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Monday, January 6, 2014

NFL Wild Card Playoff Playback

Wild on Sports
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NFL Wild Card Playoff Playback
By Wild on Sports Analyst Billy Ball

What a weekend it was! The NFL kicked off the 2014 playoffs in style with three of the four games being decided by a field goal or less and a major upset in the fourth game. The real fun begins this weekend as the top dogs come back after a week of rest to play their way towards New York and Super Bowl XLVIII.

AFC

Indianapolis Colts: 45
Kansas City Chiefs: 44

The playoffs got kicked off in style and a hole lot of offense. If you told someone before the game that there would be 89 points scored, none of which by Jamaal Charles, I think most people would look at you as if you had a second head. Well, points there were and boat loads of them.

The 1st half was all KC. The Chiefs took a 31-10 point lead into half time. Colts QB Andrew Luck and was turning the ball over left and right and it looked like the makings of a blowout. Lost in all of this was the fact that arguably the biggest game changer in this game was on the side lines after suffering an injury on the third play of the game. It was Knile Davis, not Jamaal Charles that was leading the way out of the backfield showing explosiveness in both the running and passing game. In addition, the Colts defense was making Alex Smith look like Joe Montana. Smith connected with Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Anthony Sherman for touchdowns, going to the half with a commanding lead.

The second half was a completely different story. As bad as Andrew Luck was in the first half, he was equally good (minus one throw) in the second. Luck ended up rattling off 443 yards through the air and four 4TD's (5 if you count a fumble recovery) in one of the biggest comeback in NFL playoff history. TY Hilton was the talk of the game 13 receptions for 224 yards and a pair of TD's.

This was really and edge of your seat type of game. It was clear that Indy came out nervous. They won't be able to afford to do that against Tom Brady and the Patriots this coming weekend. They can hang their hats this week knowing that they can come back if they keep fighting -- a trait that may serve them well moving forward against teams that can put up points in bunches, and fast.

San Diego Chargers: 27
Cincinnati Bengals: 10

Coming into the game as seven point underdogs, few people expected San Diego to go into Cincinnati and shut down the Bengals. Andy Dalton had been hot down the stretch and San Diego, despite beating arguably the best offense in the NFL in Denver, had shown some defensive vulnerability. That's what make playoff football great.

After playing a low scoring, hard fought battle int he first half, the Chargers came out at half time ready to go on offense. Their first offensive drive of the 2nd half went 10 plays for 80 yards chewing up nearly six minutes on the game clock and really set the tone for San Diego. They scored (TD-FG-FG) on their first three possessions of the half. Defensively, they gave Dalton and the Bengals fits intercepting two passes and not allowing Cincy to generate any type of sustained offense.

As a result, the Chargers now prepare to hit the road against the division rival Broncos in a building in which they won 27-20 back on December 12th. The Chargers continue to surprise, but there seems to be a trend when they show up to play and that has been the defense. In their last meeting with Denver, the Chargers held the Broncos to just 18 yards of rushing and in addition kept Peyton Manning under 300 yards passing. Whether they will be able to duplicate that remains to be seen, but clearly the blueprint for success has been laid.


NFC

New Orleans Saints: 26
Philadelphia Eagles: 24

Cursed in the cold no longer! All the talk leading into this game was about Drew Brees and the Saints inability to win outdoors in the cold weather.  Brees finished the game with just 250 yards with 1 TD and a pair of INT's. While he wasn't the spectacular superstar that he is at times at home in the dome, but he was good enough to will his team to victory.

Its funny to me really, all the talk around elite QB's about their struggles in the elements (Manning, Brees). Those claims seem to be a little far fetched given the small sample size, but maybe this is the years they kick that title.

As for the game itself, Mark Ingram was the surprise, filling in for an injured Pierre Thomas and leading the game in rushing with 97 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown.

For Chip Kelly, Nick Foles and the Eagles, this was the first taste of playoff football under the new regime. The talk in Philly this week will be that of dropped balls, missed field goals and play calling. All three have their merit and all three will be work on in the off-season. This is a young Eagles' team in terms of organizational development. They took a huge first step this season under Kelly in making the playoffs. They will be that much better down the road for the experience.

San Francisco 49ers: 23
Green Bay Packers: 20

This game just had the feeling throughout that the last team to possess the ball would win. The teams traded field goals and touchdowns throughout with neither team ever having a lead of more than six points. Both defenses played well. Both offenses found their ways at times, all around a great display of playoff football.

The biggest difference in this game was the rushing threat at QB from Colin Kaepernick. Last year Kaepernick exploded on the scene last in the season and playoffs with big plays both with his legs and his arm. Those two components where rarely in sync during the regular season but really came together well Sunday afternoon. Kaepernick led the game in rushing (98 yards) and seemed to just have a knack for picking up big third downs with his legs in key situations. If that trend can continue they will once again be extremely dangerous this off-season and positioned well to make another deep playoff run.


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