What To Know : Wildcard Weekend

We know how the playoffs work and who the teams are, which is a great start. Here’s the next step: a short preview of this weekend’s wildcard games.

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (Saturday at 4:35 pm EST, NBC)

If you knew this was going to be the matchup back in the midpoint of the season when the Chiefs were still undefeated and the Colts were starting to struggle, you’d call it an easy win for Kansas City. But that’s the magic of the NFL: things change. It’s not that the Chiefs aren’t good anymore (they are) or the Colts don’t still have their struggles (they do), it’s that this match has all of the makings of a barn burner – a match in which the Luck-led Colts are favored.

New Orleans Saints at Philadelphia Eagles (Saturday at 8:10 pm EST, NBC)

The same exact thing can be said about this game. Midseason, no one would have dared to pick the Eagles to top the Saints. And yet here they find themselves in the first round of the playoffs with a home game and a huge opportunity. The Saints are undefeated at home this season; they won a mere three games on the road. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the Eagles have looked especially sharp in their big wins against Chicago and Dallas in the past two weeks. While it’s never wise to count Drew Brees out, this one has the potential to send the Saints home earlier than originally expected.

San Diego Chargers at Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday at 1:05 pm EST, CBS)

For the first time in three years the Bengals will not face the Texans in the first round of the playoffs. And for the first time in three years, they’ll be hoping for a win in the first round of the playoffs. That the Chargers are even in the playoffs is a testament to the unpredictable world of the NFL (they can thank the Bengals for doing their part in defeating the Ravens during pregame warmups). But how they got in doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that they may have scored the best matchup of Wildcard Weekend, and they look ready to take advantage.

San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Sunday at 4:40 pm EST, FOX)

It might be a new year, but not when it comes to this game. The obvious answer would be that it’s still 2013 – the year when this same game was played on different turf – but it actually feels more like 2010 to me. That was the year the Packers limped into the playoffs and made a highly unlikely run all the way to winning Super Bowl 45. Now, there are some differences, the greatest of which is that the Packers defense is significantly (significantly) worse, but it has the look and feel of another potential Super Bowl bid. Of course, the 49ers are no doubt thinking that they are going to party like it’s 2013 all over again – the year when they slaughtered beat the Packers and ultimately advanced to the Super Bowl. Which explains why I’ve had traumatic visions of Colin Kaepernick dancing in my head all week.

At the Water Cooler : Week 17

football, week 17, games

(Guess who forgot that there are actually 17 weeks in the season, not 16, when making these headers at the beginning of the season? This girl. Whoops!)

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (Panther won, 21-20)

This was the last game of legendary tight end Tony Gonzalez’s 17-year NFL career. He will be walking into the Hall of Fame in 5 years, for sure.

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (Bengals won, 34-17)

The reigning Super Bowl champs have officially been knocked out of playoff contention, making them among the masses of Super Bowl winners who don’t make the playoffs the following year. It’s an odd phenomena.

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (Titans won, 16-10)

The Texans won their first two games. Then they lost the remaining 14. The good news is that they did win the best losing season consolation prize: first pick in the 2014 Draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (Colts won, 30-10)

The Colts aren’t slowing down in preparation for the playoffs. They looked great against the Jags on Sunday.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (Steelers won, 20-7)

The Steelers were so close to nabbing that last AFC playoff spot. They needed a win and losses by the Ravens, Dolphins, and Chargers to get in. They got 3 out of 4.

NY Jets at Miami Dolphins (Jets won, 20-7)

A serving of season-ending redemption for the Jets: Geno Smith played about 8,000 times better than he did during the Jets first game against the Dolphins, and Rex Ryan is reportedly keeping his job as head coach (in my opinion, deservedly so). And a serving of plain old season-ending for the Dolphins, who had a chance to get into the playoffs with a win.

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (Vikings won, 14-13)

In a fitting end to their season, the Lions lost by one point after a Vikings touchdown in the 4th quarter. Also, goodbye Metrodome.

Washington Redskins at NY Giants (Giants won, 20-6)

This game was the epitome of miserable. Metlife was subjected to an onslaught of rain/slush, and an onslaught of ugly play. Eli Manning added injury to insult with a high ankle sprain at the end of the first half, which is such an unfortunate way for his season to end.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (PACKERS WON, 33-38)

Mr. Rodgers is back, and the NFC North is his neighborhood. The only thing I can say about this game is: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots (Patriots won, 34-20)

On 3rd and 32, Tom Brady punted. Because why not?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (Saints won, 42-17)

And that’s a wrap in the NFC South. The Saints are in; the Bucs are glad it ended slightly better than anticipated at the halfway point of the season.

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (Broncos won, 34-14)

Peyton Manning threw 4 touchdowns. In the first half. Someone should just cut to the chase and overnight the 2013 MVP trophy to his house.

