Well after a wild Wild Card Weekend, it’s time for the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. On the AFC side, we have a couple of hotly anticipated rematches. The New York Jets beat the Patriots in week 2, but the Patriots absolutely decimated the Jets in week 13. They’ve been chomping at the bit for another go around, and now they have it. Will they be able to overcome these much improved, late-season Pats. Meanwhile, the Ravens and the Steelers have one more chance to prove who has the superior defense. Baltimore was able to squeak by with a win in week 4, but the Steelers returned the favor in week 13. Both games were close, low scoring affairs so one would expect this final match-up of the season to be no different. So, who will emerge victorious from this weekend? Well, our Madden 11 sims haven’t produced very accurate results so far (we went 0-4 last weekend), so we’ll see if that can improve this week.
Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh – Ravens 9, Steelers 7:
The defenses in this game were absolutely stifling. Very little was gained on the ground by either team, and even through the air they had a hard time moving the ball. Early in the first, Flacco threw an interception on a promising drive that could have scored, but the Ravens defense kept that from turning into points. Other than that, both teams traded punts throughout the first quarter. The Ravens opened the second quarter with a 31 yard field goal, and then ended it with another 22 yard field goal. Again, most of the quarter was spent with the teams trading punts after drives either when three and out or stalled before getting into scoring position. At the end of the first half, the Ravens had just 100 yards of total offense while the Steelers had 69 yards. In the third, the Ravens were able to get yet a third field goal from 31 yards, but the Steelers finally put together a scoring drive of their own after Mendenhall broke free for a 14 yard scamper into the endzone. In the fourth it looked like the Ravens were going to seal the deal with a TD of their own, but that turned into another interception for Flacco. With little time left, the Steelers were able to get into position for along, 51 yard field goal to take the lead, but missed it wide right. Both defenses were at their best, and while the Ravens missed a couple of big opportunities, their field goals ended up being just enough to get the win. Roethlisberger went 15 of 31 for 203 yards, while Flacco went 11 of 26 for 164 yards and 2 INTs. Both Rice and Mendenhall struggled on the ground, only getting 36 yards and 31 yards, although Mendenhall did have 1 TD. Meanwhile Ward and Hooshmandzadeh had big days, with 109 yards and 119 yards.
New England vs. New York – Patriots 27, Jets 34:
In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually ran this sim twice and got the same result. After the first game I figured there was no way Brady would throw three interceptions, so I did it again…and he threw three interceptions. Somehow that Jets secondary kept making crazy, acrobatic moves with hands that had super-glue while the Patriots secondary could get hit right in the hands and still drop the ball. It was pretty lame, but I suppose anything is possible in the NFL, even Brady throwing 3 picks at home. New York got off to a fast start in the first quarter with a 57 yard run by Tomlinson, but other than that, the first was fairly uneventful. New England started the second quarter with an 18 yard field goal after being stopped on the 1 yard line by the Jets defense. The Jets were then able to break another big run by Tomlinson, as he rumbled 38 yards for a TD. However, the Patriots got a spark on the ensuing kickoff as Tate ran it back 95 yards for a TD. The Jets were only able to get a field goal on their next drive, but unfortunately for the Patriots, Brady threw his first of three INTs as they tried to respond with a score of their own. The Jets then got another field goal, this one from 44 yards, and New England ended the half with a 31 field goal of their own. The Patriots started the second half with the ball, but Brady threw his second INT on while trying to convert for a first down. The Jets wasted no time turning that into points with a 1 yard TD run by Greene. However, the Patriots weren’t out of it yet as Brady hit Branch for a 54 yard TD pass. The Patriots opened the fourth with a 30 yard TD to Gronkowski to tie the game, and when the Jets missed a 44 yard field goal, suddenly the Patriots had a chance. However, a sack moved them out of field goal range, and the Jets steadily moved down the field only to have Holmes somehow get behind the defense with just 30 seconds left and Sanchez hit him for a 53 yard TD. It was a hard fought game for the Patriots, but ultimately they came up short. Intense pressure on Brady kept him off-balance and a sure-handed secondary was able to create turnovers. Brady when 19 of 35 for 341 yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs. Meanwhile, Sanchez hit 14 of 23 passes for 321 yards and 1 TD. On the ground the Patriots had basically nothing, while Tomlinson rumbled for 125 yards and 2 TDs. Holmes had 6 catches for 201 yards and the game winning TD, while Branch for the Patriots had 6 catches for 139 yards and a TD. Turnovers were the story of this game. The Jets forced the Patriots to make mistakes and then capitalized on them. If there ever were a formula for success against Brady and the Patriots, that would be it.