While the Cleveland Browns finished fourth in the AFC North this season, their quarterback Colt McCoy finished first among the division's quarterbacks in the Positive Impact Factor (what's this?).
Here's the 2011 AFC North PIF Standings (PIF with sacks counted as rushes like the NCAA in brackets):
1. Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns, 39.1 (43.8)
2. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals, 35.6 (41.5)
3. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 15.7 (31.5)
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 13.2 (34.1)
It was not a banner year for the quarterbacks in the AFC North you would expect to have done well. Colt McCoy and Andy Dalton were in first and second in the PIF standings because they held onto the ball better than Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger.
There were fewer touchdowns and fewer wins for McCoy and Dalton but also fewer turnovers. If Roethlisberger got credit for being sacked in rushing attempts, his PIF would move ahead of Flacco, but not catch Dalton.
McCoy improved his PIF from a 37.7 in 2010 (10th in the NFL) to a 39.1 by throwing interceptions at a lower rate. Dalton, of course was a rookie, but did pretty well and helped the Bengals make the playoffs. Flacco fell from a 31.7 to 15.7 (his worst season in the NFL) because his rate of interceptions went up a little and his fumbles lost rate skyrocketed. Roethlisberger's season was bad but not his worst. In his career, he has bounced around from Top 10 in his best seasons (2004, 38.4 PIF; 2005, 40.4 PIF, 2009, 34.5 PIF) to bottom 5 in his worst year (2008, -2.6 PIF). He dropped from his average season due to a higher rate of interceptions and fumbles lost.
Is it possible for both teams to show up for a game at one site?--not this weekend. All four games of the NFL divisional round were filled with boredom. Sure there were some exciting plays but most of them were made by the team which decided it was a good idea to bring at least their B game to the field instead of the other squad which was helplessly thrashing about on live TV.
Out of the morass of Saturday and Sundays' games, a pattern emerged. The NFC was the place for blowout games, the AFC on the other hand, is where Lady Luck decided to blow on some other guys' dice.
Arizona Cardinals 14, New Orleans Saints 45.
The Cardinals' defense which got eviscerated by the Packers showed up again. The Cardinals offense which tore through the Packers' defense did not. Kurt Warner never had a shot in this game, well except for this one. Things started off well for Arizona when Tim Hightower took the opening handoff from scrimmage and ran 70 yards untouched for a score. That was the worst possible outcome for the Cardinals. Hightower's run showed Reggie Bush what running the football is supposed to look like. Or at least that's the only explanation I can think of for what the guy wearing the Bush jersey for the Saints was doing. Bush ran North and South (and that includes over some pathetic tacklers for the Cardinals) for the first time in his entire career. Drew Brees was back to doing his thing carving up secondaries. The Saints big play defense returned and forced a couple of turnovers. Arizona was only able to convert one (1) third down all game. The Saints even broke out the flea flicker when the game was 21-14 to show the Cardinals they meant business. Who Dat Nation was thrilled but this game was essentially over when the Saints were up 21-7 at half. Reggie Bush ran onto the field during pregame with a black bat inscribed with the words "Bring The Wood", a theme which continued without a prop in the other NFC divisional game.
Dallas Cowboys 3, Minnesota Vikings 34.
The number 3 was important in this game. Tony Romo had 3 fumbles (he lost 2). Sidney Rice caught 3 TDs for the Vikings. The Vikings 3rd score in the 4th quarter was a TD pass with 1:55 left which gave Brett Favre passing 4 TDs for the game. Dallas LB Keith Brooking was very upset over what he thought was a lack of sportsmanship. I liked what Jimmy Johnson said about the situation on the postgame show, "if you don't like it, stop it." Maybe if Brooking's defense had been stopping Favre at some point during the game before the whipped Cowboys quit on the last Vikings play (a 4th and 3, by the way, from the Dallas 11 yard line) the result might have been different. Brooking doesn't play on the offensive line which let Tony Romo get hurried (and sometimes hit pretty good) all game long. Brett Favre is 40 but he looked much younger when he was celebrating his career best 4 playoff TDs or singing "Pants on the Ground" in the locker room after the game.
Baltimore 3, Indianapolis 20.
