Game(s) Of The Week:
There was far too much great football this Sunday to focus in on just one game, so for the final week of the 2013 regular season, let’s mix it up a bit and call this section the Game(s) of the Week.
The two win-or-go-home match-ups that we all had our eyes on lived up to the hype and then some. Let’s first head to Soldier Field where the Packers took on the Bears for the NFC North.
Back in university I had a couple classes with this girl. We seemed to really hit it off and went out a couple times and used to talk all the time on the phone; all that kind of stuff. Just when I figured that my efforts were about to pay off, she dropped the bomb on me that her boyfriend was back and she couldn’t see me.
This story probably seems out of place to you, but it sounds awfully familiar to the Chicago Bears right now, except that their prize was the NFC North and Aaron Rodgers is this mystery boyfriend that wasn’t supposed to be around.
Rodgers’ first game back after missing seven weeks with a broken collarbone wasn’t magnificent, but when the game was on the line he made the type of game winning throw that keeps GMs up late at night searching for their very own franchise quarterback.
Down by 1, with 38 seconds to go, Green Bay was facing a 4th and 8 from the Bears’ 48-yard line. Just when it seemed that Chicago’s up and down season would end on a high note, Rodgers found Randall Cobb wide open for a 48 yard game winning touchdown.
Could the Packers of 2013 be the Ravens of yesteryear? Another dark horse underdog? Not like, they’ll host a red-hot 49ers team in the Wild Card round and as much as I’d personally love to see Kaepernick fall flat on his face, I don’t see the Niners losing that one.
In Dallas, the Cowboys lost to a division rival with a playoff berth on the line for the third year straight. This time around it was to the Eagles, and after taking the NFC crown for themselves, Philadelphia will host New Orleans next weekend.
Kyle Orton nearly got to play hero after tossing a 32-yard touchdown to Dez Bryant to pull Dallas within two at 24-22, but he was unable to tie the game on the two-point conversion effort. Orton’s pass to Bryant in the end zone fell incomplete.
The Cowboys defense then held suit and got the ball back for one last possession, but Orton threw an interception on his first pass and once again the ‘Boys will be watching the playoffs from the sofa. All in all, Orton did a solid job on such short notice. He threw for 358 yard with 2 TDs and 2 INTs, it’s too bad that fans only seem to remember the “last” INT, you know, the one that takes place right before everyone heads to the exits.
In the AFC Wild Card race Pittsburgh nearly pulled off a Christmas miracle after completing three of the four “mathematically still alive” requirements needed for Big Ben and the Steelers to sneak into the playoffs: Pittsburgh beat Cleveland 20-7, the Ravens dropped to the Bengals 34-17, and the Dolphins couldn’t get anything going against the Jets and had their season ended in a 20-7 defeat.
To add insult to injury, all three accomplishments took place in the first slate of games leaving the Steelers to lie in wait to see if Kansas City would provide them the last bit of help they’d need out in San Diego. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. The Chargers are in the playoffs for the first time in four years after topping the Chiefs 27-24 in overtime.
A couple other important games were Seattle taking care of business with St. Louis 27-9 in a penalty filled affair to seize the NFC West and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, as well as Carolina slipping past Atlanta 21-20 to win the NFC South and a first round bye. There’s a good chance these Panthers will get their chance to avenge their opening day 12-7 loss to the Seahawks in the NFC Championship. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
Performance Of The Week:
Performance of the Week? How about Performance of the Season.
Peyton Manning capped his Cinderella campaign with four more touchdown passes to pile on top of his already record breaking total. Over 16 games, Manning tossed an incredible 55 TDs. That’s an average, an AVERAGE, of 3.4 touchdown passes per game.
In 2013 the guy is simply unstoppable. But guess what? If he doesn’t take the Broncos to the “Promised Land”, nobody is going to remember the records he broke.
Oh yeah, that reminds me, he also set the NFL record for most passing yards in a season with 5,477. He eclipsed Drew Brees’s mark just before half-time on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas. Peyton went ahead and took the second half off.
Biggest Upset Of The Week:
It’s hard to really call it an upset when the Chiefs rested nearly every single one of their starters for this one, but nonetheless, the Chargers had to beat a superior division rival (again) in order to get into the postseason.
The wildest play of the game, and one that kept San Diego’s game winning drive alive, was a fake punt on a 4th and 2 from their own 28-yard line. On the trick play, Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle rushed for just enough to get the first down.
What really made this such a gutsy call was that the game was in overtime. A failed attempt would have given the ball to KC in field goal range. I guess the Bolts figured that a tie would be just as bad as a loss in terms of playoff position, so it would be equally risky to give the ball back to the Chiefs with limited time left in the extra period.
At any rate, Nick Novak kicked the game winner from 36-yards out and the Chargers will get the change to continue their string of good luck against the 3rd seeded Bengals.
What To Look Forward To Next Week:
While this title head makes sense most weeks, it’s kind of a ridiculous notion at this juncture. What is there to look forward to next week? The playoffs! And Commentary Box Sports will break down all four Wild Card match-ups later in the week.
So without further ado, here are my final prediction results from the regular season: (1-1), I scored with my Pick of the Week (Green Bay over Chicago) and was way off in thinking the Raiders had any chance of knocking off the Broncos.
Before we take a deeper look at every single Wild Card game scheduled for next weekend, I’d like to assign a dark horse and a Goliath to follow through the 2013 playoffs.
Let’s start off with the Goliath.
Just to make sure you all know the story. Goliath was a giant dude back in biblical times, to be more specific he was a Philistine warrior. Anyhow, some kid named Dave flung a rock at Goliath and knocked him out cold. Little guy beats the big guy, we all get the picture. This all should have been covered back in Sunday school.
So, our Goliath is the playoff “BYE” team that is most likely to fall in the divisional round, and I am going with New England.
While the Patriots have enjoyed a first round bye for an incredible four years in a row now (eight times total during the Belichick era) they are not dominant on either side of the ball. They lack consistent playmakers (aside from Brady and maybe Edelman) on offense and they are ranked 26th in the league in total defense. The only playoff team with a lower ranked D is Philly. To compare, Seattle and Carolina, the two BYEs from the NFC, are ranked #1 and #2.
New England has won 12 games because they play as a team, and because Tom Brady is their quarterback. If Brady has an off day, it’s game over.
For a dark horse I am taking the Eagles. They are a team that has been consistently improving since mid-season and Foles and McCoy are both on fire. They play OK on the road and have the ability to outscore anybody.
The Saints and Niners make good cases as well, but really, I think that they are both too good, regardless of their Wild Card status, to be considered “dark” horses.
I don’t think that the Chargers will have much of a chance in Cincy, where the Bengals have been dominant of late, and even at home I don’t see the Packers moving the ball against the Niners, especially not on the ground (sorry Eddie Lacy).
So there you have it. If history repeats itself I’ll be totally wrong on both accounts.