2010 NFL Conference Championships Remix

After a close 24-19 win in the AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers are heading to their 8th Super Bowl

SUPER BOWL XLV at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sunday, February 6th will be Green Bay Packers (13-6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4)

Of course the teams I picked back at the start of the season the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys will be sitting at home with the rest of us.  And my crystal ball was further broken as my Conference Championships’ Super Bowl match-up pick of Bears-NY Jets was no better…oh well no one is perfect :)

 2010 NFL Conference Championships Remix

 Football fans across America continued to tune into NFL games, resulting in the most-watched conference championship Sunday in 29 years.  An average of 53.4 million viewers watched NFL games last weekend, the most for an NFL conference championship Sunday since January 1982.

The New York Jets-Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship Game on CBS drew 54.8 million viewers ranking as the most watched AFC championship ever. The Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears match-up on FOX drew 51.9 million viewers to rank as the third NFC Championship Game in four years to average more than 50 million viewers

NFC Championship Game

Green Bay Packers (13-6) over Chicago Bears (12-6), 21-14… Not the greatest passing performance by Aaron Rodgers, but he got the job done…Packers jump out to an early lead and do just enough to finish off the Bears…Great punting day for the Packers as Hester wasn’t a factor…Rodgers tackles Bears LB Brian Urlacher on a crucial INT return… Packers NT BJ Raji has the games winning score as the big guy picks off a pass and returns it for a TD…Bears QB Jay Cutler after an ineffective first half, sits out the 2nd half with a knee injury causing many to question his toughness…Bears 2nd stringer Todd Collins is putrid before being pulled after 2 series…young 3rd stringer QB Caleb Hanie comes off the bench to post some highs and lows… Packers go to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, which is their 5th Super Bowl appearance overall…Rodgers continues to be the talk of the NFL, even though he didn’t do much in the game

AFC Championship Game

Pittsburgh Steelers (14-4) over New York Jets (13-6), 24-19…The Steelers blew the doors off the J-E-T-S in the first half (24-0)…Big Ben’s numbers are not great, but he has a chance for a 3rd Super Bowl win after another big postseason win (record of 10-2 in playoffs)…Steelers pound the rock and harass Jets’ QB Mark Sanchez in the first half…New York fights back by scoring 19 points in the 2nd half as the Steelers go conservative…Roethlisberger makes some great throws on 3rd downs to close out the game…Jets’ hometown guys Revis and Taylor leave P-Burgh without the win…Ryan glad the way his team fought back…NY Jets have a ton of offseason thinking to do including whether to re-sign Cromartie, B. Edwards, B. Smith, and S. Holmes…Steelers going for an NFL record 7th Super Bowl title…Pittsburgh now has been to 15% of all Super Bowls…Tomlin 2nd SB in only 4-years as a Head Coach

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2010 NFL Playoffs: Conference Championships Round Preview

Everything will be on the line “Championship Sunday” as the Chicago Bears (WR/KR Devin Hester pictured) take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship and the Pittsburgh Steelers square off with the New York Jets in the AFC Championship

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The Conference Championships of the 91st NFL Season, are upon us and for the final four teams (Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears) it is now or never in order to achieve their ultimate goal of winning Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas.  The match-ups  interestingly enough will be  “Back to the Future” moments for NFL Universe as for only the 17th time since 1970 both championship games are rematches from the regular season. 

The AFC Championship Game (NY Jets vs. Steelers ) is a rematch from Week 15 (NY Jets won 22-17 at Heinz Field) and the NFC Championship Game (Bears vs. Packers ) renews the oldest rivalry  — 182nd meeting but only the 2nd time in postseason — in NFL history.  And will serve as a “rubber match” with both the hated NFC North rivals having won during their regular season series (Chicago won 20-17 in Week 3 and Green Bay won 10-3 in Week 17). 

The 2010 NFL Season has truly been a wild rollercoaster type affair, where not even the best prognosticators could have seen the many ups, downs, and strange twists that have flipped the script on NFL history.  Former NFL Commissioners Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle’s favorite word, “Parity”, has ruled the day once again in the National Football League.  For the second time in the past three postseasons (last time in 2008), the Championship Games will not feature a No. 1 seed. 

