With the Divisional Round in the books let us look back and go over some things I learned from this recent round of the NFL Playoffs:
1. Baltimore is “peaking” at the right time
When Ray Lewis first announced his retirement from the NFL I really didn’t put much thought in how it would affect his team come playoff time. At the time they were playing a really good team that was also playing with emotional motivation in the Indianapolis Colts and they were able to beat them to advance into the Divisional round. Come Saturday afternoon in Denver we saw once again that this could be a team of destiny that truly is playing an emotional high.
It was certainly an underrated moment at the time but it looks like Ray Lewis’ retirement speech has fired this team up to peak at just the right time. Personally I have picked against this team in multiple weeks and they have proven me wrong time & time again. They now will look for revenge against the New England Patriots for last year’s AFC Championship game exit and are coming into this one “hotter” then they were a year ago. It’s quite possible that Baltimore is this year’s Green Bay Packers of 2010 and New York Giants of 2011.
2. Colin Kaepernick is really good
If you were one of the people who doubted Colin Kaepernick’s ability to perform in his playoff game, like yours truly, then you were proven wrong in a big way Saturday night versus the Green Bay Packers. Kaepernick had over 444 total yards, 263 yards passing, 181 yards rushing and 4 combined touchdowns (2 via the pass and 2 on the ground). That’s a pretty good way to start off your playoff career as a starting quarterback.
Despite the big game performance we will still question Colin Kaepernick’s ability to carry it over against Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. Personally, I wouldn’t question it at all because the kid is extremely good and is very much underrated. The way he has carried himself this season is very reminiscent of Tom Brady back in 2001 when he was also a second-year quarterback replacing the starting QB (Drew Bledsoe) due to an injury. I really enjoy watching Colin Kaepernick play and believe that this is only the beginning of a very good NFL career with the 49ers.
3. Matt Ryan CAN win “the big game”
Since Matt Ryan has come into the league I was one of those people that would question his abilities until he finally won “the big game.” We all know Matt Ryan has the skills to be an “elite” quarterback in the National Football League but he never seemed to get it done when it mattered most. There had been times that many of us believed in his abilities to carry this team to a Super Bowl (2010 NFL Playoffs) and he failed us miserably. Well the “monkey” is finally off his “back” and now he can focus onto the NFC Championship Game this Saturday.
From here on out it’s all about taking the “next step” for Matt Ryan. Like I said before, we all know what he can do on the field it just all comes down to what he does on the field. I believe the pressure will be off of him to get that playoff win against San Francisco and that we very well could see Matt Ryan play in a “full throttle” mode on Sunday afternoon. A confident Matt Ryan, as we saw in that final drive versus Seattle, is a very dangerous Matt Ryan.
4. New England looks like a more complete team then they were last season
As I sat and watched the New England/Houston playoff game on Sunday afternoon I could not help but notice that this Patriots team looks more “complete” then they did last season. That’s pretty scary to think because this was a Patriots team that won the AFC and made it all the way to Super Bowl 46. Despite all that success last season it just felt like something was missing on this team. Whether it was defensively or offensively, they never fully seemed like a team that was “gelling” at the right time heading into a Super Bowl matchup.
With the Patriots making it to their 2nd straight AFC Championship Game this coming Sunday night they really look like a team that has everything “clicking” on both sides of the ball. Their defense is much better then it was last season and it appears that their running game has really put it together as both of these factors plagued New England in the 2011 season. This is definitely a more complete team then the Super Bowl team from last season and it’ll be interesting to see how they matchup against Baltimore on Sunday night with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
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