- Christmas is over;
- the New Year grinds forward;
- yours truly has aged another full year inching towards the big 4-0;
- Two big cups of coffee so far this morning;
- NHL hockey is finally officially back and the Bruins are finally going to return to the ice this week;
- the Celtics have run off five straight games as guard Avery Bradley has been a spark on both sides of the ball;
- and the Patriots are in a huge match-up against the Texans for the right to host the surprising, return participant Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship.
SATURDAY'S NFL DIVISIONAL MATCH-UPS:
The Broncos and Ravens game seemed to go on forever. Just when Denver pulled away, the Ravens clawed their way back into the game. I was shocked watching the game that Peyton Manning just did not look like the same player that had played all season and is likely going to win an MVP that most deservedly belongs to Patriots QB Tom Brady who continue to define "most valuable". Credit the Ravens defense, but it was criminal that Denver Coach John Fox played the game like he had Tim Tebow, and not Peyton Manning, at quarterback. For example, at halftime, they got the ball back with 0:36 seconds left in the half and did not even try to go and score. Then, trying to run out the clock, 3rd and 7 right after the two minute warning and Fox took the ball out of Manning's hands and ran into the line and punted, setting up the Flacco Fling over the heads of the Denver secondary for the miraculous tie. Finally, after all that, at the end of regulation with 0:31 seconds left in the game and did not do anything but take a knee. Denver played not to lose, instead of playing to win, and that is how teams lose in the playoffs.
The San Francisco 49ers combined their explosive pistol offense and at times dominating defense to crush Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick shook off early jitters to have a record-setting game against Green Bay. Green Bay fumbled he ball away too many times, and much credit to the San Francisco defense: Aaron Rodgers is so good that people sometimes forget that slowing him down is a major accomplishment. The Packers defense was (as usual) their downfall. I don't know what was going through the mind of Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, but the players on the field seemed shocked that Kaepernick was taking off and running with the ball. It was criminal that there was no safety or linebacker to spy on Kaepernick and take away those 20+ yard runs. San Francisco truly looks like the cream of the NFC crop as they wait to see if they get nose-diving Atlanta or face Seattle for the third time this season.
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PATRIOTS-TEXANS: A FEW MORE NUGGETS:
I touched on the Patriots-Texans preview yesterday (Check it out here). The Patriots have to mix doing what brought them here and worked all season with new wrinkles the Texans defense may not be ready to defend. I expect the Patriots offense to throw in a few more wrinkles with including the running backs in the passing game. Running back Danny Woodhead is always a factor coming out of the backfield, but backs Steven Ridley and Shane Vereen are X-Factors in the passing game. Ridley would be great on some screens early on to slow the Houston pass rush, and Vereen is a weapon in the passing game who has yet to have his coming out party.
On defense, the Patriots have their entire defense healthy for the first time all season. Defensive end Chandler Jones needs to be both patient and disruptive. He (and fellow ends Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Francis, and Trevor Scott) must set the edge and remain patient in the running game. All eleven need to maintain their gap discipline to slow Texans running back Arian Foster and not allow him to cut back and make big gains and get the safeties and linebackers jumping up on play-action fakes. Jones also needs to create pressure on Texans quarterback Matt Schaub on passing plays. Sacks are nice, but hurries and knock-downs are just as important. Moving Schaub out of his comfort zone is important. If the Patriots can get the Texans into third and long, they can get back to their best rush set by having all of their ends available to have fresh legs coming off the edge, and then moving Cunningham inside next to Vince Wilfork to get pressure up the middle without needing to blitz.
4:30PM cannot get here soon enough! Patriots-Texans for the right to host Baltimore in the AFC Championship Game next Sunday.
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