What an interesting weekend over in the wild world of the NFL! We watched a terrible moment where a player whiffed a kick (don’t blame him forever, kids). We watched as Antonio Brown nearly had his head ripped off by a Bengal. We watched a shootout in Washington and a massacre in Houston. As some of the deserving teams head their way to the next destination, let’s take a look at what I think will happen come Saturday and Sunday.
Green Bay at Arizona
It took a lot for us to get here, but Green Bay managed to get past the rocket powered Redskins. Without warning, the offense lit up themselves, with Davante Adams and Randall Cobb coming through when it finally actually mattered. We’ll see how banged up they got over in Virginia, because Arizona’s defense is top flight. Speaking of which, they’ll definitely be looking to prove that the final game of the season was a fluke, and with Carson Palmer playing his best football, I’m pretty sure Arizona will come out on top, or at least it’s wishful thinking. He has the best set of weapons in his arsenal, too, with Fitz and the two Browns and even Andre Ellington contributing. I expect another battle of the offenses, but this time the home team will come out on top. Forget the fact that Carson Palmer is the only quarterback left in the playoffs without a career postseason victory. It’s his time now. Arizona 39-30.
Seattle at Carolina
Forgive me if I don’t expect Seattle to get much further after this round. Either I’m going to be pessimistic and not rely on Seattle’s once-stellar defense to take them to the NFC Championship, or I’m going to be realistic and fully believe in Cam Newton and his one-man show. Carolina’s had some time off to rest and Seattle is coming off one of their sloppiest wins this season. They even had to rely on a Blair Walsh goose egg to get to the divisional round. I’m not saying they were bad, but Russell Wilson wasn’t looking like the man who demolished Arizona at home a week earlier. The Vikings weren’t too wonderful either, and Teddy Bridgewater was only getting his first taste of the postseason. He’ll be back and get further in the future, as Minnesota’s stock rises. For now, though, it’s Seattle’s show, and in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship, Cam Newton has some scores to settle. And scores to score, I’m sure. Carolina 42-30.
Pittsburgh at Denver
Ben Roethlisberger may be out for this weekend, with torn ligaments in his throwing shoulder. That’s been said before, and Big Ben has muscled his way back into the game this season many times, but it may have been the final straw (at least for a week). Even if he does come back in, the Steelers may be without star wideout Antonio Brown, who was nearly decapitated by Bengal Vontaze Burfict (great Star Wars villain name) this past Saturday. In any case, they’ll be facing one of the weakest top seeds in recent history. Denver hobbled their way into the playoffs not by lack of offensive punch, but because they relied so heavily on their special teams that it would be surprising to lay everything on the line for their star (retiring) quarterback, who barely registered since a crippling ending to last season. I, for one, wouldn’t, and I said as much last week. I stand by Brock Osweiler as the head tosser going forward, and while it’ll be nice to see Manning throw some pigskin one last time, I don’t think it will be to a win. I stand by that, even with a Pittsburgh team that’s fallen apart. Defense will be on high alert in the Mile High area. Pittsburgh 17-12.
Chiefs at Patriots
I saved the best for last. Well, they’re first up, on Saturday at 4:35, so they’re technically first for the NFL. Anyway, the Chiefs are on such a roll that this might be the matchup of the playoffs. The last time Kansas City lost, it was the middle of October. Everyone was still drinking apple cider and going on hayrides. The fact this team is here is such a powerful thing that it wouldn’t be interesting to see who could stop them. Obviously, any team facing Brady would have to question their chances, but with a team riding a franchise-high 11 straight wins, there are some pretty great odds. Again, this is only one game and all, but the Chiefs have figured out shoddy defenses fairly easily before (see: Houston, last week, 30-0.) Their own defense is now becoming one of legend, and despite the fact that New England is bringing in some returning faces (big ones too, like Julian Edelman) they will likely be the tiniest bit rusty. Just enough to see Kansas City get their opponents at Foxborough to allow some bad football to seep onto the field. Kansas City 27-23.
Stay tuned for next week, when I discuss our NFC and AFC Championship games, and maybe the Pro Bowl? I never got to predict the futures of any of our teams that missed the playoffs, so that should happen one of the next two weeks.
One thing I will talk about is Los Angeles. As I wrote this article last night, the news broke that the owners in the NFL put to a vote the return of football to the great city of Los Angeles. This would take the form of the St. Louis Rams picking up and moving back after 21 years of inadequacy (except for that one year, 2002, that Kurt Warner led them to victory over the recently relocated Tennessee Titans – they had been the Houston Oilers). Even then, the Rams had spent 16 of their 21 seasons in Missouri on the outside looking in – and the NFL was hungry for Los Angeles football to return. In addition to St. Louis, two other teams had filed for relocation on January 5th – Oakland and San Diego. For years, there were talks of one or two of these teams actually moving, and it’s finally come to fruition. Interestingly enough, the vote includes the option for San Diego to move into the new Inglewood, Calfornia stadium and share the home games. If by January 2017 the teams cannot agree on terms, that option will be handed off to Oakland.
For now, San Diego and Oakland stay put, but the Rams have played their final home game at the Edward Jones Dome. For the next three to four season, they’ll be playing at a temporary location (probably the Los Angeles Coliseum). There are several problems I find with this:
- I’ve never liked relocation very much unless the team was in absolute financial trouble. When the Atlanta Thrashers left for Winnipeg, there was some bad and good to that situation. Atlanta cannot handle a hockey franchise, while Winnipeg was hungry for one. When Nashville lured the Oilers away from Houston, it was a strange time. The owners were annoyed that Houston wouldn’t build them a new stadium, so they upped and left to the first city that would have them. Seattle lost basketball to a shiny new stadium, despite winning a championship and beginning the road to a consistently better team.
- That final point in number one is also typically frustrating. St. Louis is on the verge of being as elite a team in the NFC West as Seattle and Arizona are. In fact, one could argue even with San Francisco imploding, the division is the best in football. The Brooklyn Dodgers, Quebec Nordiques and Houston Dynamo are just a few of the teams that found success immediately after moving from their original city. It’s a shame the city didn’t have confidence in them enough to keep them.
- Why doesn’t the NFL want to just add teams? Every sport seems destined to invest in multiple franchises in the next couple of centuries – and as it may seem that more teams will dilute the system, it only makes sense to want to make more money by giving everyone a home team. Surely there are deals to be struck with television programmers (New England obviously controls that area, while interestingly Denver has a stranglehold on most of the Mid-West). I am a little miffed whenever a team leaves for questionable reasons, mostly involving financial gain – the NFL gets a $550 million relocation fee for this. I imagine a franchise starting from the ground up would pay the NFL a smaller fee, while the cost of the new team would be much greater than having a pre-established team that returns to their home town.
Mostly what I’m saying is that it’s a shame that St. Louis (again, the Cardinals were there first) and maybe San Diego have to lose their teams. But Los Angeles did lose them first, after all, when Oakland and St. Louis ran off in 1994. It’s an odd business, and this won’t be the last relocation of a major franchise in our lifetimes. I just feel for the native fans.