The Ravens need to think about getting a symbol of luck on their helmets, it sure worked out for the Colts on Saturday having a horseshoe on their head gear. Every bad bounce that could possibly have occurred for the Ravens did happen. Ed Reed picks off Peyton Manning (who was not having a great game) towards the latter part of the 3rd quarter with the score 17-3 in favor of the Colts. Reed returns the INT about 40 yards before the intended WR Pierre Garcon chases him down and knocks the ball out. Dallas Clark was right in position and fell on the fumble. Five plays later, Ed Reed got another INT from Manning. Dallas Clark had clearly been interfered with and the ball went back to Indy again. The odd drive ended with a Colts FG to make it 20-3. On the ensuing drive, Ray Rice rumbled for 20 yards down to the Colts 28 yard line and then got pelted by Raheem Brock. The ball squirted free and landed near Colts LB Clint Session who recovered the fumble. Ray Rice is an explosive player who is fun to watch. His 67 rush yards and 60 receiving yards were not nearly enough for the Ravens offense. The 3 points the Ravens did score came in the first quarter. After that the Colts underrated defense buckled down and salted the game away by picking off Joe Flacco twice and forcing the above mentioned Rice fumble in the 4th quarter. The Colts cannot run the ball and it's shameful that they can make it to the Conference Championship game by "running enough to keep you honest", as it was described during the telecast. The Colts leading rusher, Joe Addai, was nowhere near 1,000 yards on the season and the whole team couldn't manage 1,300 yards on the ground. In that sense, it makes the Colts winning 14 regular season games and Peyton Manning throwing for 4,500 yards even more impressive. Ray Lewis and his defense didn't have a bad game holding the Colts to 275 yards and 20 points, but miscues and unnecessary penalties hurt them. Manning's Colts finally won a playoff game after winning the conference during the regular season (0-3 coming into Sunday).
New York Jets 17, San Diego 14.
If Nate Kaeding makes his 3 FG attempts, San Diego wins this game. He made none of the three. CBS jinxed him by putting up the graphic showing how long it had been since he had missed a FG from 40 yards or closer. Kaeding missed 2 tries 40 yards or closer on Sunday. Just as the Ravens committed too many penalties, the Chargers racked up 87 yards on 10 flags. Phillip Rivers was just shy of 300 passing yards but most of those were wasted when the Chargers could not convert 3rd downs (they finished 4-13). Their running attack was pretty bad (61 yards). Healthy or not, LaDainian Tomilinson was powerless to help his team. Darren Sproles picked up 33 yards on 3 carries but only had 3 carries! The Chargers secret weapon (FB Jacob Hester) was rolled out in the second quarter. He ignited the first scoring drive for either team by first making a 15 yard catch. Both teams had trouble making first downs up to that point. Hester made a crucial block to give Rivers enough time to throw his only TD of the game to WR Kris Wilson. Hester nearly blocked a punt in the 4th quarter. The Chargers scored on the short field created by the tipped punt. Ultimately, this TD only produced the closer than reality final score of 17-14. Hester creates instant hustle when he is on the field and the Chargers needed such a spark throughout the game. The Jets defense was great from a bend but don't break standpoint (especially if you include the FG defense which made Kaeding choke). They were also the beneficiaries of Lady Luck. Darrelle Revis made one of the most incredibly fortunate INTs you will ever see on his own 17 yard line in the 3rd quarter with San Diego up 7-3. The Chargers defense didn't allow a point until the first drive of the second half. Rivers' second INT set up a short field and the go-ahead score for the Jets in the 4th quarter. After a Chargers punt, RB Shonn Greene destroyed arm tackles on a 53 yard blast up the middle of the field for the second Jets TD. The Chargers lethargic offense was suddenly down 17-7 with about 7 minutes left and that was too much to overcome. Mark Sanchez won his second playoff game and was not good in barely hitting the 100 yard mark in passing. He threw 1 TD and 1 INT. Sanchez was nearly perfect in the first round of the playoffs so Sunday's game was more like a return to normalcy. San Diego had won 11 straight games coming into the first playoff game and the week off seemed to coat them in a layer of rust. The Jets were the only road team to win a divisional round game.
Next week's NFC championship has the Vikings travel to the Superdome to take on the Saints. Both Brett Favre and Drew Brees were outstanding in their first playoff games, if both can keep it up we should see the shootout that Arizona v. New Orleans was supposed to give us. The Vikings and the Saints brought the wood in their divisional games, which one will bring it again? The AFC title game features two offensively flawed teams. The Colts don't have a running game. The Jets don't have a reliable passer. The Colts have a better defense than the Jets, but which team will get the lucky breaks?
