NFL XMAS IS THE JANUARY DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF ROUND

For diehard NFL fans, there is nothing like the divisional round of the playoffs.  We get four games between the best teams in the league.  Because of free agency, the general quality of each team has been lowered, but it also means that the winners of wildcard weekend tend to surprise the 1&2 seeded "bye" teams more.  Yesterday's thriller in Denver was all about that trend continuing.

Here on this NY Giants blog, we know all about being the underdog in the divisional playoff round.  In fact, since free agency started, the Giants have reached the divisional round as the favored "bye" seed twice (2000 and 2008 [jan01 and jan09])) and have been the underdog road team twice (2007 and 2011).  It is a little more than anecdotal that the Giants have won two Super Bowl titles in those road dog years and come up empty (one divisional win but 0-1 Super Bowl) in the other two. The Giants have plenty of company in recent years in using the Wild Card round (4 playoff wins) as a route to the title:

1-2 Seed Super Bowl Winners 2005-Present
2008 Steelers
2009 Saints

3-6 Seed Super Bowl Winners 2005-Present
2005 Steelers
2006 Colts
2007 Giants
2010 Packers
2011 Giants

Of course we cherry-picked the place to start, in 2005.  But the point is that 5 out of the last 7 years have dealt a winner from the lower seeds.  My takeaway for what it means is simple- playing through and continuing to get better each week affords the team that "HAS TO PLAY" the wildcard round an extra opportunity to improve.  It is hard to argue that BAL was hot, having lost 4 of their remaining 5 regular season games.  Yet we all watched as the Ravens beat the 1-seeded Broncos despite allowing 14 points on special teams.      

Two teams that were peaking played each other last weekend.  The Redskins won their last 7 straight after starting 3-6.  The Seahawks had won 7 of their last 8 with 5 straight.      

We reviewed the tape of the first half of the Seattle-SF Week 16 rout.  The game was pretty much over at halftime, with the Seahawks up 28-6.  There was a pivotal play early that did mask some of the lopsidedness of this game, where Seattle blocked a chipshot FG, with the ball returned ~95 yards for a TD.  That was a 10 point swing.  But there is an interesting takeaway from watching this game- while we have focused on the exploits of RGIII, there are 2 other RGIII-lites out there in Kaepernick and Wilson.  This QB option offense (when you have a credible passing threat) is causing a lot of tumult in the NFL.  The trend over the past ~15 years has been more and more passing.  Enter these mobile QBs, who stress your entire defense, but particularly your LBers.  While the NFL is a passing league dominated by offense, these mobile QBs are shifting what these offenses can do, and defenses are currently a step behind.  When RGIII was "somewhat" healthy early in the playoff game last weekend, he and the Skins shredded the Seahawks 14-0.  As soon as RGIII lost his ability to run, Seattle clawed its way back in the game and took the lead for good.  Credit Wilson with part of that comeback, as his versatility is doing the same thing to opposing defenses.

Yesterday, we saw more of this mobile QB wreaking havoc, as Kaepernick turned the great Clay Matthews into jello.  When you see Matthews lost, looking for where the ball is while the player with it sails by him, you know this is not the same NFL as previous years.  I will use this theme to predict that Wilson and the Seahawks beat ATL today, and that the winner of the SEA-SF contest next weekend will beat the AFC in the Super Bowl.  Call it the RGIII-Wilson-Kaepernick mobile QB theme.  As long as you are healthy, the defenses do not yet have the answers.  It will be hard for SEA to win its second straight East Coast playoff game. But I will take the underdog that has the mobile QB and the solid defense. It is pretty crazy to take a rookie QB, and then to possibly call him to go all the way, but you have to break the mold in order to respect the power of change.

Side remarks

1) Shanahan was negligent in protecting his franchise QB from further injury.  This will be a huge help to the Gmen, because this is the second knee ligament tear for RGIII.  Given what we said above about SF and SEA, you still need to draft LBer to equip yourself with managing this new offensive dynamic.

1a) The way the Skins handled the news about RGIII's knee after the game and in subsequent days was typical PR denial of the reality and then the magnitude.  We are STILL LEARNING just how bad it is publicly.  For our part, read our tweet almost immediately after it happened.

2) All I could think about when Peyton got picked in OT yesterday was Tracy Porter's Q4 Manning pick vs the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.  Peyton Manning is going to the Hall of Fame in a limousine on his first ballot, but he has "blinked" way too many times in the playoffs for my liking.

3) Follow me and Rich Conforti on Twitter during the playoffs.  We try to reply to tweets.  Another person we recommend following is Mike Pereira, who really helps with these play reviews.  I pretty much only use twitter for the NFL (outside of a few financial remarks), and it is a great way to keep up with the games. 

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