Timing is everything, man.
The timing of Derek Carr’s injury completely ruined Oakland’s season. The timing of Matt Moore’s mistakes last Sunday were catastrophic for Miami’s chances at an upset. The Giants infamous Miami boat trip…you already know. Even the timing of Alabama’s last touchdown in the National Championship Game proved pivotal, because it afforded Deshaun Watson and Clemson just enough time to take the lead while making it nearly impossible to relinquish it again.
So it should come as no surprise that timing will be vital to this weekend’s playoff games. Will the Cowboys catch a buzz saw at the wrong time? Will the Chiefs catch a buzz saw at the wrong time? Did the Texans catch the Patriots at any time? (Yes.)
Let’s dig deeper.
Sidebar: Went 3-1 last week (only 1-3 against the spread though), bringing the Wildcard record to 15-5 in our history. Ya boy is also 11-5 in the Divisional round since we started. Shouts to Anthony Hueston for going 4-0 on picks last week.
(#4) Houston Texans at (#1) New England Patriots (-15)
From the beginning, we knew the Patriots would take on either Connor Cook and the Raiders, Brock Osweiler and the Texans or Matt Moore/banged up Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins at home in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Turns out the Texans drew the shortest straw in the history of the straw industry. Texans coach Bill O’Brien gave Brock Osweiler the nod over Tom Savage this week, but the only quarterback really worth talking about here is the real Tom Savage, aka Tom Brady. The 39-year-old is coming off arguably one of his best seasons (and that’s saying something), which has him in the running for MVP.
In three career home games vs. Houston (one in the playoffs), Brady’s offenses have put up 40, 42 and 41 points, with Brady himself posting nine TDs and zero picks. Although this Patriots team has drawn comparisons to the 14-2 2010 Pats team that lost a stunner at home to Mark Sanchez and the Jets in this same round, it’s difficult to see how New England would duplicate what was probably the worst playoff loss in the Brady/Bill Belichick era.
Houston’s only hope is to pressure Brady and keep it a low-scoring affair. But this team is just too efficient offensively. This should serve as a nice AFC Championship Game walk through for the Patriots.
New England in a demolition, and they somehow cover that ridiculous line.
(#3) Pittsburgh Steelers at (#2) Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)
Clearly, the Steelers are looking to HHSR for bulletin board material.
Pittsburgh continues to prove ya boy wrong after smashing the Miami Dolphins at home on Sunday 30-12. They did it with quick strikes from Antonio Brown early, and a heavy dosage of Le’Veon Bell late.
Bell is fascinating. His patience while running is totally unique— Frank Gore was always the most patient runner I could remember watching, but this dude looks like a Shaolin monk compared to Gore. Most tailbacks are encouraged to find the hole and hit it decisively as soon as possible, but when Bell does his little hop around thing behind the line, it looks like anybody ought to be able to duplicate it. But there’s only one Le’Veon, and he almost always picks up positive yards, even on plays where it appears he shouldn’t.
We only saw a piece of the Bell package in the Miami game— he’s also probably the most talented pass-catching back going today. Even though Kansas City is without their do-everything running back Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs have still proven to be just as tough without him.
The completeness of Andy Reid’s team has led to the Chiefs have one of the NFL’s best records over the last two-plus seasons. Kansas City can legitimately beat you in all three phases.
Sidebar: And about that third phase— that Tyreek Hill is a monster.
The beauty in KC’s brand of football is in it’s simplicity: They take the football away from you, and they don’t give it back. The Chiefs ranked first in takeaways and turnover differential. This affords Alex Smith the luxury of not having to take the risks downfield for which he’s often criticized. That’s like being mad at your Uber driver for only going the speed limit even though you’re 30 minutes early. The Chiefs don’t beat themselves— you can go a long way in this league by not beating yourself.
The Steelers dismembered the Chiefs on October 4. Ben Roethlisberger was healthy then, and threw five TDs. But our Wildcard preview dove deep into the Steelers road woes and………and Harvey Dent is lurking. A pick party could easily break out when ole’ Two Face shows up and tries to throw at Marcus Peters and Eric Berry. Seriously, look at how trash Ben has been on the road this year.
A Steelers win will undoubtedly be on the shoulders of Le’Veon Bell, as KC’s defense is susceptible to the run. But with Arrowhead by their side, Andy Reid coming off a bye (where he’s always excelled), revenge on their mind, Dent in a walking boot and Joey Porter in jail, the Chiefs move on.
KC better not pull a Miami and fall behind 14-0 before the fans have a chance to find their seats though.
(#3) Seattle Seahawks at (#2) Atlanta Falcons (-5)
Remember this from last week?
“Seattle’s inconstant play for much of the year has been staggering, but much like an AFC team we’re about to preview, their struggles have been almost exclusively on the road. Since Seattle is at home Saturday, we’ll dive more into that next week.”
Welcome back! Let’s now take a closer look at Seattle’s road woes.
The Seahawks scored only three, six and 10 points in a loss at L.A., tie at Arizona, and loss at Green Bay. They got killed at Tampa in a game they only scored five points and lost in New Orleans. Four of those five teams missed the playoffs.
