2015/16 NFL Divisional Round: Sunday
I’m finishing this up having just watched the game of the year (in my opinion). If any of these games match up to the Packers vs. Cards game we’re in for a treat! Anyway time once again to take a look at a few key factors that could affect Sunday’s Divisional Match-ups.
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
Return of the Backs: With 2 dynamic dual threat QB’s the addition of running backs like Marshawn Lynch and Jonathan Stewart makes a huge difference, if only to take a little pressure off Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. That being said both are proven talents and add a legitimate threat to each team, not just in the run game, but in the shorter passing game too. Having to account for these guys means that teams will think twice about bringing on that defensive back, which is good news for the other 2 guys I’m about to mention
How do you Solve a Problem Like Greg Olsen: Outside of Cam himself, easily the biggest puzzle the Seahawks will face. As good as Bobby Wagner has been, can you trust him in coverage against someone as quick as Olsen. So then do you move Sherman or Jeremy Lane over to cover him and trust DeShawn Shead and Tye Smith one on one against Tedd Ginn Jr and Devin Funchess with safety help from Earl Thomas, which could be a tad risky. Finally do you line up Kam Chancellor against him and rely on the line backers to contain both Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart (not to mention Mike Tolbert). Surely this takes out some serious talent away from dealing with the most dangerous player in the league in Cam Newton. The point is Olsen creates mismatches, even if it isn’t directly. Expect Olsen to potentially be quiet, to allow someone else to go off for a big game.
Who’s got Doug? Last season we each here at the Gents clubhouse went through our top 10 players at each position, which is something we’ll be doing again this year. After the 2nd half of the season that Doug Baldwin has had I would be very surprised if he’s not on a number of lists. Baldwin could be poised to present a problem for a beaten up Panthers secondary. As good as this unit has been on the back of Josh Norman, injuries to Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere however have left them with Cortland Finnegan and Robert Alford, who aren’t anywhere near the same level. So with Baldwin lining up in the slot do you move Norman to the slot corner position and rely on Finnegan and Alford against speedsters like Tyler Lockett and Jermaine Kearse? The problem is the Panthers will want to avoid lining up in nickel and have as many line backers on the field to deal with the dual ability of Russell Wilson. Doug Baldwin much like Olsen could have a quiet game in favour of seeing a breakout performance potentially from Tyler Lockett.
Prediction: Carolina Panthers win 21-17
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
2 Beaten up Quarterbacks: If age wasn’t the cruel sod that it is, we’d be watching an epic QB matchup between 2 future hall of famers. However age has caught up with Peyton Manning, who has looked more of a liability to the team then an advantage. Peyton’s skill set is severely limited, which isn’t itself the biggest issue for Peyton, who has struggled some of the more physical aspects of the game for a couple of years now, but the introduction of silly mental errors, on top of his historic inability to perform in the play offs, makes you wonder if they’re better off with backup QB Brock Osweiller. As James pointed out on this week’s pod, Brock has been the QB that’s done a better job of getting the run game going, so despite a lack of playoff experience, maybe he’d be the better choice? Regardless Peyton gets the nod, with potential for an over-romanticized view on Peyton winning a Super bowl, potentially backfiring through a simple lack of ability. On the other side Ben Roethlisberger is going into this game with question marks about his health thanks to suffering a sprained AC joint and ligament damage in his right shoulder. He looks set to play, but just how effective can he be playing with an injury? From what I understand, the biggest issue is simply playing with the pain, so if Ben is as tough as it has been alluded to, we might actually see a fairly decent performance.
Defensive Dominance: Where the Broncos have excelled is on defence and could be the key to a victory against a Steelers team missing it’s number 1 receiver, number 1 & 2 running back (remember LeVeon Bell?), and having an injured QB. The Broncos defence could be described as being a little on the violent side, but the fact is they are the most terrifying prospect an offence could face in the league. Here’s what we need though. All the truly great defences make their mark in the playoffs, like the ’85 Bears or the 2000 Ravens. We know they can slow down teams better than any other defence in the league, leading in average receptions and average rushing yards, but if this team is to make a Super bowl, they need to start completely shutting down teams and that starts here. I think the Broncos defence does have a lot of ability, but whether we can call them an all-time great unit will be decided this month (and, you know… potentially the start of February.
Heeeeeath! Without a starting running back or the best receiver in the game today, the Steelers will have to rely on short passing gains to set up the deep balls to Martavis Bryant. As a result Heath Miller stands out as potentially the most important player on the Steelers whose name doesn’t rhyme with Len Loethlisberger. Miller is an all- purpose tight end which is exactly what a beaten up Steelers offence needs in this situation. Miller’s stats aren’t astronomical this year, but he kept up the pace of previous years with 60 catches on 80 targets his all-time low of 8.9 yards per attempt, could be put down to a serious drop off, but it really doesn’t take a genius to see that the Steelers are loaded with deep threats and Miller has excelled in his role as Ben’s go to guy when everything else looks impossible. Miller in the last game against Denver was somewhat quiet when a healthy Antonio Brown tore a Broncos defence to shreds that was missing several key pieces. Without Antonio Brown and several other key pieces, you’d expect Ben to hit the short pass more often, especially considering the injuries he’s playing with. One final note on the all-purpose tight end, he is exactly that and his ability in run blocking will be essential to getting the in-experienced running back duo of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman going. expect the play of Heath Miller to be a potential x-factor (urgh I hate that term), in this game.
Prediction: Broncos win 24-21
Right that’s the Divisionals sorted, see you on next week’s Gridiron Gentlemen podcast!