NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round

NFL Divisional Round: Good, bad and ugly

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Last week's Wildcard Round of the playoffs delivered some close games. All four games were decided by one possession/score. The Divisional Round decided to go in a much different direction. Here are my observations:

The Good

-Another week of football, another monster day from Titan's running back Derrick Henry. He totaled 195 yards on 30 carries. He's been their Eddie George 2.0 this season. The last time they had a bellcow running back, good defense, and a quarterback capable of making plays when need be, they were a few yards short of winning a Super Bowl. Just saying.

-Major props to 49ers brass. General manager John Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh have made all the right moves in building this team and dialing up the right plays. Those moves have paid off to the tune of being one win away from a Super Bowl appearance after their 27-10 win over the Vikings. This was in large part due to the rushing yardage differential stats: +165 in yards, +37 in attempts, and +17 minutes in time of possession. There's my contribution to the analytics world.

-In a quarterback dual on the "Frozen Tundra", Packers' quarterback Aaron Roders outdueled Seahawks' Russell Wilson in a 28-23 win. Both quarterbacks made great plays and kept their teams either in the lead (Rodgers) or fighting for a chance to win (Wilson). This was the lone one-score game this weekend. It came down to Rodgers finding his favorite target, Davante Adams, on the final drive for a crucial 3rd down conversion. He sealed the deal with another 3rd down conversion to Jimmy Graham a few plays later.

The Bad

-Special teams is the phase of the game that people forget about. It's often critical in deciding games. While the score was 24-10 in favor of the 49ers with 1:05 left in the 3rd quarter, Vikings' punt returner Marcus Sherels muffed a punt the 49ers recovered at Viking 10 yard line. They went on to kick a field goal in what was the final score of the game. The Vikings could've cut the deficit in half. Instead, they went down three scores and never recovered.

-The Ravens made several uncharacteristic plays and mistakes that led to their one and done exit in this year's playoffs. Their three turnovers, seven penalties for 56 yards, and 2:1 pass to run ratio all led to their 28-12 upset special. This was a team that set an NFL record for rushing yards and were a +10 in the turnover department. I'll say it again: dance with the one that got you there.

-For as good as the Seahawks' defense can be, they couldn't find an answer for Davante Adams. He went for 160 yards on eight catches with two of those catches being touchdowns. He repeatedly torched the Seahawks' secondary as Rodgers owes half of his 16 completions to Adams. Oh, and Clowney still jumps offsides, just in a different uniform. That happened to move the ball a half yard closer on a 3rd&Goal from the 1-yard line greasing the skids for another Packer touchdown.

The Ugly

-The Packers were hit by some sort of illness this past week. While some members of the team were able to recover, right tackle Bryan Bulaga had to leave the field during warmups. While the nature of the illness wasn't revealed, it must've been something pretty bad to take him out during warmups. He was qouted as saying he felt sick when he woke up.

-The Titans were able to beat the Ravens by jumping out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back. Lamar Jackson threw an interception that was brought to their 35-yard line and led to the Titans' first touchdown. On their next possession, the Ravens decided to go for it on 4th&1 on their own 45-yard line and failed to convert. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill connected on the most important of his eight completions with a 45-yard touchdown strike to Kalif Raymond. That sequence cost the Ravens the game.

-Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was 10th in the league in rushing yards this season with 1,135 and the team was 6th in the league with 133.3 rushing yards per game. It's hard to hit those kind of numbers when you only run the ball 10 times as a team. They went into the half down 14-10 and seemingly in striking distance. From there, they pissed their pants and never recovered. Kirk Cousins was also sacked six times. Maybe a more consistent run game would've helped that final score.

The Wildcard Round fooled us into thinking we'd have more great games this weekend. The Divisional Round laughed in our faces as it put out three games decided by multiple possessions. These games were like waiting to spend your holidays with your dysfunctional family: you already know the outcome before it's over. Thankfully the Packers and Seahawks saved the weekend like that one cool cousin does when he/she gets the family to get along right before everyone leaves. We now have a Chiefs vs Titans matchup in the AFC Championship game, and a 49ers vs Packers matchup in NFC Championship game. Three of these teams were almost expected to make it here. It's the one that wasn't (Titans) that could be the most problematic.

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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