The first round of the playoffs is in the books, and here at Bang the Book, we have all of the most important news and notes from across the league from the biggest weekend that the NFL betting campaign has had to date.
Grounded Jets Destroy Indy: Head Coach Rex Ryan made a crucial philosophy change in the locker room of the New York Jets duel with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night. He took the ball out of the hands of QB Mark Sanchez and called upon RB LaDainian Tomlinson and RB Shonn Greene instead. The two backs ended the day with 152 yards on 39 carries, and the move paid off with two LT TDs in the second half. Not only did the ball continue to move in the second half for New York, resulting in three scoring drives, but it also served to keep QB Peyton Manning off the field. As a result, WR Reggie Wayne, who caught 111 passes on the season, was held to just one reception for the game.
Gutsy Call Gives Ryan Glory: As if there weren’t enough to talk about from the perspective of the Jets… They did plenty of talking this week, but in the end, it really was the players on the field that made the difference. Even though QB Mark Sanchez threw a pick earlier in the game just before halftime that caused Head Coach Rex Ryan plenty of pains, he left it up to his quarterback and his wide receiver, Braylon Edwards to make the most pivotal call of the game. With the ball at the Indy 32 yard line and less than 30 seconds to play, the Jets could have easily just the pigskin, picked up a few yards, and set up K Nick Folk for the do or die boot. Instead, Edwards told Sanchez and Ryan that he could beat man coverage and pick up a big gain. He did just that, mustering 18 yards and making the game winning kick significantly easier. Folk was true on his boot, and the Jets left Indy with a 17-6 victory.
Seattle Surprise One for the Record Books: The Seattle Seahawks really had the NFL odds stacked against them on Saturday, but they never really seemed to care, apparently. They were 9.5 point underdogs, the biggest for a home team in the history of NFL playoff lines, and they were trying to win even though they were the first sub-.500 team ever to be in the playoffs in this league. Mission accomplished. They were able to take out the defending Super Bowl champs, the New Orleans Saints with a gusto, a 41-36 win that was really never in that much doubt in the second half.
Unlikely Heroes for Seahawks: We knew that the Seahawks were going to need to get a lot more out of some facet of their game to be able to beat the Saints on Saturday, and they got just that. No, the defense didn’t play well all game, allowing over 450 yards and letting QB Drew Brees really tear them apart, but they did come forth with a dynamic offensive effort. WR Brandon Stokley caught his first TD of the season just before halftime, and that was one of the four TDs thrown by QB Matt Hasselbeck on the day. Hasselbeck had arguably the best day he has had in years, and he is starting to look a lot like the man that brought this team to the Super Bowl several years ago. The play of the game came from RB Marshawn Lynch, though. Lynch never really did get acclimated with his new surroundings in Seattle after coming over from the Buffalo Bills via trade relatively early in the year, but he was a man amongst boys out there when he rumbled for 61 yards and the game clinching TD in the fourth quarter. If you haven’t seen it yet, YouTube it. You won’t regret your time, as the 11 Saints defenders feel like they all missed on that play.
Quoth the Ravens: Chiefs No More: The Baltimore Ravens made mincemeat out of the Kansas City Chiefs right from the very get go on Saturday, and they cranked up the intensity even higher in the second half to send a real message to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that they will face in the Divisional Round of the playoffs next Saturday. The Ravens owned the football for over 41 minutes on the day, and they really did dominate every category possible. Kansas City had just eight first downs against 25 for the Ravens. It had 161 yards versus the 390 for the visitors. It also had five turnovers, very uncharacteristic for a team that only turned it over 14 times on the entire season. In the end, a 30-7 final was more than justified for the visitors, who have absolutely stormed through this phase of the playoffs.
Road Ravens: Over the course of the last three seasons in the NFL playoffs, there have been 11 NFL betting battles that have been won by the road team. Four of those have now come courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens. There is no doubt that this team, which has come out of a Wild Card spot in each of the last three seasons, knows what it takes to get the job done on the ground, and once again, it showed it by taking out a team that was probably vastly overrated in the Kansas City Chiefs. Does this sound familiar to you, Miami Dolphins from 2008, Tennessee Titans from 2008, and New England Patriots from 2009? The Pittsburgh Steelers hope that they aren’t the fifth team to add their name to that list this coming week in the Divisional Round of the postseason.
Vick’s De Ja Vu: If you go all the way back to Week 1, QB Michael Vick had to claw his way out of a huge hole for his Philadelphia Eagles at home against the Green Bay Packers. He nearly got the job done, getting within 42 yards of tying up the score. He nearly cleared out a 17 point deficit in a game that would have really set the season up perfectly for the men from the City of Brotherly Love. On Sunday, he was down 14 points early on and 11 going into the fourth quarter. Vick got the first TD with 4:02 left in the game, and he had a chance to lead the team on the game winning drive, but he was picked off with just 0:33 to play to end the contest. Green Bay escaped thanks to the INT by DB Tramon Williams 21-16.
Starks Paces the Pack Attack: The Packers never really had a great ground game this year once RB Ryan Grant was injured for the season against Philly in Week 1, but four months later, Green Bay has found itself a new hero. RB James Starks carried the ball 23 times for 123 yards, and the average of 5.3 yards per carry was one of the best marks for a Packers’ running back all season long.
Top Passers: There’s no doubt that the man of the hour as a quarterback was a loser this week, as Drew Brees threw for 404 yards and put the pill in the air a whopping 60 times in that loss to Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck had 272 yards, while Joe Flacco was the only other man to surpass the 250 yard mark through the air on the week. Aaron Rodgers deserves all the credit in the world though, as he threw for 180 yards and three TDs in the win over the Eagles. Michael Vick rushed for 33 yards and a TD, and he ended with 292 yards and a score through the air, but he also had that pick as well.
Running All Over the Competition: Did anyone even know who James Starks was before Sunday? All of a sudden, the rookie from the University of Buffalo, who had just three appearances and only had 101 yards on the ground for the entire season, ended up rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries against the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs to lead the way for all running backs. Baltimore’s Ray Rice had 99 yards between rushing and receiving, and he had the TD at the end of the first half that effectively put the game away. We love that LaDainian Tomlinson had 82 yards and two scores, while his backfield mate, Shonn Greene had 70 yards on 19 carries. Marshawn Lynch had the best run of the weekend bar none, as that 61 yard TD scamper against the Saints let him finish with 131 yards on the afternoon.
Receiving the Top Prizes: Reggie Wayne might not be anywhere on this list, but his teammate, Pierre Garcon led all receivers on the weekend with 112 yards and a TD for the Colts. It all went for naught though, as Braylon Edwards probably made the most important play of the weekend when he caught that 18 yard pass that set up the game winning field goal for New York. The only other 100+ yard receiver was Todd Heap, who broke season highs for catches (10) and yards (108) in a game this year. It’s amazing that Brees threw for over 400 yards, and the leading receiver on the day was Devery Henderson, who only had 77 yards. We’ll give it up for Jason Avant, who had 93 yards and a TD on seven receptions in defeat for the Eagles, but he clearly wasn’t good enough by himself to post a victory.
Divisional Round Playoff Schedule and Opening Lines
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers – 4:30 ET Saturday (Pittsburgh -3.5/36.5)
Green Bay Packers @ Atlanta Falcons – 8:00 ET Saturday (Atlanta -1/45.5)
Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears – 1:00 ET Sunday (Chicago -10/40)
New York Jets @ New England Patriots – 4:30 ET Sunday (New England -9/45.5)