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Upon Further Review: Wild Card Weekend

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The Broncos OT victory capped off a wild start to the 2012 NFL playoffs.

Upon Further Review: Wild Card Weekend

Based on what I saw over the weekend, I think it's safe to say that we are in for a great string of playoff games this year.  Let's quickly go through what happened during the Wild Card games in a special postseason edition of Upon Further Review.

Denver Broncos 29 - Pittsburgh Steelers 23 (OT)

You will not see me get into religion here, no matter how many times Mark Jackson retweets Tebow 3:16 conspiracy theories.  I can't take anything away from Tebow or the Broncos' gameplan.  They confused the heck out of Pittsburgh with their option attack (did you see how many times James Harrison completely whiffed on the read) and Denver's superb blocking helped open up the secondary for Tebow.  The defense also came to play yesterday.  They put tons of pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, especially at the end of regulation when Pittsburgh was driving for the win.

But this is now the second straight year a much better wild card team has had to go on the road and lost in the first round.  Last year it was New Orleans.  Now it's Pittsburgh.  In my opinion, it's an absolute travesty that Pittsburgh was forced to play on the road after going 12-4.  Denver won their division, but with an 8-8 record.  There needs to be some sort of amendment to the playoff seeding that rewards better wild card teams for their regular season performances.  With vastly inferior divisions like the AFC West this year and the NFC West last season, something so valuable as homefield advantage shouldn't be decided purely on that distinction.

But I don't want to take anything away from Denver's win.  They were the better team last night, plain and simple.  And that game-winning play?  My goodness, Demaryius Thomas. 

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New York Giants 24 - Atlanta Falcons 2

That score represents the first time in playoff history that an NFL team was held to just 2 points.  There have been shutouts, but never 2-pointers.  This was truly a game of two halves.  The Giants barely won the first half, but the Falcons really dominated the line of scrimmage.  Atlanta's defensive line wasn't giving Eli Manning any time to operate.  Mike Smith's decision to go for it on 4th and 1 deep in Giants' territory backfired when Matt Ryan failed to get the first down.  They ended up forcing the safety, but 3-0 and 2-0 are two very different scores on the road.  The failure to convert was definitely in Smith's head when they didn't go for another 4th and short on the very next drive in Giants' territory.  Those defensive stands kept the Giants crowd in the game and the deficit at just two points.

In the second half, the Giants really turned it on.  Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw both ran with power and purpose.  Eli Manning was given more time to work and hit Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham with well-thrown passes.  The defense didn't let Michael Turner get going and forced Matt Ryan to make several bad throws.  And of course, the second 4th-and-1 debacle kept three more points off the board for Atlanta when the game was still manageable. 

New York appears to be hitting its stride at just the right time.  The pass rush is productive.  Brandon Jacobs is running well.  And Eli Manning just keeps doing his thing. 

Houston Texans 31 - Cincinnati Bengals 10

I'm not going to lie: this game put me to sleep.  But I might attribute that more to my lingering cold than the football being played.  Two rookie quarterbacks definitely showed their jitters early on.  T.J. Yates and Andy Dalton both looked shaky early on.  The difference was the running game.  Arian Foster took the pressure off Yates with his huge game running the ball and catching it out of the backfield.  Cincinnati couldn't get into any kind of a groove on the ground, and as a result Dalton couldn't really settle down.

It's hard to believe that a team playing with its third-string quarterback could win as impressively as Houston did on Saturday, but Arian Foster and Houston's defense will keep them in their ballgames the rest of the way.

New Orleans Saints 45 - Detroit Lions 28

Holy crap are the Saints scary.  I hit on how the game would play out in my preview Saturday, but I didn't expect New Orleans to pour it on like that.  Imagine if the Saints hadn't turned the ball over twice in the first half?  Detroit was really making all of those small plays early on, but couldn't come up with key turnovers in the second half.  If you give Drew Brees a second chance, he's going to make you pay. 

That's exactly what happened.  Not only was Brees firing, but the running game couldn't be stopped.  Pierre Thomas turned into Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl and couldn't be tackled.  Darren Sproles kept hitting the holes quickly and for huge gains.  And Chris Ivory also got some nice runs in.  New Orleans' ability to run the ball helped them maintain possession and keep the Lions' defense off-balance.  And while the Saints' defense was far from perfect, they brought enough heat to force two Matthew Stafford interceptions.  This Saints team looks dangerous.


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