Wildcard Weekend was indeed wild, with three blowouts in games we expected to be close and a close game that we expected to be a blowout. There's nothing better than the NFL playoffs!
But what did we learn?
1. We learned that throwing style doesn't matter when you have fast receivers who can catch the ball and one-on-one coverage. Pittsburgh thought it could beat Denver by loading up the box, cheating safeties toward the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and leaving Denver's wideouts in single coverage. How wrong the Steelers were. Yes, they managed to contain the Bronco's running attack for a little while but the single coverage on the backside came back to kill them. I don't care how a quarterback throws the ball: if he can get it to a speedy receiver in man coverage on a corner, he's going to be successful.
2. We learned that maybe playing through injuries late in the season isn't all it's cracked up to be. Certainly, the Steelers didn't lose to Denver simply because Ben Roethlisberger wasn't 100% but Roethlisberger's injury didn't help at all. The Pittsburgh quarterback was hesitant in all aspects of his game on Sunday, both throwing the ball and moving around in the pocket, and it cost his team at key moments. Explain to me again why it was so important and "manly" for Ben to play in the regular season finale?
3. We learned that NFC teams have reason to fear the New York Giants. I'm not the first to point out that the Giants are coming together this season just like they did in their Super Bowl season a couple of years back. I am still stunned that New York was able to shut out Atlanta's talented offense completely through four quarters and, if I'm Green Bay, I'm analysing that pass rush and coming up with ways to keep Aaron Rodgers clean next weekend.
4. We learned that Marvin Lewis' Bengals are too disorganised to be successful on the big stage. That was a Cincinatti team in disarray out there and it seems to start with their head coach, who blew both his challenges early in the game, the second one at least on a play that clearly wasn't going to be reversed. I like Andy Dalton and some of the other Bengal players but something's got to be done about that coaching staff.
5. We learned just how important momentum can be in a football game. When Mike Smith decided to eschew a field goal on fourth and one trailing 10-2 in the third quarter in favour of an ill-advised quarterback sneak against one of the best defensive fronts in football, he completely turned a tight game on its ear. Instead of being down 10-5 with an offense feeling good about finally making some progress, Smith's club was suddenly deflated and, frankly, beaten when Matt Ryan failed to make that crucial yard. I'm generally one who favours taking the chance but, when you've already failed once and you know points are at a premium in the game, you go for the field goal. Inspired by the defensive stand, the Giants offensive marched right down to put the game out of reach with a touchdown and Atlanta was done.
6. We learned just how relentless that Saints offense can be. The Lions kept the game close for 30 minutes but then Drew Brees and Co went to work. Is there any team that can stop the Saints for a full 60 minutes? If not, is there any team that can keep up with them in terms of scoring?
7. We learned that the old adage, "Offense wins games; Defense wins championships", will be put to a real test this coming weekend. New England, Green Bay and New Orleans are all known for their offensive prowess but have defenses that should make their coaches run and hide in shame; Denver, New York and San Francisco, on the other hand, are weighted in the other direction, with strong defences and suspect offenses. At this point, I'm inclined to pick Denver, the Giants and New Orleans in those games, meaning I really do believe that, in most situations, defense wins championships. We'll see how that plays out next weekend.