There’s a good chance you might have overdosed on football during the 2016 NFL Wildcard Round. I know I binged.
As the appetizers of the NFL playoff spread, the wildcard round provides the winner-take-all, loser-cleans-out-their-lockers-tomorrow thrill of postseason action but without the added bonus of seeing the league’s best teams in action. You don’t want to let this weekend get to your head too much because next week’s divisional round will bring us to the main course of the playoffs with the well-rested teams who have the best records.
Ever go out to eat at a restaurant on a busy night? You have to wait 30-40 minutes for your table — if you’re lucky — and when you’re finally sat, you then have to wait for your waiter and the normal food-to-table process. By now, there’s about a 134,000% chance that you’re starving by the time your waiter shows up to your table, so you order some appetizers to get the process going. Soon a sample platter (or two) is on the table, and everyone with fingers is throwing down mozzarella sticks, calamari, and chicken tenders — even the people that weren’t interested in ordering them when you did. These people are the worst, and you just know they’re gonna try to get out of paying for them when the bill arrives. (I digress.) In all this “hungry” madness, you might have accidentally eaten too much appetizer and spoiled your appetite dinner. Don’t be upset, this happens to every American living over the poverty level at least three times in their lifetime. It really is as American as apple pie.
(Maybe the saying should be: “It’s as American as not being able to finish your apple pie.” Anywho, like I said, I digress.)
You know what’s also as American as apple pie: The National Football League. As you may have been aware, the NFL playoffs kicked off this past weekend with the wildcard round. I was aware, let me tell you. My love of football is one of the most traditional American things about me. I watched every single second of action this weekend. My eyes glued to the TV and down to Twitter during commercials.
Why did I fail to take my own advice and not binge on the wildcard appetizers? The simple answer is I’m a hypocrite I’m joining the team at Total Sports Live!
When I first graduated from college, I was something of an aspiring sportswriter with the ultimate goal of writing about the NFL. Then the Great Recession hit, and I was very, VERY unemployed after deciding to move out to Southern California. After a few years chasing the financial independence that eluded my, um, burgeoning journalism career, recent events in my life and career are conspiring to bring me back into the game. Seriously, I’m excited about the opportunity and won’t take it lightly. In fact, I took about 5,000 words of notes over these two days. If that’s not binging on playoff football, then I frankly don’t know what is.
But enough about me, it’s really all about the football. So let’s have some fun looking back at some of the important themes that emerged from the NFL’s wildcard weekend. (And frankly, these are some appetizers I wouldn’t mind stuffing my face with any Sunday.)
Aaron Rodgers can’t stop, won’t stop, completing Hail Marys
At this point, we have a trend.
Long pass plays at the end of the halves aside, the Packers closed 2016 and opened 2017 on a mission. They’ve won seven straight with an average margin of victory at two touchdowns. It’s almost like when you start out simulating a Madden season with your franchise and you see they’re not really doing well by midseason. So you step in and go on a dominant run, since you are most likely superior to the computer opponent. You win out to take your division, and your quarterback doesn’t throw a pick. Aaron Rodgers is really, REALLY good. He has really good receivers (when healthy) and now he has the user playing all of his games in Madden. It’s almost surprising it took Green Bay so long to put it together. They look like they should’ve had a first round bye.
Screw it, this appetizer is delicious. When Rodgers goes supernova, the Packers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and they will face the NFC’s top-seeded Cowboys on Sunday.
The Pittsburgh triplets are here
Speaking of legit Super Bowl contenders, let’s take a quick trip over to the Three Rivers City and check out the NFL’s best quarterback-running back-wide receiver tandem: Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell.
We are watching three future Hall of Famers in their primes do their thing to unsuspecting defenders in the postseason. Amazingly, it’s the first time all three are healthy at the same in the postseason. If Bell wasn’t suspended for the first three games of the year (really, his annual suspension), Pittsburgh might have had this weekend off too.
Let’s start with Bell. Wow, patience is definitely one of his virtues. Play after play, Bell took his sweet time finding just the right hole and burst through for chunks of yards. I was a little in awe of this at the time:
For a few drives, the Steelers didn’t even bother incorporating any other players into the plan. Bell finished with a franchise-record 167 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns. Franchise records are pretty impressive for storied franchises with six Lombardi trophies.
