Judgements: Late-season momentum disappears on Bengals, Colts

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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1. The biggest loser this weekend wasn't Adrian Peterson, RG3 or Washington. It was momentum. Ol' Mo is supposed to be the X-factor this time of year, yet it did nothing to help two of the league's hottest clubs. That would be Cincinnati, which won of seven of its last eight regular-season games, and Indianapolis, 9-2 over its last 11. Not only did they lose to opponents that fizzled down the stretch, neither scored an offensive touchdown.

2. I don't give Baltimore much of a chance against Denver, either, but keep this in mind: Peyton Manning has a losing playoff record (9-10) and went one-and-out in seven of his 11 playoff appearances.

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3. Poor Atlanta. It just drew the short straw. Again. The last time the Falcons had home-field advantage they were 13-3 and met a wild-card qualifier ... Green Bay, the eventual Super Bowl winner. Now, it's déjà vu all over again, with Seattle next in line, and there's no team I would less like to face than the Seahawks. I suspect that goes for Atlanta, too.

4. Good news for Seattle and Green Bay: Home teams have been 5-5 in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs the past five years, sweeping only once -- in 2009.

5. Don't tell me next weekend's divisional playoff game isn't huge for Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, because it is -- and not merely because it's the playoffs. The 49ers are the club that passed on Rodgers with the first pick of the 2005 draft, leaving Rodgers to sit until Green Bay rescued him with the 24th pick. Rodgers said he would never forget, and this is his first trip to the Bay Area since then. Rodgers went to Cal, desperately wanted to play for San Francisco, and promised to make the people who overlooked him pay. This is his chance. OK, OK, so it was Rodgers' head coach Mike McCarthy, then the 49ers' offensive coordinator, who recommended Alex Smith over Rodgers. I get that, and so does Rodgers. But that doesn't mean there's not payback involved for the organization that didn't think he was good enough.

6. Now, more than ever, I'm convinced Houston can't get to the next level with Matt Schaub. So the Texans won. They won in spite of Schaub and their offense.

7. I understand why San Francisco wants a safety net for David Akers. What I don't understand I why that net is Billy Cundiff. Didn't these guys watch films of him in Baltimore and Washington?

8. OK, it's time to start asking about Marvin Lewis and the playoffs. The Bengals not only are 0-4 on his watch; they haven't come closer than six points to anyone, and that was against a Houston team that was waiting to be beaten.

9. Just a hunch, but Houston doesn't wrap its players in letterman jackets for this week's trip to New England.

10. I don't care what the line is for the Houston-New England game (and it's 9.5 points) it can't be high enough.

11. My guess is that one of Roger Goodell's first phone calls Monday is to Washington's Mike Shanahan. Goodell has made player safety his mantra since taking over as NFL commissioner, and that story involving Dr. James Andrews and RG3 raises a lot of questions that Goodell needs to ask.

12. Don't tell me defense doesn't matter. As coaches and players remind us, it wins championships, and this weekend was the proof. There was an average of 45.5 points in each game this season, the highest in the NFL in 47 years. But there was an average of 34.2 points in each of this weekend's four games, with no more than 38 in any.

13. Green Bay's Ryan Pickett said the defeat of Minnesota was "a great game to play before San Francisco" because the 49ers feature Frank Gore. Only, they don't. Not since Colin Kaepernick arrived on the scene they don't, and you can look it up. With Alex Smith at quarterback, Gore gained 5.4 yards per carry and had three 100-yard rushing games; with Kaepernick, he averages 3.8 and hasn't run for more than 83 yards in any contest.

14. The NFC championship is in two weeks, but once upon a time I thought it would be next Saturday in San Francisco. Then I saw Seattle.

15. I don't care that Indianapolis lost its only playoff game. I make the Colts' Ryan Grigson my Executive of the Year.

16. Tell me again why Carolina was in such a rush to fire GM Marty Hurney. I thought it was so the Panthers could get first dibs on their next GM. So where is he?

17. I don't see Jon Gruden on the coaching radar, and I was told he won't be. He's staying with ESPN ... unless, of course, someone makes him an offer he can't refuse. But that doesn't look likely.

18. People expect former KC general manager Scott Pioli to wind up with Thomas Dimitroff in Atlanta if and when director of player personnel Dave Caldwell is hired as someone's GM.

19. If the NFL expanded the playoffs to include two more teams this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears would be playing this weekend ... and that's just what we don't need. The Steelers lost five of their last seven; the Bears lost five of their last eight.

20. The Kansas City Chiefs had five players chosen to the Pro Bowl, four drafted by Bill Kuharich, the team's former vice president of player personnel. Yet Kuharich isn't one of the league's young, rising stars, so nobody is interested in the guy. In fact, he has been frozen out since the Chiefs fired him four years ago. Pathetic. The guy knows talent. He helped build the Saints into a playoff team. He helped build the Chiefs into a playoff team. Yet he can't get an interview? Please.

You make the call

Before Sunday's games, I asked Twitter followers which of next weekend's four home teams was the most vulnerable, and here are their answers:

1. Michael Cronin@micronin127: "Either NFC seed."

2. @Brian Hendrich: "the 49ers. Tough opponent in the Packers. Plus, Kaepernick is a big question mark since it will be his first playoff start."

3. FlewByUu@Flewbyuu: "Atlanta."

4. Chris Hogemann@Scaffologist: "I gotta say the Broncos or the Falcons."

5. Dave Carsley@DCUnited416: "It's clearly Atlanta. The Washington/Seattle winner can eat them for lunch."

6. JT@2Legit4Every1: "I see all you folks in the media already picking Packers to romp 49ers. So u already know the answer to your question."

