What We Learned in the Divisional Playoffs

Ravens vs Patriots
Tom Brady is good. He was spectacular against the Ravens. Brady has actually had a lot of mediocre playoff performances over the last decade with a few good games mixed in here and there. This was arguably the best postseason game he’s played since the Patriots last won a Super Bowl, given the circumstances of the game.

The Ravens, on the other hand, were playing themselves instead of the Patriots. Baltimore had an injury-riddled secondary, but a great front-7. They wanted to hide their secondary, and that seemed to be their number-one concern as they played a lot of soft coverage. Unfortunately for them, this played right into the hands of New England and their short/quick passing game. The Ravens effectively took their own great pass rushers out of the game because they were afraid of their own secondary.

Panthers vs Seahawks
The Seahawks might not be quite as good as they were a year ago, lacking a little depth on the defensive line and in the secondary, but like Forrest Gump they sure are fast. They limit yards after the catch and tackle extremely well. Kam Chancellor deserves much more credit than he gets for his play. He is arguably the best safety in the game. What isn’t arguable is that the combination of Earl Thomas and Chancellor at safety is hands down the best in the NFL.

Cam Newton still has a ways to go. He wins with his physical ability and loses with his inability to conquer the mental aspects of playing the position. He needs to gain more precision as a quarterback. He does have two good young receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Philly Brown to be excited about. If they can develop chemistry during the upcoming offseason, this will go a long way in helping Newton be a more consistent player.

Cowboys vs Packers
Aaron Rodgers isn’t just good because of his ability to run around. He’s a precise passer from the pocket. Rodgers was unable to make big plays with his legs against the Cowboys because of his torn calf. However, he showed that the most important mobility that a quarterback needs is functional mobility. Quarterbacks need the ability to move within the pocket and buy time while maintaining a downfield focus. Rodgers showed that he can do so at a very high level against Dallas.

The Cowboys were the most complete team on offense this season, and they were a play or two away from advancing to the NFC Championship Game. DeMarco Murray’s 3rd-quarter fumble definitely hurt them. Then, there was obviously the catch/no-catch ruling on Dez Bryant on the Cowboys’ final offensive play of the game. Apparently, the rules in the NFL are that to exhibit possession of the ball a receiver needs to take 7 steps, do a summersault and count to 9. Bryant failed to do so.

Colts vs Broncos
In case you weren’t sure, Andrew Luck is the real deal. He has every skill a quarterback needs. Yet, what stood out for the Colts was the play of their defense. Their defensive backs can cover. They blanketed Denver’s receivers all day and forced Manning to make tough throws into tight windows.

Which brings us to Manning. Peyton played on Sunday just as he has over the last 5 games of the season. If you think this was some kind of Peyton-can’t-play-in-the-postseason story, then you don’t watch football. Manning hasn’t looked right down the stretch, which we wrote about a few weeks ago. His sudden drop in arm strength late in the season (from an arm that wasn’t very strong to begin with) changed the way that he could attack defenses. He couldn’t do a thing against Indy’s press coverage on Sunday, something Manning has traditionally picked apart with ease. As a football fan, it was disheartening to watch him play. It was even worse to hear Peyton’s indecision about his future in his post-game press conference. We may have seen the last of number-18.

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