Division Round Observations
I caught most of the Denver-Baltimore game on an airplane, and it sure seemed like the Ravens were the better team, overcoming two special teams TDs and a few terrible ticky-tack calls in brutally cold weather and high altitude on the road.
Why did John Fox (or Peyton Manning) hand the ball to Jacob Hester on a key 3rd-and-5? I don't care if there were eight men dropping into coverage, you don't hand it to Hester with five yards to go (or ever really).
Why did the Broncos sit on the ball with 31 seconds left in regulation from their own 20? Don't they have the league MVP?
Anquan Boldin torched the Colts in the Wild Card round, and this week it was Torrey Smith. The Ravens passing game is peaking at the right time. Joe Flacco had 331 yards on 9.7 YPA while Manning had 290 on 6.7. And that's not counting three sacks for the Ravens and one for the Broncos. Moreover, Ray Rice had 131 yards on the ground, easily outproducing the Broncos rushing attack.
Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree will easily be top-10 players at their respective positions in next year's fantasy drafts. The former had an all-time fantasy day with 183 rushing yards and 253 passing yards. Translated to pure passing in a 20/10 6/4 format, and that's 619 yards through the air and 5 passing TDs.
Russell Wilson played like an all-time great quarterback (10.7 YPA, 385 passing yards, 60 rushing yards) in a road playoff game, bringing the Seahawks all the way back, and like Kaepernick will easily go in the top-10 at the position next season.
It looks like the Zach Miller from the Raiders days is back.
The Seahawks probably could have run the clock down further and ended the game, but down six, you have to take the score when you get it. Moreover, the botched clock management at the end of the first half which cost them a field goal try looms especially large.
Matt Ryan couldn't put the game away on two drives in the fourth quarter, one of which ended on an interception, the other on a three-and-out. Of course, he did manage in desperation to march the team into game-winning field-goal range with the game on the line. It's nice that he has that monkey off his back, but I don't think this game moves the needle.
In fact, given how the Falcons salvaged a win from what seemed like a sure loss after Seattle scored (and a loss after a collapse), and given Atlanta's sorry recent playoff history, I think this was their Super Bowl of sorts. I'd be surprised if they were competitive against a Niners team that's a far more legitimate title contender. The line right now is Niners -3.5. and I bet it'll go up to 4.5 at least by mid-week. I'd take SF at anything less than seven.
The Pats pulled away from the Texans in the second half, but the loss of Rob Gronkowski looms large both next week and in the Super Bowl should they beat the Ravens.
Shane Vereen's huge day probably would have been split with Danny Woodhead had he not left with a thumb injury, but it also goes to show how the Pats will use any of their backs in key situations. Of course, Stevan Ridley still went 15 for 82 with a score. Everyone thought the Pats were geniuses for taking two TEs in the same draft and using them creatively, but it might turn out to be the same thing with the backs.
Everything the Texans did on offense seemed difficult, from scoring near the goal line to converting on 3rd or 4th and short. It was always something - either Arian Foster having to roll and barely extend the ball, or catch a short pass on the goal after being stuffed. Even the two-point conversion involved Matt Schaub running for his life and then tossing it up to a covered Andre Johnson who had to muscle it down from Aqib Talib. Gary Kubiak needs to go - there's too much talent to have to eke out 11-yard catches and drive down the field in slow motion when you're down multiple scores.
The Pats-Ravens line opened at 9.5. I'd expect that to drop to around 7.5 to 8, and I could see BAL winning outright.