Prior to 2008, there was at least one top-seeded team in the Championship Games in 28 consecutive seasons, dating back to 1980.  After a “wacky” divisional round where both #1 Seeds (Patriots and Falcons) were vanquished, the Conference Championships have been left with two #2 Seeds (Pittsburgh and Chicago) and two #6 Seeds (NY Jets and Packers) to fight it out for a ticket to the Super Bowl in two weeks at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. 

I have heard arguments on both sides regarding whether “parity” is helping or hurting the NFL.  Of course I grew-up on perennial Super Bowl contenders like the Steelers, Dolphins, Niners, Cowboys, and Raiders bullying the rest of the teams with road to the Super Bowl running through these prestigious franchises.  However I have to admit I am a fan of the kinder “Anything Can Happen” version of the NFL rather than the ’70s and ’80s Super Team model.  So hold-up,  Wait a minute…as  you have to admit that these improbable match-ups are pretty cool.  It will be league royalty (Steelers – 6 Lombardi Trophies and their 15th Championship Game appearance, the most since 1970) versus Ryan’s Running-at-the-Mouth Rebel J-E-T-S in the AFC Championship and the NFL’s most heated rivalry, the Bears and Packers, playing for the coveted NFC crown. 

Speaking of the NFC match-up, these  two teams locked horns in a Week 17  match-up where Chicago tried to leave their hated Black-and-Blue Division rival dead for the playoffs by not “resting” and playing everyone for a full 60 minutes.  But the red-hot Packers did get in the playoffs and now led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they are a road favorite.  Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who is shooting for his 2nd Super Bowl appearance, said of the upcoming game “It doesn’t get any better than the NFC Championship coming down to the Packers on our turf.  It’s the Packers and Bears to finish it up.”

Make no bones about it… people love gathering around to watch the NFL.  You know, CBS and FOX cannot wait for Sunday’s action as all four Divisional Playoff games averaged more than 30 million viewers for the first time ever and accounted for the four most-watched shows on television last week.  In fact, according to the latest Nielsen ratings, after a record-setting regular season and Wild Card Weekend, an average of 35.1 million viewers watched NFL games last weekend — the most ever for an NFL Divisional Weekend and a six percent increase from the 2009 round (33 million viewers).  The 35.1 million average surpasses the previous Divisional record of 34.2 million in 1993.  And the granddaddy of them all was last Sunday’s New York Jets-New England Patriots game on CBS which drew 43.5 million viewers ranking as the most-watched Divisional Playoff game ever and is the most-watched show since the record-setting Super Bowl XLIV last February. 

Hopefully the four remaining teams will focus on their precious opportunity to move-on to the Super Bowl and everything else that has transpired in the past 18 weeks doesn’t matter anymore.  As brash NY Jets head coach Rex Ryan recently said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “If you can’t get motivated to win an AFC Championship, then you shouldn’t be in the building.”  The NFL is by far the best game going and that is why this time of the year on the league’s calendar is one to savor.  Sadly we all know the season will be over soon, but the next two weeks filled with the Conference Championships and then the hype of the leading to Super Bowl are over the top phenomenal to me – of course ommitting next week’s glorified vacation called the Pro Bowl in Hawaii.  The “big stage” is now alive for the Bears, Packers, Steelers, and NY Jets so now is the time for two teams to “Seize the Moment”.

Whatever happens in this Sunday’s games, this round of the playoffs is truly special as the NFL’s junior prizes — conference championship trophies (George Halas Trophy for the NFC and Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC) — and a trip to the Super Bowl are all on the line.  However players on all four teams better focus on first winning this Sunday before looking ahead to confetti laced on-field celebrations and planning trips to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.  All the prepartion that the players and coaches have been through from OTA’s to training camp to the long grueling 17-week regular season, and two playoff rounds all hangs in the balance.  As Pittsburgh Steelers DE Brett Keisel said about his team trying to achieve their goal of making the Super Bowl, “We’re very excited to be going back to the AFC Championship Game, but it’s all for naught if we can’t take care of it.”

