NFL Q&A with Allen and The Ace is a weekly column featured on TJRsports.com. Allen and The Ace are big time NFL junkies and are Falcon and Packer fans, respectively. Each week the guys will ask questions and discuss the previous week’s games along with picking the Top 5 Games of the Week!
Ace: What a fun weekend of playoff football that was! That was, until about 6:45pm/CT when Phil Dawson ended the Packers season, but I won’t dwell on that. My team had a subpar year riddled by injuries and with 16 free agents on roster; they have their work to do this offseason. Three of the four games were nail biters that combined to be settled by 6 points, the other game featured the sixth seeded Chargers going into Cincinnati and defeating them in dominating fashion. It still sucks when your favorite team loses in the playoffs but we’ll move on from that and take a look ahead to this week’s matchups!
Allen: I’m still in awe of Andrew Luck’s brilliance and Andy Dalton crumbling against an average team. Obviously both quarterbacks shouldn’t be compared because Luck is clearly much better. It was just shocking to see how mediocre Dalton truly is, after I’ve been saying for months that he’s just average. Eventually he was going to crumble, it was just surprising to see him do that at home. San Francisco looked good for the most part; hopefully the refs can call an even game in Carolina. They were robbed of two touchdowns. How crazy is it that New Orleans-Philadelphia was the dullest game of the weekend? The lack of fireworks from both offenses was a bit disappointing.
NFC Divisional, Saturday 1/11
#1 Seattle Seahawks vs. #6 New Orleans Saints
Allen: Usually when there is a rematch of teams that played during the regular season, the game is much closer. I’m not expecting this game to be over by the third quarter like it was last month. New Orleans front seven made LeSean McCoy earn every yard and put on their best performance of the season. I’m concerned about the health of Keenan Lewis, who is quietly earning himself the “shutdown corner” label. New Orleans doesn’t have much depth behind him, since Jabari Greer is out for the season.
Seattle’s receivers know how to get open. Doug Baldwin, Golden Tate, and Jermaine Kearse have been making timely plays all year long. I’m still picking Seattle regardless of Lewis’ health because of mostly their defense. New Orleans offensive line is shaky and their receivers aren’t good enough to make big plays against the “Legion of boom”. When you combine Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril with the best secondary in the league, you’re going to be tough to score on. You need star receivers or a consistent running game to beat Seattle. New Orleans doesn’t have either of those attributes. It should be much closer than it was last month, but Seattle is too talented to fall apart.
Allen’s Prediction: Seattle 27, New Orleans 17
Ace: This will be short and sweet because I firmly believe that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC and I find it very hard to believe that they will lose at home in the playoffs. Sean Payton can plaster the Seahawks logo wherever he wants in the Saints practice facility. He needs to set the scoreboard at their facility to the third quarter and have the score read Seahawks 28…Saints 3. The Saints won all eight of their home games but were 3-5 on the road, including losing three of their last five games. They were dismantled 34-7 in Seattle 39 days ago and I don’t feel that the Saints will be a factor in this game.
Ace’s Prediction: Seattle 31, New Orleans 20
AFC Divisional, Saturday 1/11
#2 New England Patriots (-7) vs. #4 Indianapolis Colts
Ace: In the only matchup of the weekend that isn’t a regular season rematch puts the Colts against the Patriots. New England went 8-0 at home and Bill Belichick with a bye is pretty much a lock to win. I have no doubt in my mind that this will be a victory for the Patriots, but I don’t think it will be a walk in the park. The Colts have a lot of momentum coming off that incredible comeback against the Chiefs. I look at a similar comeback and it was Buffalo as the four seed (Same as the Colts) knocking off the Oilers in the 1992-93 playoffs after coming back from a 32 point deficit at halftime. The Bills rode that momentum to the Super Bowl and while I don’t think the Colts will be heading to the Super Bowl, it’s very possible that they could knock off the Patriots this weekend.
I think Andrew Luck and company will keep the game very close, but “Captain Cool” leads New England and he’ll do enough to get to another AFC Championship Game. The only way I can see New England falling to the Colts is if Indianapolis comes out where they left off against the Chiefs and the slightly inexperienced Patriots receiving corps don’t bail out Tom Brady. If Brady’s receivers have a bad game, I could see this going the way of the Colts, but again, I can’t bet against the Patriots.
Ace’s Prediction: New England 34, Indianapolis 27
Allen: If only both teams were fully healthy, it’s a shame that both offenses are missing their number one receivers. Everyone knows how much Tom Brady relies on Rob Gronkowski, especially in the red zone. Then you have Reggie Wayne, who was essentially Andrew Luck’s security blanket. Obviously both quarterbacks are studs and have gotten over their respective losses to put together productive seasons. The main difference in picking this game has to come from the differences in both defenses. New England’s defense is far from elite, but they will not torched like Kansas City did.
