(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Russell Wilson photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Consider that a statement game for Seattle, and it was aimed as much at Carolina as it was Arizona. Basically, the message is this: We don’t care who you are ... we don’t care where we meet … we will win. Russell Wilson is playing the best football of his life, the defense has revived and the Seahawks get Marshawn Lynch back on Monday. Plus, this is Seattle’s time of year. The Seahawks are 6-2 in the playoffs the past three years and went to the last two Super Bowls. Carolina, don’t say you weren’t warned. Arizona and Seattle can … and will push you to the mat.
2. Denver's Gary Kubiak is non-committal about who starts at quarterback in two weeks, but this one's a no-brainer. There's no way the Broncos don't stick with Peyton Manning after what happened Sunday. He has the playoff experience, he energized the Broncos and he's Peyton Manning. Two things: The Broncos must keep their running game going to keep the heat off Manning, and they better hope they don't draw Kansas City. The Chiefs beat them once and should've beaten them twice.
3. Welcome to Cincinnati’s nightmare. With Buffalo’s defeat of the Jets, the Bengals draw Pittsburgh, not New York, in the playoffs, and tell me: Who out there is confident the Bengals win their first playoff game since 1991 with these guys in the on-deck circle? I don’t care who plays quarterback – AJ McCarron or Andy Dalton – it’s going to be tough to beat a Steelers team that split with the Bengals this season and won four of the past five games in this series – as well as beat the Bengals in the 2005 playoffs when the Steelers were … yes, the sixth seed. Pittsburgh has nothing to lose. It’s playing with house money. The pressure is all on Cincinnati, and now we find out if, as supporters keep telling me, this is really a different club and Dalton a different quarterback.
4. That makes it the fifth straight season Rex coached the Jets out of the playoffs.
5. I love the wildcard entries in the AFC playoffs, and maybe it's because both of them beat No. 1 seed Denver. Look, I know the Steelers have a raft of issues in a porous secondary and an injured DeAngelo Williams, but I’ll take Ben Roethlisberger in a big game over Dalton – if, that is, Dalton plays. And I’ll definitely take the Chiefs over Houston. The Texans don’t have a quarterback. Kansas City does. Granted, Houston won seven of its last nine, allowing an average of 10 points per and more than 10 points in only one those victories. But tell me … who believes in Brian Hoyer in a one-game season? Plus, the Chiefs beat Houston in the season opener.
6. When is a victory both a win and a loss? When it's Minnesota knocking off Green Bay for its first NFC North title since 2009. That's the good news. But with the victory, the Vikings draw Seattle as its first playoff opponent, a team that torched them in Minneapolis a month ago -- and good luck with that.
7. I appreciate the plugs for Carolina GM Dave Gettleman during Sunday’s telecast, but how about some love for the guy who brought the Panthers some of their most important figures – Gettleman’s predecessor, Marty Hurney? He drafted Cam Newton. He drafted Thomas Davis. He drafted Luke Kuechly. And he hired Ron Rivera.
8. The AFC playoffs are a case study in momentum, and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots don’t have it. Not only did they lose four of their last six, but their offense shifted into neutral the past two weeks and their offensive line is a sieve. So why do we cut them slack? Because they have Tom Brady and because injured starters – including Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman – are expected back for the playoffs.
9. Worst thing about the Patriots’ loss wasn’t what happened during the game. It’s what happened afterward: Brady hobbled out of a news conference. Good thing he doesn't play for two weeks.
10. Congratulations to the Tennessee Titans. They’re the new faces of mediocrity. One year after having the second pick of the draft, the Titans have the first.
11. There must be something to that “synergy” between Matt Stafford and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The Lions won six of their last eight, with Stafford throwing 19 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
12. We finally have separation in the MVP race. Cam Newton, you can pick up your award next month.
13. Hard to see Tom Coughlin go out this way. He deserves better. But let’s tell it like it is: If/when he goes, GM Jerry Reese should be right behind. Talent – specifically, lack of it – was a huge issue.
14. Looks as if Buffalo has a keeper in Tyrod Taylor, but the guy's going to have to learn to protect himself. He can't go through another season with that kind of punishment.
15. I feel a whole lot better about the Chargers now that reports say Mike McCoy will be back.
16. Latavius Murray is a solid back for Oakland, but the Raiders need another. Derek Carr was their second-leading rusher this season.
17. After the latest loss, Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said, “We had a good team.” Um, exactly what team was he talking about?
18. And that, people, is why you can’t rely on Ryan Fitzpatrick in a critical game. Memo to GM Mike Maccagnan: Draft a QB.