Seattle’s troubles though have been more deep-seated. On multiple occasions this year, the Seahawks have gotten into intense arguments, and in some cases nearly physical altercations on the sidelines during games. Several incidents have involved Richard Sherman, including him calling out his head coach and offensive coordinator.
Sidebar: Sherm also spent a decent amount of the season voicing his displeasure with Roger Goodell and the league at large. At some point, all this has to come back as a distraction for your team. Even his media boycott drew unnecessary attention to his team.
A few years ago, HHSR wrote a column about the different styles of leadership exhibited by three key players on this Seattle team. One of them, Marshawn Lynch, is no longer on the roster. It’s clear now that Pete Carroll misses Beastmode on the field and in the locker room. Lynch’s mellow disposition brought a much needed stability to this team. He never focused his anger towards his teammates, rather it was always focused on either the media or the opponent on Sunday. The same can’t be said about this Seahawks team.
Sherman and Michael Bennett are always in the media for something. The offensive line has been a pain point all year. And most importantly, this team stinks on the road.
This is Matt Ryan’s sixth playoff game (his first since January 2013)— he’s 1-4 right now, but his one victory came at home against Seattle, the year before Seattle became Seattle.
Well, Seattle ain’t Seattle anymore. They pushed around Detroit, but there’s little reason to believe they’ll duplicate that performance against a teem with low key one of the most dynamic offenses ever. The Seahawks beat the Falcons at home in Week 6, but even in the Pacific Northwest, Ryan carved up the sea birds to the tune of 335 yards, three TDs and only one pick.
Everyone knows Julio Jones was built in a lab, but what’s really unique about Atlanta is their two-headed monster at running back. Few teams have one running back as talented as Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman. Both are a threat to go to the crib via hand off or catching the ball out of the backfield. Dan Quinn may have stumbled on a new wave of offense, especially if he deploys the duo together (kinda like Belichick did with Gronkowski and Hernandez).
All outcomes are on the table for this one: Seahawks in a blowout, Seahawks wins close, Atlanta by a mile, or Atlanta on a Matt Bryant FG at the buzzer. Ultimately, Atlanta is dangerous while Seattle, when on the road, morphs into Ohio State the night they played Clemson. Earl Thomas is out, and it’s a looooooong flight from Seattle to ATL, just like it was a looooooong flight from Seattle to Charlotte a year ago. And we all remember how that played out.
The Falcons may or may not troll Russell Wilson with Future records during the game, but how could they lose in the same week Paperboi won two Golden Globes? Atlanta wins and covers.
(#5) Green Bay Packers at (#1) Dallas Cowboys (-4.5)
Three years ago, HHSR penned a column during the playoffs and posed the question: Can a rookie QB win the Super Bowl? In short, “no” was the conclusion reached, and we were proven right that year. Best thing you can hope for is a Tom Brady, second-year QB winning it. But the league hasn’t seen anything quite like Dak Prescott.
If we’re being honest, the Dak-riders got a little carried away midseason when they proclaimed him the next Joe Montana because he picked up a piece of trash on the sideline. In spite of all the attention he’s received, Dak has been terrific. But here’s where it gets interesting: I STILL believe (assuming he had been playing) that Tony Romo gives the Cowboys a better chance to win Sunday than Prescott because they’re going to need points if they want to best Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers’ magic carpet ride continued after a barrage of TDs in the second half shut down the Giants. During the game, Rodgers did something we hadn’t really seen before— look exactly like Aaron Rodgers, but without Jordy Nelson. AR put on a laser show that reminded everyone of why the Packers are always a tough out in January.
The Dallas defense is much improved, but in actuality their best defense is their ball-controlled, run dominant offense; an offense that pushed around Green Bay for 191 rushing yards at a 5.8 clip on October 17. The Packers turned it over four times and Aaron Rodgers looked pedestrian at home.
That won’t happen this Sunday.
Even with a banged up Nelson, Rodgers’ zone has been in a zone over the last two months. He torched the Giants on Sunday with Jordy on the sideline most of the game. Ezekiel Elliott should still get around 100 yards for the day, but Clay Matthews and company will sell out to shut him down, leaving it to Dak to win a shootout against the living legend himself in his first ever playoff game.
Dak will succeed on this level in the future, but it’s not his time. The sexy, “it” team of the moment usually falls sort of expectations (see Carolina Panthers, 2015) and of course…rookie quarterbacks don’t win Super Bowls. And let’s face it— most Cowboys fans have been way too arrogant this year, haven’t they?
And if they do, hopefully the timing will be right for a change.
The basketball gods never gave us the Kobe/LeBron NBA Finals we all wanted. A cruel combination of LeBron’s 2010 free agency, Dirk Nowitzki, the Orlando Magic and Mike Brown submarined that dream. It’s one of the great “what if’s” in recent sports history. There’s no way we should have completed the last seven seasons without a Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl. Remember their duel during the 2014 season? It was doctoral-level football.
After all the injuries, concussion talk, “what’s wrong with Rodgers” rhetoric, and 18 months of DeflateGate, we deserve this.
The timing is just right.
Kenneth’s Picks: Patriots, Falcons, Steelers, Packers
Anthony’s Picks: Patriots, Seahawks, Chiefs, Packers