New England has an underrated duo in Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, who combined for 19.5 sacks this year. Brandon Spikes has done a tremendous job filling in for Jerod Mayo, while Aqib Talib has become one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Kansas City does have Pro Bowlers on their defense, but their secondary doesn’t have much depth unlike New England. Andrew Luck should have another productive game and will keep Indianapolis competitive. The difference is Indianapolis’ defense will have no answer for Tom Brady and their speedy receivers. New England’s defense will get enough stops to prevail in a high-scoring game.
Allen’s Prediction: New England 38, Indianapolis 27
NFL Story of the Week
There was so much unpredictability this past Wild Card Weekend and it truly lived up to the term ‘Wild Card’. Three road teams won and the home team that won was down 38-10 in the 3rd quarter. What did you like and dislike about the opening round of the NFL Playoffs?
Allen: I’m still in awe of Andrew Luck’s performance. It was funny reading some articles saying how Luck is overrated and that his QB rating isn’t all that impressive. What these stat geeks never considered was the support he has around him. He has yet to play with any kind of consistent running game or a solid offensive line. Then you add on the fact that he’s throwing to a bunch of first or second year players makes it even more incredible. Even after throwing a few interceptions, he still kept threading the needle and kept the offense moving. How can you not love a quarterback that is so confident and fearless?
We know how much Andy Dalton stunk, so I’m going to ignore him. Instead I’ll focus on Nick Foles, who had a disappointing game on Saturday night. His pocket presence was poor all night and was too conservative against a vulnerable New Orleans secondary. Obviously the Eagles need another vertical threat in their offense, which is what Jeremy Maclin will bring to the table next year. That will benefit Foles and make him less conservative. He may have had a 105 QB rating and didn’t turn the ball over. That doesn’t hide the fact that he didn’t make enough big throws, when the Eagles defense was putting together consecutive stops.
I’ll get away from the quarterbacks and give praise to multiple defensive ends. Cameron Jordan continues to show why he’s the most improved player in the NFL having 1.5 sacks and two tackles for a loss on Saturday. His first sack on Foles pushed the Eagles back and led to them missing a field goal. If they don’t miss that field goal, New Orleans would have been forced to score a touchdown on that last drive. Then you have Robert Mathis, who only had one sack but he was chasing Alex Smith all game long. Not even double teams were keeping Mathis away from creating havoc. His only sack of the game led to a forced fumble that the Colts turned into seven points. Star defensive ends making big plays in leading their teams to victory in the playoffs. That was great to see on Saturday.
Ace: I vividly remember the Bills comeback over the Oilers in 1992, which was the largest playoff deficit overcome, but this one on Saturday with Andrew Luck bringing the Colts back from 28 down was something that will live on for quite some time. I wasn’t too glued into that game since we were visiting friends but the game was on in the background. As we left, the score was 38-24. I couldn’t believe that listening to it on the radio how the game was transpiring. I arrived home to see the final score and knew this game would be one of the more talked about playoff games in NFL history.
On Saturday night the Saints defeated the Eagles and if you were to tell me that Drew Brees would throw for 250 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, I would have told you that the Saints were sent home and the Eagles advanced. When it comes down to it inexperience and discipline is what led to the Eagles losing to the Saints. Darren Sproles had a 39-yard kickoff return after the Eagles took the lead and were called for a horse collar tackle on Sproles, which put the ball at the Philadelphia 48 yard line.
The biggest shocker of the weekend was the Bengals/Chargers game. I said on Macho Men Radio this past week that San Diego could be that team that makes a run to the AFC Championship game or even the Super Bowl as they’ve had a hot team that got into the playoffs. They showed that they weren’t a joke by knocking off Cincinnati and playing pretty impressive defense in the process. The finger will be pointed at Andy Dalton, until he can get a playoff victory.
The final game of the weekend showed the 49ers beat the Packers at Lambeau Field. If you had told me the Packers would hold the 49ers to 23 points and lose, I’d have called you nuts. Defensively, the Packers couldn’t stop Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in key third down situations. Their offense was flat as well. When they did stop the 49ers, the offense would come out and lay an egg. They couldn’t take advantage of their lead and make it a two-possession lead, and that is what did them in.
It was a fun first weekend. Even though I wish my team were still in it, I’ll be glad to have no major rooting interest this weekend and hope for four fun games.
NFC Divisional, Sunday 1/12
#2 Carolina Panthers vs. #5 San Francisco 49ers
Allen: The first of two games on Sunday that will feature a reality check. Carolina has a great future and should be competitive for years to come. As long as they pay Greg Hardy this off-season, they will still have the best defensive line in the NFL. Then you add Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, which make them have the best front seven as well. San Francisco is the only other team that can match Carolina in talent in terms of their front sevens. San Francisco shuts down opposing teams’ running games and Aldon Smith is starting to look like his old self again.
The harsh reality check for Carolina is they don’t have enough playmakers on offense. Steve Smith is still a threat, but he’s 33 years old and shouldn’t be a number one receiver anymore. Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn are role players at best. Unless Colin Kaepernick turns the ball over multiple times, there is no way San Francisco loses this game. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree will be healthy, which is something they didn’t have a few months ago. Carolina is one star receiver and cornerback away from being a serious contender. Their secondary greatly benefits from the pass rush. Nobody bullies around San Francisco’s offensive line, which means Crabtree should have another big game. Right now Carolina can’t score enough offensively and Crabtree has shown that he’s fully healthy in recent weeks. Those are two mismatches that Carolina can’t overcome.