Trust me, as someone that has experienced the ultimate high and low from Championship Sunday while following the fortunes of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise from a very early age, I can attest to both potential drastic endings.  In terms of winning I can still feel the goose bumps from 1980 when the Eagles exorcised their demons against the hated Dallas Cowboys as running back Wilbert Montgomery, quarterback Ron Jaworski (Jaws), coach Dick Vermeil and the rest of the Birds finally could call themselves a “winner” and were making the ultimate trip to Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans.  And the gut-wrenching pain from 2002 when Philly’s beloved Veterans Stadium’s last football game was a Championship Sunday loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers known as “The Day Gruden, Barber, Sapp, Keyshawn, and the Bucs Drove the Bulldozer Over the Vet”.

Alright that is enough remembrance of the good and bad times of the already on the sidelines Eagles as now is the time for the Packers, Steelers, Bears, and NY Jets to show their mettle. Surprisingly only the Steelers are a home favorite (-3.5) this week by Vegas while the surging Packers (-3.5) are a road favorite over the host underdog Bears. Everyone including yours truly will be pontificating on what will happen, but luckily the games will be played on the field and anything can happen — Any Given Sunday…right?? 

My predictions are soon two follow, but there is no doubting that both games are “Coin Flip” matchups in my opinion.  Plus you can never forget our always talked about playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play (Bears have edge here w/ Hester), Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” still being the key factors as to which teams will move on to Super Bowl XLV.

Some Lloyd’s Leftovers from Championship Sunday include:

Several Hot Teams are left – Over and over we say that it does matter how you start in the NFL, but how you finish.  This has never been more prevalent than this season as since the midseason (5-3 at the time), Green Bay have won seven of their last 10 games; Pittsburgh has won 7 of 10 and and so have the New York Jets; Chicago has won 6 of their last 10. 

Rodgers is ridiculous — Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes (86.1 percent) for 366 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 136.8 passer rating in Green Bay’s 48-21 victory over the Falcons last week.  Rodgers is the 1st player in NFL history to pass for at least 3 TDs in each of his first three postseason starts and his 129.4 career playoff passer rating is the best mark all-time (minimum 100 attempts).  Speaking of Rodgers, receiver Greg Jennings said, “Aaron played absolutely phenomenal.  It was a treat to play with him during that performance.”

Good Quarterback Play is the key this time of the year – We know that quarterbacks get too much praise for wins and too much blame for losses.  But this time of the year, the quarterbacks have to protect the football and be efficient. I hate to pile on Baltimore QB Joe Flacco, but his 16 of 30 for only 125 yards, 1 TD, and 1 huge INT effort last week was probably the major reason the Ravens had significant trouble in the divisional round.  This year’s final four QB’s includes one former Super Bowl participant (Ben Roethlisberger) and three young guns (Rodgers, Cutler, and Sanchez) looking for respect.  The four quarterbacks remaining have been very good at not turning the ball over (No INTs by the group last week) and they will need to continue that trend against a several tough defenses.

Road Warrior Teams in the playoffs – For years, teams fought to get home-field advantage in hopes that they would have an easier road to the Super Bowl.  However the 2005 Steelers and 2007 Giants showed that teams can get it done in hostile environments on the road to Super Bowl titles.  This year is following the aforementioned model as through the first two rounds, road teams have won 5 of 8 games tying 2005 for most road wins since the NFL went to 12 playoff teams in 1990.

Defenses coming to play – It has been said through out NFL history that defense wins championships and this year is no different.  The conference championship round will feature some good defenses from the regular season– 2nd ranked Steelers (276.8 yards per game), NY Jets (261.1), Packers (309.1).  The Bears, who were 9th in total defense during the regular season (314.3), have picked it up in the playoffs limiting their opponents to an average of 276 yards

Former Champs Abound — All of the teams participating in the Conference Championship round have won at least one Super Bowl title.  Those teams are Pittsburgh (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008); Green Bay Packers (1966, 1967, and 1996); Bears (1985) and NY Jets (1968);

One last leftover: On a personal note, I am dedicating this piece to my Mother, Lloyia, who is currently fighting her way through some health issues.

