The 2015 NFL Playoffs have begun, and we have learned a lot about 8 teams in 4 short games. Three out of the four games were convincing wins by the Panthers, Ravens and Colts. But the final game of the Wild Card Round was a nail-biter and a bit controversial.
Fighting for a chance
Some people have the misconception that the Wild Card Round consists of teams fighting over who gets to get slaughtered by the power houses in the next round. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Who remembers the 6th seeded Packers won the Super Bowl in 2011, or the 4th seeded Giants who won in 2012? Or how about the Ray Lewis goodbye tour of 2013, where the 6th seeded Ravens won the Super Bowl? The Wild Cards always have a chance, and maybe even somewhat of an advantage. The top seeded teams that get to rest an extra week may see the extra rest as a blessing, but in some cases it is a curse. Even the best athletes in the world can be rusty after two weeks off, especially playing in a highly competitive game. Year after year, one dominant team gets caught off guard.
Under the Radar
The Panthers and the Ravens both won their first playoff games by double digits, and they both barely snook into the playoffs in the last week of the season.
Although it wasn’t pretty, Cam Newton got his first playoff win under his belt, and a player like him with some playoff experience is scary. The Secondary for the Panthers has seriously stepped it up, and the defensive line is playing lights out, without Greg Hardy, who continues to get playoff bonuses while he sits comfortably on his couch at home watching his team win without him. The Carolina Panthers have meshed at exactly the right time, and literally everybody on this team is healthy (a first). The run game has revived itself behind Jonathon Stewart, and it looks like we might actually see the return of “Double Trouble” soon. The adversity this team has overcome this season (Greg Hardy’s domestic violence issue, releasing Steve Smith, Cam Newton’s car crash, and Ron Rivera’s house fire) makes this playoff run nothing short of a Cinderella story.
The Ravens are always a very dangerous team in the playoffs, and they proved just that on Saturday Night. When Le’Veon Bell went down, so did the Steelers Super Bowl hopes, but not many predicted them to lose at home to the Ravens in double digits. Joe Flacco seems to switch into a different mode when the Ravens make the playoffs, and he continues to be one of the most underrated Quarterbacks in the NFL. The Ravens also have a solid run game behind Justin Forsett that has kept the offense balanced all year. They are in a tough position to have to go up to Foxborough to play the Patriots, but they have a chance.
Romo, the Hero
Tony Romo proved his critics wrong with an impressive comeback playoff win, capped by a game-winning touchdown late in the Fourth Quarter. He has been able to lean on Demarco Murray for the majority of the season, and I think this has taken some pressure off of Romo which has obviously improved his play. I hate to say it, but there is an asterisk by this win because of a controversial 3rd and 1 play. The Refs correctly threw a flag for an obvious pass interference, but then mysteriously picked it up after no explanation. The Cowboy’s offensive line is at the top of the NFL, and if it continues to make Demarco Murray look good and Tony Romo comfortable, this offense will have a good chance against the Packers. The Divisional matchup between the Packers and the Cowboys may be the best game of this round.
Will Luck run out of luck?
Both Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning have been shaky lately, which leads to a confusing matchup between the Colts and Broncos. However, Andrew Luck had a convincing, dominating win over the Bengals at home, which makes this upcoming game very unpredictable. The Broncos have the stronger Defense and home field advantage. The Colts and Broncos can both score in a hurry, so this might be a shootout.