By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Dallas caught a break Sunday, and not because it had the weekend off.
Nope, with the elimination of the New York Giants, the Cowboys won't realize their worst nightmare – which was having to face an opponent that owned it this season. Instead, Dallas draws Green Bay, and all I know about the Packers is that A) they couldn’t beat Dallas at home in October, and B) they just lost their most dangerous pass receiver, Jordy Nelson, to injury.
Nevertheless, as long as there's Aaron Rodgers, there's always a threat … as the Giants discovered in a second-half meltdown. Plus, Green Bay has something the Giants did not: Momentum. The Packers won their last seven starts.
But here's how the Cowboys should defend him next weekend in the divisional round of the playoffs: Leave the roof open. You heard me. Do not close that retractable roof at Jerry World. Reason: Rodgers won eight of his last nine indoor starts, with 29 touchdown passes and one interception.
OK, so maybe Dallas didn’t catch a huge break by drawing the MVP candidate, but I like the Cowboys' chances better vs. Green Bay than I do vs. Big Blue.
Because they don’t know how to beat the Giants. Not this year they don't. And they do know how to beat Green Bay.
(Aaron Rodgers photos courtesy of Green Bay Packers)
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
With Ben Roethlisberger in a walking boot after the Steelers' win Sunday, post-game questions centered on his availability next week at Kansas City.
"I'll be out there next week," he said.
I have no doubt about that. But it's not Roethlisberger I wonder about. It's his head coach. I mean, what in the world was Mike Tomlin doing having Roethlisberger in the game with four minutes left and exposing him to danger by having Big Ben throwing? I mean, it was 30-12, and the game was over.
I can understand having him in there if and only if it's to hand off. But if Le'Veon Bell was out of the game … which he was … why wasn’t his quarterback? That’s a decision Tomlin may wish to have back because it could keep the Steelers from advancing.
(Ben Roethlisberger photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
- If nothing else, wildcard weekend demonstrated why the NFL should not expand the playoffs. Aside from the first half of the Giants-Packers game, there was too little intrigue and too much bad play, bad quarterbacking and bad mismatches. No game was decided by fewer than 13 points, and the average ... average .... margin of victory was 19 points per game.
2. Why I like Kansas City next weekend: Andy Reid is 19-2 after byes (or with a week off) and 3-0 in the playoffs.
3. And why I don’t: Pittsburgh not only destroyed the Chiefs earlier this season, but Roethlisberger is 5-1 in his career against them, with 13 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 118.7 rating. Plus, he's completed 73 percent of his passes against the Chiefs.
4. But there's another reason: Le'Veon Bell. If the Chiefs are vulnerable on defense, it's vs. the run. They allow an average of 4.7 yards per run and 127.2 per game, and this is a guy who just put up 167 vs. Miami.
5. I know Seattle beat Atlanta earlier this year, but this weekend looks like the end of the road for the Seahawks. Reason: Because its more than Atlanta they're up against; it’s the ... well, it's the road. Not only were they 3-4-1 away from home this year, but they failed to produce more than 10 points in four of those games. What's more, they failed to win four of their last six road games (they tied Arizona, 6-6), beating only San Francisco and New England, and averaged just under 16 points per. So you think 16 points is going to be good enough to overcome Matt Ryan and Atlanta? Neither do I.
6. Russell Wilson this season at home: 8-1 (including the playoffs), with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions and a rating of 105.1. On the road: 3-4-1, with 8 touchdowns, 8 interceptions and a rating of 82.1
7. Seattle's hope? Not Wilson and not the Legion of Boom. Nope, Thomas Rawls and a running game. Atlanta ranked 17th vs. the rush, allowing an average of 104.5 yards a game.
