Column: Playoffs off and going
The top sports stories in yet another Weekend That Was:
5. The James Madison University Dukes win their second FCS football championship on Saturday after taking down Youngstown State, 28-14, in Frisco, Texas.
4. The defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins capture their sixth straight victory Sunday by knocking down the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2.
3. The Cleveland Cavaliers pull the trigger on a trade Saturday that brings Atlanta Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver to the Cavs in exchange for Mike Dunleavy, Mo Williams, cash considerations and a protected future first-round draft choice.
2. The first PGA Tour event goes to Justin Thomas, who captures his first PGA crown by winning the SBS Tournament of Champions by three strokes over Hideki Matsuyama in Honolulu on Sunday.
1. The NFL playoffs wild card round and sees the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks win on Saturday, then the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers capture victories on Sunday.
Our topic of discussion: 1. The NFL playoffs are under way.
Watching a little bit of that Texans-Raiders game showed most of us how we thought the Texans should have played all season. Brock Osweiler was the Brock Osweiler most of us thought we’d get when he signed that huge contract to quarterback the Texans. Jadeveon Clowney was a beast in the middle and up front.
Of course, the Raiders were down to a third-string quarterback, but they were still a good enough team that they would have challenged the Texans. Turns out that was not true. Congratulations to the Texans. More on them in a bit.
The Seattle Seahawks returned to the team they once were in dominating the NFC on Saturday night against a fairly decent Detroit Lions squad.
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers unleashed their offensive “Killer Bs” on the Miami Dolphins in temperatures in the teens at Heinz Field with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown having big games in a 30-12 rout. The defense did a number on second-string quarterback Matt Moore, even if he did complete 29 of 37 passes and a touchdown.
And then there was the best game of the weekend. The New York Giants took an early 6-0 lead and had everything under control ... that is until Aaron Rodgers suddenly became Aaron Rodgers, legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback. He ended up with 362 yards on 25-of-40 passing with four touchdowns, including a Hail Mary tat the end of the first half to Randall Cobb, who had three touchdowns.
You can imagine relief those in Dallas felt knowing they didn’t have to face the Giants a third time after two losses to them during the season. But don’t think for one moment that seeing the Packers on the other side is going to be that much better. When the Cowboys beat the Packers on Oct. 16, 30-16, at Lambeau Field, the Packers were beginning a slide of five losses in six games that looked very much like they were about to begin the slide into the offseason wondering what went wrong.
Since then, though, Rodgers has turned everything around and the Packers have won seven straight, including Sunday’s game with the Giants. Rodgers and a lot of the Packers have been there. That can’t be said for the Cowboys, especially when their two best players are rookies: quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Sunday’s game could be the best of the bunch.
Pittsburgh and the Kansas City Chiefs will be a rematch of a game the Steelers dominated at Heinz Field, 43-14, on Oct. 2 as Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes. The Chiefs, though, have a week off and no coach has ever had a team ready better after a bye week -- at least during the regular season -- than Andy Reid. But the Steelers are rolling right now, and though they will be in one of the toughest stadiums in the league (Arrowhead Stadium), they will more than hold their own with the rested Chiefs.
The Seahawks and the Atlanta Falcons could be a contrast in styles, the Seahawks’ vaunted defense against the Falcons’ high-flying offense. The statement is that offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. Will that be the case in the Falcons’ home on Saturday night?
And there’s the other game between the rejuvenated Texans and the favorite to win it all, the New England Patriots. The opening spread is 15 1/2 points, the most for any playoff game since the 16 1/2 the one-loss Minnesota Vikings were against the underdog Arizona Cardinals in the 1998 divisional round. Minnesota won, 41-21.
The weekend shapes up to be another great one. Other than the Packers-Giants battle, most of the wild card games were pretty boring.
Now you get teams who won at home (unlike last year when all the road teams prevailed) against well-rested teams. Odds normally have the well-rested teams moving on. But every now and then, you get one road team that makes it the conference final (though last year that didn’t happen).
This is the best round of the postseason coming up.
Mark Blumenthal is a writer for the Palatka Daily News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @diabolicalmarky.