BOSTON (CBS) — Can we please — please — stop talking about the officiating in Dallas?
Obviously, when Pete Morelli’s makeshift playoff crew picked up a flag for pass interference, it was some serious B.S. It was the result of a loud and angry crowd affecting the men in stripes. Like so many officiating crews before them, they got overwhelmed by the moment, and they screwed up.
(Side note: When Jim Caldwell one day hears about this happening, he’s going to be so stunned. Like, so stunned.)
Had the flag never been thrown in the first place, it wouldn’t have been a big deal, because that was not an infraction that really needed to be called in a playoff game. In that sense, the situation was resolved in the proper way.
But once the flag was thrown, you can’t pick it up. That’s nonsense. That’s obvious.
But can’t the discussion end there? How many teams over the course of history can point to a bad call that they feel wronged them in a big moment? The Raiders organization is still sore over the Tuck Rule Game, even though the tuck rule really existed, even though the Raiders could have prevented the Patriots from gaining 14 more yards, even though Adam Vinatieri made an impossible 45-yard field goal in a blizzard, and even though the Raiders allowed the Patriots to drive 61 yards to win in overtime. The Raiders will still point to the officiating as the reason they lost, because that’s what losers do.
The fact is that the Lions still had eight minutes left and a three-point lead, and they failed to win the game. Blaming one call by the officials is the act of a loser. And making a major story out of this all week is to enable loser behavior.
I mean, days later, we’re getting word that the NFL admitted that they missed a holding call on Dallas? Since when do we get updates on missed calls? Officials miss calls 100 times every game. If we’re going to get news stories every time they screw up, we’re going to need a few 24-hour networks dedicated solely to officiating.
If Detroit really wants to be mad, they have plenty of legitimate reasons. Like …
1. Choosing Jim Caldwell, out of all the human beings on the planet, to run their football team.
2. Employing a punter named Sam Martin, whose only job was to kick the damn football toward the other end of the field. He kicked it 10 yards out of bounds.
3. Failing to come up with a stop as Dallas drove 59 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
4. Benefiting from DeMarcus Lawrence’s boneheaded decision to try to run with a fumble, but still only gaining 24 yards on the final drive and losing the game.
Did the missed call hurt? No doubt. But it’s not why the Lions lost the game. So let’s all move on. Thank you.
Speaking of moving on, it’s not surprising that I’m eager to move past my 1-3 Wild Card Weekend performance. I suppose that’s just what happens when you pick the Bengals. On the road. In the playoffs. You get burned.
So, with a healthy dash of Ridiculous Quotes From Last Week sprinkled in, it is time to make some picks.
(Home team in caps; Wednesday’s lines)
NEW ENGLAND (-7) over Baltimore
Being that I write about sports in Boston, I pretty much covered this one on Monday, when I wrote: Fear Not, Patriots Fans: These Aren’t The Same Ravens. If you somehow missed that work of brilliance, the Cliff’s Notes version is this: Yes, the Ravens have gotten the better of the Patriots in recent playoffs, but no, that’s not going to have anything to do with this weekend’s game.
The thing with professional football players is that they’re not afraid of helmet stickers. The Ravens aren’t “in the Patriots’ heads,” or anything like that. They merely won some games in recent years (they lost some, too, but somehow those games aren’t often brought up) because they were better than the Patriots.
But this year, the Ravens are most certainly not better than the Patriots.
Instead of rehashing why that’s the case, I’ll make the rare change of course to address some misguided commenters. Too many people read that story this week and responded with something like this: “What? You New England idiot get a clue. If the CHEATRIOTS lose it’s only because they beat themselves?! Patriots homer yeah right, it would be because the Ravens earned the win! Also I will blindly support Ray Lewis until I die and I argued in October that Ray Rice deserves to be able to play and shouldn’t have been released, go Ravens!”
That’s what I’ve been dealing with. To those knuckleheads, I ask this: Did the Patriots earn the win in the 2011 AFC Championship Game? You know, the game where Lee Evans flat-out dropped the game-winning touchdown? Or the game when John Harbaugh stupidly kept a timeout in his back pocket, thereby forcing his field-goal unit to rush onto the field for a game-tying attempt? Or maybe you just remember it as the game when Billy Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal, a relative chip shot by today’s NFL standards?
Did the Patriots earn that win, or did the Ravens beat themselves? Dummies.
Anyway, Sisyphean efforts of addressing Internet commenters aside, the Patriots have won their home divisional round game for three straight years. The aggregate score of those games:
Patriots — 129
Broncos, Texans, Colts — 60
The Patriots aren’t losing this game. It won’t even be close.