Jets rookie QB Mark Sanchez has had some up and down performances this season. His first playoff game was great in terms of what you want out of your game manager style of QB: 12/15 for 182 passing yards, 1 TD, 0 INT. His shaky regular season merited a QB rating of 63.0 because he threw 12 TDs to 20 INTs and only completed around 54% of his passes for less than 7 yards per attempt. His first playoff game was rated 139.4 which is more than 32 points better than his best regular season outing--a 38-0 shutout of the Raiders. The Jets running game was also rolling with rookie Shonn Greene getting most of the carries. Greene with 135 yards and a TD on 21 attempts also had his best game since that week 7 shutout of the Raiders. For the Bengals, this game was an improvement over their 37-0 drubbing at the hands of the Jets in week 17. First of all, the Bengals scored points in 2 quarters. They had the ball for over 26 minutes. Cedric Benson played and had 169 yards rushing and a TD on 21 carries. QB Carson Palmer played the whole game and crossed the 100 yard passing barrier (he had 0 yards on 11 attempts in week 17). Heck, he even threw a touchdown. WR Chad Ochocinco caught 2 more passes than the 0 he had in week 17. He was unable to celebrate a TD though. The inability of the Bengals to throw and catch the ball was simply amazing. The Bengals franchise is still not ready for the playoffs (they haven't been here often) and haven't won a playoff game since 1990. The Jets won their first playoff game since 2004 and move on to play the team they beat in that game, the San Diego Chargers.
This game turned into a blowout faster than you could have imagined. Nobody scored in the first quarter. By halftime, the game was over. Dallas got a TD on a Tony Romo pass early in the 2nd. The Eagles responded with a laser pass from Mike Vick which turned into a 76 yard TD. Dallas rattled off 20 unanswered points to make it 27-7 at half. Cowboys RB Felix Jones exploded for a 73 yard rushing TD in the 3rd to make it 34-7. Jones finished with 148 yards on only 16 carries. The Eagles had 56 yards rushing...total. Both teams' QBs threw for 200+ yards but Romo was more efficient than Donovan McNabb. McNabb was pressured often and threw 1 INT and lost 1 fumble. The Eagles turned the ball over 4 times compared to the Cowboys' 1 turnover. It is surprising to think that the Cowboys win on Saturday was their first playoff victory since 1996. It was not a shock that the Cowboys won this game. The Eagles had absolutely no way of stopping the Cowboys offense. The Eagles' defense appeared to have never defensed a screen play before. This game was similar to the Jets v. Bengals affair. It was a step forward for the Eagles over getting shutout 24-0 in week 17, but it was an effort which was far from what they needed to win the game. The Eagles finished their season in highly disappointing fashion. They had won 6 in a row until they met the Cowboys in week 17. This game was their 3rd loss to the Cowboys in the 2009 season. The Cowboys broke a two game losing streak in week 15 by upsetting the then undefeated New Orleans Saints. Dallas has been red hot ever since only allowing 31 total points during their 4 game win streak. The Cowboys play Minnesota next.
This wildcard game was over even quicker than the Eagles v. Cowboys. Aided by Tom Brady turnovers, the Ravens put up 24 unanswered points in the first quarter. It got ugly early for the Pats. The first play from scrimmage was a Ray Rice 83 yard TD run. The only Patriots players to put out any effort were RB Kevin Faulk (52 of the Pats 64 rush yards and 37 receiving yards) and WR Julian Edelman (2 TD catches). New England played this game like they were banged up and wanted to end their season. The Ravens came out onto the field jacked up and were more than ready to oblige the lethargic Pats. Ray Rice finished the game with 159 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 22 carries. The Ravens didn't need QB Joe Flacco to be good. He was terrible: 4/10 for 34 yards passing with a pick. Despite the lack of passing, the Ravens outgained the Patriots (who couldn't run--64 total rush yards) 268-196. Brady's ribs were bothering him and was clearly off during the game. He threw for only 154 yards 3 INTs and only 2 TDs. He also lost a fumble. Brady's 49.1 QB rating was the lowest of his playoff career. The Patriots were loudly booed in their first playoff home loss since 1978. Ravens LB Ray Lewis (pictured above) was dominant with 13 tackles and a sack. He also had told the CBS crew calling the game that he could pick out what the Patriots were going to run because he had Brady figured out. On certain plays where Lewis slammed into Brady or Faulk or other unfortunate Patriots, it sure seemed like he had the read the Pats playbook. The Patriots will have the offseason to try to regroup. The Ravens move on to play the Colts (a team which should be in the best of health due to basically forfeiting their last 2 games of the regular season). If the Ravens hope to stand a chance, Peyton Manning will have to turn the ball over and Joe Flacco must do something, anything, positive on offense.