7. @SteveMiranda: "Easy one: Atlanta."

8. Jason Andrews@Indydadof3: "It has to be Atlanta. Ryan hasn't shown postseason ability and Sea/Was will be rolling."

9. Drew@promoman9: "I am thinking San Fran or New England. Both teams have been up and down too much to be considered a lock."

10. Matt@matt 2020: "Atlanta Falcons will be playing not to lose next week ... this city has doubted them all year bc of their previous results."

Five things I like

1. John Harbaugh putting Ray Lewis on the field for Baltimore's last offensive snap. Lewis was the lone setback in the Ravens' victory formation, and nice move, John. Harbaugh put his star linebacker on the field for his last game at home, and he put him in the offensive lineup for the first time in Lewis' career since he was a high-school running back. "That was inspired from above, I guess," Harbaugh said. "That was just an idea from a higher power."

2. Aaron Rodgers vs. San Francisco. He's 2-1 vs. the 49ers, with the one loss in this year's season opener. But he has seven touchdown passes, one interception, a completion percentage of 69.4 and a passer rating of 109.4 against San Francisco, too.

3. Ray Lewis' victory lap. The Baltimore linebacker ended his last home game by circling the field and waving to fans, much as Cal Ripken did after he broke Lou Gehrig's Ironman record. "I just thought it was so appropriate," Lewis said. "I wish I could've gone out and signed every autograph, but I would've been here until 2 in the morning."

4. Baltimore's defense vs. Indianapolis in the playoffs. For those keeping score, that's eight consecutive quarters the Ravens kept the Colts out of the end zone in playoff games held in Baltimore. Peyton Manning produced five field goals in the 2006 postseason, and Andrew Luck added three Sunday.

5. Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch. He says he plays in "beast mode," and now you know what he means. Seattle's play-action offense is so effective because Lynch is so effective. He doesn't just run over people; he runs through them, too, and, oh yeah, he's pretty good at making one-handed scoops of his quarterback's fumbles, too.

Five things I don't like

1. RG3's right knee. Tell me you could sit through more than one replay of Griffin's right knee buckling at an angle it's not supposed to bend. It was gruesome, and it made you wonder: Just what in the world was he doing in the game, anyway? I just hope the poor guy is OK. Look at it this way, Washington. Consider it a relief the season is over. I don't see how much longer Griffin could've toughed things out.

2. Andy Dalton's last play. It's fourth-and-11, and he throws a checkdown to Marvin Jones for eight yards. Huh? In that situation, you absolutely, positively must throw to the sticks. Period. Dalton didn't, and I know he has plenty of time to get that corrected. But, geez, that's one of the fundamental lessons of playing the position. So get it corrected. Now.

3. That FedEx turf. It's where Adrian Peterson tore up his knee last year. It was RG3 was hurt against Baltimore last month. And it's where RG3 was hurt again Sunday.

4. Bruce Arians' absence. The Indianapolis offensive coordinator/interim head coach was taken to a Baltimore hospital before Sunday's game, leaving Clyde Christensen to call plays. Unfortunately, it was then the Colts took sick, failing to score a touchdown for the second successive playoff game in Baltimore. Arians had a marvelous season in Indianapolis, and here's hoping not only for a speedy recovery but a head-coaching job somewhere.

5. Green Bay's second half. I agree with Aaron Rodgers. The Packers needed to play better, and that's being kind. On their last six series, they produced 12 yards, six punts, one first down and no points, and lucky for them they were playing the Venus De Milo of quarterbacks. They better clean that up for San Francisco. The 49ers won't be so forgiving.

Five guys who have some 'splaining to do

1. Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton. Not only is he 0-2 in the playoffs, he has no touchdown passes and four interceptions. Oh, yeah, he was also 0 for 9 on third downs against a Houston team that had lost three of its last four in the regular season.

2. Baltimore S Bernard Pollard. First, he commits a personal foul by hammering Reggie Wayne high. One play later, he's called for another personal foul, this time for taunting. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Pollard should be smarter than that, and my guess is that that's what coach John Harbaugh told him immediately after he pulled Pollard from the game.

3. Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks take the opening second-half kickoff the length of the field and are going in for a sure score. Only they don't ... because Lynch fumbles at the Washington 2. It was his first fumble in five games, and talk about bad timing. Good thing for Lynch he had a chance to atone for his mistake later. He had a big second half and was a key factor in the Seahawks' come-from-behind victory.

4. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. I'd like to know just what he said that provoked Washington tackle Trent Williams to poke him in the face afterward. It looked as if Sherman was doing the talking. Unfortunately for Williams, he did the reacting, and that could cost him.

5. Washington coach Mike Shanahan. Yeah, I would like to hear his side of the Dr. James Andrews story. I would like to know why he left RG3 in for so long Sunday, too. I think a lot of people would.

Just asking but ...

Anybody under more pressure now than Atlanta's Matt Ryan?

Was that Russell Wilson throwing a downfield block for Marshawn Lynch?

What difference would Bruce Arians have made?

Any chance we can hold that Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year vote again?

By the numbers

2 -- Ray Rice lost fumbles, his first of the year

2 -- RG3 turnovers

3 -- Consecutive 100-yard playoff games by Arian Foster

4-4 -- The Colts in Baltimore since leaving in 1984

9 -- Games where Baltimore allowed 10 or fewer playoff points since 2000

13.7 -- Average score of Baltimore's 18 playoff opponents

54 -- Andrew Luck passes, a playoff record for rookies

1983 -- Last time Seattle won a road playoff game

217-74 -- Seattle's score vs. its past six opponents

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