The Playoff Party---Divisional Round
The crowd has thinned out a bit since Cincinnati was forcibly escorted from the premises by an extra angry New York, and New England has gone home early after Baltimore offended it when it said how old and tired it looked.
I think Baltimore may have even insinuated that New England might have some weird sickness, or something. It said loudly to where all the other guests could hear that New England appeared gray and should get looked at by a specialist. Everyone sniggered, New England turned from gray to red, and stormed out crying.
Most there agreed how much better the place smelled after New York tossed Cincinnati back to the bus-stop that it spends so much of its time huddled around, but afterward NY couldn't stop talking about it.
"That bum can't eff with me," New York repeated. "I'll take care of it every single time. Think it can come up in here without asking me first? Better not disrespect me. I'll bust you up."
It performed a bit of shadowboxing to demonstrate its toughness.
"Yes, we get it," San Diego said as it tilted its '80's sunglasses to the bridge of its nose and looked New York in its eye. "You took out a team that carries food in its inside jacket-pocket and argues with itself. Very impressive."
"What? You want some too, Cali?" asked New York and slicked back a strand of loose hair. "Better not disrespect me. I'll---"
"Bust me up, so I've heard. Listen, tough guy, the key to sticking around a place like this is with actions not words. If you really wanna get down, I have no problem with that. I'm just here to party."
"Bring it then, Sun Tan," said New York and unzipped its velour jacket once again.
San Diego smiled, pushed its glasses back up, swallowed something from its pocket, and sat down to remove its roller-skates. "You have no idea what you're in for, tough guy. Not even that big mouth of yours can save you now."
Meanwhile, Indianapolis and Baltimore became a little heated themselves. Apparently Baltimore, feeling hypercritical this year, started in on Indy's interior-decorating sense. Indy was taken back with the remarks.
"My drapes are NOT ugly!" Indianapolis exploded and pushed Baltimore. "this is my place, buddy. You can go at anytime."
Baltimore said nothing, but charged at Indy with both fists ablaze. Indy braced itself.
And so it goes.
Even though our Bengals are comfortably in their homes now, the remaining match-ups are well worth watching. This weekend's games will be something of a litmus test for the theory that insists the current NFL is a passing league and that a high-octane offense is the key to this postseason.
If the theory proves true, then Peyton Manning and Phillip Rivers will carve up their respective opponents through the air this week and try to out-lob one another with deep bombs and hand-grenades the following week. The football wizards of the world are convinced that this is how it will all play out, but, being me, I naturally disagree.
It's no secret that I have a real soft-spot for the bull-dozing, smash-mouth style of play. I love watching a team bruise the other into submission and win with field-goals at the end of the game; it's a style I've coined as Grind-House Football.
Both AFC Wild-Card teams fit the Grind-House mold.
Last year, the Ravens were the perfect example of such a team. Joe Flacco was still too young to shoulder a heavy passing load, and they ran three running backs as many times as possible. They have always had a strong defense, and the mixture of all of their toughness led them to a 13-3 record and an appearance in the AFC Championship game.
This year, they relied more on Flacco and he has responded with a solid season for the Ravens. Scat-back Ray Rice has jitterbugged his way to a Pro-Bowl year and when Willis McGahee is spotted with the ball, he too still looks pretty effective. Their defense has the same game-changing players that so many teams wished they employed. When an offense looks across the field and sees Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed they second-guess their approach and immediately relinquish any kind of advantage they started with. You could see it last week; Tom Brady was pounced on before he had time to think about what was happening.
This week, however, is the ultimate test. You don't bet against Peyton Manning; it's a steadfast rule that plays the percentages. But the Ravens played Indy tough earlier this year and won't be awed by the importance of the moment. Both of these teams are Playoff perennials and know what it takes to advance.
The Colts will try to shell Baltimore with its heavy artillery but the Ravens are built for the long haul and can absorb some of Indy's attack. The key for Baltimore is sitting on the ball with long, sustained drives that end with points---even field goals. Indianapolis relies on the services of its two formidable pass-rushing ends, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and hopes to put Flacco in numerous passing situations throughout the day.
The more Ray Rice is involved, the better. Rice is another one of those short and stocky backs that have become so fashionable in the league; the kind who are hard to tackle and can rip off large chunks of yardage on any play. With a mediocre set of receivers, Rice is without a doubt Baltimore's most explosive weapon offensively.
New York's strategy is pretty similar to Baltimore's: run the ball, use clock, keep Rivers on the sideline, limit explosive plays. The biggest difference between the two underdogs though is that Baltimore is a better passing team when they need to be. The Jets' coaching staff is top-notch right now and effectively kept Mark Sanchez in the background last week against the Bengals. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer hopes to repeat that game plan or else be subjected to the rookie quarterback's inexperience.
The good news for New York is that the Chargers are not an impressive run defense. If the offensive line led by that terrific left side of D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold, can devour defenders like they did last week, the Jets can win. If Rex Ryan can continue to call perfectly timed and well-crafted blitzes to force punts, or even better, turnovers, the Jets can win. Even though most refuse to admit the possibility, the Jets can win.
San Diego is the NFL's designer drug this January and all the wizards seem to be ingesting handfuls of the stuff. They do have many shiny parts and they haven't looked back since catching fire in the middle of the season, but they lack a certain grittiness that keeps me from anointing them as the league's second coming. From a distance they look like the Colts, but don't be fooled; Rivers is good, but Manning he is not.
Therefore both match-ups should play out in similar fashion. If the Grind-House teams play to their Grind-House strengths at least one of them will win. If the aerial attacks prove to be the difference, both favorites will advance to the Championship game.
Colts 31, Ravens 20
Jets 23, Chargers 17
Mojokong---aw, man, the Bengals ate all the hors d'oeuvres!