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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This week the NASCAR cup series heads to the world center of racing, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the inaugural fourth of July version of the Brickyard 400. This is unprecedented for NASCAR considering over the course of 50 years they are usually in Daytona around this time. While this move was met with a lot of criticism from fans, there is a positive to come from this move though, as the sport will hold their first doubleheader with Indycar. This has been talked about for many years and now it has finally come to fruition. Another new facet of this weekend will be the Xfinity Series running on the road course configuration. This could very well lead to the cup series transitioning from the oval to the road course next season should everything go well when the Xfinity series does it. It will definitely be an interesting weekend.

Last week, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin dominated the first-ever doubleheader at Pocono. The two drivers finished first and second in both races with Harvick taking race one and Hamlin winning race two. Both of these races came down to pit-road strategy as Harvick was able to eke out a victory by taking two tires and fuel while his teammate Aric Almirola took four. The next day Denny Hamlin pretty much had the whole field covered as he went on to claim his fourth victory of the season. Overall, the idea of two races in a weekend went over well but for the racing itself, it was hard to watch. One of the main issues I had was how the drivers didn't have to shift this week. In my opinion, that was what made this track so unique. It was an oval that had road course characteristics and it usually produced some pretty good finishes. Hopefully this will be addressed when the new car makes its debut in 2022.

One of the big stories going into this week is the announcement a couple of weeks ago that NASCAR will be moving their all-star event to Bristol Motor Speedway. Over the past couple of weeks, there has been a whirlwind of news from the Bubba Wallace story at Talladega, to the doubleheader races last week. A lot of this has put this announcement on the back burner but this is a huge story. The race will be held on Wednesday, July 15th as NASCAR continues with midweek races. This is the first time since 1986 that the race will not be run at NASCAR's home track in Charlotte back when it took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The format will be pretty much the same as all the winners from 2019 and 2020 will all have an automatic birth into the race while the rest of the field will run in the open event the day before. The main event will feature four stages including a 15 lap closer around one of NASCAR's most popular race tracks. I think this move was long overdue and I hope that they continue with it in the future. Don't get me wrong, there isn't anything wrong with the race at Charlotte but I think a change of pace would be welcomed. I look forward to seeing how this turns out.

As we move on to Indy this weekend, the driver I have winning is Kurt Busch. This weekend will be the 2004 Cup Series champion's 700th career start, and he's won just about every race that there is to be won except this one here at the Brickyard. This week, that is going to change. It hasn't been the most consistent season for the Vegas native, but he still sits tenth in points and right in the thick of the playoff battle. This track isn't his best as he currently has a 19.42 average finish, including a dismal 30th place finish last year. But this week, I think he gets back on track with a victory as he starts second. The veteran has flown under the radar this year, but he has definitely shown spurts where we think he is going to break-out. He also has runs where it seems like him and his team are mid-pack, but there aren't many drivers out there that have the experience he has. And a talented driver like him always finds a way to bounce back. Look for Kurt Busch to take the #1 Monster Energy Camaro to victory lane.

All stats and information used in this article are brought to you by the good folks at driveraverages.com and Racing-Reference.com, the best websites for all NASCAR stats.

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