2010 NFL Playoffs Championship Round Games

GREEN BAY PACKERS (12-6) at CHICAGO BEARS (12-5) (Sunday, FOX, 3:00 PM ET)

 

NEW YORK JETS (13-5) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (13-4) (Sunday, CBS, 6:30 PM ET)      

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – Division Rd Review – Conference Championship Preview

In the Taking It to the House Division Rd Review – Conference Championship Preview Podcast The 2010 NFL Playoffs continue to roll-on as NFL’s Final 4 left standing are the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets, and Pittsburgh Steelers

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – Division Rd Review – Conference Championship Preview

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance and Host Mark Gray review the 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round and then move on to give you their “Pick 2” for the upcoming Conference Championships

2011 NFL Draft Gets a Boost as Underclassmen Deadline Passes

Heisman Winner and National Champion Auburn QB Cameron Newton was one of several high profile underclassmen to declare for the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft

The final list of underclassmen declaring for the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft is completed and this year’s group is a record-breaker.  Though there could be a rookie salary cap on the horizon, a record 56 underclassmen declared for the draft this year — surpassed the former record of 53 underclassmen declaring for the 2008 and 2010 NFL drafts.

This year’s draft class’ pedigree definitely increased with the infusion of younger talent.  Despite marquee quarterback, Oliver Luck (Stanford),  preferring to play against the little guys for another season in college, this year’s NFL draft class is shaping up to be fairly deep. The four positions that seemed to benefit the most from underclassmen joining the fray are Defensive Line (Fairley, Bowers, Watt and others) Quarterback (Mallett, Newton, and Gabbert); Wide Receiver (Green, Cobb, Baldwin, and others); and Running Back (Dion Lewis, Mark Ingram, Evans and others);

One note that all the declaring underclassmen should have noticed was that the NFL still making a concerted effort to draft seniors, so some of the youngsters better expect to go the undrafted free agent route.  In the 2010 NFL Draft, there were only 46 underclassmen drafted compared to 209 seniors.  However on the flipside,  last year’s draft produced 17 underclassmen first rounders including first overall pick St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford.

The underclassman whom I will be most interested in seeing where he lands in the upcoming draft is Heisman Trophy winner and National Championship quarterback Cameron Newton from Auburn. The dual-threat quarterback put up spectacular numbers in the 2010 college football season including 185-280, 2854 yards, 66.1 %, 30 TDs and 7 INTs with a 182.05 quarterback rating.  Plus Newton rushed for 1,473 yards and 20 TDs as he joined Tim Tebow and Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the only players in NCAA history to compile 20+ touchdowns passing  and rushing in the same season.  On the upside, I see the junior eligible as a cross between talented Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and veteran Donovan McNabb.  However you also have to wonder if he could be the next Akili Smith (1-year college wonder) or Vince Young (talented, but undisciplined) at the next level.

Underclassmen who have declared for the 2011 NFL draft

Player  Position College Class
Darvin Adams WR Auburn JR
Akeem Ayers OLB UCLA JR
Jon Baldwin WR Pittsburgh JR
Da’Quan Bowers DE Clemson JR
DeAndre Brown WR Southern Miss JR
Brandon Burton CB Utah JR
Jurrell Casey DT Southern Cal JR
John Clay RB Wisconsin JR
Nick Claytor OT Georgia Tech JR
Randall Cobb WR Kentucky JR
Marcell Dareus DT Alabama JR
Tandon Doss WR Indiana JR
Darren Evans RB Virginia Tech JR
Nick Fairley DT Auburn JR
Blaine Gabbert QB Missouri JR
A.J. Green WR Georgia JR
Tori Gurley WR South Carolina SO – RS
Lawrence Guy DT Arizona St. JR
Jamel Hamler WR Fresno St. JR
Jamie Harper RB Clemson JR
Brandon Harris CB Miami (FL) JR
Will Hill S Florida JR
Justin Houston OLB Georgia JR
Henry Hynoski FB Pittsburgh JR
Mark Ingram RB Alabama JR
Julio Jones WR Alabama JR
Taiwan Jones RB Eastern Washington JR
Tom Keiser OLB Stanford JR
Mikel Leshoure RB Illinois JR
Dion Lewis RB Pittsburgh SO – RS
Javes Lewis CB Oregon JR
Greg Little WR North Carolina JR
Corey Liuget DT Illinois JR
Ryan Mallett QB Arkansas JR
Rahim Moore S UCLA JR
Cam Newton QB Auburn JR
Zane Parr DE Virginia JR
Patrick Peterson CB L.S.U. JR
Robert Quinn DE North Carolina JR
Stevan Ridley RB L.S.U. JR
Jacquizz Rodgers RB Oregon St. JR
Kyle Rudolph TE Notre Dame JR
Robert Sands S West Virginia JR
Tyler Sash S Iowa JR
Sealver Siliga DT Utah JR
Aldon Smith DE Missouri SO – RS
Torrey Smith WR Maryland JR
Tyron Smith OT Southern Cal JR
Jerrard Tarrant S Georgia Tech JR
Jordan Todman RB Connecticut JR
Shane Vereen RB California JR
J.J. Watt DE Wisconsin JR
Muhammad Wilkerson DT Temple JR
Aaron Williams CB Texas JR
Ryan Williams RB Virginia Tech SO – RS
Martez Wilson ILB Illinois JR

