Tag Archives: NFL Playoffs

Respect The Greatness

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The Green Bay Packers organization has been around for nearly 100 years and they’ve had some good quarterbacks play for them. This list includes Bart Starr, Brett Favre, and Lynn Dickey. But here in the early stages of 2017, Aaron Rodgers is emerging as the best to have ever done if for the green and gold.

This isn’t Rodgers’ first time around the block as the Packers starting quarterback as he has led Green Bay to the postseason in each year since 2009. Rodgers’ record as the Packers starting quarterback is 90-45 with him being a two-time National Football League MVP and the MVP of Super Bowl 45. This season saw Rodgers throw 40 touchdown passes in the regular season to just 7 interceptions, while passing for 4,428 yards. Rodgers also completed 65.7 percent of his passes and the Packers needed every bit of it.

After 10 games the Packers had a record of 4-6 and it appeared that they would miss the postseason, however neither the Minnesota Vikings or Detroit Lions could put them away in the NFC North. The Packers would reel off six consecutive wins to end the regular season which included victories over the Vikings and Lions. And when it was all said and done, Green Bay had once again won the NFC North. Over the Packers final six regular season games Rodgers threw 15 touchdown passes while not throwing a single interception. But even with that Rodgers has somehow found a way to take his game to new heights this month.

In two playoff games the Packers offense has clicked on all cylinders as they’ve scored 72 points. After the Packers offense was shutout in the first quarter of the NFC Wild Card Game by the New York Giants, Rodgers got it going just before the first half ended with a pair of touchdown throws. Rodgers would finish the game 25-of-40 passing for 362 yards and 4 touchdown throws as the Packers would defeat the Giants 38-13.

This past Sunday at the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, Rodgers didn’t have the services of his top wide receiver in Jordy Nelson who is recovering from a rib injury that he suffered against the Giants. But that didn’t stop Rodgers from leading the Packers on a trio of touchdown drives in the first half as Green Bay took a 21-13 lead to the dressing room at the half. The Packers would extend their lead to 28-13 after Rodgers connected with tight end Jared Cook on a six-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the second half before the Cowboys would rally to knot the score at 28-28 late in the fourth quarter. But as usual Rodgers was totally undaunted as he put the Packers in field goal range which paved the way for kicker Mason Crosby to connect on a 56-yard field goal with 93 seconds left in regulation to give Green Bay the 31-28 advantage. The Cowboys would rally to tie the score at 31-31; however they made a huge mistake in the process.

Once Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey matched Crosby’s 56-yard field goal with a 52-yarder of his own, Dallas kicked the ball back to the Packers with 35 seconds left which was more than enough time for Rodgers to add to his growing legend.

After Rodgers got the Packers a first down when he connected wide receiver/running back Ty Montgomery on a 17-yard pass which put the football on the Green Bay 42, the Dallas defense stiffened. The Packers then found themselves in a third-and-20 situation which would have been too much for some quarterbacks to deal with. But Packers head coach Mike McCarthy had complete faith in Rodgers and his offense as the two-time MVP who led Green Bay to a Super Bowl Title on the same field six years ago scrambled out of the pocket to find Cook on the sidelines for a 36-yard connection. And after a brief debate between the officials, they deemed that Cook was able to get both feet down in bounds while maintaining possession of the football for a catch.

Mason Crosby

Rodgers improvisation would give Crosby another chance to put the Packers ahead. And after Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett attempted to ice Crosby by calling a timeout, he calmly stepped up and made a 51-yard field goal to send Green Bay to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in the last three years.

But the flair for the dramatic is nothing new for Rodgers as in recent years he has made the “Hail Mary” and other unbelievable throws seem like a routine pass as the Lions, Giants, and Arizona Cardinals can all attest to. No lead is safe for a Packers opponent as long as Rodgers in under center as he has done the impossible which is to make the folks in Green Bay forget about the legends of Starr and Favre.

Rodgers once again has the Packers on the threshold of the Super Bowl as all that stands in his way of getting back to the big game is a victory over the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday in the final football game at the Georgia Dome. There isn’t anything flashy about the receiving core that is on the receiving end of Rodgers’ brilliant passes as they are simply along for the ride. But like other great quarterbacks before him such as Joe Montana and John Elway, along with current stars such as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Rodgers has that innate ability to make those around him step their game up as he always seems to rise to the occasion.

This was a Packers team that after losing to the Washington Redskins 42-24 in Week 11 had surrendered at least 31 points in four consecutive games as they appeared to be a beaten team. But Rodgers is the same guy that told us all to “R-E-L-A-X” a few years ago, and in the Packers last six games they have scored at least 30 points in each contest.

