National Football League

NFL Playoff Observations: Rodgers’ Masterpiece, Beckham’s Butterfingers, Better Games Ahead

It wasn’t a great start for the NFL. Three of this weekend’s four games were unwatchable and the fourth, the Giants-Packers matchup, could have been turned off following Green Bay’s final touchdown at 5:48 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Odell Beckham Jr. dropped three passes in the Giants’ loss to Green Bay.

This lackluster postseason start will inevitably lead to a conversation about sagging ratings, Roger Goodell’s horrendous decision-making, and the general demise of the NFL, but luck played a huge factor in the matchups.

Derek Carr was an MVP candidate before he broke his leg in Week 16. Matthew Stafford was also in the MVP mix before a finger injury derailed the Lions’ season. The Dolphins losing Ryan Tannehill, coupled with the Broncos’ December collapse led to NFL fans having to watch Miami get hammered in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, Brock Osweiler played for the best team in the worst division, too.

But fear not, for every divisional round matchup is intriguing aside from Houston-New England. More compelling days are ahead.

The Giants didn’t lose to the Packers because of the South Beach trip

There’s no question that Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants’ trip to South Beach last week provided a distraction. When your head coach and quarterback are forced to comment about your shirtless boat photo, it’s a distraction, ODB. Sorry. But let’s kill the boat trip narrative now, shall we? The Giants lost because their offense hasn’t been good enough all season.

Not once did Ben McAdoo’s system produce over 30 points in one game. Toss in a bad case of the drops for Beckham Jr. and the fact that Paul Perkins wasn’t the answer to what ailed New York’s rudderless running game, and you get what you had Sunday evening at Lambeau. Plus, why didn’t former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo adjust his coverage when Jordy Nelson left the game with a rib injury? Why didn’t Janoris Jenkins see more of Randall Cobb in coverage? Cobb destroyed the Giants all afternoon.

Meanwhile, Dom Capers schooled Spagnuolo on how to scheme in a big game while double-teaming ODB in obvious passing downs and forcing Eli Manning to use his other weapons. (At one point the Packers lined up on Beckham as if he were a gunner on punt coverage, doubling him immediately at the line of scrimmage.) Coupled with New York’s defense saving its worst performance of the season at the most inopportune time, that’s why the Giants are heading home early. The boat incident was a distraction off the field. But the Giants lost the game in-between the lines.

 I wouldn’t bet against Rodgers, but let’s not crown the Pack yet

The Packers are a 4-point underdog this Sunday in Dallas. I’d take those four points in Vegas. With how hot Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are right now, I wouldn’t bet against them. But we tend to overact to what we just saw, which is exactly what the national media is doing now. They just saw Rodgers once again paint a masterpiece (complete with his third Hail Mary touchdown pass in the last two years) and they seemingly are writing Green Bay into the Super Bowl.

It may happen, but Dallas, Atlanta and Seattle didn’t get this far on luck. The Cowboys have the running game to keep Rodgers on the sidelines for long stretches, the Falcons would give the Packers’ secondary trouble, and the Seahawks are a tough out at this time of year. Rodgers and Co. are hot, but not unbeatable.

Same concept applies to the Steelers

I like the Steelers’ chances this weekend in Kansas City. The line right now is Pittsburgh +1 but even if the Steelers were a small favorite, I’d lay the points. That said, the same concept applies to them as does the Packers: Let’s not overreact to what we just saw. The Dolphins played Sunday without four of their 10 highest-paid defenders, all lost to injury.

Once Miami decided it didn’t want to tackle, it was all downhill against Le’Veon Bell, one of the most talented running backs in the league. (Not to mention the Dolphins were forced to start their backup quarterback Matt Moore, who was as mistake-prone as a rookie making his first NFL start.) Pittsburgh’s run defense has improved greatly since it was gashed by Jay Ajayi in an ugly Week 6 loss back in October. The Steelers also posses a three-headed monster in Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger, provided Big Ben’s ankle injury doesn’t limit him too badly.

Thanks to the emergence of Tyreek Hill and the still-underrated Travis Kelce, however, the Chiefs won’t hand the Steelers a victory at Arrowhead this weekend. The Patriots would also still loom large in the AFC Championship Game if the Steelers were to advance, so let’s not overreact to Pittsburgh’s win over Miami. It was a dominating performance, but the Dolphins were short-handed. The Chiefs won’t be this weekend.

The Seahawks are more dangerous now than at the start of the playoffs

Make no mistake, the Seahawks are still vulnerable. Their offensive line limits what the passing game can do because offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is forced to call more quick drop-backs with Russell Wilson, which means less opportunity for explosive plays. Without Earl Thomas, the Seahawks’ vaunted Cover 3 is highly susceptible to getting burned 18-22 yards up the seams and on the deep post. But with Thomas Rawls running all over the Lions on Saturday night, Seattle is a more dangerous team now than at the end of the regular season.

If the Seahawks can run the ball and complete short, quick passes versus the Falcons, that keeps Matt Ryan and Atlanta’s explosive offense on the sidelines. It’s the same blueprint the Eagles used to hold the Falcons to 15 points in a 24-15 win back in November. The Seahawks’ problems still exist, but Rawls suddenly gives them a way to mask those issues.

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