If you liked the Ravens' smothering defensive performance in the early game, this latter contest (the highest scoring game in NFL playoff history) probably drove you nuts. This game started out much like the Ravens v. Patriots however. The Cardinals built a quick 17-0 lead by the end of the 1st quarter aided by Packer turnovers. Green Bay got their own offense going with a great defensive play by DB Charles Woodson. Arizona was threatening to score another TD in the 2nd quarter when Kurt Warner dumped the ball off over the middle to WR Larry Fitzgerald, Woodson used his fist like a sledgehammer and smashed the ball out of Fitzgerald's arms and Green Bay recovered the fumble. Warner was screeching at WR Early Doucet about something that had happened besides the fumble on the play. It was the only mistake Doucet made in a game where he caught his first 2 playoff TDs and set up a game winning FG chance. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had his first pass of the game intercepted. His second pass was complete and then fumbled away. Somehow Rodgers had caught fire in the second quarter after the Arizona turnover. By halftime the Packers were only down 24-10 in a game that could have easily gotten away from them. The Cardinals scored on their opening possession of the second half and were up 31-10. The Cardinals defense then turned into swiss cheese. Rodgers threw 2 TD passes to cut the lead down to 7 points. Warner responded with a TD near the end of the 3rd quarter to extend the lead to 38-24. By the 10:57 mark of the 4th quarter, Rodgers had thrown another TD pass and set up a rushing TD and game was tied at 38. Warner threw his 5th TD pass of the game about 6 minutes later. Rodgers responded with his 4th TD pass to tie the game up at 45 with 1:52 remaining. Warner, armed with 3 timeouts, quickly hurried the Cardinals down the field and hit Doucet on a 16 yard pass down to the Packers 16 yard line. The Cards used their last timeout with 14 seconds left and sent veteran kicker Neil Rackers out onto the field for a 34 yard FG to win the game. Rackers choked and pushed the ball wide left. The game was going to overtime. The Packers won the toss and of course took the ball. Arizona's offense had to be nothing short of livid that their defense had seemingly blown the game by letting the Packers get back into it. What they were thinking about Rackers probably contained too much profanity to type. However, in overtime, the Cardinals defense finally got back to the way they were playing at the beginning of the game and ended it. Here's the play, you decide what should have happened, if anything.
The defense for most of the game was so awful on both sides that there were 62 total first downs, 1024 total yards, 9 passing TDs, 3 rushing TDs and Arizona RB Beanie Wells looked good. It would normally take a stretch of the imagination to think that Wells was fast enough to play in the NFL (I'm not saying he couldn't be good in short yardage situations). Today was not one of those days. On one play, the Packers defense checked out completely and allowed Wells to get his career long run of 42 yards. Since he finished with 91 yards, that one play severely inflated his yards per carry average to 6.5. Wells hadn't looked this good since his 110 yard performance against the Detroit Lions. To be fair, those guys are so pathetic on run defense, they can make anybody's running back look great.
This was the only game of the three wild card matchups which were played on week 17 to turn out differently. In the last week of the season the Packers demolished the Cardinals 33-7. That wasn't really a fair measure of performance as the Cards rested players while the Packers did not. The Packers won't take any consolation of sending this game to overtime into the offseason. The Cardinals have the Saints next. I would really like to see New Orleans in top form (which they haven't been anywhere close to since that Cowboys loss) to get a game which will rival this wild card game in excitement.
Gameball for the former LSU Tiger in the NFL on Wild Card Weekend: Early Doucet, WR Arizona: 6 catches, 77 yards, 2 TDs and set up Neil Rackers for an easy kick to win the game even though Rackers didn't come through.
And then there were two: of the 8 playoffs teams remaining only the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings don't have a former LSU Tiger on the roster. There has been at least one former Tiger on every Super Bowl champion since 2001.