Monday, January 11, 2021

Now we are eight: Day 2 of Wild Card Weekend

 The NFL playoffs move into the divisional round on Saturday, and after the Wild Card round, three division champions have already been sent packing.

The latest was AFC North champion Pittsburgh. The Cleveland Browns raced out to a 28-0 first quarter lead, and were never headed, beating the Steelers for the 2nd straight week, 48-37, which, you have to believe, raises questions about Ben Roethlisberger's future after 16 seasons in Pittsburgh.

There are two factors in play that led the Browns to victory.

1. Momentum. As noted above, Cleveland beat the Steelers last week, when Roethlisberger was being rested by coach Mike Tomlin. A bad snap less than a minute into the 1st quarter set the tone, and, with Cleveland up, 28-0, after the frame, Roethlisberger and the Steelers had to abandon the running game. There was a defensive lapse in the 3rd quarter, but Pittsburgh could not sustain their momentum through the second half. A 4th quarter TD toss from Roethlisberger to Chase Claypool came too little, too late to give them a chance.

2. Motivation: Cleveland hadn't been to the playoffs since 2002. The Browns had not won a playoff game since the original Browns (now the Baltimore Ravens) did in the mid-90's. Factor in the win in week 17 over Pittsburgh, then having to go on the road to beat the Steelers again. Factor also the disrespect shown by oddsmakers, who installed Pittsburgh as a 6 point favorite at home, ignoring the previous week's game.

Well, I've often said the oddsmakers are morons...!

Speaking of the Ravens, Lamar Jackson finally got his first playoff win, as Baltimore collected a receipt from the Tennessee Titans earlier Sunday, erasing an early 10-0 deficit to set up the win.

The AFC Divisional Round is now set:

Cleveland @ Kansas City.
Baltimore @ Buffalo.

Over in the NFC, #2 New Orleans easily handled Chicago, setting up a 3rd meeting this season with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New Orleans swept the regular season series, something Brady is not used to.

That also means that #1 Green Bay will host the Los Angeles the other divisional game.

Picks coming on Friday.

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