Ridiculous Quote From Last Week’s Picks: “The Ravens have just one victory this season that came against a team better than .500. That team was Pittsburgh. But a Ravens victory over the Steelers from early September shouldn’t mean much this time around.”
Note: I still think that statement is true. I just grossly underestimated the inability of Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger to adapt without Le’Veon Bell.
SEATTLE (-10.5) over Carolina
Let’s be honest here, folks. Need we really get into this one?
The only — and I do mean only — force the Panthers potentially have working in their favor is something along the lines of “Well, it’s the NFL and crazy things can happen.” That’s it.
By any measure — statistics, records, common sense — the Seattle Seahawks are an immensely better football team than the Carolina Panthers.
Russell Wilson threw for more touchdowns and fewer interceptions than Cam Newton. Wilson also rushed for 300 more yards and one more touchdown than Newton.
The Seahawks have Marshawn Lynch; the Panthers don’t.
The Seahawks outscored opponents by 140 points this season, and they’ve outscored opponents 203-123 at home (that’s 11 points better than the opponent per week). The Panthers were outscored by 35 points this season, and they allowed 31 points or more in five of their eight road games.
Oh, and this: The Seahawks won most of their games this year. The Panthers did not win even half of theirs.
Bye week … crazy crowd … bad opponent. There’s really no reason the Seahawks should win by anything lower than 20 points.
Dallas (+6) over GREEN BAY
I’ll admit it: I’m worried about Aaron Rodgers’ calf.
It’s not that he can’t be an effective quarterback without full use of his lower left calf, because he still has the best arm in football. It’s just that if the threat of the QB taking off for an easy 20-yard gain is eliminated, then things change ever-so-subtly for the Green Bay offense. And when things change in January, upsets happen.
Add in the bizarre twist that the Cowboys were a perfect 8-0 road team this year, highlighted by a win in Seattle, and I don’t hate picking the Cowboys here.
And then I start thinking this: Yes, the Packers went 8-0 at home, but they also faced some brutally bad competition in those games. They beat the Patriots by just five points, and they were able to fend off the Lions by 10 points in Week 17 (no, I don’t really consider them a good team, and you can read the earlier Caldwell comments for explanation), and that was it in terms of facing playoff teams. The other six wins came against the Jets, Vikings, Panthers, Bears, Eagles and Falcons — teams that went 17-30-1 on the road this year.
So … are the Packers paper tigers? We’ll find out on Sunday, but the Cowboys fought well enough this year to make me believe they can keep this one close.
RQFLWP: “The Bengals emerge from inarguably the strongest division in the NFL. Though their results have been a bit mixed as well, they’ve faced a tougher road, and they’re an improved team since that mid-October trip to Indianapolis.”
Note: This was the stupidest thing I have ever said. I regretted it immediately, if that’s any consolation.
DENVER (-7) over Indianapolis
Seriously, who does Peyton Manning know upstairs that he can go out and dictate the weather for big playoff games? Last year when the Patriots came to town, it was an unseasonably warm 63-degree Sunday afternoon. Though it’ll be a bit cooler this year when Andrew Luck’s Colts visit, it’s still expected to be in the mid-to-high 40s.
For a guy who very clearly can’t throw in cold or precipitation, I’m left to believe that this is the work of sorcery.
Wizardry/illegal interference from deities aside, weather won’t be the only thing that plays a factor in this game. And for as fun as it was spending the last couple of weeks of the season reading the career obituaries for Peyton, things aren’t quite that dire right now for the Hall of Famer.
I explained last week why the Colts are not an impressive team, and frankly a victory over a Bengals team that looked clueless without A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham does nothing to change my mind.
The Colts’ biggest strength — passing offense, where they ranked first in yards per game and seventh in yards per attempt — will be at least somewhat neutralized by a point of strength of the Broncos, as they ranked ninth in pass yards allowed and seventh in interceptions. The Indy defense is mediocre no matter which way you slice it — 12th in passing D, 18th in rushing D, 19th in scoring D, minus-5 turnover differential.
The 11-5 record is the result of playing the AFC South (the other three teams went a combined 14-34 this year) and the NFC East (a .500 division). The Colts went on the road and beat up on the Jaguars, Texans, Giants, Browns and Titans, outscoring those lowly opponents by 13.2 points per game. They also went on the road and got manhandled by the Broncos, Steelers and Cowboys, getting outscored by 19.7 points per game.
That is to say — when they hit the road and face a team that is actually good at football, they get run over.
The weather should be comfortable for Manning, and when the Broncos win, they win big. Just one of their 12 victories came by less than a touchdown, and their average margin of victory was 15 points.
So thanks for coming, Andy Luck, but a year after having Tom Brady end your season, Peyton Manning will have the honor this year.
Last week: 1-3
Regular season: 129-122-5
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