The Divsional Weekend will kick-start the Playoffs

Posted Jan 9, 2017

10 storylines that caught the eye in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

Okay, let’s not sugar-coat this… it was not a classic Wild Card weekend in the NFL. In fact, with an average points differential of 19 in each game, it was the most lopsided since 1981. But there were plenty of performances that made headlines and there are always enough talking points to keep us going until the on-field action gets going again on Saturday night.

Here are 10 storylines that caught my eye in the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

Red-hot Rodgers

The New York Giants held Aaron Rodgers in check for one quarter on Sunday night and early in the second period the Green Bay Packers had -8 total yards. But you know the old adage about not being able to keep a good man down. Rodgers was ridiculously good for the final three quarters and threw for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns and his team pulled away late for a 38-13 win. With outstanding movement, Rodgers keeps plays along longer than most defensive backs would care to imagine and, on current form, he and the Packers have every chance of keeping their remarkable run rolling in Dallas on Sunday night… even if the banged-up Jordy Nelson cannot go.

Packers receivers step up

I’m sure it must be a bit easier to play receiver when a future Hall of Famer is flinging the passes in your direction, but that should not detract from the way Randall Cobb and Davante Adams stepped up for Green Bay on Sunday. Adams had 8 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Cobb – who had missed the previous two games with an ankle injury – had 5 receptions for 116 yards and 3 scores. To have such production from other receivers slightly lessens the blow if Nelson is out for an extended period of time.

Giants receivers let their team down

And before Big Blue fans get too hot under the collar about the “non-story of the week” this is not about Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz being shirtless on a boat in Miami on their day off. This about putting too many footballs on the floor – twice in the end zone – early in a game where New York could have set an early tone and got their noses in front against a Packers team that was going to get hot at some point. Oh and that other stuff? It is going to be the off-season narrative for OBJ, whether he likes it or not.

Pittsburgh’s triplets run riot

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell firing on all cylinders during Pittsburgh’s 30-12 win over Miami, it very quickly became evident that the banged-up and under-manned Dolphins were going to be out-classed. The Steelers can score points for fun when that trio is in top form and now we have to see if Pittsburgh, who have not played anywhere near as well on the road this season can take their roadshow to Kansas City with the same explosive efficiency.

Tomlin rolling the dice?

I thought Mike Tomlin took some unnecessary risks by keeping his three big stars in the game late against the Dolphins. And Brown was returning punts and recovering onside kicks, which was crazy. And late in a contest that was well and truly won, Big Ben took a big hit on an interception and left the stadium after his post-match press conference in a walking boot. He insists he will be fine but in a season when so many star players have been sidelined, was it really worth the risk having him out there at all?

Much to celebrate in Miami

Their final two games – heavy losses to New England and Pittsburgh – reminded Miami that they are a step below the elite teams in the AFC, but this 10-win campaign has to go down as a success for the Dolphins and Adam Gase is a genuine contender for NFL Coach of the Year. With 32 players aged 26 or younger, the future is bright for the Dolphins and I cannot wait to see how British running back Jay Ajayi grows in the coming years. He is already one of the league’s best running backs and has the skills and desire to remain as such for many seasons to come.

Seahawks revert to type

It was not always pretty but that was more like it from the Seattle Seahawks as they pounded the Detroit Lions to the tune of a 26-6 scoreline on Saturday night. Seattle had somehow gotten away from the run in 2016 and ended the regular season ranked 25th in rushing with 99 yards per game. But against the Lions, Thomas Rawls rushed for a club playoff record 161 yards and will be called upon to do the same again this weekend as the Seahawks play keep-away from Matt Ryan and co.

Texans bully the Raiders

In his first NFL start, it was all too much for Connor Cook as his Oakland Raiders fell to a 27-14 defeat in Houston. But I don’t think we should heap too much scorn on the rookie quarterback. He was, after all, facing one heck of a defense led by the freakishly athletic Jadeveon Clowney. But this Houston team is about more than the pass rush provided by Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. Vince Wilfork and Brian Cushing make them a tough team to run on and the secondary is filled with big-time players, most notably the emerging AJ Buoye at cornerback.

Osweiler avoids the big mistakes

Houston like to lean heavily on their defense and win with the running game and field position – and that means Brock Osweiler has to avoid the turnovers that plagued him all year long and led to his second December benching in as many seasons. But Osweiler has now gone two games without a turnover and if he can keep that form going, Houston have a much better chance of winning. Having said that, they open as whopping 16 ½ point underdogs against New England this weekend.

Cruel end for the Raiders

The way the Oakland Raiders season ended reminded us all that staying healthy is a big factor when it comes to having success. This was a team that looked like a serious Super Bowl contender until Derek Carr broke his leg on Christmas Eve. And then going into Saturday’s game against Houston, premier left tackle Donald Penn was ruled out with a knee injury. That, coupled with a temporary in-game loss of center Rodney Hudson, proved too much for the Silver and Black to handle. But they should be applauded for a great effort in 2016 – they just got unlucky at the worst possible time of the year.


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