Five Reflections from Wild Card Weekend
With four teams out of the playoff race and the New York Giants scheduled to take on the Green Bay Packers next week, I thought it might be prudent to take a look back at the weekend and reflect on the results. The games mostly went as expected, minus the Pittsburgh Steelers getting “Tebowed” in Denver.
Let’s get right down to it, then. Here are some observations from the four Wild Card games and how they might relate to the Packers going forward:
1. Regular season records don’t mean anything. This weekend, we saw two division champions take down Wild Card teams who held a better record in the regular season. The New York Giants (9-7) practically shut out the Atlanta Falcons (10-6), and the Denver Broncos (8-8) stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) with an overtime bullseye strike.
Yes, the Packers made an impressive run this season going 15-1, but don’t let that alone give you any sense of false hope. It won’t afford Green Bay any advantage on the field, because the only thing that matters is how well they are playing right now.
2. Opportunities must be seized when they are presented. Anyone who watched the New Orleans Saints take on the Detroit Lions knows how much that game could have changed if the Lions would have simply taken advantage of their opportunities. I counted three passes by Drew Brees that could have easily been interceptions if the defender would have simply held onto the ball. Turnovers can be huge game-changers is the playoffs, mostly because the games are usually so close to begin with. Not only can they swing the scoreboard, but they can redirect the momentum and quiet a noisy crowd.
The Green Bay Packers have made turnovers their mantra this season. Not only is protecting the ball of utmost importance, but taking it away has become the keystone of their defense. The Packers lead the league this season in interceptions (31) and were second only to the San Francisco 49ers in turnover differential (+24). They will need to continue taking advantage of these opportunities, because they will get fewer and farther between against playoff-caliber opponents.
3. Nothing beats a good defensive line (except a good offensive line). We saw some great defensive line play this weekend. The Houston Texans gave Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals fits on Saturday, while the powerhouse line of the New York Giants netted two sacks on Matt Ryan and helped keep Michael Turner to just 41 yards on 15 carries. They also stuffed two quarterback sneaks attempted by the Falcons.
On the other side of the coin, though, is how well the New Orleans Saints protected Drew Brees despite the formidable rush of Ndamokung Suh and the rest of the Lions’ defensive line. Both offensive guards from the Saints were voted into the Pro Bowl this year, and it’s not hard to see why when Brees has so much time in the pocket and is able to step into his throws.
The Green Bay Packers will finally have their best five offensive linemen again going into the playoffs. This should help immensely in fending off the Giants next week. However, it is the Packers’ defensive line I am most concerned about. Having Ryan Pickett back in the line-up will help immensely in stopping the run, though it doesn’t do much for the infamous pass rush (or lack thereof).
4. Don’t let the refereeing keep you down. It’s amazing how this same tune gets played year in and year out. The refereeing in the NFL doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and between all the rule changes and shades of gray, there’s not much hope for a turnaround any time soon. This weekend only continued amplify the displeasure fans, players, and even coaches have about the inconsistencies with refereeing.
We saw two separate instances of fumbles being whistled dead at the wrong time. For the Lions, it meant the difference between a recovery and a touchdown. And for the Broncos, it meant the difference between an incompletion and a turnover. Along the same lines, a sack on Eli Manning by the Falcons was whistled painfully early and should have been ruled a fumble. I’ve also become more confused as to what constitutes holding, personal fouls, and pass interference.
The thing we all have to remember, though, is that teams usually get it about equally. Yes, some teams will be unfairly targeted based on reputation, but the great ones always find a way to rise above and play through it. If a questionable call or two go against the Packers this postseason, just remember that it is still their job to be the better team.
5. Every team has its flaws. There is no perfect team out there. The Saints, Giants, Texans, and Broncos all won their respective games, and three of them won by more than three scores. But that doesn’t mean they played flawlessly. The Giants were held to only 7 points in the first half and also had a safety against them. Drew Brees is amazingly talented, but he is also a bit of a gunslinger, forcing it when he sometimes shouldn’t. The Broncos have a do-or-die offense and couldn’t keep the hobbled Steelers offense from making a late-game comeback. And the Texans’ offense still has to rely on the running game to make up for lost talent at the quarterback position.
The Packers, as well, have their flaws. Everyone knows the defense has fallen mightily from last year, and it has been a big point of contention all season. But remember . . . each of the aforementioned teams won this weekend despite their flaws. Green Bay will need to expose the flaws in the Giants while minimizing their own if they hope to succeed next week.
These observations are nothing special. They could be made week in and week out; still, I believe them to be points that should be consciously remembered when watching next week’s Division Round games and beyond.
But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that on “any given Sunday,” any team can win despite the odds. Just ask the Steelers——————Follow @ChadToporski