19.Sashi Brown? I don't know much about him, either, but I know what he ... or the next Cleveland GM ... must do do: Dump Johnny Manziel. The guy doesn't need discipline. He needs a pacifier.
20. This is how you know something's wrong in Green Bay: The Packers this season lost to Detroit, Chicago and Minnesota at Lambeau -- the first time since 1968 it was swept by its division at home.
21. I see Miami is going to go in-house for its next GM. Question: Does that make Miko Grimes a candidate?
22. The Colts go through five quarterbacks, don’t have Andrew Luck for over half a year and still finish 8-8. Someone want to tell me why Chuck Pagano should be fired?
23. For all those whose seasons ended Sunday, remember this. Football is over, but “Downton Abbey” just began. Life goes on.
24. Just a feeling, but, nope, I don't think Sean Payton coaches New Orleans next season. There will be too many teams interested in hiring him away from the Saints.
25. This is all you need to know about how confusing/stupid the catch rule is. When officials ruled an apparent third-down catch by Miami’s Greg Jennings an incompletion, the Dolphins challenged the call. OK, fine. Former referee Mike Carey, now a TV analyst, then weighs in, saying, yes, as a matter of fact, it was an incompletion. So what happens? After replay reviews, the call's overturned. It was a completion. If the NFL does nothing else during the offseason, please clarify/change this rule.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF FAME
(Kirk Cousins photo courtesy of the Washington Redskins)
Washington QB Kirk Cousins. He became the first quarterback in Washington history to throw a touchdown in every game this season, and he set a single-season record for passing yards. Washington insisted it found its quarterback of the future in the 2012 draft. It just didn't happen to be the one everyone imagined.
Buffalo DT Marcel Dareus. It was his hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick that caused Manny Lawson’s game-clinching interception, and that just perfect. Dareus was part of the chorus that this season criticized Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme, saying it didn’t allow defenders enough opportunities to rush the quarterback.
Antonio Brown/Julio Jones. They finished tied for most catches with 136 each, the second-best total in NFL history.
Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins. He owned Darrelle Revis, with a career-high 11 catches for 136 yards. Consider this payback for the first time these two met this season when Watkins was held to three receptions.
Seattle QB Russell Wilson. He set single-season franchise passing records for touchdowns and yards and just won for the sixth time in his last seven starts. And speaking of those seven starts ... Wilson has 24 touchdown passes and one interception in that span. Without Cam Newton, Wilson becomes a serious candidate for league MVP honors.
SUNDAY’S HALL OF SHAME
(Darrelle Revis photo courtesy of the N.Y. Jets)
Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles. So he broke Mark Brunell's single-season franchise record for passing yards. Brunell won. This guy doesn't. And he flat-out stunk Sunday.
N.Y. Jets CB Darrelle Revis. See Sammy Watkins. I keep looking for Revis Island on the map, and I can’t find it anymore. I’d like to ask, but Revis wasn’t talking after Sunday’s game. That's OK. His performance spoke for itself.
Anyone with the New York Giants defense. It surrendered 35 or more points in each of its last three starts and ranked dead last this season in total defense. What a disgrace.
N.Y. Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Three fourth-quarter interceptions – including one in the end zone – punched the Jets’ tickets to Monday tee times.
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. A fumble is returned for the game-clinching touchdown. A potential game-tying TD pass is intercepted in the end zone. Rodgers and the Packers' passing attack haven't been right for a long, long time.
N.Y. Giants QB Eli Manning. Another day, another red-zone turnover … this one a fumble returned for an 83-yard touchdown. But that's not all. Eli he missed a wide-open Myles White in the end zone, too.
THIS WEEK’S CANTON NOMINEE
(J.J. Watt photo courtesy of the Houston Texans)
Houston DE J.J. Watt. Playing without a cast for the first time in weeks, he produced eight tackles, three sacks, two pass deflections, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Oh, yeah, he also put himself back in the running for a third Defensive Player-of-the-Year award.
SUNDAY’S HALL-OF-FAME QUOTE
“We picked a bad day to have a bad game.” – N.Y. Jets LB Calvin Pace.
WALL OF FAME NUMBERS
0-9 – Cincinnati on third-down conversions
1 -- Peyton Manning victories as a backup
3 -- Career rushing titles for Adrian Peterson
4-6 -- Green Bay over its last 10 games
5 – Tom Brady first-half passes
6 – Dan Carpenter extra-point misses
9 – Games this season where Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both caught touchdown passes, an NFL record
12 – Straight non-winning years by Cleveland
18 – Adam Vinatieri seasons of 100 or more points
435 – Kellen Moore passing yards