Seahawks 41 Saints 36
Really New Orleans? The defense that wreaked havoc by causing turnovers during last season’s Super Bowl run looked clueless in Seattle on Saturday. The Seahawks’ 28th-ranked offense totaled over 400 yards and 41 points on their way to a surprising win over the defending champions. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had only three games this season with more than one touchdown pass, but he tossed three in the first half of this one. He ended up with four on the day, with easy scoring throws to John Carlson and Brandon Stokley through a confused Saints defense.
I hate to take anything away from the incredible effort by Marshawn Lynch on his 67-yard touchdown run, but the Saints were just pathetic on that play. It was a fitting end to a bad day on defense. New Orleans had played solid ball in the second half of the season, and Sean Payton’s crew has to be bitterly disappointed with their performance at Qwest Field.
As for the Seahawks, you have to give offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates credit for a solid gameplan. He obviously benefited from Hasselbeck returning to the lineup, and the Seattle schemes had the Saints guessing all day. Unfortunately, the Bears will bring a much more formidable defense to Sunday’s matchup in Chicago.
Jets 17 Colts 16
Indianapolis was good enough to win a weak AFC South, but they have some issues that need to be addressed in the offseason. Most Colts’ fans will blame the injuries - 18 players on injured reserve is significant - but their problems are deeper than that.
First of all, coach Jim Caldwell simply looks lost on the sideline. The Jets’ defeat was just the latest episode of bad game management and poor special teams. It’s highly doubtful that Indy would fire the man that went 26-63 at Wake Forest in his previous head coaching stint, but this team needs more of a gameday strategy than ‘Go Peyton’.
On the field, the obvious issue is an atrocious offensive line. The Colts have not been able to run the ball in a few years, but this line struggled in pass protection as well. Indy whiffed on repeated 3rd-and-1 plays against the Jets, and the team has just become too reliant on quarterback Peyton Manning to invent something each week. General manager Bill Polian, generally considered a great evaluator of talent throughout a long career, has really missed on his picks over the last three to four Drafts. His O-line selections of Tony Ugoh, Mike Pollak and Steve Justice have not panned out. Meanwhile, guards Jake Scott (Titans) and Ryan Lilja (Chiefs) were let go and have gone on to be a part of top rushing offenses. If nothing changes, the Colts may have seen their championship window close.
Can the Jets win in New England? They will need a much better game out of Mark Sanchez if they want to keep up with the Patriots. New York will not be able to just run over Vince Wilfork’s crew like they did the Colts’ undersized defense in the second half. Additionally, the defense will have to find a way to pressure Tom Brady in the Pats’ Texas Tech-spread offense. Otherwise, we may see a repeat of the 45-3 New England beatdown from early December.
Ravens 30 Chiefs 7
Did the Charlie Weis to the University of Florida news affect the Kansas City offense? That’s always a difficult thing to measure without being in the team complex, but the Chiefs were not the same attack over the last two weeks. Kansas City had the AFC number three seed on the line in the last game of the season against the Raiders. The Chiefs entered the contest as the NFL’s top rushing team, while the Oakland defense was ranked 29th in the league against the run. The result was a 31-10 home loss that sent K.C. to the fourth seed and a date with Baltimore. It was more of the same against the Ravens’ defense, as the Chiefs could only muster seven points all day.
Overall, it was a great season in Kansas City. Scott Pioli has built a solid foundation through the draft, and team probably got to the postseason earlier than expected after winning four, two and four games over the three previous seasons.
One aside: please NFL, do not have Mike Carey referee any more playoff games. It was fortunate the Chiefs-Ravens game was a blowout, and that this crew did not affect the outcome.
Looking ahead, the Baltimore-Pittsburgh street fight has become my favorite game(s) of the NFL season over the last couple of years. It’s the most physical and intense contest of the season, and it should be another classic in the Steel City on Saturday.
Packers 21 Eagles 16
This one was not a shocker, especially the way Philadelphia limped to the finish. Michael Vick was the story of the NFL through November, but more turnovers and sacks started to pile up late in the year. After Vick was hampered by a quad injury in a 24-14 loss to Minnesota, the Eagles’ offense just not recovered. The embattled signal caller made a nice comeback attempt late against Green Bay, but the final interception on a deep ball to rookie Riley Cooper will haunt him. Now comes an interesting offseason for the Eagles, as Andy Reid and company must decide how much to invest in Vick.
You have to feel for Pro Bowl kicker David Akers of the Eagles. He has been a stellar performer for a decade, and it was very surprising to see him miss field goals of 41 and 34 yards. Simply put: just a bad day for a bad day.
The Packers look like a squad that can go into Atlanta and win. We all know how well Aaron Rodgers can throw, but getting balance (123 rush yards for rookie James Starks) on offense like Green Bay did on Sunday will make them a very tough out in the playoffs. The Falcons play very well at home, but my feeling a day after the Pack win in Philly is to expect an NFC North rematch in the conference championship game.