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals (49ers won, 23-20)

The Cardinals are probably one of the best 10-6 teams to ever miss the playoffs. Watch out for them next year, NFC.

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (Seahawks won, 27-9)

The road to the NFC Championship will go through Seattle. That should strike fear into all the hearts.

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (Chargers won, 27-24 OY)

This is unreal: 3 out of the 6 AFC playoff teams are AFC West teams: the Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys (Eagles won, 24-22)

For what feels like the zillionth year in a row, the Cowboys finish 8-8. Which means the Eagles, who at one point this season were in the midst of a 10-game home losing streak, are the winners of the NFC East.

At the Water Cooler : Week 16

football, games, week 16

Denver Broncos at Houston Texans (Broncos won, 37-13)

Peyton Manning wrote another line in his legacy yesterday: most touchdowns thrown in a season. In his postgame presser he said that it’ll probably be short-lived, that Brady will break it next season. He is the consummate pro: deflecting praise, accepting responsibility. Every single time.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (Bills won, 19-0)

In 8 years of living in Rochester and watching Bills games I learned to expect the unexpected. If you think the Bills have a good chance of winning, they’ll probably lose. If you think there’s no way for them to win, they just might pull it out. It’s not a complete surprise that they bested the Dolphins, but a shutout? Well done, Buffalo.

Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals (Bengals won, 42-14)

Welcome to the playoffs, Cincinnati. For the first time in three seasons, the Bengals are guaranteed to not play the Texans in the first round.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (Colts won, 23-7)

The Colts have had some trouble ever since losing Reggie Wayne, but consider this: so far this season they’ve beaten the Broncos, Seahawks, 49ers, and Chiefs. That’s not a bad resume of work.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at St. Louis Rams (Rams won, 23-13)

When your quarterback gets sacked 7 times, you are going to have some trouble winning the game.

Cleveland Browns at NY Jets (Jets won, 24-13)

Jets with the win in what was rumored to be Rex Ryan’s last game as the head coach. It’s hard to imagine the Jets without him at the helm, and hard to see how he deserves to be fired for what he did this season.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (Cowboys won, 24-23)

Give this win to Romo. It was his touchdown in the waning minutes of the 4th quarter that won the game and kept the ‘Boys in playoff contention.

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (Panthers won, 17-13)

With a win next week in Atlanta, the Panthers will win the NFC South. They’ve already clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2008. The Saints, winners of 7 of their first 8 games, are now just trying to make sure they get a wildcard spot. It’s a crazy league.

Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars (Titans won, 20-16)

The Titans didn’t play with a lead in this game until late in the 4th quarter, but it was enough to break their three-game losing streak with a win.

New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens (Patriots won, 41-7)

Nobody puts Brady in a corner.

(Nobody high fives Brady either, apparently.)

Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers (Chargers won, 26-13)

With a Chargers win, a Dolphins loss, a Steelers win, and a Ravens loss, that last AFC wildcard spot is still up for grabs. Seriously, does anybody want that spot?

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (Cardinals won, 17-10)

The Packers Cardinals did it. They found a way to beat the Seahawks at home for the first time since 2012 2011.

NY Giants at Detroit Lions (Giants won, 23-20 OT)

I’ve never loved the Giants more. The Lions, at one time the only team in the NFC North who seemed able-bodied enough to win the NFC North, have lost three in a row and knocked themselves out of playoff contention. Time for a shakeup in Detroit, it seems.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Green Bay Packers (Steelers won, 38-31)

I’m almost positive the NFC East got together and decided to give the Packers a trip to the playoffs for Christmas. Last week, the Cowboys practically gift-wrapped a win for the Packers. As we know, the Giants took out the Lions in overtime, and spoiler alert: the Eagles demolished the Bears. The Packers couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain…but miraculously, they’re still in contention. Unbelievable.

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles (Eagles won, 54-11)

I was the biggest Eagles fan out there last night, since a Bears loss meant the Packers were still alive in the fight to win the NFC North. The Eagles did not disappoint.

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers (MNF on ESPN)

This is kind of like a homecoming game for San Francisco. It’s an opponent that shouldn’t be difficult to beat (sorry, Falcons) and it’s a time of celebration: what could be the last game played at Candlestick Park, home field advantage in the playoffs notwithstanding.

At the Water Cooler : Week 15

football, games, week 15

Yesterday morning I woke up to a foot of snow and I thought the day probably couldn’t get much better than that. (I’m a notorious and unapologetic snow lover.) And when the Packers were down 26-3 come halftime I thought, “It’s ok. I have snow!” But then, in what can only be described as The Half of Football That Made Me Lose My Ever-Loving Mind, the Packers won. And Week 15 became the best week ever.

