The Divisional round truly is the greatest weekend of the year. We saw some interesting games last weekend in the Wild Card, but the teams we truly trust don't play until the second weekend. The four teams with a bye deserved to be there and in large part, they proved that this weekend. Even the Broncos, the only home team to lose, played well enough to win that game, losing in one of the most intriguing games all season.
There will be those that point the finger at Peyton, or Champ, but we should know well enough by now that it can't be just one player, nor is it likely to be either of them. The Ravens defense certainly stepped up in crucial situations. When the Broncos opened up with a punt return for a touchdown, the pressure in facing a player like Peyton can mount. But they recovered to create a turnover and score on a deep ball to Torrey Smith running past Champ. The Ravens showed that they're not going to back down, and it seems that Ray Lewis' proclamation of retirement has galvanized this team into legitimate contenders.
We all watched Hard Knocks, and I think we all came away with the same opinion. The Fish will be terrible this year. They lacked talent all over the field, from receiver to the defensive front seven. And then they traded away their only legitimate corner in the middle of camp. I was thinking 2, maybe 3 wins. At least they'll get a great pick.
On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins took the New York Jets, a division rival, behind the woodshed and I had to cover my eyes for the rest. Although I did laugh a little when Sanchez threw that Red Zone pick; on their way to 1 for 4 in the scoring area.
This is the same Jets team that went into Foxboro last week, and forced overtime with the Patriots in a highly competitive game that featured numerous bright spots for Gang Green. This against a Patriots team with Hall of Famers in the organization and well deserved respect around the league. Does this mean that in Week 13, when Pats travel to South Florida there's a chance the Dolphins could be favored? The same Dolphins we saw in Hard Knocks?
This Thursday, we are treated to another primetime game in the NFL; a premier matchup with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants taking on the rising star of Cam Newton and the Panthers. This is the latest of 13 primetime games the NFL Network is carrying this season, up from 8 last year.
My first reaction to hearing about the additional games is, of course, joy. Who doesn't like more football? Who doesn't like the extra chance to see a live game, pause the DVR on 3rd down to see if you can identify the blitz package, and wrap it up with some musings from Prime Time. I love watching games on the NFL Network.
But that's primarily because I get the NFL Network. There are still millions of cable subscribers, mostly on Time Warner, that aren't getting the games (or the endless replays of top 100 greatest whatevers). And while this week's game is not a divisional game, 11 of the 13 are, bringing an unusual sense of importance to Thursday nights.
This time of year I'm constantly bombarded with a phrase that's so pervasive in playoff sports, it's even spawned spin-off phrases that are about as exciting as an episode of "Joey". Home court/field/ice advantage must carry a lot of significance for teams since they fight all season to be in just the right position. It helps define their postseason path to their ultimate goal. But simply stating that having a home court/field/ice advantage is not enough anymore. Now all I hear is that we have to stop overacting to one or two games in a seven game series because someone decided to coin the phrase, "the series doesn't start until the home team loses."
Well that sounds like a pulled-out-of-somewhere statistic, and as I heard on Mike and Mike, "statistics are like a woman in a bikini, they don't tell the whole story".
Last year, it was a sweep by the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks.
This year, it's the on-the-rise Thunder, and potential champs themselves.
Game 5 was, in many ways, a microcosm of what we saw all series. Throughout each game, the Lakers kept it close, nearly winning games 2 and 4, but a lack of execution down the stretch showed that the Thunder have an advantage; whether it be youth, talent, or even coaching, they had an edge that allowed them to survive in late game situations.
Game 5 played out in similar fashion. The Lakers kept it tight through 3 quarters. But unlike LeBron, who recognized that he must play nearly all 48 minutes in their last game to ensure a victory, Kobe can no longer fill that role. He needs his requisite rest to start the 4th quarter. A chance to recharge before the final push. But last night, that rest allowed the Thunder to put the game out of reach. Of course, in years past the Lakers had a supporting cast that was prepared for the potential onslaught, but between foul trouble, shrinking from the moment, and general lapses, it was not to be.