So, yeah, that happened. Onto football:
Denver over Baltimore
-Denver's winning streak has been recontextualized during the bye. Denver had one of the softest schedules in the league. Meanwhile, Baltimore won a game and folk remember Baltimore does win football games. The criticism of the team has been muted. Ray Lewis is said to be inspiring everyone on the team to play better because he's retiring and they want that ring for Ray (Ray won a ring in 2000). Baltimore beat an over-hyped/matched Colts team. Pierce and Rice ran the ball well, Flacco made clutch throws, the defense made Luck play like a rookie, and they won. Denver's a significantly better team than Indy. They're damn near complete, with the running game being the weakest link of the team. Their come-back against San Diego changed their season. The defense settled in and seemed to remember they were the reason they finished 8-8 last season, beat Pittsburgh, and advanced to the divisional round. Denver won a playoff game with Tim Tebow. They're going to win a playoff game with Peyton Manning. Baltimore's a wild kind of playoff team. They play several notches above their regular season form. Joe Flacco looks like a top 5 quarterback in the playoffs, which is why people drool over him during the off-season, because people's memories are going to shit and they don't remember what came before Flacco's great playoff game. So, Baltimore should never be dismissed in the playoffs. They have experience, physicality, and men who do their jobs (as Dierdorf should point out). I hope Flacco plays the game of his life, so that Dierdorf's inspired to compose sonnets on the spot, revealing Dierdorf as a master of meter.
Atlanta over Seattle
-Atlanta's the team that gets blown out yearly in the divisional round. Soon, it's going to be a sponsored event: "Coca Cola presents the Atlanta Falcons being blown out when the games matter for them again! Of course, I don't think Atlanta's going to get blown out. No, indeed, I think the Falcons will win and defeat America's team, the Seattle Seahawks. Atlanta's the team folk want to disappear whereas the Seahawks are the darlings of America. Atlanta's consistently improved from last season; it's been well-documented. Koetter's transformation of the Atlanta offense from bland and vanilla to somewhat exciting, because of variety, has been well-documented. Yet their 13-3 record is tossed away. It's all about this weekend and finally winning a playoff game. Matty Ice, Mike Smith and Tom Dimitrioff haven't enjoyed playoff success. Meanwhile, the Seahawks come into town on a six game winning streak. The win over Washington didn't convince me they're destined for the Super Bowl, but the experience of picking against them and watching them isn't fun. I felt like they were going to score on every drive, which is insane because their receivers didn't have a 100 yard receiving day until week 14. Once the defense picked off RG3, and I realized RG3 couldn't actually move on the field, I threw my hands up and accepted that I'd fail to be perfect for the 8th season in a row. It's significant when a team makes a dude feel anxious, right? Now, I used to play Streak for the Cash, so I'd feel anxious over a Bucks-Pistons game. My anxious feelings don't mean a thing. Seattle explodes. Marshawn Lynch will run for 4-5 yards on two carries and then explode for 25. Golden Tate will be wide open out of NOWHERE. The defense will try to murder Matt Ryan and pick him off. I think this is a fascinating game. The Falcons need to get the zebra off their back. The Seahawks have so many people swept off their feet. Forget about New England; ignore the Boston bias. This is the game of the weekend.
Houston over New England
-I wrote about the Texans' need to beat New England, that a win represented a shift in the perception of the team. During the Texans rising years, they beat every AFC South team but Indy. Peyton Manning owned them. Houston's better and better each season, but they've never had a signature win that demands respect. New England just demolished them on a rainy Sunday night two months ago. A rested Patriots team, at home, won't be easy to beat. Houston needs to score first and match the Pats each time they score, or they hit Tom Brady a lot. JJ Watt's the X Factor in the game. He dominated the Bengals. An elite pass-rusher is an amazing thing to have on a mild January afternoon in Foxboro. Houston's going to get their signature win.
Green Bay over San Francisco
-Jim Harbaugh changed quarterbacks because he didn't think Alex Smith would take the team to the Super Bowl. This is Colin Kaepernick's moment, the moment he was chosen the starter weeks ago for. Sports writers are waiting for Kaepernick to play tremendously and lead the team to the conference championship for the second consecutive year so that they can write overwrought prose about how Kaepernick cut his knee playing tag in the 5th grade but he overcame that to become a playoff winning quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. If the 49ers lose, Harbaugh's decision will be scrutinized like the writers knew all along the plan would fail, and that he's being punished for switching QBs without stopping to find out how Smith feels about it. Green Bay beat Joe Webb and the Vikings, which is as much an accomplishment as Dawson beating Pacey in the Capeside boat race. San Fran has a nasty defense and an unproven quarterback. Green Bay has a proven quarterback and a totally not nasty defense. I feel like the winner will do more than just win: the winning team will be a microcosm of what it takes to win in today's NFL.
Last Week: 3-1
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