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – WCHE Interview 011711

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance breaks-down the 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round, including the NY Jets backing up all of their bravado with a dominating victory over the New England Patriots,  in his weekly interview on the “Matt Lombardo Show” (1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA)

The 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round showed that nothing is given in the postseason, especially the Pittsburgh Steelers rallying from a 21-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Baltimore Ravens. NFL Insider Lloyd Vance makes his weekly appearance on the “Matt Lombardo Show” on 1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA including breaking down the NY Jets 28-21 road victory over the AFC No. 1 seeded New England Patriots

2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Preview

The National Football League’s Elite 8 will take center stage in the 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round.  I am expecting a real old school slugfest when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s team hosts AFC North rival, the Baltimore Ravens, this Saturday afternoon

(Philadelphia, Pa) — The “Elite Eight” round better known as the NFL Playoffs Divisional Round start the “real” games as far as I am concerned.  Most fans and media love the hype of the National Football League’s Conference Championships and Super Bowl.  But you can put my wholehearted vote in for the NFL Divisional Playoffs as the most exciting portion of the league’s now year-round calendar.  The splendor of the divisional playoff round is that the four best teams from the regular season, after a well-deserved bye week, finally get to enter the fracas to take on pumped-up Wildcard Round upstarts.  The NFL Playoffs’ Wildcard round usually does a pretty good job of removing teams that I like to call “Frauds” from the playoff picture.  However if some frauds are still leftover, surely the divisional round will sniff them out.  The final eight usually brings out the best in teams leading to highly competitive games before the suffocating hype, pressure, and “big stage” mentality of getting to the Super Bowl sets in. 

The great thing about the NFL Playoffs divisional round games are that now teams that excelled in the regular season have to “Prove It” when it matters most. For a long time teams coming off byes seemed to automatically advance to the Conference Championship round of the playoffs.  Since the league went to 12 playoff teams in 1990, — gave the top two seeds in each conference first-round byes — the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are 60-20 (.750) in their first playoff game. However since 2005, the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds are just 10-10 (.500) in the divisional playoff round.  A great example of the non-predictability of current divisional round playoffs was the 2008 NFL Season.  Both No. 1 seeds (Tennessee Titans – AFC and New York Giants – NFC) and the NFC’s number two-seeded Carolina Panthers came off byes and lost in the divisional playoffs. Only the AFC’s No. 2 seed, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won in the second round of playoffs and then went on to win Super Bowl XLIII.  Remember there are no longer the dynasty bully teams of the past — think of Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns of the ‘50s, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers of the ‘60s, Chuck Knoll’s Pittsburgh Steelers of the ‘70s, Bill Walsh’s San Francisco 49ers of the ‘80s, Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys of the ‘90s, and Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots of the ‘00s – so parity still rules and all 8 teams have a legitimate chance.

Surprisingly this week, all four home teams are favored by Vegas after a Wildcard round where home teams went 1-3. Yes, last year’s Super Bowl match-up of the Saints-Colts brought the NFL’s first No. 1 seed showdown since 1993 (Buffalo vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII), but I am not sure if the “Chalk” will fall into place again this season.  The 2010 NFL Regular Season was topsy-turvy – perfection left the door in Week 5  and 48% of regular season games were decided by 7 points or less — and I fully expect the divisional round to be a wide-open affair too.  Somewhere former NFL Commissioner Bert Bell is smiling as the phrase he coined, “On Any Given Sunday” still is reigning true.  Bell’s dream theory of equitability where any team, whether top or bottom, could beat each other on a weekly basis, was majorly driven home last week in the Wildcard round. 

