Grading Each Team in the 2013 NFL Divisional Playoffs
Grades for Each Divisional Round Playoff Team
Two games are all that remain between now and the precipice of football legend. Two teams will emerge from this weekend victorious while two others will be forced to fly home with their heads hanging and tails tucked between their legs. Two weeks until Super Bowl XLVII is upon us. Two.
What led up to now, though, is what we will focus on as we head into an NFL Conference Championship weekend that is sure to bring plenty of phenomenal football action to the forefront.
Last weekend, eight teams remained. Those eight teams were pitted against each other in four battles of heart and will. Some of them offered up the most exciting, edge-of-your-seat action that we’ve seen in the playoffs in quite some time. Whether it was an overtime battle that took over 75 minutes to settle or a close game that was blown wide open by a dynamic young quarterback, nothing seemed to be impossible during a weekend where postseason football was simply at its best.
Before we move on to what this weekend will offer, we must reflect on what happened only a week ago. What was the difference in each matchup that dictated which team would come out on top? Which players made the most of their chances and found ways to lift their team past the competition? Why is each team where they are now?
Here is a look at the grade that each of those eight aforementioned teams received following their Divisional Round showdowns and what they did (or didn’t do) in order to receive those grades.
The Falcons have won, but it wasn’t pretty as it came down to the wire to finally fend off the pesky Seahawks. After dominating throughout the first half, Atlanta fell to sleep in the second half, watching as Seattle slowly began to close the gap. The defense went into cruise control, watching as Russell Wilson began to meticulously move down the field drive after drive. The offense, meanwhile, seemed to be stuck in neutral, failing to pick up consistent yards and keep the ball out of the Seahawks’ hands. Still, Matt Ryan deserves some credit for making plays when it mattered most, getting his team into position for a game-winning field goal via Matt Bryant. The Falcons’ playoff curse is broken, but they better bring their "A" game this weekend against a deadly 49ers team that’s ready to trample anyone in their path.
No one expected the Ravens to come away with a win last weekend, and yet they came together as a team and overcame a seemingly insurmountable challenge of conquering the Broncos. With Ray Lewis’ retirement on the line, the entire time stepped up and fought to extend the veteran’s NFL career for at least one more game. Quarterback Joe Flacco rose to the occasion and turned the Ravens offense into a high-flying attack hinging on the deep ball that Champ Bailey just couldn’t slow down. If Baltimore continues to fire on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, there’s no reason to believe that they couldn’t push the Patriots for the chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Everything looked great for the Broncos, who many believed to be favorites to win the Super Bowl heading into the postseason. Unfortunately for Denver, the turnovers and mistakes came when they were most inconvenient. Despite Peyton Manning’s typical Manning-esque performance, his interceptions came at the worst of times and were as costly as any he has thrown since joining the Broncos. From a defensive standpoint, Denver failed to get consistent pressure on Flacco and let Torrey Smith take the lid off of the defense on several occasions. After winning 11 straight to end the season, this had to have been one of their most disappointing performances even though they played well and kept the score close throughout the contest.
Green Bay Packers
Put simply, it was a pitiful performance from a team that many believed was among the most likely to push for a Super Bowl berth heading into the postseason. After keeping things close throughout the first half, the Packers crumbled in the second, standing by idly as Colin Kaepernick ripped their defense to shreds. While the defense floundered, the offense struggled to get much else going. The offensive line offered little protection for Aaron Rodgers, who had a hard time finding a wide receiver who was ready to make an impact play. The running game was a nonfactor as well, forcing the Packers to stick to their ineffective passing attack. For a team with so much talent, it was a second-rate effort from Green Bay.
Coming into the game, the Texans were seeking revenge against a Patriots team that trampled them only a few weeks earlier. J.J. Watt had spit on the New England logo, and it was on. Unfortunately for Houston, they weren’t as ready for a war as the Patriots were, and showed from the get-go. Whenever something went right, it was typically followed up with a negative play. Although Matt Schaub’s stat line didn’t look bad, the Texans quarterback was inconsistent and floundered on third downs. Arian Foster and the running game were just as ineffective, as the Patriots’ defensive line acted like a brick wall whenever Houston went to the ground. The Texans managed to keep it within reach for most of the game, but couldn’t capitalize on key opportunities and watched as another outstanding season went down the drain.
New England Patriots
The Patriots waltzed into Gillette Stadium ready for a battle and didn’t relent until the final whistle had blown. Fueled by the unexpected spark of running back Shane Vereen, the New England offense went to work and took advantage of every opportunity that the Houston defense offered. As expected, Tom Brady connected with Wes Welker time and time again as the Texans secondary seemed blindsided by the air assault that ensued. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots put up a wall against the run while keeping the Texans from ever allowing Andre Johnson and Co. to get going through the air. The loss of Rob Gronkowski is going to hurt heading into the AFC Conference Championship, but don’t think for a second that the Patriots can’t find production from elsewhere.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers put up the only decisive victory of the weekend, and they made themselves look like the team to beat in the process. The word leading up to the game was that they were going to fall back to Earth, and the Packers were going to give them the necessary yank that brought them down. Instead, the 49ers slapped Green Bay with a big dose of Colin Kaepernick, and they were dumbfounded. Whether he hurt them with his feet or through the air, the second-year quarterback couldn’t be stopped. To make matters worse, the San Francisco defense was firing on all cylinders as the Packers offense struggled to ever get into a rhythm. It was a dominant team effort from the 49ers as they gave their doubters something to think about heading into the NFC Conference Championship.
If you aren’t yet a believer in Russell Wilson, you need to get on board. It didn’t take long for the Seahawks to fall behind against the Falcons, but it didn’t take much longer for Seattle to come back from 20 points down. Although they ended up falling just short, it illustrated just how far this young team has come under the leadership of Wilson. Still, despite their best attempts, it can’t be overlooked that the Seahawks let themselves get into a position where they needed to mount a massive comeback. The defense looked lethargic through the first half while the offense failed to get much going. Marshawn Lynch was generally a nonfactor, picking up small chunks of yards and never displaying the “beast mode” that made him famous a couple years ago. It was a valiant effort from the Seahawks, but just not enough.