Rodgers is only 33-years of age and even though it appears that he still has plenty of football in the tank, he is well on the fast track to joining Starr and Favre in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as performances like the one we say this past Sunday against the Cowboys are what make legends.

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There’s No “D” In Big D

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The 2016 National Football League season saw the Dallas Cowboys re-emerge as a power. The Cowboys went 13-3 which tied their franchise best mark which was set in 1993 and 2007. And just like 2007 when the Cowboys had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, they were one and done in the postseason. But even in defeat the Cowboys can hold their heads high as they were put in this position by a pair of promising rookies.

Ezekiel Elliot, Dak Prescott

Running back Ezekiel Elliot was the fourth overall pick of the 2016 National Football League Draft and he delivered in a big way this season for the Cowboys as he had 1,631 rushing yards which led the league while also having 15 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Dak Prescott didn’t come to the NFL with lofty expectations as he was a fourth round pick out of Mississippi State University. But when starting quarterback Tony Romo suffered an injury in the preseason, it opened the door for Prescott to become the Cowboys starting signal caller. Prescott was merely expected to keep the seat warm until Romo got healthy, however the wins kept piling up for the Cowboys with him under center and thus head coach Jason Garrett decided to stick with him.

And when the Cowboys faced the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, before you blinked they were down 21-3 at home. However it was the combination of Prescott and Elliot who got the Cowboys back into the contest. With just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys managed to tie the score at 28. Even when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was able to put Green Bay in position to kick to go-ahead field goal to make it 31-28 with 93 seconds remaining, Prescott drove the Cowboys down the field to give kicker Dan Bailey the opportunity to once again tie the contest. But with just 35 seconds left, Rodgers found a way to get his team into field goal position which was highlighted by finding tight end Jared Cook and a 36-yard completion on third-and-20 which set up kicker Mason Crosby to make a 51-yard field goal as time expired to win the game for the Packers, and dash the Super Bowl dreams of the Cowboys.

And now as the Cowboys are left to lick their wounds after their heartbreaking loss, it is up to team owner/president/general manager Jerry Jones to address his defense.

The Cowboys were 14th in the National Football League in total defense this season and plus-five in the turnover category which was tied for ninth in the league. Dallas also managed to tally 36 sacks which were 13th in the NFL, but as they had game changers on offense, they were missing that element on defense.

The Cowboys lacked an edge rusher that could consistently put stress on an opposing offensive line, a menacing linebacker, or a game changer in their secondary. And even though that the Cowboys entered the playoffs with the best record in the NFC, it wasn’t a slam dunk that they were going to make the Super Bowl due to their inefficiencies on the defensive side of the football. The Cowboys were able to score points to keep up with the Packers as their rally was sparked by an interception by safety Jeff Heath in the second half. But when Dallas needed their defense late in the fourth quarter to prevent the Packers to get into scoring range, they were missing in action.

As good as Rodgers is, under no circumstances should he be allowed to make a 36-yard completion on a third-and-20 situation as he had enough in the pocket time to make dinner reservations if he needed to. And this is something that the Cowboys must address in the off-season if they want to become a realistic Super Bowl contender.

Randy Gregory

Jones attempted to remedy this by using a second round pick on defensive end Randy Gregory in 2015, but he has more suspensions (three) by the National Football League for failed drug test than he does sacks (1) as he cannot help the team win games while he is rehab. Last spring the Cowboys selected linebacker Jaylon Smith in the second round of the NFL Draft, but a knee injury that he suffered in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl while playing for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish forced him to miss this NFL season. The Cowboys also attempted to acquire defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson from the New York Jets this season. But the two sides could not agree on the compensation as the Jets wanted a first-round selection for Richardson, while the Cowboys were only willing to part with a third.

Improving the defense must be the Cowboys top priority in the off-season as it isn’t a guarantee that Elliot and Prescott can have these kind of seasons in 2017 due to the fact that teams in the National Football League will now have a year’s worth of game film on them. You can’t also overlook that all three of the Cowboys losses came within the NFC East this season as this division is on the verge of once again being one of the best in the league. The microscope will be concentrated on Prescott as I don’t see any scenario in which the Cowboys will keep Romo next season as they’ll definitely look for a trade partner being that so many teams around the league are desperate to have a quality starting quarterback which means that it is Dak’s time.

