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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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