Moving on: Hopefully next round will be better
By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
Aside from another desperation touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers, who must practice them daily, there wasn’t much wild stuff during wild-card weekend.
Indeed, it was Rout City, with a total margin of victory of 76 points. That 19-point average makes it the most lopsided first round of the playoffs since 1981.
Blame injuries to the Raiders and Dolphins for some of that. Blame Detroit’s late-season swoon, too. Plus the fact all four home teams stepped up, displaying a significant disparity in talent level on this Saturday and Sunday.
That last fact could bode well for the upcoming divisional playoffs. Then again, the Texans,Seahawks, Steelers and Packers head to difficult places to win — particularly Houston, a whopping 16-point underdog at New England.
Still, there is the hope that things will be more competitive, at least in Atlanta, Dallas and Kansas City. All of next weekend’s games are rematches. The Seahawks own a victory over the Falcons, the Steelers romped over the Chiefs, but those were home wins.
“We’ve got to start faster,” Green Bay’s masterful Aaron Rodgers said. “Dallas is a great football team. Dak (Prescott) and Zeke (Elliott) have been playing great all season. They are tremendous players; they’re not playing like rookies. They’re both in the MVP conversation. We can’t let them run behind that big offensive line. We’ve got to start fast and make them as one-dimensional as possible.”
While it’s virtually impossible to find any reason to expect anything from the Texans except a huge loss, the other three visitors are hardened with playoff experience. Indeed, the Seahawks, Packers and Steelers have had a lot more success — and a Lombardi Trophy run or two — over the last dozen seasons than their hosts.
Consider that important for a few reasons:
— None of those teams’ coaching staffs will panic. They will put together solid game plans and, with the Seahawks and Steelers in particular, they will stick to them.
— All three have clutch quarterbacks and dangerous receivers, although Jordy Nelson’s rib injury against the Giants could be troublesome for Green Bay. Seattle’s Russell Wilson has his scrambling mojo back, and Doug Baldwin is as good a pass catcher under the gun as anyone. Pittsburgh has its version of the “Triplets,” and the matchup between All-Pros Antonio Brown and Marcus Peters is a spicy one.
— There will be no intimidation factor to deal with for the Steelers at Arrowhead, the Seahawks in the Georgia Dome or the Packers at Jerry Jones’ palace. Some might argue that it’s Pittsburgh and Seattle that are the intimidators.
Of course, all of those clubs will need balance on offense, something Pittsburgh has and Seattle showed with a healthy Thomas Rawls at running back. But to escape with victories and to head to the conference title games, defense could be the key for the Steelers, Seahawks and Packers.
Seattle can feel comfortable with that, even though it faces All-Pros Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and a two-pronged running attack. The Seahawks do miss star safety Earl Thomas, but they have plenty of standouts remaining, led by playoff reliables in All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback Richard Sherman.
Pittsburgh’s D is anything but a Steel Curtain, but the Chiefs aren’t an offensive powerhouse. Veterans Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison made major contributions against Miami.
Green Bay’s defensive prospects are more uncertain. The secondary is banged-up, though stopping the run is paramount against Elliott. Clay Matthews needs to return to top form on Sunday.
What about Bill O’Brien guiding the Texans, who have the top-ranked defense in yardage, to an upset in Foxborough? Well, those 16 points the Patriots are giving seem like a bargain.
AP Sports Writer Genaro C. Armas contributed to this report.
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