Monday, January 09, 2012

Well, that was obvious

All four home teams won in the playoffs this week, which makes it one of the easiest calls in sports. I picked three home teams to win, choosing the Texans, Saints and Giants, but I just couldn't see the 8-8 Broncos beating the 12-4 Steelers. In the event, of course, the Broncos played probably their best game of the season. Combined with the injuries the Steelers had not just to Ben Roethlisberger, but also Rasheed Mendenhall, Brent Kiesel and Casey Hampton, the Broncos could have turned the game into a rout.

Up 20-6, the Broncos threw an obvious lateral and recovered by the Steelers at the Bronco's 18 or so. However, an official ruled it a incompletion and blew the whistle as the ball came out, meaning that only the incompletion could be challenged. That, along with two field goals the Broncos kicked from inside the Steelers' ten-yard line, meant that the Broncos had the chance to score as many 21 points. The Steelers, meanwhile went on to close the gap to 20-13 when it could just as easily have been 27-6.

In the end, the game went to overtime, but the score could have been far more lop-sided. The Broncos did a great job on defense, particularly with their pass rush, where they earned five sacks and produced rushed, awkward throws from Ben Roethlisberger (one interception deep in the Steelers' end was undone by an unrelated offside). As for Tebow, who I belittled all year, the Steelers were the one team that couldn't do what three teams in a row had done: dare Tebow to throw the ball and reap the benefits.

This time, the Steelers stunk it up on man coverage, the Broncos receivers had sticky hands all of a sudden, which explains how Tebow completed just five passes in the first half for 185 yards, four in the second half for 51, and one in overtime for 80 yards. Altogether he was 10 of 21 for 316 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. Completions of 51, 30, 58, 40 and 80 yards shredded Pittsburgh and almost turned the game into a rout, but I don't know that relying on the deep ball is a path to success in the NFL. Granted, lots of teams throw the ball deep, but those teams also have quarterbacks who can complete more than half their passes.

Today, at least, Tebow had the league figured out than the other way around. It likely won't work in the long run considering how successful the Patriots, Bills and Chiefs were in containing Tebow, but it's working at the moment. As much as I'd like this line of attack to work against the Patriots, who had the second-worst defense in the league by about eight yards, I have my reservations. The Broncos are a problematic match-up if they can get pressure on Brady and outrun the Patriot corners, but I think more likely than not, we'll see a game similar to the regular-season match-up just a few weeks ago.

My other picks are the Packers, Saints and Ravens. I was 3-1 this week.

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