Tonight marks the dawning of a new era in the National Football League. For the first time in league history 3 rookie quarterbacks will play in a playoff game and all 3 of them will take centre stage tonight. Like any new quarterback each one of them has been judged to the nth degree since they first held up the jersey of their respective team at the draft last April.
You can rightfully argue that any criticism so early on in a player’s career is unwarranted, but with the hopes of so many fans on the shoulders of a newly drafted quarterback, it’s understandable for fans to be hypercritical. There is also immense pressure on the GMs and coaches of each individual organisation because if the team doesn’t reap any immediate rewards from a substantial investment in a quarterback, inevitably their own jobs will be at severe risk.
Without a decent quarterback at the helm teams will find it almost impossible to challenge the premier teams of the NFL and seven teams have already disposed of their head coaches as a result of their extensive quarterback woes. You only have to look at the names of some of the teams to be affected by this most recent coaching cull to see what a sizeable impact having a poor QB has had on their seasons. For instance, who has been the regular Quarterback starter this season for the Cardinals, Browns and Chiefs?
When a team gets the quarterback that they have longed for, the confidence and sheer excitement amongst the fans is immense and while the coaches and players will be adamant that the team is going through a ‘rebuilding process’ the fans will no doubt be more demanding.
The thing that makes this season’s rookie quarterbacks really incredible is that rather than make a minor improvement to the team, as the quarterback ‘learns the system’, all 3 playoff rookies have visibly transformed their offenses to such an extent that each offense is designed to utilise each one’s considerable talents. The Redskins and Seahawks are equally adept at implementing a ‘read option’ game, a tactic which was traditionally employed more in the college ranks, but has been used to great effect for both NFC teams. One of the most obvious differences between the NFL and college football is the speed of the defences, and so for these teams along with Cam Newton of the Panthers to use this play so successfully just demonstrates that whilst defences know what to expect, they still can’t cope with the athleticism of both Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
What has also helped both RG3 and Wilson is that both offences have 2 of the league’s best running backs to deflect some of the attention away from themselves, but that’s something that can’t be said for the Colts’ Andrew Luck. Although running back Vick Ballard performed well this season, opposition defences can be confident that the Colts will try and find some success through the air.
Luck hasn’t had a great amount of help from his defence either. The Colts have been more clinical in the redzone when defending but they still give up more yards per game than they did when they finished with a 1-15 record last year. So with a mediocre defence Luck has had to go toe-to-toe with the NFL’s best quarterbacks and come away with 11 wins. Is Luck solely the reason why there has been a 10 game swing in fortunes? And can his post season involvement continue?
Colts v Ravens
The colts come into this game with very similar statistics to the Carolina Panthers, but apart from the big gap in rushing ability the only main difference between the two teams is victories. The Panthers have lost by less than a score on 6 occasions while the Colts have won by that margin in 9 out of their 10 games that have been decided by a score or less. On numerous occasions Luck and his receivers Donny Avery, T.Y Hilton and the reliable Reggie Wayne have made big plays when it matters, and eeked out last gasp wins including a last second win against the Lions.
Although Ray Lewis returns to the Ravens I feel that the Baltimore linebackers have been disappointing all season and if the Colts get off to a fast start I can see Ravens offense struggling to make an impact, even if they suddenly try to use Ray Rice as much as they should.
Players to watch:
Ravens– Ed Reed, Colts– T.Y Hilton
Score- 21-17 to the Colts
Seahawks v Redskins
I have already mentioned the ‘read option’ but another great strength of Wilson and RG3 is their ability to pass on the run. Both defences have a tremendous ability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but while the Seahawks have faced a mobile quarterback before in Colin Kaepernick, RG 3 is much more adept at passing on the run.
The Redskins are 5th on offence and the Seahawks are 4th on defence so I think this battle will decide the outcome of this tantalising encounter. The Seahawks have their big physical corners all available to them, so look for the Seahawks to disrupt the short passing game that RG3 will look to implement early. The big issue for the Seahawks is that they will only be able to cover the relatively small Washington receivers for so long, so it is vital that the hawks can restrict RG3 from running around and making late throws and also eliminate the prospect of big plays as the Redskins rank 3rd in plays over 20 yards. The Redskins are likely to run the ball predominantly and target the Seahawks linebackers, but I feel that Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright have showed more ‘gap discipline’ in recent weeks and will be up to the task. Strong Safety Kam Chancellor will also need to play a vital role in limiting the big play running potential of both Alfred Morris and RG3.
Although the Redskins have been without the likes of Brandon Merriweather and Brian Orakpo, the imaginative play calling on defence has helped them put constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks and win games. With an emotional home crowd I feel the Redskins defence will have the edge on Wilson’s offence and will ultimately win what will be a close and exciting game.
Players to watch:
Redskins- Pierre Garcon, Seahawks– Bobby Wagner
Score- 28-24 to the Redskins