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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Houston dropped two of three

Astros drop series finale to Oakland, A's win series

Jose Urquidy couldn't hold Oakland back on Saturday. Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

With Oakland finally ending their drought against the Astros on Friday night to split the first two games of the series, and with the Angels staying in step with them as both teams started the day 6-2, the Astros needed a win to keep momentum in their favor on Saturday.

Instead, Oakland would outslug Houston once again to take the series finale and take the series win. The loss moves Houston to 6-3 and down to second place, at least for now, until the 6-2 Angels complete their game on Saturday evening.

Final Score: A's 7, Astros 3

Astros' Record: 6-3, second in AL West

Winning Pitcher: Frankie Montas (1-1)

Losing Pitcher: Jose Urquidy (0-1)

Urquidy gives up four over six

Much like the night before, Oakland was able to bring in runs against Houston's starter, this time Jose Urquidy, Saturday afternoon in their second time through the order. Their first time through, Urquidy was cruising, allowing just one baserunner in the first three innings on a single in the top of the third.

Things shifted in the top of the fourth, with the A's getting back-to-back singles to set the stage for a two-run frame with dual RBI-singles to take a 2-0 lead. Oakland doubled that in the fifth, getting a two-out single to set up a two-run homer by Ramon Laureano to make it 4-0. Urquidy would go on to finish six innings, but with no run support to that point, would leave in line for the loss. His final line: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 93 P.

A's pad their lead before Houston gets on the board

Meanwhile, although getting five hits, the Astros could not get anything on the board against Frankie Montas through six innings. Brandon Bielak took over out of the bullpen for Urquidy in the top of the seventh, but after loading the bases, he would allow a dagger two-RBI single to make it a 6-0 deficit for Houston.

With Montas starting the seventh looking to face a batter or two before Oakland moved to their bullpen, Kyle Tucker would finally get Houston on the board with a leadoff solo home run, cutting the lead to 6-1 and ending Montas' day. Houston would get a two-out rally going, with an RBI-double by Jose Altuve followed by an RBI-triple by Michael Brantley to make it a three-run game at 6-3.

Oakland takes the series win

Ryne Stanek tried to keep it a three-run game and give the Astros a chance to stay in it in the top of the eighth but instead would give up a two-out solo home run to push Oakland's lead back to four. That 7-3 score would go final as Houston would go scoreless in the eighth and ninth.

Up Next: Houston will have a day off on Sunday before continuing this homestand Monday night by welcoming in Detroit and former manager A.J. Hinch for three games. In the series opener, the Tigers will send young star Casey Mize (0-0, 2.25 ERA) to the mound, while the Astros will get another start by Zack Greinke (1-0, 1.38 ERA).

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