Jerry Jones

Jones has once again created a buzz around his franchise as he has constructed the Cowboys in the same fashion which led to three Super Bowl Championships over a four-year span in the 1990s. But Jones doesn’t have those impact players on defense in the mode of Charles Haley, Deion Sanders, and Darren Woodson that could take over a game. And until Jones addresses this issue, his beloved Cowboys won’t get any closer to winning the Super Bowl than they did this season.

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The Magic Of Andy Reid

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When Andy Reid became the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999, he took a lump of clay and molded it. Reid inherited an Eagles team that went 3-13 in his previous year, and by 2000, he had them in the playoffs as a wild card. The next four years would see the Eagles make the NFC Championship Game with them appearing in Super Bowl 39 to conclude the 2004 National Football League season. The Eagles would continue to be a perennial playoff team under Reid, but after consecutive years without a postseason appearance in 2011 and 2012, he was fired. And in 14 seasons as the Eagles head coach, Reid’s record was 130-93-1, while he was 10-9 in the playoffs.

It didn’t take Reid that long to land on his feet as less than a week after his firing in Philadelphia, he was named as the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. And in Kansas City, the same magic that Reid had displayed in Philadelphia was put on display rather quickly.

Andy Reid

Reid took over a Chiefs team that only won two games in the previous year. But in Reid’s first year in Kansas City, the Chiefs went 11-5 en route to the postseason. Under Reid the Chiefs have never had a losing season and this past January saw them win their first postseason game since January 1994. And what made 2015 so unique for the Chiefs is that they became the first team in National Football League history to reach the playoffs after beginning the season with a record of 1-5 as they would win their final 10 games.

Here in the 2016 National Football League season, the Chiefs haven’t skipped a beat as their 12-4 record saw them win the AFC West for the first time since 2010, while securing a first-round bye for the first time since 2003. The Chiefs also swept the AFC West this season for the first time since 1995 as Reid has the folks in the Heartland thinking about the Super Bowl for the first time in a long time.

Reid’s first order of business upon taking over the Chiefs was to find himself a quarterback. Reid’s search took himself to Northern California as he acquired quarterback Alex Smith from the San Francisco 49ers which would cost the Chiefs a pair of draft picks, but it was well worth it.

Alex Smith

Smith was the first overall pick of the 2005 National Football League Draft by the 49ers and the majority of his time in San Francisco was plagued by injuries and playing on poor teams. Smith’s best season in San Francisco came in 2011 when he was under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh who had just taken over as the head coach of the Niners. Smith would pass for 3,144 yards which was a career-high as he helped the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game. But in 2012, an injury to Smith opened to the door for Colin Kaepernick to become the Niners starting quarterback. And as Kaepernick was able to help the 49ers reach the Super Bowl that season, Smith became expendable in San Francisco.

However Smith was able to land on his feet with the Chiefs as like Harbaugh, Reid has a reputation as far as being a quarterback guru.

Smith is not known for having a strong arm, and Reid has not asked him to win games passing, but more with efficiency, along with smarts. Smith’s record as the Chiefs starting quarterback is 41-20 while he has completed nearly 65% of his passes. Smith is typically been near the bottom of interceptions as during his four seasons in Kansas City as he has only thrown 25 picks. Smith is a mobile quarterback and Reid uses that to benefit the Chiefs offense as Smith has been known to take off pick up yardage with his legs if a play breaks down which takes him back to his collegiate days when he operated in the spread offense for the Utah Utes.

The Chiefs have dealt with injuries this season; especially at the running back position, but they have depth there. Knee injuries have gotten the best of running back Jamaal Charles, but Reid has been able to lean on Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West coming out of the backfield. Ware led the Chiefs in rushing this season with 921 yards, but the fact that neither he or Ware have carried the football 250 times this season should help Kansas City’s chances in the playoffs as both running backs should be fresh.

Injuries this season limited wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to just 12 games this season, but the Chiefs passing game didn’t skip a beat as Travis Kelce has emerged as one of the best receiving tight ends in the National Football League. This season Kelce had 85 receptions for 1,125 yards and his ability to keep safeties honest will be big in the postseason if the Chiefs expect to advance.

The Chiefs defense was 24th in the National Football League this season as they allowed 368.5 yards per game, but their 19.4 points per game average was seventh in the league as they had a bend but don’t break philosophy. The Chiefs have a pair of Pro Bowlers in their secondary in the form of free safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters. Berry possesses some of the best range in the NFL at his position, while in just two years in the league, Peters has already accumulated 14 interceptions as quarterbacks must think twice before they throw to his side.