Everyone, including yours truly, gave the Seattle Seahawks – regular season record of 7-9 at the time and the NFL’s first losing record playoff team in a non-strike season —  little chance to beat the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the Wildcard Round (I think I said they would be “Fried like the Colonel’s Chicken).  But in the parity-filled world of the current NFL, the Seahawks, who were a 250 to 1 shot to win the Super Bowl at the start of the playoffs, defeated the Saints 41-36.  Definitely keep an eye on the winners from the Wild Card round as teams advancing from the round have won the Super Bowl six times including the three of the last five champions.  Hopefully Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears were paying attention as every favored team coming off of a bye better prepare for the opponent in front of them or there is distinct chance that they will join the Eagles, Saints, Chiefs, Colts and the 20 other non-playoff teams on the sidelines.  Patriots head coach Bill Belichick recently said of the playoffs, “After the regular season the Patriots were 14-2, but now the team is 0-0”.

The theme of the 2010 NFL Divisional Playoff round should be the same as one of my favorite ’70s films, “Let’s Do It Again”.  The film starred African-American film icons Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitiere making a killing by prearranging boxing matches with all the marbles riding on a big payday rematch.  The word “rematch” fits perfectly as for the first time since 2008 all four divisional playoff games will be rematches or “rubber matches” from regular-season contests.  Of course having played and beaten a team in the regular season may bring a partial psychological edge in game planning, and dissecting tendencies. But tried-and-true playoff tenants of Strong Quarterback Play (i.e. Taking Care of the Football), Good Attacking Defense, a Balanced Offensive Attack based first in the Run, Sound Special Teams Play, Getting off the Field on 3rd Downs Defensively, Scoring Touchdowns rather field goals in the Redzone, Limiting Penalties/Turnovers, and just plain “Want-to” will be the deciding factors as to which teams move on to the Conference Championship round on the long treacherous road to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, Texas. 

Speaking of familiarity, the AFC’s two divisional round match-ups (Ravens-Steelers and NY Jets-Patriots) are also divisional games.  To football fans there is nothing better than putting on your team’s colors and rooting against a hated rival.  Players usually try to keep a lid on emotions, but when a familiar foe is across the line — play twice a year and sometimes three times, if both teams make the playoffs –- you can save the handshakes for the offseason.  NY Jets CB Antonio Cromartie fanned the flames of one the NFL’s biggest rivalries by saying, via the New York Daily News, about what kind of guy Patriots QB Tom Brady is, “He’s an asshole…(Bleep) him.”  In retort, Brady took the high road by saying that he had been called worse in the past.  But the J-E-T-S better be wary as Brady usually does his talking on the field and sometimes after games too.  Back after the Patriots shellacked the NY Jets 45-3 in Week 13, Brady had an additional message for Gang Green.  “We don’t listen to the hype,” Brady said. “I don’t think we ever have. We really take after our coach (Bill Belichick), and he says ‘When you win, say little. When you lose, say less.”’

Other than the playoff tenants that we discussed earlier, “Great” playoff teams that usually advance far in the postseason win the battle in Adjustments and Turnovers.  The NFL is a copycat league where teams can catch-up quickly and adjustments are the only way to stay ahead of the pack and combat falling behind.  With the Wildcard Round behind us, it is time for the “great” coaches to make the adjustments necessary to get their teams to the next round of the playoffs – think Saints head coach Sean Payton calling a surprise successful onside kick after halftime of Super Bowl XLIV.  However we all know that nothing goes as “planned” in the NFL. It is all well and good to look at old tape and previous games against your opponent to prepare a dossier.  But during the course of a game, plans can quickly go out the window.

Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson used to always say before a fight in his classic lisp voice, “Everybody has a plan, until they get hit.”  That quote is so true in the NFL too as former Super Bowl winning coaches in this year’s playoffs (Bill Belichick and Mike Tomlin) have been known to make in-game adjustments to their original game plans that have led to playoff victories.  As important as adjustments are, plain and simple nothing is an important factor in wining playoff games than “turnovers”.  Nothing can put a dagger in a team’s playoff hopes quicker than giving away the ball, especially turnovers that go to the house for points.  A prime example was in last week’s Wildcard Round where the Kansas City Chiefs turned the ball over 5 times in their lopsided loss to the Ravens.  And of course who could ever forget the worst turnover game in recent memory, where the highly favored Carolina Panthers lost at home 33-13 in a whitewash to the underdog Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 NFL Playoffs Divisional round.  Panthers QB Jake Delhomme (17-34, 205 yards, 1 TD, 5 INT and 1 fumble) accounted for six turnovers by himself and the Cardinals scored 23 of their 33 points off of those takeaways.

The operative phrase for all the teams remaining in the single-elimination NFL Playoffs is “Moving On”. Because winning the battle on the stat sheet means nothing as getting “W’s” are all that matter.  Style points are out the window as an “ugly” win is just as good as an offensive highlight reel win – Just ask the 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens who won ugly all the way to a Super Bowl title.  Sadly the season will be over soon so enjoy this weekend’s slate of four quality matchups.

Before we turn our attention to our individual game capsules, here are some Lloyd’s Leftovers for the 2010 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round

Being #1 Seed is not what it used to be — Attaining the No. 1 seed in your conference and home field advantage used to mean something back in the day, but in today’s parity-laden NFL there are no guarantees to Super Bowl entry.  Since 1990 only 20 of the 40 (50.0 percent) No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Super Bowl, with nine No. 1 seeds being crowned champions (22.5 percent). However some good news for No. 1 seeds are that they are a combined 30-10 in the divisional playoffs since 1990 (NFC: 18-2 and AFC: 12-8)

The Year of the Tight End Continued – With teams playing more zone defenses and quarterbacks looking for “good” match-ups in the redzone, tight ends are more in vogue than ever in the NFL.  Some tight ends that will be showcased in the divisional round are Bears TE Greg Olsen, Ravens TE Todd Heap, Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez, NY Jets TE Dustin Keller, Steelers TE Heath Miller, and Seahawks TE John Carlson plus Patriots emerging rookies Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Last week Heap was one of the biggest stars of the Wildcard round producing 10 catches for 108 yards (10.8 ypc)

The Ravens are tough on the road — Baltimore loves “Us Against the World” games on the road. This Saturday’s game will mark the 15th playoff game in Ravens’ history and the club’s eleventh on the road.  Baltimore holds a 7-3 playoff record away from home, which stands as the top road winning percentage (.700) in NFL playoff history (minimum five games). 

Rematch after a shellacking – The NY Jets-Patriots playoff game will be their next game since New England’s 45-3 pasting of the J-E-T-S in Week 13.  The match-up will be the third time in NFL History where teams have a playoff rematch after a regular season game where one team won by 42 + points.  The others were Washington-Detroit in 1991 and Minnesota-Cleveland in 1969.  BTW:  The Patriots should be happy as both the Redskins and Vikings won again in playoffs after posting a big victory over their overmatched foes in the regular season.

2010-11 NFL Playoffs Divisional Round Games

Saturday January 15, 2011

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) (CBS, 4:30 PM ET)

 Broadcast Team: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf
Green Bay Packers (11-6) at Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (FOX, 8:00 PM ET)

Broadcast Team: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Chris Myers and Pam Oliver (Field Reporter)

Sunday January 16, 2011

Seattle Seahawks (8-9) at Chicago Bears (11-5) (FOX, 1:00 PM ET)

Broadcast Team: Darryl Johnston, Kenny Albert, and Tony Siragusa (Field Reporter)

New York Jets (12-5) at New England Patriots (14-2) (CBS, 4:30 PM ET)

Broadcast Team: Jim Nance and Phil Simms

 

 

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

Taking It to the House NFL Podcast – WCHE Interview 011011

NFL Insider Lloyd Vance breaks-down the 2010 NFL Playoffs Wildcard Round, including the Green Bay Packers 21-16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles,  in his weekly interview on the “Matt Lombardo Show” (1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA)

 The 2010 NFL Playoffs Wildcard Round really were “Wild”, especially the Saturday Games. NFL Insider Lloyd Vance makes his weekly appearance on the “Matt Lombardo Show” on 1520 WCHE – West Chester, PA including breaking down the Green Bay Packers 21-16 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles