cLowNEY42's picture

SF, DEN, SEA, NE

The 4 best teams in the league... by far.

I haven't looked at how all of their players were acquired but I'm sure all 4 of those teams rejected the idea of using free agency or trades. Everyone knows the BEST and ONLY way to build a championship - level roster is to draft and ONLY draft.

The TKstinator's picture

Sheesh.
Even I'm getting tired of this, and I have Olympic caliber stamina.

Phatgzus's picture

Leon Phelps right here, that's impressive, unless you're a sprinter, then not so much.

TommyG's picture

Yup, we need to sign a couple FA and have a good draft. We also need to unload some veteran FAs as they are going to be asking for more money than we have cap room to spend. The two monster contracts (AR and CM) seriously hurt our salary cap. We have to have a good draft this year.

murphy's picture

Pretty gutsy to call the final 4 teams 'the best.' Bold.

7 teams have won the last 10 Super Bowls. One is on your list. I don't know what the best way to build a team is, and neither do you.

Jamie's picture

Ouch.

Nice.

Phatgzus's picture

+1

Huzzah!

RC Packer Fan's picture

What's funny to me is how so many people want to talk about how the Packers aren't a well ran organization, and their way of building a team isn't the right way.

Well, in the last 5 years what teams have won super bowls?
Steelers, Saints, Packers, Giants, Ravens...

In the last 5 years who are the only 2 teams to make the playoffs every year?

Packers and Patriots.

That's right, the Packers and Patriots are the only 2 teams to make the Playoffs each of the last 5 years.

The Packers are the ONLY team to make the Playoffs each of the last 5 years and win a Super Bowl.

So in other words, all the Thompson haters. I'm sorry, but he is doing a pretty good job of building a team. He has built a team to be competitive every year.

cLowNEY42's picture

Nice history lesson.

Either the team is getting better or it's getting worse.
Are the Packers getting better?
No.

P.S. I don't think this playoff experience should count. 8-7-1 is bad. They made the playoffs because their division was all-time pathetic. They were not one of the top 6 teams in the conference. Not even close.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I just thought it was an interesting fact and wanted to share it.

I disagree with the Packers are getting worse.
We don't know if they are getting worse because they played the season without their top players for a lot of the games. This season's record really is flawed.
If Rodgers doesn't get hurt they are likely 11-13 win team.

I agree the team needs upgrading at a few positions. Right now I think ILB and S are the top 2 positions of need, pending on what happens in free agency.
But the fact still remains, the Packers are one of the few teams that are competitive every year.
Yes the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. And if this Packers team stays healthy for the whole season, I really think they have a good chance of getting there.

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