The Chiefs ability to run and the football, while having a quarterback in Smith that doesn’t force the football into coverage, along with a defense that creates turnovers is why they were plus-16 in the turnover margin this season which led the National Football League and that will be a factor for them in the playoffs.

Jeremy Maclin

The bye week came at the right time for the Chiefs as it has given them the chance to get players such as outside linebacker Tambi Hali and Maclin healthy for the playoffs. The Chiefs unconventional way of wreaking havoc on both sides of the football is a big reason why some football pundits believe that they have a shot to get a road victory against the New England Patriots this month in order to advance to the Super Bowl.

But the Chiefs still have a huge hurdle to clear as they have never won a playoff game after they had a first-round bye. However this week is the best time to break that hex as they are set to host the Pittsburgh Steelers whom they lost to earlier this season. And if Reid can get the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, he will join an elite list of head coaches to lead two teams to the National Football League’s Championship Game, while joining Hank Stram as the only men to take Kansas City there. The move to hire Reid by Chiefs owner Clark Hunt a few years ago is looking better by the day as he has found a coach who has turned his franchise into a contender.

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2016-2017 NFL Playoff Projections

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AFC

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. New England Patriots

3. Oakland Raiders

4. Indianapolis Colts

5. Cincinnati Bengals

6. Baltimore Ravens

AFC Wild Card Round

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Indianapolis Colts

As dysfunctional as the Cincinnati Bengals are, not even they can lose in the Wild Card round in six consecutive years; especially since they are much better than the Indianapolis Colts.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Oakland Raiders

The fans in the Bay Area have waited a very long time to see an Oakland Raiders playoff game and they wont be disappointed.

AFC Divisional Playoffs

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Bengals will finally be happy to get the playoff monkey off of their backs, but their big brothers from the AFC North in the Pittsburgh Steelers want to show them that they are still in charge.

Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots

The Raiders are happy to win a playoff game, and the battle tested New England Patriots will be too much for them.

AFC Championship Game

New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been on a mission to put “Deflategate” behind him and get back to the Super Bowl.

NFC

1. Seattle Seahawks

2. Green Bay Packers

3. Carolina Panthers

4. Dallas Cowboys

5. Arizona Cardinals

6. Minnesota Vikings

NFC Wild Card Round

Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers

The road to a consecutive Super Bowl berth for the Carolina Panthers begins with a home victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys

The Arizona Cardinals could be a team on a mission as they steamroll the Dallas Cowboys.

NFC Divisional Playoffs

Carolina Panthers vs. Green Bay Packers

In a battle of MVP quarterbacks in Cam Newton of the Panthers, and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, the legs of running back Eddie Lacy will lead Green Bay to the NFC Championship Game.

Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks

The Cards-Seahawks rivalry is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL. And for the Cardinals, they are definitely one team that isn’t afraid to travel to Seattle and seek a victory.

NFC Championship Game

Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers

With the frozen mystique of football in Green Bay being a thing of the past, the Cardinals have what it takes to get a victory there and reach the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history.

Super Bowl Bowl 51-NRG Stadium-Houston, Texas

New England Patriots vs. Arizona Cardinals

These two teams began the year against each other, and it’s only fitting that they’ll finish they year on the gridiron. But the Patriots will find a way to win their fifth Vince Lombardi Trophy.

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A Leopard Never Changes Its Spots

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The Cincinnati Bengals have been a professional football franchise for nearly 50 years. The Bengals came into existence in 1968 as an expansion franchise in the American Football League before joining the National Football League in 1970 during the merger. The Bengals were built under the watchful eye of Paul Brown who was their co-founder and first head coach. Brown coached the Bengals during their first eight seasons which was highlighted by three playoff appearances along with winning the first ever AFC Central Title in 1970. But under Brown, the Bengals were never able to win a playoff game which would be a harbinger of things to come years later for this franchise. When Brown retired from coaching in 1975 to concentrate on being the Bengals team president, he made a decision that would shape his franchise for years to come. Brown hand picked Bill “Tiger” Johnson to succeed him as the Bengals head coach over the young and upstart Bill Walsh. Johnson would resign midway through the 1978 National Football League season after the Bengals 0-5 start while Walsh would take over as the head coach the San Francisco 49ers in 1979 and he would lead them to three Super Bowl Championships with two of those victories coming over the Bengals.

On January 6, 1991, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Houston Oilers 41-14 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. And when the Bengals would go on to lose to the Los Angeles Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoffs the following week, little did they know of the coming series of events that were waiting for them.

For the remainder of the 1990’s, the Bengals would not record a winning season which was highlighted by a slew of draft busts.

