NFL Divisional Round Review

Well, in the end, everything went according to plan – kinda.

The four teams progressing to the Conference Championship games were no surprise to me, but the NFL always has a way of surprising even when the results seem to fall the way of the predictable.

Thanks to a fortunate schedule, I was able to catch 99% of the Divisional Round games and here is how I saw them play out…

For much of the contest, Green Bay was in control – as the scoreboard suggests – but LAR made a couple of defensive stands before reducing a 15-point deficit to just seven but could never completely drag themselves back into the contest.

Aaron Rodgers was deadly, without blowing us away on the stats sheet as he ended the game with 296 yards and 2 TD. His command of the team’s offence, what the defence is trying to achieve and how to get his playmakers into the game is next level.

In the aftermath of this game, head coach Sean McVay could not guarantee QB Jared Goff’s place on the team next year – which surprised me.

Where this one was won;
Green Bay unleashed a three-headed monster at running back, with Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and rookie A.J. Dillon combining for more than 200 all-purpose yards. Again, it was less about the raw number and more about the way the Packers backs went about carrying the ball.
Jones ripped off a 60-yard dash whilst Williams and Dillon continually pounded the Rams linebackers and safeties.

Of course, Green Bay will only go as far as Rodgers takes them but with a triple treat of backs the Cheese Heads all of a sudden have yet another weapon to utilise.

Where this one was lost;
Goff underwent thumb surgery on December 27 and to be frank, has not looked like himself before or after the operation. Such has been his demise, Rams hierarchy went with John Wolford over Goff last week.
Once an explosive offence, the Rams could only manage one play of more than 20 yards through the air with Goff averaging just 6.4 yards per pass.

It seems like LA are evaluating whether Goff is the quarterback to take them forward. Everything else is in place but will the former No. 1 pick be around to lead them forward?

Much was made of the Ravens multi-faceted running attack, led by QB Lamar Jackson. The Bills defensive unit heard this praise as well and took it personally.

In the end, the high powered offences never got rolling and no offensive player – aside from Stefon Diggs – truly got going.

Jackson threw a pick six in the third quarter then went down with a concussion, effectively ending the game from that moment. Jackson’s passing outside the numbers needs to evolve but the Ravens also need to acquire a couple of difference-making receivers out there for him to utilise.

Where this one was won;
The Bills defence stood tallest.
Jackson was held to just 162 passing yards without a TD but significantly, he could manage just 34 rushing yards on nine tries. Likewise, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards were held in check.
Taron Johnson’s 101-yard pick six was a game-changer and – in the end – a game-sealer!

Where this one was lost;
It’s easy to be an expert after the fact, but Baltimore simply needs more from the passing game.
Patrick Queen and Marcus Peters lead a staunch defence whilst the Ravens rushing attack has put up historical numbers.

Aerially, things fall apart. Hollywood Brown is a nice piece but he’s 5-10″ and not exactly going to win 50-50 balls along the sideline. Willie Snead was the team’s third highest receiver by yards with just 432. It’s nowhere near enough.
JuJu is a free agent and there are plenty of talented receivers in the draft – go and get one… or two.

I wondered whether last week’s emotional victory over Pittsburgh could’ve been their Grand Final and early in this one, KC looked like they’d cruise past Cleveland without too much fuss.
But, Kansas City’s drives ended in field goals rather than touchdowns and the Browns power game began to come to life. Nick Chubb had just 13 carries but he was effective when running the rock and for as much as the Chiefs had dominated, had Rashard Higgins not fumbled on the goal line resulting in a touchback then the Brownies had every right to feel in the contest.

Then, when Patrick Mahomes took a shot to the neck and got up with jelly legs everything changed.

When Kareem Hunt ran in a TD, making it 22-17 you could’ve easily expected Cleveland to pinch the most unlikely victory with Mahomes now listed as out.

Enter, Chad Henne.

The reserve QB threw a mindless pick but gathered himself to throw for 66 yards on 6/8 passing including an inspirational third down run where he got 13 of the 14 yards the Chiefs needed for a game-clinching first down.
As is the Andy Reid way, KC went for the throat on fourth down and Henne rolled out to his right and found Tyreek Hill for an easy conversion… but those who know the game best will explain just how gutsy that call is.

Where this one was won;
Sure, Mahomes is the man of the moment but Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are two of the most potent playmakers in the NFL.
Hill has frightening speed and Kelce is an all-world TE.
The Cheetah ended today’s game with 8-110-1 and Kelce had 8-109-1.

Where this one was lost;
For the Browns to stun the champs, Chubb and Hunt were going to need to dominate and that was simply not the case. Chubb made some nice runs but only had 13 attempts and Hunt was unable to have any big plays aside from a TD run from inside the 10.

In the two contests during the regular season, New Orleans had a 2-0 edge with a +46 point differential however everyone knew that was not a true tale of what would happen here.

Drew Brees made more errors in this game than he’s made in a full season in his prime with three crucial picks. Tampa Bay’s defence was amped up, led by Devin White who was absolutely everywhere, covering Alvin Kamara and ending the game with a fumble recovery, an interception, 11 tackles and a tackle for loss. White was the game’s MVP!

Where this game was won;
The Buccaneers defence showed up and showed out!
White was enormous but LaVonte David had 7 tackles whilst Sean Murphy-Bunting and Mike Edwards chimed in with picks as well.
Next up… Aaron Rodgers…

Where this game was lost;
You hate to say it but Brees’ inability to penetrate the Buccaneers secondary meant the linebackers and safeties of the Bucs could be aggressive and load the box.
Mike Thomas had no catches and besides a 56-yard trick play TD (which was thrown by Jameis Winston) the Saints had no aerial completion of more than 16 yards.

Next week it’s Tampa Bay @ Green Bay for the NFC title and Buffalo @ Kansas City for the AFC crown.

Let’s go!

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