NFL Divisional Playoff Picture

NFL Divisional Playoffs

Wild Card Recap

Last week the NFL Wild Card games were played. The Houston Texans defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in a low scoring matchup resulting in a final score of 19-13. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings by two touchdowns for a final score of 24-10. The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Washington Redskins by a final score of 24-14 and, in a highly anticipated matchup, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Indianapolis Colts with a convincing 24-9 victory. For the Ravens game in particular, the anticipation was not because it was playoffs or that the teams matched well. Instead, the excitement surrounding the game was a result of an announcement that came in the days leading up to the game.

Ray Lewis Announces Retirement

Ray Lewis is perhaps one of the most valuable defensive players of all time. As linebacker, Lewis has played in 17 NFL seasons – all as a Baltimore Raven. Although he does not pay close attention nor concern himself too much with his own individual stats, they are impossible to ignore. Drafted first round in 1996, Lewis eventually went on to help his team win Super Bowl XXXV, earning the MVP award for the game. In addition to that one standout accomplishment, Lewis notably racked up over fifteen hundred solo tackles, 19 forced fumbles, over 40 sacks and 31 interceptions, which resulted in greater than 300 return yards and three touchdowns. There is no doubt that Lewis earned his paycheck each and every game he stepped out on the field and his pick as Defensive Player of the Year, twice.

Incredibly, while perfecting his own game, Lewis also served as a role model and leader for his teammates – playing an important role in their development, also helping them become better athletes, mentally tough and emotionally & physically prepared for each game. His leadership qualities surely were considered when selected for the Pro Bowl more than a dozen times and when named seven-time First-Team All-Pro.

After returning from an injury related absence this season, Lewis announced at the close of the regular season that he would not be returning for the following season. While the news came abruptly and seemingly prematurely, Lewis’ explanation for the timing of his announcement actually made perfect sense. To put it simply, Lewis eluded to the fact that he has had a great NFL career, has done as much as he could in the league, and his calling is now to be with his family – a supporting father to his kids. As for the timing of his announcement, he decided that the fans that have supported him for 17 years deserved to know what was going on so that when they came to the games they had full awareness of what was at stake. From a stakeholder perspective, it actually might have been one of the classiest decisions ever made by an NFL player. The idea that fans now know that this is their last opportunity to see Ray Lewis play definitely inhibits anyone from feeling cheated by an announcement following the end of the playoff season. It also eliminates any speculation that the announcement is merely a media stunt to capture more attention. Analyzed from every angle, the more you ponder Lewis’ decision, the more it makes perfect sense and, undoubtedly, the more you can’t help but feel a little bit compelled to root for the Ravens, just because Lewis is a likable guy and wildly entertaining on the field.

Divisional Playoff Scenarios

• Baltimore Ravens vs Denver Broncos

The Baltimore Ravens take on the Denver Broncos on Saturday 1/12 at 4:30pm. What a story it would be if the Raven’s advanced and went on to win the Super Bowl the year Ray Lewis announced his retirement heading into playoffs. One thing is for sure, the stage is set for the Raven’s to capture the spotlight and, having made it beyond round 1, all eyes will be this game. While having little to do with the actual play of the game, the emotional matchup here is Lewis’ retirement vs Peyton Manning’s return. It’s interesting to see which headline will turn more heads and capture more hearts as the world decides who they will root for in this game. It seems logical that the player leaving will have the edge and perhaps steal the victory since, more often than not, the player representing the uniform for the potential last time tends to play harder and generate a stronger reaction from teammates than the guy that has staged a comeback. All statistical odds aside, the winning team ought to be the one playing with more heart that day. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my money on Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens.

• Green Bay Packers vs San Francisco 49ers

This game between the Green Bay Packeres and the San Francisco 49ers kicks off at 8pm on Saturday and is destined to be a great matchup as both Aaron Rodgers, of the Packers, and Colin Kaepernick, of the 49ers, are definitive threats in the passing game. The game is anticipated to be a shootout, however, the team that masters the running game will likely come out on top. Experienced running back, Frank Gore, will lead the charge for the 49ers while quarterback, Kaepernick, will likely be the difference maker if he can successfully advance the ground game through a few carries himself. The 49ers aren’t at full strength on defense though and leave room for Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, to exploit the secondary. However, there are a few holes in Green Bay’s game as well and it’ll be up to the Niners defense to do their job in finding them in order for the team to come out on top.

• Seattle Seahawks vs Atlanta Falcons

The Seattle Seahawks face off against the Atlanta Falcons at 1pm on Sunday afternoon. Matt Ryan leads the charge for the Falcons in a game that they are favored in by analysts heading into the weekend. The Falcons are desperate for a playoff win and despite the Seahawks excellent running back, Marshawn Lynch, this playoff matchup is slated to be the first playoff game win for the Falcons in, what will be, their fourth attempt.

• Houston Texans vs New England Patriots

In the last matchup of the weekend, the Houston Texans take on the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm. Similar to the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers game, the Texans / Patriots matchup is likely to be decided by the quarterbacks. Veteran Tom Brady will be poised and on target as he most always is. It’ll be up to the relatively inexperienced Matt Schaub to hold his own if he hopes to keep the Texans afloat come Sunday. The New York Giants have notably knocked off the Patriots in Super Bowl matchups, including one instance when the Patriots were playing perfect football. They found success in the attack, drawing up an aggressive offensive strike while apply constant pressure to the typically patient Tom Brady. Houston will have to apply the same strategy if they hope to beat New England. Therefore, look for the Texans to come out swinging with big offensive plays and a highly aggressive defense. As long as they can consistently get close to Tom Brady and move him out of the pocket, they will be sure to increase their odds of victory. However, relentless pressure on the quarterback will leave them susceptible to the deep threat if they cannot get hands in Brady’s face. They will have to be in position to make contact with Brady within a 3-5 second count if they don’t want to get burned for extra yardage. The Texans should also hope that their defensive linemen and linebackers are in top-notch shape in order to maintain the stamina they will need to keep that kind of pass rush active for the entire duration of the game. If they tucker out with 15 minutes to go, Brady will be sure to capitalize and no lead is safe at that point.