Let’s review, shall we?

San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos (Chargers won, 27-20)

I was at a Christmas party for the majority of this game. And when I turned the game on NFL Mobile during the drive home I fully expected the score to be Broncos A Lot, Chargers Not A Lot. Shocker of a loss for the Broncos – and at home, no less!

Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons (Falcons won, 27-26)

Consider this: last year, both the Redskins and the Falcons were playoff teams. After this game, the Redskins fell to 3-11 and the Falcons to 4-10. It’s a crazy, crazy league.

Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns (Bears won, 38-31)

It may not have been a flawless return to the field, but Jay Cutler’s first game back was a win all the same. Alshon Jeffrey helped.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (Colts won, 25-3)

Well, I was wrong.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (Dolphins won, 24-20)

And all the Broncos said, “Amen!” (This guy was probably saying something other than amen.)

Philadelphia Eagles at Minnesota Vikings (Vikings won, 48-30)

In what we all thought would happen, the Vikings shellacked the Eagles – with Cassel and without Peterson. Of course!

Seattle Seahawks at NY Giants (Seahawks win, 23-0)

Don’t be surprised if the Seahawks find themselves back in NY for the Super Bowl come February.

Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars (Bills won, 27-20)

It was a good weekend for Florida State quarterbacks, former and current. EJ Manuel had a great game against the Jags.

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (49ers won, 33-14)

It was a first-half-of-2013 kind of game for the Bucs.

NY Jets at Carolina Panthers (Panthers won, 30-20)

I would not want to be on the receiving end of a Mike Tolbert run. This guy is a mountain. He is all the mountains. He is the Swiss Alps, basically.

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders (Chiefs won, 56-31)

Are you ready for some offense? The Chiefs may have put up 56, but they allowed 31 – 21 of those unanswered. That doesn’t say awesome things about the Kansas City defense.

Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans (Cardinals won, 37-34 OT)

This was a see-saw game – back and forth all the way. Until one untimely interception in overtime that gave the Cardinals the win.

New Orleans Saints at St. Louis Rams (Rams won, 27-16)

What happened, you guys? The Saints have a tough one up ahead too – facing the Panthers in Carolina. This division is far from decided.

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys (PACKERS WON! 37-36)

This has been a “there are no words” kind of season for the Packers, but there really are no words for what happened in Dallas yesterday. Perhaps the Packers should play all of their important games at Cowboys Stadium from now on.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (Steelers won, 30-20)

Did we all see the part where the Steelers came out and scored 21 unanswered points to start the game? It was pretty much over after that.

Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions (MNF on ESPN)

Ravens, my closest hometown team once I move to Harrisburg in a few weeks, I’m begging you to send an early Welcome to Town! gift and best the Lions tonight. Remember that you are the defending Super Bowl Champions!!! You can do it!

At the Water Cooler : Week 13

football, games, week 13

Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all had wonderful Thanksgiving weekends with family and friends!

Now, let’s be honest. All of yesterday’s games had a tough act to follow after the wonder that was college football on Saturday. Oh my word…it was all so good. But there was still plenty of decent action in the NFL this week, capped off with tonight’s incredible NFC matchup. Let’s dive into Week 13!

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (Lions won, 40-10)

Let’s just say I found a few other things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.

Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys (Cowboys won, 31-24)

Matt McGloin’s first half was stronger than his second half, but he held his own against the Cowboys and is giving Raider nation something to be hopeful about in the future.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (Ravens won, 22-20)

The ramifications of Mike Tomlin’s extracurricular participation in Jacoby Jones’ return are still forthcoming. Rumor has it – emphasis on rumor, the league hasn’t confirmed anything – that a six-figure fine and a potential loss of a draft pick could be on the way.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (Panthers won, 27-6)

No shame in this loss, Bucs. The Panthers are the real deal.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns (Jags won, 32-28)

Look who’s on a win streak! The Jaguars won their third game in a row against the Browns on Sunday. Fascinating fact of the day: Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is the first player to ever have back-to-back 200-yard games – and both of those banner days came in losses.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (Colts won, 22-14)

The Colts put themselves back in a good position to win the division and secure their playoff spot, but still didn’t look quite the same on offense. It was a lot of field goals and one excellent touchdown late for the win.

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (Vikings won, 23-20 OT)

It’s official: no one wants to win the NFC North.

Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles (Eagles won, 24-21)

Nick Foles stayed perfect – 3 touchdowns, no interceptions – in this battle of the birds.

New England Patriots at Houston Texans (Patriots won, 34-31)

The Texans looked less awful than they have in past weeks – they were even up 17-7 at the half! But Brady will be Brady. He will score 27 points in the second half and send you on your way not knowing what hit you.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (Dolphins won, 23-3)

I’ve never felt so locally-televised-football challenged as I do this year living in upstate New York. We get every Giants and Jets game…and as this score indicates, it has been an underwhelming viewing season to say the least. True story: this one got so bad by halftime that we turned it off in favor of Christmas movies. That was the depth of our desperation.

(Although I am prone to watch as many cheesy Hallmark movies as possible between now and January. I can’t help it. I love them.)

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (Broncos won, 35-28)

The Broncos officially swept their series with the Chiefs. That happens when Peyton throws 5 touchdowns – 4 of which went to Eric Decker.

Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills (Falcons won, 34-31 OT)

Oh, Buffalo. Just another heartbreaking loss to add to the pile. And for the Falcons, their first win since October. And it came in Toronto. Of course!

St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (49ers won, 23-13)

The Niners are back in the swing of things. Or, as Jim Harbaugh said in his postgame presser, “We’re in the position we’re in.” Cool.

Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers (Bengals won, 17-10)

The Bengals have all but solidified their hold on the AFC North, and the Chargers have all but played themselves out of contention. Almost. There’s still some wiggle room for wildcard teams in both divisions.

NY Giants at Washington Redskins (Giants won, 24-17)

The Giants are showing signs of life again. They came back from an early 14-point deficit to win, shutting the Redskins out in the 4th quarter while scoring 10-point of their own.

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (MNF on ESPN)

THIS GAME. What a fitting wrap up to such a great long weekend of football! The Saints, hot as ever, will try to best the Seahawks at home, something no team has done since 2011. As if that weren’t enough, the Seahawks also haven’t lost on Monday Night Football since 2005. Keep a close eye on this one; it could very well be an NFC Championship preview.

Thanksgiving News and Notes

I’m taking a brief hiatus for the rest of this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. But not to worry; I won’t leave you high and dry! Here are a few helpful things to know during this year’s family, food, and football fest.

Thanksgiving Games

Game 1: Packers at Lions, 12:30pm

What you need to know:

The Packers are playing without their starting quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, for the fourth (practically fifth, considering he was injured early in the Bears game) game in a row. The franchise that had started three quarterbacks in the past two decades (Favre, Rodgers, and Flynn) has now started four quarterbacks in the past five games (Rodgers, Wallace, Tolzien, and Flynn). Luckily, Packers offensive guard Josh Sitton has seen fit to add fuel to the fire for a Detroit team that has plenty of angst as it is. So that’s good.

I foresee my turkey coming with a side of tears tomorrow.

In all seriousness, this is a huge NFC North matchup. The Lions were unexpectedly dismantled by the Bucs last Sunday and beaten by Pittsburgh the Sunday before. They are tied with the similarly sliding Bears for the lead in the NFC North and need this division win to gain control of the NFC North. Green Bay, despite the loss of Aaron Rodgers and the 3-game losing streak, is only one game behind in the standings, so this win is critical (critical!) to their playoff hopes.

Game 2: Raiders at Cowboys, 4:30pm

What you need to know:

Oakland will also be playing without their starting quarterback, although in this case the backup, Matt McGloin, is playing well enough to usurp the starter and keep this position for the rest of the season.

It will be a tall order for him and the rest of the Raiders to upset the Cowboys, however, who are coming off of a big divisional win against the Giants and are used to playing these Thanksgiving Day games. But on the flip side, this is by no means a sure win for Dallas. Their defense has been less-than-stellar lately. If the Raiders offense can take advantage, we just might have a game on our hands.

Game 3: Steelers at Ravens, 8:30pm

What you need to know:

This AFC North matchup looked a whole lot prettier when the schedule was originally released before the season started. Now we know that the defending Super Bowl Champion Ravens are 5-6 and third in the division…as are the Steelers, who, after a woeful start, are on a 3-game win streak and have moved up to second in the division by merit of their in-division record.

Which means that this game has huge playoff implications in the AFC North – and, really, in the AFC in general, since a good percentage of the conference has decided that it’s cool to be 5-6. They are all in a massive fight for the last wildcard spot. In the AFC North in particular, the division leading Bengals aren’t that far ahead at 7-4. Should they falter and the Steelers keep winning or the Ravens rebound, this game could go a long way in deciding who takes first place in the division.

Helpful Hints

Need to brush up on your football knowledge before kickoff on Thursday? Read these posts in between turkey basting and pie baking:

The Basics of Offense

The Basics of Defense

The Basics of Special Teams

And then test yourself with this quiz to seal the deal.

Good on the football front but wondering how these Thanksgiving Day games came about in the first place? Check out this History Lesson post.

Need a quick point of reference to go to during game day? Keep the Glossary page open on your phone or laptop!

Most of all, have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your friends and family! I hope it’s your best one yet!