Marvin Lewis

Marvin Lewis would be hired as the Bengals head coach in 2003, and after a pair of 8-8 seasons, he would lead Cincinnati to the AFC North Title in 2005. But in the AFC Wild Card Game, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would suffer a torn ACL early in the first quarter and Cincinnati would lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even it defeat that day it wasn’t looked at as a big thing for the Bengals as they were a young team and they would be back soon. After three subpar seasons, the Bengals would once again win the AFC North in 2009; only to lose to the New York Jets in the AFC Wild Card Game. After parting with Palmer after the 2010 National Football League season, the Bengals would draft quarterback Andy Dalton in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Dalton became the Bengals starting quarterback from his first day on the job and he helped Cincy reach the postseason each season with him under center. But come January, the Bengals continued to be one-and-done in the postseason.

This season the Bengals began by winning their first eight games. The Bengals were winning close games against contenders such as the Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, and all of a sudden they didn’t appear to be the same old Bungles. The Bengals were 10-2 when they welcomed the Steelers to Cincinnati for a Week 14 contest as they were looking to wrap up the AFC North Title. In that game Dalton would suffer a broken thumb that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Dalton would be replaced by backup quarterback AJ McCarron who went 2-1 as a starter. The Bengals would finish the regular season with a record of 12-4 which would mark their best season since their last AFC Championship in 1988, but after a losing a Week 16 affair to the Denver Broncos, Cincinnati would miss out on earning a first-round bye,

With McCarron under center, the Bengals would find themselves hosting the Steelers this past Saturday night in the AFC Wild Card Game. For the first three quarters of the game, the Steelers would rack up yardage on offense, but they were only able to amass a 15-0 lead. The Bengals offense finally woke up in the fourth quarter. The Bengals would score 10 points to cut the deficit to five and they would get the football back with under four minutes left in the game. McCarron would lead the Bengals on a 45-yard drive that culminated when he found wide receiver A.J. Green for a 25-yard touchdown pass for their first lead of the night at 16-15 with just under two minutes remaining.

On the Steelers ensuing drive, backup quarterback Landry Jones was intercepted by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict which actually spelled the beginning of the end for Cincinnati. Inexplicably, Burfict ran off of the field towards the Bengals locker room as if to say that the game was over. However the Steelers had all three of their timeouts remaining along with a plethora of time. And on the very next play, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill fumbled the football as he was stripped by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Steelers would regain possession of the football with an injured quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger leading them. Roethlisberger was attempting to drive the Steelers into field goal range for the potential game-winning score when he and Pittsburgh received a huge assist from the Bengals.

With 18 seconds remaining in the game, Burfict was flagged for a personal foul penalty for a hit to the helmet of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. The hit would then put the Steelers into field goal range and it would get worse for the Bengals when cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct foul. In all the Steelers were the beneficiaries of 30 yards without having to run a play due to the stupidity and selfishness of the Bengals. Steelers kicker Chris Boswell would connect on a 35-yard field goal which would send Pittsburgh to the AFC Divisional Playoffs while the Bengals were left to wallow in their own futility. And ┬ájust when it appeared that the Bengals were ready to cast themselves out of their long and storied reputation of shooting themselves in the foot, they simply could not handle success.

There are some people that are calling for Lewis to be fired as he is now 0-7 in the playoffs as the Bengals head coach. And although that Bengals owner Mike Brown won’t fire Lewis, a new head coach wouldn’t make a difference in Cincinnati as there are issues within the organization.

Even when the Bengals were able to stop the losing that haunted them in the 1990’s, they were done in during the 2000’s by players who had character issues as this team would see a different player almost every week being arrested by law enforcement officials. It got so bad for the Bengals that National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell paid the team a visit to encourage them to get their act together as they were embarrassing the league. And even though that the Bengals continue to shed this image, it was once again on display when they lost to the Steelers.

The Bengals were flagged with several unsportsmanlike conduct penalties during their loss to the Steelers which scream of undisciplined football, and more than ever the month of January is where teams cannot have selfish players making selfish plays if they want to win.

Make no mistake about it that the Bengals arguably have one of the most talented teams in the National Football League, but they are lacking leadership on both sides of the ball along with having an owner in Brown that it isn’t fully committed to winning.

Led by Lewis, the Bengals will be back at it next season as they will be seeking their sixth consecutive playoff appearance while they are still searching for their first postseason victory since both the Rams and Raiders called Los Angeles home. But unless their is a culture change from within the Bengals organization that includes an overall concentration on winning, this will continue to be a team that will befuddle anyone who follows them.

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