Wild Card Report

NFL WILD CARD ROUND WEEKEND RE-CAPS AS WE HAIL THE WINNERS AND LOOK FORWARD TO THIS WEEK’S DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES

By Jim Hurley

THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND IN REVIEW (AND WHAT LIES AHEAD THIS WEEKEND IN THE DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS)

Go ahead and raise your hand if you had the Colts, Saints, Chargers and 49ers all getting NFL Playoff Wild Card wins this past weekend … thought so!

Hey, every year this opening weekend of NFL post-season play brings its share of surprises/themes and while road teams banged out wins in three of the four games, how ‘bout the fact that we had games decided by 1, 2 and 3 points … and the lone “blowout” was the biggest underdog on the board (7-point pup San Diego) winning by 17 points?

The bottom line is that any/all teams from the AFC North, the NFC East and the NFC North are officially “gonzo” from this year’s post-season as we’ll have a pair of NFC South vs. NFC West matchups on this weekend’s card along with a couple of old pals from the AFC West tangling against one another – but how about it’s the first time ever that San Diego and Denver will play one another in the post-season?

Here’s some quickie comments on all four NFL Wild Card Games followed by an early-bird look at what’s straight ahead:

Last Saturday, it was …

INDIANAPOLIS 45, KANSAS CITY 44 – No doubt the injuries that piled up on the Chiefs’ side came back to roost as the opening-series loss of RB Jamaal Charles (head) was a killer and CB Brandon Flowers was dearly missed, too... but can someone tell us whatever happened to the KC pass rush that was once-upon-a-time so fierce this year and yet managed just one sack of Indy QB Andrew Luck?

The Colts scored TDs on 5-of-6 red-zone trips – yes, the Luck recovery of a goal-line fumble and subsequent TD was pure luck indeed – plus it’s about time wide-out T.Y. Hilton (13 receptions for 224 yards and two TDs) started to get mentioned with the league’s elite.

NEW ORLEANS 26, PHILADELPHIA 24 – No more talk about the Saints’ inability to win a playoff road game or to play in cold weather, but the truth of the matter is the Birds blew it when they didn’t take full advantage of those two QB Drew Brees INTs in the first half of this prime-time tilt – maybe Philly should have allowed QB Nick Foles to chuck it deep more – but the biggest “hats off” here goes to Saints DC Rob Ryan, who bottled up Eagles RB LeSean McCoy (21 carries for 77 yards) who never did go for a run longer than 11 yards … hmmm.

On Sunday, it was …

SAN DIEGO 27, CINCINNATI 10 – The one-and-only “new” head coach to win a wild card game turned out to be SD’s Mike McCoy as both KC’s Andy Reid and Philly’s Chip Kelly were losers and give McCoy (and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt) credit for holding onto the no-huddle portion of the Chargers’ offense as that look to start the second half baffled the Bengals who otherwise did a pretty good job of self-destructing on their own – no crying about your two INTs and lost fumble, Mr. Andy Dalton!

SAN FRANCISCO 23, GREEN BAY 20 – It was quite the heavyweight title fight down the stretch with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers directing an 11-play, 61-yard drive capped by PK Mason Crosby’s field goal to tie it at 20-20, but who knew that Mike McCarthy’s club was never gonna see the ball again in the final 5:06?

The ultra-clutch pass/run plays made by San Fran signal-caller Colin Kaepernick proved to be his “finest hour” in the NFL (227 yards passing and 98 yards rushing) and kudos to vet PK Phil Dawson for his game-winning 33-yarder that barely escaped the fingertips of one Green Bay kick-block specialist.

Most overlooked part of the Niners’ wild card win? They only allowed one TD in all to Green Bay wide outs Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.

In Saturday’s upcoming NFL Divisional Playoffs, it’s …

NEW ORLEANS (12-5) at SEATTLE (13-3) – 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox

No need to remind Brees and the N’Orleans Saints of their 34-7 loss in Seattle back on Dec. 2nd.

The host Seahawks – who lost just one home game this year (to Arizona in Week 16) – bottled up the high-octane Saints offense that Monday Night, but now there’s a bit of different twist here with New Orleans rushing the football to the tune of 185 yards in Saturday’s down-to-the-wire 26-24 win at 3-point favorite Philadelphia.

The Saints averaged a haughty 5.1 yards a run in that first-ever playoff road win with RB Mark Ingram (18 carries for 97 yards) the main headliner, and it’s no doubt critical that Sean Payton’s crew keeps the heat off Brees with another 125-plus yard ground game here.

Note the Seahawks figure to test Saints CB Keenan Lewis (head), who desperately wanted back in to that wild card triumph in Philly, but odds are this game plan will call for Seattle QB Russell Wilson to run it six or seven times on sweeps/draws – can Saints’ LB Curtis Lofton “control” Wilson here?

INDIANAPOLIS (12-5) at NEW ENGLAND (12-4) – 8 p.m. ET, CBS

Gotta believe that this year’s playoff bye for the Patriots was a major plus as QB Tom Brady needed some rest time and that overworked secondary needed to brush up on how to handle the aforementioned Hilton and the pass-first Colts.

It’s worth noting that Bill Belichick’s crew has split its last six playoff home games dating back to 2009, but the Pats have won/covered home Divisional Playoff games each of the past two years and the extra time here should help a D-line that was running on fumes late in the regular season.

Magic number here? Brady probably needs to throw for 300-plus yards against this wobbly Colts defense … now wouldn’t it be something if Indy PK AdamVinatieri haunted his old team one mo’ time?

In Sunday’s NFL Divisional Playoffs, it’s …

SAN FRANCISCO (13-4) at CAROLINA (12-4) – 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Maybe the biggest mystery at the #1 or #2 seed are these Carolina Panthers, who played plenty of close games this year (Ron Rivera’s team won five games by four points or less), but now here’s QB Cam Newton facing a top-flight defense that’s already seen ‘em once this year in that Week 10 win by Carolina 10-9 in Frisco.

The Niners – who now have won four playoff games in three years under head coach Jim Harbaugh – must do something to steer Carolina LB Luke Kuechley off his mark, and that might mean lots of play-action fakes by Kaepernick here. Hey, WR Michael Crabtree (125 yards receiving) was a legit star on the frosty tundra of Lambeau Field last week and maybe he’s “this year’s” Anquan Boldin.

SAN DIEGO (10-7) at DENVER (13-3) – 4:40 p.m. ET, CBS

If Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers laughingly would like to call this “Round 6” of his team’s playoff quest, let ‘em have some fun as the Bolts have been life-and-death for weeks now and must do the almost unthinkable here and that’s beat Denver at home twice in a single season.

Okay, so the Broncos set just about every offensive record known to NFL mankind this year with QB Peyton Manning tossing 55 TD passes (and only 10 INTs) but Denver’s O-line was hardly a thing of stability down the stretch and so maybe some well-timed/well-schemed blitzes will unnerve Manning here.

The Chargers won Round I in the Mile High City 27-20 and you might recall the 10-point underdogs possessed the ball for some 38:49 in that prime-time tilt while and didn’t commit a single turnover.

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