Don’t you just love football, where one minute you’re discussing one thing and the next you open up a can of worms just diving into the football talk getting lost in the passion? Well, it helps me pass the time during my graveyard shift, plus I just can’t get enough of it. I feel like a mad scientist going into detail while trying to stay on topic. Thinking of my dad trying out for the Rams back in the day, listening to his stories, my friends have memories when they played, and I’m itching to play with the guys every Sunday morning like we’ve done all season. I’m not the biggest gambler in the world but I’ll flirt with the spreads here and there. Go ahead and listen to your music, I’m turning up sports talk radio to and from work. The NFL Goes Awol and you can come too. Separate yourself from everything else for a bit, and soak up what the playoffs are about and what these talented players have to offer. Later you can snap back to reality, but first let’s have a good time like former former coach Jim Mora…PLAYOFFS!
If there ever was a weekend in the playoffs where you could flip a coin to pick who wins, this was the year for it. Granted, we witnessed Green Bay get a convincing win over Minnesota, the anticipation and analysis was up in the air. Over in the AFC, Cincinnati was thought to have a great shot at defeating a favored Houston team. In hindsight, both home team held their ground as they prepare to hit the road and fight for their playoff lives. The Packers get their rematch against the 49ers. San Francisco won on the road to start the season and Green Bay is salivating to return the favor with the winner advancing to the NFC Championship game. Former coach Dennis Green would say they let them off the hook! The Texans also get a crack at revenge, facing the Patriots in New England. A month ago they collided with seeding implications on the line, where New England blew them out the stadium and plan on replaying that episode to reach the AFC Championship game.
The top seeds of their respective conferences, Atlanta and Denver, have another day to wait with a highly anticipated slate of games to be played. The Falcons await the survivor in D.C. Washington has scrapped their way to the NFC East division title and will host Seattle. The Seahawks are a better team at home with the 12th Man, but last postseason they did upset the Saints in New Orleans in the wildcard round. Atlanta is extremely challenging to beat in their dome, but that’s next week and we’ll cross that path as we come to it. Every football fan should be excited to see rookie quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson under the same lights. Not to mention the workhorses in the backfield, rookie sensation Alfred Morris, and the beast mode that is Marshawn Lynch. Pete Carroll, Mike Shanahan, and their coaching staffs, have done a tremendous job with these young teams which is why they’re in playoffs. Yes, playoffs! Seattle has the elite defense to give them the edge on the road, but you play to win the game and Washington has worked wonders with a couple standouts on injured reserve.
To win a date at Mile High stadium with Peyton Manning and the Broncos, easily the most emotional game of the season. The impressive story of the Indianapolis Colts, losing the aforementioned Manning to injury which resulted in the worst record and the first pick of the draft. To quickly paraphrase the story, they lose the face of the franchise and draft quarterback Andrew Luck. Oh, and you might have heard of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, the coaches that led a young Colts team to 11 wins overcoming adversity. Head Coach Chuck Pagano has been fighting leukemia and has been an inspiration to the organization and city as a whole with perseverance, all while offensive coordinator Bruce Arians served as the interim head coach and a playoff appearance. Pagano was the defensive coordinator for this week’s opponent. He coached the Ravens for a few years, so this upcoming game is kind of a homecoming. These are the moments we live for. Get fired up, living in the vision but refusing to live in circumstances.
There’s another twist added to this game, future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis announced that he will retire when the Ravens are done playing games. Lewis is widely known as a motivational speaker and a great leader, and has been hampered with some injuries between last year and missing two-thirds of this season. It’s not so much about the performance on the field, because the Ravens defense has regressed from their fear-striking status, but the presence of an empowering figure. There are even whispers about future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed following Lewis out the door. Surprising to most, I think the time has come and it all makes sense, win or lose. When discussing football, this game features the playmaking Ray Rice and the comeback kid Andrew Luck. Baltimore will be loud and emotional, as will the sportsmanship on the field when the clock runs out. For some, it could run out for good. After that, business is business, and the winner will focus their attention to a Denver team already watching and studying them.
Looking down the road, the consensus picks have the Patriots and Broncos on a collision course. You know, another Brady vs. Manning showdown, and when you think about it these guys aren’t getting any younger so enjoy it while they’re still here. That’s also a reference to the Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant.
On that note I’d like to give it to Adrian Peterson for willing a 3-13 team into the postseason while breaking rushing records along the way. As did his teammate, kicker Blair Walsh set a franchise record. Also Calvin Johnson, who inked his name into the record books for receiving, along with his quarterback Matthew Stafford for passing attempts. There’s more, but I digress…
This is where stars are born. Matt Ryan has an opportunity to take his game to the next level. Joe Flacco and Matt Schaub can save face by winning, or doing whatever they can to help Ray Rice and Arian Foster out. When the lights are on the playmakers rise to the occasion, this is what the offseason workouts and training camps were for. And for those eliminated, the Bengals combination of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have made the postseason both years of their careers thus far, this experience could be huge for them. Or for someone like Wes Welker, he’s been so good for so long as consistent as a player can be, the Patriots would be crazy to let him test free agency. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, you know they watched Victor Cruz shine last year, then there’s Reggie Wayne you can’t forget about him!
Those weary bloodshot eyes, drowning in the playbook and in the film. J.J. Watt followed a productive rookie season with a Defensive Player of the Year campaign. Linebacker Von Miller edged linebacker Aldon Smith last year for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and both are in the thick of defensive awards with Watt. Charles Woodson went down to injury, and what happens, rookie cornerback Casey Hayward steps in and seizes the opportunity by adding his name to this season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year mix. Bobby Wagner, rookie linebacker for the Seahawks, he’s in the hunt with Hayward and some other deserving players. His teammate, second year cornerback Richard Sherman, has thrusted into the spotlight as arguably the best defensive back for this year.
Notice something about all these guys? They are all key contributors and leaders on playoff teams in their first couple of seasons. Since they’re not in college anymore, their 40-year-old coach can’t protect them from the media. So for the most of us with teams focused on a hiring new GM, coach, and who to draft, we can watch and learn from an exciting postseason what our teams should target in the draft and free agency. But you know something, to every fan that dedicates time to their team and to the National Football League, there is no denying how special the playoff atmospheres and Super Bowl moments are when they come to fruition. Like a thing of beauty, gladiators on the grid-iron. The irony.