While Bell was patiently awaiting his turn, Antonio Brown spent the first seven minutes of the game impersonating Jerry Rice, taking a pair of short completions and taking them all the way to the house. He finished the rest of the game quietly but still ended up with five receptions for 125 yards and those two touchdowns.
Oh, the guy handing the ball to Bell and throwing the ball to Brown, Big Ben Roethlisberger, has won a few big games himself. The Steelers are in very good hands as they head to Kansas City for an exciting divisional round matchup.
Pittsburgh’s only problem stems from the fact that Mike Tomlin didn’t take his starters out quick enough to stop an apparent foot injury to Roethlisberger. You know, he’s only the lynch-pin in this entire operation. I won’t be the one to tell Tomlin this because he has James Harrison on his side, and I would not want to make that man angry with me.
Brock Osweiler has his finest Texans moment
Osweiler checked off all the free agent disappointment checklists in the 2016 regular season, but in a postseason vacuum, he’s been worth every penny. Take last year’s Texans’ wildcard game with the Chiefs. The one where they were shutout and embarrassed at home. Since winning in the playoffs with solid quarterback play was their ultimate need last season, Osweiler has to have been worth every penny right with his victory and solid play on Saturday?
Maybe, but only if you live your life in these weird vacuums. Osweiler’s regular season was pretty bad, so he’ll need to do more than defeat a team that’s cratering under the loss of its young and ascending franchise quarterback. At the very least, he had his finest moment in a Houston uniform and gave the hometown fans a chance at deluding themselves into thinking their team could potentially beat the Patriots on Sunday.
And so does Jadeveon Clowney!
Move over, J.J. Watt! There’s another defensive end with your patented tip-at-the-line interception in Texans playoff games. Along with Clowney, fellow defensive lineman Whitney Mercilus made life miserable for Connor Cook, making his first NFL start in the playoff opener, and the dead-team-walking Raiders. That Derek Carr injury was mortal to their 2016 season. Hopefully, both the quarterback and his franchise rebound again in 2017. Unfortunately for Oakland fans, that might just be in Las Vegas.
Matthew Stafford and the Sputtering Detroit Playoff Lions
Sometimes, when you’re a woebegone franchise like the Detroit Lions, you’re thankful for mediocrity and feel blessed by “just good enough.” Matthew Stafford has a career of “just good enough” for a franchise quarterback. In Detroit, this makes him basically an all-time great. The problem, for me, is that he hasn’t lifted them higher with his first overall pick pedigree. Fair or not (which is passive-aggressive writing for “unfairly”), Stafford is judged by his franchise’s overall win-loss record. When facing a classic NFL quarterback in Aaron Rodgers (last week) and a classic NFL defense (Seattle), he’s come up short.
This shouldn’t take anything away from Stafford’s career when you consider where the Lions were when he arrived: 0-16. He’s put up a 5,000 yard passing season and a 40 touchdown season – which coincidentally happened in the 2011 season. Let’s also not forget about that middle finger injury this season, which might’ve derailed his coming-of-age run in 2016. It’s hard to quantify injuries, but let’s try this once with Stafford and his dislocated middle finger on his right-throwing hand:
Get to know the Fabulous Paul Richardson
I mean, did you see those catches?!
We need a Playoffs MVP for Pro Football!
Instead of a one-game, flash-in-the-pan, soon-to-be-forgotten, momentary hero crowned the Super Bowl MVP, we should consider the merits of the players that led their team’s all the way. Think of it like the NFL’s Conn Smythe Trophy. (Also, if you get an opportunity to mimic the postseason success that the NHL has going for it, you have to do it right?)
Each Super Bowl team plays three or four games in total. That’s enough volume to award a larger trophy to one of the players who played the largest part in his team’s postseason success. This will ensure that the true contributors to a championship are remembered properly.
This week, we have the smallest of sample sizes and are missing some of the best players. Therefore, we’re just going with a top three with the caveat that these are merely the clubhouse leaders with most of the best players yet to tee off.
- Le’Veon Bell – Since we require patience this week, let’s go with the most patient running back. (Ever?)
- Aaron Rodgers – That strong New York defense was dominated after the middle of the 2nd quarter.
- Thomas Rawls – This guy sure looks an awful lot like Marshawn Lynch.
So what if we might’ve filled up a bit on appetizers. We have four days to wait before we do it all over again, but this time with the best teams joining the party. I plan on bringing it for the divisional round as well next weekend. See you again soon for more!