Allen’s Prediction: San Francisco 23, Carolina 10
Ace: I’m very excited for this matchup. I’ve been rooting for Carolina to make the playoffs all season and this should be a great defensive matchup. These two teams met at Candlestick Park on November 10th where the Panthers won 10-9. The following week they knocked off the Patriots. Two weeks with wins against two teams that are Super Bowl contenders. Not many teams can say they’ve done that. After a week five loss to Arizona, the Panthers suffered only one loss after that. That was a week 14 loss at New Orleans. San Francisco is coming off a thriller against Green Bay and with the addition of Michael Crabtree back in the lineup; Colin Kaepernick has his best receiver back in the fold.
We saw that as the Packers were unable to stop both guys last week. The only difference between the defense of the Packers and the defense of the Panthers is that the Panthers actually have one. The 49ers will be going up against the sixth ranked passing defense and the second ranked rush defense. Kaepernick will be forced to stay in the pocket and throw, as I believe that their run game will be ineffective. If Carolina can come out and take an early lead I believe they can win. The Panthers have hosted 3 playoff games in their history, the most recent being in 2008 vs. Arizona. I think the stadium will be rocking and in a close game, I like the home team.
Ace’s Prediction: Carolina 17, San Francisco 13
AFC Divisional, Sunday 1/12
#1 Denver Broncos vs. #6 San Diego Chargers
Ace: It was last week on Macho Men Radio I said that the one team I would be scared of is the San Diego Chargers. They were winners of five of their final six games, including four straight, to get into the playoffs. They knocked off the Chiefs twice and the Broncos in Denver. Last week they thoroughly destroyed the Bengals and this week they go back to the place they won on December 12th. It was the one game this season that the Broncos looked like a different team and was the first time I felt that they wouldn’t represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. With that being said, Peyton Manning came to Denver to win a Super Bowl. As we saw last year the Broncos fell apart against the Ravens and everyone questioned Peyton Manning in the playoffs, Peyton Manning doesn’t play defense. If the Broncos lose it will be due to their defensive struggles and injuries, not due to Peyton Manning. I really want to go with the Chargers on this game, but I feel that after the season that Peyton has, no one can stop him.
Ace’s Prediction: Denver 37, San Diego 34
Allen: This game won’t be a blowout because Denver clearly has some defensive deficiencies. They struggle to stop the run and struggle to get off the field on third down. I’m expecting San Diego to have a similar game plan from last month to pound the ball with Ryan Matthews and to keep Denver’s offense off the field as much as possible. They know Peyton Manning will be on his game and not have the same miscues that occurred on a short week for Denver. Denver is rested and has Wes Welker back, which is an important piece to their offense.
The reality check for San Diego is that they are still relatively an average team. This hot stretch is nothing more than a fairy tale. They barley beat a second string Kansas City team and then had Andy Dalton literally give them a win. You saw those turnovers, how many of those turnovers were actually caused by San Diego’s defense? Then you saw San Diego’s offense score six points off those turnovers. San Diego fans should be proud of their team, but they have too many flaws to continue this fairy tale. That secondary doesn’t stand a chance in stopping the dynamic trio in Denver. If they can’t stop Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, then this game could get ugly. Denver has playmakers like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris, who have had excellent seasons. Von Miller’s loss will hurt, but it won’t destroy their defense. It’s not their fault that they’ve blown out so many teams that it leads to quarterbacks throwing 40 to 45 times racking up garbage yards. Denver should win with relative ease, although San Diego won’t go away easily. Phillip Rivers is a gamer and should continue to improve his resume for comeback player of the year.
Allen’s Prediction: Denver 41, San Diego 27
Ace: In our Elite NFL Mind Challenge that we’ve been doing all season, you went 3-1 last week as I went 1-3. You are now 56-31 as I sit at 54-33. I’m bummed that my team is out of it, but I’m excited to watch what should be, four awesome games. This is generally some of the best football of the year and after this weekend we will have a good grasp on who will be in the Super Bowl. You were on Macho Men Radio with C-Mac and I last night to talk NFL and much more, be sure to check that out! To quote New Falcons Offensive Line coach Mike Tice, “Enjoy the season!”
Allen: I’ll be wrapping up a second straight year of beating The Ace this weekend. Indianapolis against New England is the game I’m probably looking forward to the most in terms of entertainment. The Sunday games will be enjoyable because I’m expecting my Super Bowl picks to show why they are the best. San Diego and Carolina simply aren’t on that level yet and that’ll be proven on Sunday. As for the opener in Seattle, you’ll see a much more competitive game. Sean Payton and Rob Ryan won’t let their team get outmatched so deceivably again. That’s my wrap up, enjoy the divisional round.
You can hear The Ace on Macho Men Radio with C-Mac every Tuesday night on BlogTalkRadio at blogtalkradio.com/machomenradio