Monday, January 16, 2017

NFL Playoffs: Finally, some decent games

Saturday was a bummer.  First the Atlanta Falcons (looking for all the world like the team to beat in the NFC) dismantled the overrated Seattle Seahawks and then the New England Patriots did to the Houston Texans what they always do to the Houston Texans: Beat them by double digits.

Houston @ New England (-16 around kickoff). 

It WAS a little different this time, because Houston's defense made New England struggle. They turned over Tom Brady 2 times and they were legitimately in the game at halftime.  The 2nd half was all Brock Oswieler however, a QB who is so inaccurate you'd almost be better off running the ball 99% of the time and relying on a halfback pass the other 1%.

Oswieler is a proverbial "would miss water if he fell out of a boat" QB and that killed any hope the Texans had in the second half.  Add to that an offensive line whose play is offensive, and you have a recipe for a season coming to a thudding end.

Then, there was Coach Bill O'Brien's NFL Mentality strategy.  The Texans never went for it on 4th down, they took no chances, and as a result the (slightly) better team won by 18 points.

And, that's the rub. Talent wise the Texans are equal, if not better, than the Patriots at all of the positions except for two: Quarterback and offensive line.  Defensively the team played well. Yes, they struggled on special teams (giving up a 98 yard return for a TD) but throughout the game they did more to frustrate and bother Tom Brady than most other teams in the league.  By the end of the game Brady was so frustrated he was openly arguing with the referees every time Jadeveon Clowney planted him on the ground.

The problem for the Texans now is that they are seemingly going to repeat the same actions (retaining GM Rick Smith, and HC Bill O'Brien) while expecting different results.  It is possible that team owner Bob McNair is going slightly senile.  If they allow O'Brien to retain Offensive "coordinator" George Godsey you know he has.

Seattle @ Atlanta (-6 around kick-off). 

Throw out all of the noise about Future and Little Bow Wow knocking Russell Wilson off his game. That wasn't what happened here.

The reality is the Falcons (and I can't believe I'm saying this) look like the most complete team remaining in the playoffs.  Offensively they have an obscene amount of talent (Julio Jones is quite possibly the best receiver in the NFC, Devonta Freeman is a load in the backfield and the supporting cast is quite good) and QB Matt Ryan (I refuse to call him "Matty Ice") is playing some of the best football of his career.

Seattle on the other hand is not the Legion of Boom monster that they once were.  Sherman is becoming more and more exposed as just a jerk who hits hard and the rest of the defense is more dirty than nasty.  It's no coincidence that, once they started falling significantly behind, the game started getting chippy.  Offensively the team desperately needs to address O-line, or they're going to be this kind of team perpetually going forward.

Green Bay @ Dallas (-4.5 around kick-off).

Admit it, right out of the gate you thought this one was going to be ugly.  As so-called "analysts" nodded sagely as Dallas fell behind 21-3 it seemed that all of the rote things people thought about the Cowboys were coming true.

"That defense is a house of cards"

"Those rookies won't do well in the playoffs."

Lazy analysts everywhere looked to be having that one game that keeps them relevant, that they can hang their hat on when their "expertise" is challenged.

But, the Cowboys had a different idea.  The defense rallied around LB Sean Lee and Dak, Zeke, Dez and the boys started making plays.  The reality is, both Dak and Zeke are good players who, barring injury, should have long and productive careers with the Cowboys.

But nothing could overcome the sustained greatness of one Aaron Rodgers.

Watching him throw the ball is a lesson in what NOT to do (throw off the back foot, over the middle late, etc.) but it always seems to work out because he's got such a strong arm, such good downfield, vision and accuracy throwing the ball.

Long story short: The Cowboys played a hell of a game, and they were beaten by the best quarterback currently playing the game.

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City (-2 around kick-off).

After Green Bay and Dallas this game had a lot to live up to.  And while the ending was exciting the rest of the game was a rather mundane affair.

Pittsburgh kicked six field goals, and won the game over a Chiefs team that did score two touchdowns and a FG, but who was unable to convert the 2-point conversion on the last because of a horrible hold by their left tackle.

Gripe all you want Chiefs fans, that was a hold and it had to be called.

In a way, I was glad to see Pittsburgh win because it keeps alive what I think is the best remaining SuperBowl match-up, Atlanta vs. the Steelers.  Yes, they are a hard team to root for because their defense has a propensity to hit late and target the head.  And no, that last personal foul wasn't intentional, and there was nothing the DB could do, but it was still a penalty.

L'eveon Bell is the best RB in the league right now, and Antonio Brown is the best WR.  Add to that a strong O-line, good TE play and a quarterback who is above-average, and you have a very interesting offense that can move the ball, but had some difficulty pushing it across the goal-line on Sunday night, something that might hurt them if it continues against New England.

It was not, as many NFL people say, the "best football weekend of the season".  Pick any college football weekend and I'll show you a better one, but it did have (finally) two competitive and entertaining playoff games which is something the NFL has been missing.

Next week we get the Conference Championships, and the odds look as follows:

Green Bay @ Atlanta (-4) [60]

Pittsburgh @ New England (-5.5) [51]

The New England line opened at -4.5, but sharp money moved it almost immediately to -5 and I think it will continue moving up. It's the same with the Atlanta line in the inverse, it opened at -5.5 and immediately moved to -4.

If you like either New England or Green Bay I think you've missed your best window of opportunity.  At this point, I would wait a bit and see if the lines settle back any as the steam guys try and take the other side.

I'll have complete write-ups on these as soon as I get a chance to review.  I've no leans at this time.

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