By: Chris Dagonas
In defeating the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 on Saturday afternoon, the Houston Texans only scored one touchdown with a lineup featuring arguably the best running back in the league, a very steady quarterback, and a future hall of fame wide receiver, not to mention one of the best offensive lines in the business. One touchdown, against probably the worst of the six AFC playoff teams. Arian Foster ran for an impressive 140 yard total, but it took 32 carries, which leads to an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Not bad by any stretch, but a supposedly dominant offensive line with 3 pro bowlers must do better than that. Cincinnati’s offense was completely stymied by the Texans’ defense, as the Bengals’ only touchdown came on a Leon Hall interception that was returned for a touchdown near halftime. This season, it seems that Houston’s defense has really stepped up to match its already impressive offense. However, Tom Brady is not Andy Dalton, and the Texans will need JJ Watt and the front seven to create much more chaos against the levelheaded veteran Brady than they had to against sophomore Dalton. Scoring one touchdown is a bad sign for the Texans, and if they can’t turn it around they will probably fall to the Patriots this weekend.
In the most unsurprising news of the weekend, Green Bay stomped Minnesota at Lambeau Field, 24-10. Minnesota was without starting quarterback Christian Ponder, who was hurt last week in Minnesota’s home win against the Packers. You may remember that game as the game Adrian Peterson missed the NFL rushing record by 9 yards. Minnesota won that on a last second field goal, which forced the Packers down to the number 3 seed and ironically forced a rematch six games later. At home, Green Bay is a dominant force, and with a bit of a chip on their shoulder over last week’s loss, they came out hard from the very beginning. The Packers’ focus was obviously on stopping Peterson, daring Minnesota to pass their way to victory, but Ponder’s backup, Joe Webb, was unable to get anything going through the passing game. Of the four victorious teams on wild-card weekend, the Packers definitely looked the most intimidating. The offense was precise and sharp, the defense was smothering, and I predict that Green Bay should continue to roll past San Francisco this weekend.
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens welcomed Ray Lewis back to the lineup after he missed most of this season with a triceps tear. His presence fired up the defense to curtail Andrew Luck and the Colts attack, defeating them 24-9. Like the Bengals, the Colts’ offense was unable to produce any touchdowns, its points all coming on Adam Vinatieri field goals. Joe Flacco and the Raven offense was excellent, and the defense played inspired ball, no doubt buoyed by the return, and soon to be retirement, of Lewis, the heart, soul and brains of that defense for the past decade. But a mighty big hats off to the Colts, who finished last season with just two wins, for turning their fortunes around so swiftly. Yes, drafting Luck had a lot to do with that turnaround, but this team also played solid defense most of the year, and had to deal with the ongoing drama of its coach, Chuck Pagano, undergoing Leukemia treatment throughout the season. They look poised to challenge the Texans next season, and perhaps have the most positive outlook of all of this weekend’s losing teams. Baltimore meets the Denver Broncos next, and Peyton Manning and his charges should stop the Ravens’ run. That would end up being Ray Lewis’ last game in the NFL, and football fans, regardless of team allegiance, would be watching the exit of a legend and future hall of famer when Lewis departs.
In the final game of the weekend, Robert Griffin and the Redskins raced out to an early 14-point lead, before Griffin was hobbled with a knee injury and the Seahawks stormed back to take charge of the game for good. The final score was 24-14 in favour of Seattle, and if the Colts have the most to look forward to next season, perhaps the Redskins are in the biggest trouble at this point. Griffin appears to have injured his ACL and PCL in his right knee, injuries that may keep him out for the entirety of the 2013 regular season. As of this writing, tests are still inconclusive, so it remains to be seen whether or not Griffin will be able to return next season, but a knee injury so early in his career, added to a similar one he suffered while in college, could spell trouble down the road for this otherwise phenomenal athlete. But as usual, Griffin is overshadowing another rookie quarterback, Seattle’s Russell Wilson. Wilson was passed on by most teams in the 2012 draft, including my Miami Dolphins, largely because of worries about his lack of height (He stands 5 feet 10 inches tall). Billy Beane and the Moneyball Oakland Athletics exposed the myth of drafting athletes based on their appearance in baseball, but perhaps this is something that football teams may start paying attention to. Wilson, like Doug Flutie before him, proves that height at the quarterback position is meaningless. (Similarly, the Patriots’ Wes Welker, who stands at 5’9”, proves that even at wide receiver, height may be an overvalued barometer.) Wilson deserves a lot of credit for how the Seahawks have done this year. I would say that if Seattle defeats the Atlanta Falcons next week and progresses to the NFC Championship (a very reasonable possibility), he will have settled the Rookie Of The Year debate. I only judge him on a tougher scale than Luck or Griffin because the Seahawks were a more complete team going into this season than either the Redskins or Colts. As mentioned, Seattle meets the Falcons in Atlanta, and this has upset written all over it. If I had to choose an upset for this round, this would be it. Who can forget Marshawn Lynch doing this to the heavily favoured Saints a couple of years ago?
That wraps up the Wildcard Weekend. I’ll be back next Tuesday with a wrap up of the Divisional Round match-ups, and a look forward to the Conference Championships.
As a final thought, kudos to Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman and GM Jim Popp for garnering interest south of the border. Trestman is interviewing for the Bears and Browns head coach positions, while Popp is a candidate for the Carolina Panthers GM spot. This is a good thing for the CFL, if it can end up being a path to the NFL not just for players, but also coaches and front office types. The more talent coming and going, the better for both leagues.