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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, January 13, 2014 at 9:12 AM



By Jim Hurley

Let’s be fair …

It was sure gonna be tough topping the drama/theatre of the NFL Wild Card Round Games that gave us 1-, 2- and 3-point winners in one of the most exhilarating weekends in league history.

Overall, those tilts were decided on average by just 5.75 points a game, while these just-played NFL Divisional Playoff Games had a pair of “one-score” finals while the quartet of Seattle, New England, San Francisco and Denver won this round of post-season games by a per-game average of 12.25 ppg and nobody won (or lost) on a last-second touchdown or field goal.

Still, what the NFL Divisional Playoffs did give the hard-core football fan was a throwback look at how the game used to be played more often than not come January:

Hard-nosed defenses; muscle-flexing rushing attacks; and good, old-fashioned nastiness especially in those two NFC Divisional games where Hatfield vs. McCoy themes were quite prevalent.

Maybe the best way to sum up the four games just played the past couple of days is to say that it was an “only the strong survive” mentality and few folks can disagree that these four remaining NFL teams are the best four teams in this here-and-now league … right?

We shall get into our Jim Sez analyses of all four NFL Divisional Playoff Games in just a moment but first this key reminder …

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Now, let’s look back at the NFL Divisional Playoff Games …

In the NFC, it was …

SEATTLE 23, NEW ORLEANS 15 – Think about it for a moment: The 9-point favored Seahawks got a bust-out ground game from “Beast” RB Marshawn Lynch (see 28 carries for 140 yards and 2 TDs), they limited Saints’ Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham to one reception for eight yards, and they held N’Orleans to just 3-of-12 on third-down plays, and still the top-seeded ‘Hawks were one mere Marques Colston brain cramp away from having to defend a Hail Mary pass/two-point conversion try at the end of this rain-soaked, wind-battered affair … so maybe Pete Carroll’s crew isn’t quite as mighty as you were led to believe!

True, Seattle bottled up Saints QB Drew Brees (309 yards passing) for the better part of three-plus quarters here, but on a day when New Orleans PK Shayne Graham missed two field goals and the Saints’ defense didn’t force a single turnover, the fact of the matter is Seattle sweated big-time late and had Colston merely stepped out of bounds after making a catch on the Seahawks’ 35-yard line with a handful of seconds remaining we might have witnessed a heart-stopping ending here.

The Seattle passing game was non-existent in the win – QB Russell Wilson completed just nine passes and never did get into any rhythm although lots of that is attributed to the Seahawks running the ball some 35 times -- but we see “red flags” here while heading into Sunday’s title tilt with San Francisco … just sayin’.

Maybe the Seahawks let their foot off the gas pedal a touch – or maybe Carroll’s defense lost a bit of intensity – but either way this had all the makings of a 21-to-24-point win for the home folks and instead it got to be sweaty palms time in the Emerald City.

SAN FRANCISCO 23, CAROLINA 10 – It’s not every day that we agree with the “experts” on ESPN, but methinks they’re correct in stating the Carolina Panthers got all caught up in playing a macho, bully-ball kind of game and it wound up backfiring on Ron Rivera’s squad big-time … why trash-talk the two-time defending NFC champs the way they did in the first half if you weren’t gonna back it up in the second half?

The 49ers – who outscored the 1 ½-point home-pup Panthers 10-0 after intermission – simply battened down the hatches, sacked Carolina QB Cam Newton five times and played a brand of mistake-free football (no turnovers) that usually wins at playoff time.

Sure, San Fran QB Colin Kaepernick engineered 80- and 77-yard touchdown drives going in and coming out of halftime that really told the tale here, and the 49ers had some hellacious goal-line stands that truly showed the value of linebackers NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Patrick Willis, but the Niners always got points – even if they were mere PK Phil Dawson FGs – while the Panthers didn’t with their red-zone trips, or didn’t you notice that Newton and Company went 0-for-3 in terms of TDs in their red-zone tries?

Put it this way:

The Niners knew when it was time to squash their opponent once and for all this past weekend – the Seahawks can’t say that.

Jim Hurley's 29th ANNUAL

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In the AFC Divisional Games, it was …

NEW ENGLAND 43, INDIANAPOLIS 22 – Hey, we have a silly question before we dig a bit deeper into the Patriots’ latest post-season win … do the Pats ever host a playoff game anymore when it’s not either raining or snowing … or both?

