Adelaide forward, and American sports aficionado, Josh Jenkins fills you in on everything you need to know ahead of NFL Divisional Playoff weekend.
NFL Wildcard weekend was unbelievable for a number of reasons.
The Arizona vs Carolina match-up was a grind-it-out battle between two teams playing well below their best.
Someone had to win though and the Panthers, led by defensive duo Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, managed to squeeze past the Cardinals 27-16.
So, after leading the standings for much of the season, Arizona end their season on the road with their third-string quarterback at the helm after a wretched run with injuries.
Following the Cardinals’ loss to Carolina was a battle of old-school, physical NFL football between two arch rivals whose home grounds are only 400 kilometers apart.
Pittsburgh, led by veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and dynamic receiver Antonio Brown went in as favourites on their home deck, Heinz Field.
Gritty Baltimore had other ideas though and despite no longer having future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in uniform, the Ravens again managed to steal a win that was most unexpected.
In the traditional Sunday time-slot, Andrew Luck led his Indianapolis squad to a sound victory over Cincinnati, who once again lost in the first week of the playoffs.
The Bengals, minus superstar wideout AJ Green, lacked any offensive firepower and were powerless to compete with the high-scoring Colts who advanced to the Divisional round.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) January 4, 2015
Sunday Night Football was, yet again, a match to remember!
Detroit, having not won a playoff match in three decades, took an unexpected 14-0 lead in Dallas over the Cowboys before Tony Romo, Jason Witten and Terrence Williams led the fightback for ‘Big D.’
Unlike last season, when Lions’ stud Calvin Johnson erupted for 329 receiving yards, the Cowboys defenders kept ‘Megatron’ in check and were able to hang on for a thrilling 24-20 win.
The game ended but not without controversy; following the match, the NFL accepted responsibility for two missed officiating calls late in the match that would have gone the Lions’ way.
Such is the thoroughness of each team’s preparation, the professionalism and talent of its players and the high stakes on the line, every NFL playoff match is special and this weekend’s Divisional games are sure to be something extra-special.
Let’s take a look at the games.
INDIANAPOLIS at DENVER
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) January 5, 2015
In the NFL, quarterbacks rule. This is a matchup of two of the league’s very best – both at very different points in their career, though.
Denver veteran Peyton Manning, who won a Superbowl title in Indy, is looking to lead his Broncos to a championship before his career winds down.
His opponent is the man who replaced him for the Colts, Andrew Luck.
The NFL’s season leader in passing touchdowns and third in passing yards, Luck leads his team into the Mile High City where the Broncos were undefeated in 2014.
If Julius Thomas is healthy and Manning can return to his pocket-passing best, the Broncos should sneak past the high-octane Luck offence.
KEY PLAYERS: Andrew Luck (Indianapolis)
On any squad, the quarterback is crucial to the outcome but no team relies on its play-caller more than Indy.
With a revolving door of mediocrity and ill-health at running back, Luck is often asked to gain yardage on the ground as well as move the chains and get his outside play-makers involved.
Von Miller (Denver)
The Broncos defence is much improved from last season’s runner-up team. Aqib Talib has been a great signing at cornerback but Miller is the anchor to this unit.
His pass rush will be critical in forcing Luck to make quick passes and not allow him to find T.Y. Hilton and co. down-field.
TIP: Denver 33, Indianapolis 28
CAROLINA at SEATTLE
These two teams have been involved in three defensive slug-fests in recent seasons and this game seems set to be the same.
The feared Seahawk defence had a lull early in the regular season but the hard-hitting ‘Legion of Boom’ led by Richard Sherman is back to its best.
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) January 8, 2015
Panthers play-maker Cam Newton will need to perform better than he has in weeks past but with a staunch defence, the Panthers will have every opportunity to stay in the hunt.
Reigning Superbowl winning QB Russell Wilson looms large as he joins Marshawn Lynch to form a two-headed rushing monster that’s very hard to contain – especially at Century Link Field in front of 70,000 fanatical Seattle fans.
KEY PLAYERS: Cam Newton (Carolina)
The Panthers defence has its mojo back and they have made some nice plays on special teams all season long.
The offence has been the issue for the majority of the year and Newton’s play has been inconsistent and at times underwhelming.
He is the team’s best ball carrier and alongside Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, the former No.1 overall pick will need to help move the chains against a stout, physical and intelligent Seahawk D.
Marshawn Lynch (Seattle)
When Lynch goes ‘Beastmode’ it is all but over!
Wilson will continue to make the smart play and can occasionally find a receiver down-field but this team is primarily based on the run-game and Lynch’s ferocious style ignites the entire team.
TIP: Seattle 27, Carolina 17
BALTIMORE at NEW ENGLAND
Going into Foxboro is not something no team wishes to do – except maybe these Ravens.
During its Superbowl winning run in 2012, Baltimore rolled into Patriot Place as rank underdogs but emerged victorious and progressed to the big dance.
The Ravens thrive on the underdog tag and they will need to as New England awaits them, rested and ready.
Tom Brady has his big weapon healthy and firing in tight end Rob Gronkowski, while the Patriots’ defence has been making enough plays to help Brady win games.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 8, 2015
Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs openly expresses his hate for the Patriots as an organisation and Brady simply hates losing football games – this should be a barn-burner.
KEY PLAYERS: Rob Gronkowski (New England)
‘Gronk’ is Brady’s security blanket as well as his primary weapon.
A nightmare match-up with his supreme size and power, the Ravens will need to use both linebackers and safeties to cover the big man… Good luck!
Terrell Suggs (Baltimore)
Suggs has been around for a long time and, alongside Ray Lewis, introduced the grit-and-grind style the Ravens live by.
His intelligence and ferocity on defence will energise the entire team and if he can sack Brady a couple of times, expect to see the Ravens in this game at the end.
TIP: New England 30, Baltimore 18
DALLAS at GREEN BAY
Two of the NFL’s highest scoring offences go head-to-head in what should be the most entertaining game of the week.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) January 8, 2015
Quarterbacks Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers have both had magnificent seasons and both possess an arsenal of weapons capable of putting up 50 points against any defence.
The Cowboys enter the freezing air of Lambeau Field as extreme underdogs but with DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and an overachieving defence, anything is possible.
For it to have any shot, Dallas must contain the elite receiving duo of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb while also keeping Eddie Lacy in check.
KEY PLAYERS: Dez Bryant (Dallas)
Dallas goes as Bryant goes. He is a fiery ball of emotion and energy but he is also an elite level wideout capable of breaking down any defence.
The Packers secondary has been weak all season and receivers have scored touchdowns all season long – Bryant should be able to do the same.
Clay Matthews (Green Bay)
Rodgers and the Packers offence will put up points, particularly at home.
So the question will be, can Dallas keep pace? Matthews will have a lot to say about that answer with his ability to rush the passer, stop the run and drop back into extra pass coverage.
TIP: Green Bay 38, Dallas 24
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Photo – Flickr via Mike Morbeck