Necessary Roughness, Wild Card Round: Rooting for a Panthers / Ravens Super Bowl
It’s been a while, and a whole lot has happened since my last column. I hope everybody had a wonderful holiday season spent in the company of people you care about, and that you gave and received an amount of gifts that ultimately led to a financial wash. Breaking even; that’s what the holidays are all about.
If you would have told me a month ago that the Carolina Panthers were going to host a playoff game with a regular season record of 7-8-1, I would have thought you were crazy. But I also would have admired your radiant positivity and patronization of my Panther fandom. I mean, could things have played out any better for the Panthers in terms of just sheer luck? Granted, they finished the year with four straight wins that they absolutely needed to squeak into the playoffs. But then they draw the best possible matchup for the Wild Card Round.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that Arizona was primed for a collapse with all the injuries they have suffered throughout the year, and to be honest, I’m actually surprised that they mustered up enough wins in the face of such adversity to get into the postseason. I mean, that team is decimated, particularly at the quarterback position. I don’t care how magical your season has been, you just can’t win playoff games with a 3rd-string QB. I love the Cardinals’ story this year, and Bruce Arians is hands down the coach of the year in my book, but I was elated that the Panthers were matched up with that team in the first round. The Panthers’ defense is finally healthy, and they are really playing great. That game Saturday would likely have been a shutout if not for a goofy Cam Newton interception and muffed punt return by Brenton Bursin. The defense was historically great, holding Arizona to under 80 yards of total offense.
But I’m a reasonable man — sort of — and I know that in order for this improbable Panthers run to continue, their defense has to be historically great throughout the playoffs. And that starts this weekend against the Seattle Seahawks. And offensively, Cam Newton has to be better. It’s great to see him healthy enough to extend plays and drives with his legs, but he has got to be more accurate with his passes in order to win games against elite teams. Jonathan Stewart has been running as well as anybody in the league over the last several weeks, and I can only hope that trend continues as well. I don’t love the Panthers’ chances in Seattle, but I do think they match up with them better than they do with say, Green Bay. If the game gets “ugly,” I wouldn’t be shocked if Carolina went up there and pulled off the upset.
Elsewhere, Detroit managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in Dallas. They really had the Cowboys on the ropes and should have won that game. The refs didn’t help, either. That retracted pass interference call was bizarre, and also it was just flat out wrong. There was clearly contact, and I thought it was an easy call. But the bottom line is that Detroit has the best defense in the league and they couldn’t get a stop when they needed it. Dallas is a scary team; they just know how to win. Tony Romo is playing great football, in part because of how effective the running game has been with Demarco Murray. Romo is not being asked to throw the ball 50 times a game, which ultimately cuts down on the potential for the game-changing turnovers that have plagued his career up until this point. On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys defense has overachieved and come up with big time stops throughout the season. But Cowboys’ fans, it all ends this weekend at Lambeau Field. I think, if Aaron Rodgers is healthy, Green Bay wins that game. The Cowboys are great on the road and I think it’ll be close, and potentially high scoring, but in the end I don’t think Dallas has enough to slow down the GB offense.
In the AFC, my preseason dark horse picks for Super Bowl Champs are still alive. And I think they’ll still be alive after this weekend. Look for the Indianapolis Colts to pull of the upset in Denver. I don’t love the way Denver has played late in the season, and my gut tells me that Andrew Luck is ready to get to that next level and beat his predecessor in a big game. If Indy can establish a lead early and push Peyton Manning into desperation mode, I like their chances. As good as Manning is, he’s prone to making mistakes in big games, especially when his back is against the wall.
My preseason favorite to win it all is also still alive. And if Rob Gronkowski stays healthy, I don’t know if the Patriots are beatable. I mean, no one can cover that guy. It’s not even fair. I’m really hoping that the Ravens pull off the upset, but I just don’t see it happening. Baltimore is going to have to pitch a no-hitter to win that game. Not impossible, but my pick is that the Patriots get it done and make their way to the AFC championship game.
All in all, we are going to have some killer games this weekend, and I can’t wait. BTBAM will be in the studio recording some weird ass music that has no business ever being written in the first damn place, but you can bet that I’ll be taking a break when the games are on. In full disclosure, I’m hoping for a Panthers/Ravens Super Bowl. So go Panthers, and go Ravens. Take care, folks.