In this latest playoff home win – the largest post-season margin-of-victory win since that 45-10 beat-down of Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos back in 2011 – the Pats didn’t mess with Mother Nature and instead let bull-dozing and born-again RB LeGarrette Blount (166 yards rushing and four TDs) hammer away at the Colts’ 26th-ranked rush defense that turned out to be every bit as awful as advertised!

Plus, Indy QB Andrew Luck – who we would take in a heartbeat over any/all current NFL signal-callers if you’re looking at the next 10 years – threw four INTs and despite the pleas of CBS play-by-play man Greg Gumbel and now-retired analyst Dan Dierdorf, most of the picks were indeed Luck’s fault.

The Colts showed the occasional glimpses of brilliance with Luck (331 yards passing and two TDs) at the helm, but word to the wise that Indy better patch up that leaky rush defense, get a little bit bigger/stronger on “D” and figure out what they’re gonna do with lost soul RB Trent Richardson.

Hey, we didn’t even say word one about New England QB Tom Brady, who didn’t throw a single TD (or a single INT) and was the best “game manager” of this past weekend’s tilts.

Imagine that?

DENVER 24, SAN DIEGO 17 – There’s plenty of #1 seed comparisons we can continue to make here in this Jim Sez column, and one of ‘em is that both the Seahawks and Broncos needed to complete a critical third-down pass just to give ‘em both late-game breathing room in their respective wins in the Divisional Playoff games.

Go figure, you’re right!

The Broncos were coolly in command with a 17-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter of a game that was often dictated by gusts of wind and/or the direction of the win, but consider Denver managed the elements pretty well while San Diego QB Philip Rivers and Company often did not – yet there it was with Denver QB Peyton Manning (230 yards passing with 2 TDs and 1 INT) connecting with TE Julius Thomas on that third-and-17 pass for 20 yards with the clock ticking down as a Chargers’ defensive stop there would have forced a Broncos punt, and then who knows what gives with the orange guys seemingly ready/willing/able to choke away yet another Divisional Playoff game a year to the day of that twin-OT loss to Baltimore.

No doubt this won’t rank as one of the great special teams days in Denver history as sure-handed Eric Decker tripped over his own feet en route to an apparent punt return for a touchdown plus he botched up one of SD’s onside kicks and don’t forget that Denver PK Matt Prater missed only his second FG try of the year as the wind shifted his kick from right-to-left.

In the end, the top-seeded Broncos hung on, but consider the Chargers played three awful quarters – Mike McCoy’s club was “out-first downed” 26-to-13 and allowed Denver to convert on 9-of-13 third-down plays, and yet Denver nearly blew it an so John Fox’s crew heads into the AFC Championship Game showdown with New England having to booster his club’s confidence/morale and maybe find out why WR Wes Welker and the aforementioned Thomas dropped passes at ultra-critical times … hmmm.


So, we motor on to this Sunday for the two high-profile, blockbuster NFL Championship Games starting with the AFC Championship Game at 3 p.m. ET between New England (13-4) at Denver (14-3) followed at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET with the NFC Championship Game between San Francisco (14-4) at Seattle (14-3) and – as you’ve likely already heard these are the most combined wins for an NFL “final four” since the 1998 season.

But did you know the following home/away key spread stats?

Denver is now 0-2 ATS (against the spread) in home playoff games in the Manning Era and a sickly 20-29-2 versus the vig overall at home since the start of the 2008 campaign …

Meanwhile, New England has not played a road playoff game since the infamous 38-34 meltdown loss in the AFC Championship Game back in 2006. Overall, the Patriots have failed to cover five of their last six non-home post-season games while dating back to that non-cover Super Bowl 39 win against Philadelphia in the 2004 season.

San Francisco is 1-1-2 spreadwise away in post-season games in the Jim Harbaugh Era that started in 2011 with the “pushes” coming in the 23-20 win at Green Bay two weeks ago and last year’s 28-24 win at 4-point underdog Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Note the Niners are 16-9-3 ATS overall away under Harbaugh and that includes/features this year’s snazzy 7-1-2 ATS log.

Finally, Seattle is 4-3 ATS overall in playoff home games the past decade but overall the Seahawks will enter Sunday’s game against San Fran with a stirring 24-10 ATS mark at home under fourth-year boss-man Carroll.

NOTE: More NFL Championship Game News/Notes plus College Basketball Mid-Week Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.


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