Ready to talk about how well Russell Wilson played in his first playoff start? Too bad. You know where we're going off the top. To the weekend...
There is no defense for Mike Shanahan. Unless they're carted off, football players will try to play. They'll try to play with concussions, and they'll try to play with torn knee ligaments. When they play with torn knee ligaments, they'll run the read options and naked bootlegs sent in from the sideline. If they can't plant to throw, they'll try to plant and throw anyway. The only way to stop them is to take them out of games.
That was what Shanahan should have done with Robert Griffin III at halftime, at the latest. Griffin threw for 84 yards in Sunday's 24-14 loss to the Seahawks, but only 16 after the first quarter. He was clearly hobbled -- though Shanahan said he saw otherwise -- but the Redskins ran a gameplan unbecoming of a man playing on such a bulky knee brace. His starting quarterback, the quarterback Washington traded three first-round picks for the privilege of selection, was on one leg, and Shanahan rode him until he could no longer stand.
If the NFL is going to masquerade as if player safety is one of its biggest concerns, the league is going to have to realize concussions aren't the only injuries players shouldn't play through. And head-hunting defenders aren't the only ones who show blatant disrespect for the health of players.
Do the Ravens have a chance in Denver? The knock on the Broncos is that, since losing to New England and rattling off 11 wins in a row, they didn't play anyone. The knock on the Ravens is that they did play Denver in Week 15, lost 34-17, and looked like just another of the nobodies the Broncos knocked off. Denver's defense, perhaps the league's best and definitely the best since Week 6, handled the Ravens like they were a team in the AFC West. Worse for Baltimore, the Broncos' mediocre running game had its way with the Ravens.
But they do get to face Peyton Manning. His teams were 2-0 in the postseason against the Ravens, but Manning has lost more games in the postseason than he's won. He hasn't had a passer rating below 87.9 in any postseason game since winning Super Bowl XLI, but the Colts were 2-4 in that stretch. And in the postseason, when there's the most pressure and opponents are more motivated, Manning is asked to carry more responsibility for his offense than any quarterback ever has. All that thinking is a for-better-or-worse proposition.
The Ravens probably don't have the personnel to win this one on the road, and Manning never had a defense that put up the statistics of these Broncos (tops in yards allowed per pass, second in yards allowed per carry). But, just like the Texans and Packers, they have a chance to avenge a regular season loss.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Colin Kaepernick, in the Battle of Alex Smith. Rodgers is 6-2, but sensitive about his height. Imagine the grudge he must hold against the 49ers, the team right down the road from his hometown of Chico, for selecting Smith over him. Of course, Rodgers has proven he was the quarterback San Francisco should have taken in 2005, as evidenced by the fact Smith won't even be starting Sunday. But this is his first start at Candlestick Park, and it's the most intriguing matchup of the divisional playoffs.
So can Kaepernick lead the Niners to victory over Smith's nemesis? Kaepernick was elevated, in large part, for games like these. If San Francisco's defense, which slipped after Justin Smith got hurt, continues to struggle, can the offense outscore Green Bay? The defense looked better with Charles Woodson back, but Joe Webb is no Kaepernick. That said, the Niners will want to run the ball. They did so at will in their Week 1 win at Lambeau Field, but the only other times the Green Bay run defense faltered involved Adrian Peterson.
The quarterbacks will be on full display. And each will be out to prove, once and for all, he is better than ... Alex Smith.
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Are we supposed to believe in the Texans now? The good news for the Texans, which will be repeated all week, is that the Jets recovered from a 45-3 late 2010 shellacking in Foxboro to win there in the division round that year. Better news is that, since losing to New England, their secondary hasn't given up more than 205 passing yards to any quarterback. The only thing is none of those quarterbacks -- Andrew Luck, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton -- averaged 200 passing yards per game over the last month of the season. Needless to say, those guys can't hold a candle to Tom Brady.
So, after a 19-13 win over Cincinnati, how will Houston fare against the Patriots? The Pats have Rob Gronkowski back, which is crucial for a team that's lacked dangerous vertical receivers since trading Randy Moss. They have their best running game in years. The Texans will probably have to be able to put up points to win, but they have scored five offensive touchdowns in their last five games. And they're facing a Pats defense that was sixth in the league in yards allowed per carry. Meaning Matt Schaub may have to win the game for Houston.
Yeah. But hey, the Jets pulled it off two years ago. That's really the best I've got.
Weren't we laughing at Andy Reid just last week? After we spent the last year ridiculing Reid, reminiscing on 14 years of success, maddening play calls and inexplicable replay challenges, the new Chiefs coach became the hottest candidate on the NFL market. So hot, in fact, that he was the first coach hired after Black Monday and he found a gig where he got to pick his boss. A boss he doesn't really report to. This after going 12-20 over the last two seasons.
Is there really no one better for the Chiefs than Reid? It's impossible to believe a man who has only been even moderately successful with elite quarterback play -- and when Reid won in Philadelphia, he got that from Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick -- and loaded defenses is the man for a 2-14 team. With so many minds working around the NFL, teams are still so willing to pick up someone who, very recently, failed miserably?
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The Chip Kelly scenario I'd love to see. Guys who know the X's and O's of football say Kelly will be able to adapt his offense to the NFL. At the very least, I know the people who think he'll try to run the offense exactly as he ran it with quarterbacks like Dennis Dixon, Darron Thomas and Marcus Mariota aren't giving the man enough credit. If Kelly was smart enough to go from the University of New Hampshire to the NFL in six years, all while leaving Oregon before he has to talk to the NCAA, he's smart enough to adjust to the personnel on his roster.
That said, the great "what if?" of this offseason may involve one job Kelly didn't interview for -- the Panthers. Kelly would almost certainly be too rich for Panthers owner Jerry Richardson's blood, but how could the idea of pairing Kelly's mind with Cam Newton's once-a-generation combination of talents not make Richardson think about splurging this one time? In a league where dynasties are marked by their pairings of coaches and quarterbacks, Kelly and Newton could be revolutionary. Instead, it will be another year of Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, under whom the results were often revolting. It would certainly be a risk, but what exactly would the Panthers have to lose?
The real Johnny Football. After Johnny Manziel's first media appearance, Joe Posnanski wrote a gushing essay on the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, dripping with the nostalgia evoked by a nickname like "Johnny Football." After he talked about how refreshing it was that Manziel's long media silence spared him from overexposure, you couldn't tell if Posnanski was talking about Manziel or Mickey Mantle. He lamented how they don't make ‘em like they used to -- even placing scrambling quarterbacks in that category, as if no one's told him about MACtion -- before becoming enthralled by the "aww shucks" aesthetic accompanied by things like Manziel's modest statement that he didn't "see [himself] as Johnny Football."
Well, here's the other thing about that media silence -- it allowed people like Posnanski to create the "Johnny Football" of their dreams. Truth is, the real Johnny Manziel is out here flashing the money he won at a casino on Twitter. He might sip champagne here and there. He sits courtside at NBA games, and when people have a problem with any of it, he either tells them to keep hating or stop. He doesn't seem to give a damn either way, but he's not stopping because they don't like it. Johnny Manziel wants to ball. Not just on the field, but in his life. He retweets 50 Cent lyrics to reinforce this. Oh, and he goes back and forth with Larry Fitzgerald, Bubba Watson and some guys I'm told I should be aware of.
That, Mr. Posnanski, is Johnny Football. That is how he sounds. And no matter what anyone thinks, things aren't the way people wanted them to be. And I love it. He's living it up while he's got the chance. That guy sounds like a lot more fun than this figment of the media's collective imagination.
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The NHL Lockout is over. The particulars aren't that important, unless you own a hockey team or play for one. What's worth noting, as all four North American sports leagues will have labor deals running into the next decade, is what each players association had to go through to get there. The NFL, NBA and NHL lockouts were money grabs by the leagues, each base of owners trying to guarantee their profits (as if business was ever intended to work like that). And then there's Major League Baseball, the only union whose league is deathly afraid of it ... and the only one that didn't go through a work stoppage at the end of its most recent collective bargaining agreement. Owners all over sports spent 2011 and 2012 trying to establish their dominion over their players.
Everywhere but baseball, where owners have been forced by the union's resolve to respect the men they employ. The next time you hear someone chastise players for not bowing to the whims of owners, remember that the union that has fought the hardest in the past is the one that's had to fight the least in the last 20 years, and the one that hasn't lost a preseason, regular season or postseason game since 1995. Fighting players are good for fans, assuming fans want leagues that don't miss games.
Dwight Howard, saying all the wrong things. There's nothing wrong with what Howard said, per se. There's something to be said for people enjoying their work, and there can certainly be benefits from that. It doesn't have to be all fun and games, but there's something to be said for building personal bonds with the folks you work with. In hockey, Mark Messier has been lionized for going the extra mile to do just that.
But until Kobe Bryant decides to move on from the Lakers, none of that matters. Kobe's a made man. He does what he wants, and his team will be the way he wants it. He wants to "snarl," as Howard put it, and everyone else will simply have to deal with it. He doesn't want to hang out with his teammates. He never did before, and he won't anytime soon. Howard might not like that, and he may have a point. That and a plane ticket will get him to another city, where he might find a team where someone cares about his idea of how a team should function.
I usually don't make picks, but ... Rarely does this column run the same day as an event as big as the BCS Championship. First things first -- though they're often treated as such, Alabama isn't unbeatable, as clearly evidenced by the "-1" on their record. Dropback passers Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray gave Alabama fits, but it was the mobile Johnny Manziel who took down the Crimson Tide. In fact, the common thread of every Alabama loss since the start of the 2008 season is a mobile quarterback (including the only two-time winner, Jordan Jefferson). Notre Dame has a guy like that in Everett Golson. He doesn't have to be Michael Vick. Just fast enough that Saban must account for him, which cuts down on how much the Tide can throw at the redshirt freshman.
Whether Notre Dame can win will depend on how long they can withstand the physicality of Alabama's running backs and offensive line. The Fighting Irish's front seven is its calling card, and the Tide can say the same for its line. Notre Dame yielded two touchdowns. Alabama pounded every team it played all season ... except Texas A&M.
But the line of scrimmage is where the SEC has separated itself from the rest of the country. And it's where, in a close one, the Tide will win its third BCS Championship in four years.