8. Seattle hope, part two: Matt Ryan is 1-4 in the playoffs.
9. Let's just say that was no day at the beach for Odell Beckham Jr., if you know what I mean.
10. Biggest AFC winner? Easy. New England I don’t care what the line is for the Pats-Texans' game (it opened at New England, --16). It isn’t high enough. The Patriots are 4-0 against the Texans at Gillette Stadium, outscoring Houston 150-49 – including a 27-0 beatdown this season when the Texans had J.J. Watt, and the Patriots did not have Tom Brady. They had third-stringer Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
11. There were chants of "MVP, MVP, MVP" as Aaron Rodgers shredded the Giants in the second half Sunday … and for good reason: He's white hot and has carried the Packers on his shoulders. But he's also the guy who quarterbacked Green Bay when it stumbled to a 4-6 start, one reason some voters think Matt Ryan or Derek Carr could win that award.
12. Alexa: Enforce the slaughter rule next weekend in New England.
13. After that underwhelming performance, Miami's Vance Joseph just moved to my long list of head-coaching candidates.
14. Consider that playoff loss the closing argument for Derek Carr's MVP case. The Raiders were 12-3 with him; 0-2 without.
15. Fox's Troy Aikman is absolutely right. You never want to give teammates the impression that you're less than 100 percent focused on the next game, and the Giants' receivers seemed to do just that by partying in Miami. Odell Beckham Jr. said the trip did "a great job of creating distractions," whatever that means, but it did -- for the Giants. Aikman labeled the misadventure ill-advised. I can only imagine what Tom Coughlin would’ve called it.
16. Just a hunch, but after that performance in Houston you won't find Raiders' receivers working for Allstate this offseason.
17. Next time I buy a lottery ticket, I'm consulting Aaron Rodgers. He said the Packers would run the table, and they did. Then he said they needed Randall Cobb in the lineup, and you just saw what happened.
18. If Bud Dupree makes that sideline hit on Matt Moore in college, he's banished from the game. The NFL needs to adopt the NCAA rule for targeting.
19. Every divisional playoff game is a rematch of a contest this season, with Pittsburgh, New England, Seattle and Dallas winning during the regular season.
20. The last time all home teams won on wildcard weekend was the 2011 playoffs when the Giants wound up beating New England in Super Bowl XVI. Just sayin.'
WHAT WE LEARNED THIS WEEKEND ...
Nobody throws the Hail Mary better than Aaron Rodgers. With the exception of Robbie Gould, they stunk.
ESPN's Ed Werder is not a Falcons fan.
Don’t party with the Biebs before a playoff game.
It wasn’t an opponent that took down the Lions. It was a dislocated finger.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is more valuable to the Giants defense than I imagined.
No matter what the odds, never take Miami in a playoff game. That was the Dolphins' fourth straight defeat by 18 or more points, an NFL record.
... AND WHAT WE DIDN’T
How to explain the play … er, misplays … of the Giants' special teams.
How seriously Jordy Nelson is hurt.
How far the Raiders could have gone with Derek Carr.
Why Leon Hall wasn’t flagged for that hit on Jordy Nelson.
If having Ryan Tannehill would have made a difference in the outcome for Miami.
Why the Cleveland defense will be better with a 4-3 coordinator (newly hired Gregg Williams) when its personnel is suited to a 3-4.
THE WEEKEND'S HALL OF FAMER
(Le'Veon Bell photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Steelers)
PITTSBURGH RB LE'VEON BELL. All he did was set a franchise playoff record with 167 yards rushing, eclipsing Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris, in the first postseason game he shared with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Those three are potent weapons, and there is no more potent weapon this time of year than a franchise running back who can take the heat off his quarterback. Bell did just that in a lopsided defeat of Miami.
THIS WEEKEND'S HALL OF SHAMER
PITTSBURGH COACH MIKE TOMLIN. It's hard to fault a coach who just buried his playoff opponent by 18 points ... unless, of course, that coach goes out of his way to expose his quarterback to injury. And that's what happened Sunday, as Ben Roethlisberger finished a 30-12 rout and was hurt in the process, leaving the stadium in a walking boot. There was no reason for Roethlisberger to be in the game at its conclusion. Heck, the guy has a history of injuries and missed time this year. But Tomlin left him in for all four quarters, and Big Ben was hurt. No, I don't no how severely, but that's not the point. He never should have been injured because, unless he simply handed off, he never should have stayed in the game.