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2014 NFL Playoffs Wild Card Games

by Tony Medley

 I wasnít going to make my predictions this year. The reason had nothing to do with my ability to pick winners. It had to do with the truly awful quality of todayís referees. There is no longer any way for a defensive back to defend against the pass. The best football Iíve seen in the past few years occurred when the replacement refs were on the job. They let the players play. When the regular refs returned, the game deteriorated. There are so many ridiculous pass interference calls that games become meaningless. I saw a call a couple of weeks ago in which the defensive back not only did not touch the receiver, he didnít come within two feet of him. But a flag flew.

Itís not just pass interference calls, though. The bad officiating permeates every call of every game. Here are just a few examples from last Sundayís games.

 First, two examples from Green Bay-Chicago: 

  1. On about the fourth play of the Green Bay-Chicago game the Bears downed a punt on the Green Bay 1 yard line. The refs ruled it a touchback. Chicago threw the red flag contesting the call. Replays showed that one Bear tipped the ball back before he stepped on the goal line. The player who downed it had his foot close to the goal but not on it. The replays showed that the ball was properly downed and it should have been first down on the Green Bay 1. The refs ruled that the call on the field stood, without any explanation. That was a huge difference as Green Bay took over on its 20 yard line instead of being backed up against its goal line.
  2. Later in the first half, Aaron Rodgers was tackled for a loss on 3rd & 8, forcing a punt. The refs called unnecessary roughness because of a guy who was in the process of tackling when Rodgers went down rolled over him, not roughly. This was a huge, game-changing call, although all GB got out of it was a field goal. Still, they should have had to surrender the ball and not gotten any points. Even the pro-NFL TV announcers proclaimed it a horrible call.

 In the Rams-Seahawks game the refs completely lost control of the game and then called three consecutive personal foul penalties against the Rams on the same play after the play had ended, the last one against a player who had innocently waved his arm and inadvertently knocked the cap off another ref. A third ref threw a flag (not the one who was hit) and the player, Kendall Langford, was ejected.

 Of course the ultimate incompetence of the officials that day occurred with about 3 Ĺ minutes left in the Dallas-Philly game when at a crucial point they penalized Dallas for delay of game when the clock robbed Dallas of 15 seconds. TV replays showed the clock going directly from 40 seconds to 25 seconds. Anyone watching the game knew without the replays of the clock that 40 seconds had not gone off. Anyone, that is, except the dopes in the striped shirts.

 These were all pivotal calls in the games. As a result, I have no confidence in picking winners because so much rests on the shoulders of these inept goofballs. The NFL should get rid of these guys, most of whom are old and out of shape, and hire professional referees who all they do is referee NFL football games. Surely with the billions of dollars (tax free because the NFL is a charity with tax-exempt status, believe it or not) they can afford to get professional referees and pay them well enough so that it is their only profession.

 But I took a look at the first weekís matchups and the picking looked pretty easy to me, so Iím going ahead.

 Kansas City at Indianapolis: This one I have to admit is just a guess. I havenít seen Indianapolis play one game this year. I have seen Kansas City and Iím not impressed. They rolled to a 9-0 start by playing mostly the weakest teams in the NFL (only one of their wins was against a team with a winning record, but that was Philladelphia, but it was early in the season and this is a different Eagle team). Their next seven games were mostly against the better teams. They lost to all the better teams, only beating the dismal Raiders and Redskins, probably the two worst teams in the league. They have a quarterback, Alex Smith, who doesnít make many mistakes, but who really canít throw long, and they have a pretty good defense. Indianapolis is another of the modern teams that relies mostly on a superstar quarterback, Andrew Luck, although they do have a pretty good defense. This is a tough call. If the teams are equal (I think probably Kansas City has a better defense), Iíll go with the quarterback. Luck is already a superstar while Smith is a better than average journeyman. Indianapolis should defend against the run and make quarterback beat them passing. Indianapolis.

 New Orleans at Philadelphia: Philladelphia has the leagueís leading quarterback, Nick Foles, the leagueís leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, and a good defense, although two of their starting defensive backs are out of the game. Foles has an incredible TD-interception ratio (27 TDs with only 2 interceptions!). New Orleans is terrible on the road, although its Rob Ryan-devised 3-4 defense is better than it has been in the past (4th in the league). Itís tough to bet against Drew Brees, but he tends to throw interceptions at bad times. He also has a butter-fingered receiving corps. Give him All Pro receivers and this is a different game. I think Philladelphia should prevail playing at home. Philadelphia.

 San Diego at Cincinnati: I'm not impressed with the Cincinnati quarterback, Andy Dalton. Heís the weakest of all the quarterbacks playing in the playoffs (save Alex Smith of KC) and isnít someone to rely on, having already thrown 20 interceptions and he misses open receivers more often than not. However, Cincinnati has a good defense and San Diego barely beat Kansas Cityís benchwarmers last week to eke into the playoffs. This one shouldnít even be close. Cincinnati.

 San Francisco at Green Bay: On paper this isnít close. San Francisco has a much better team all around. About all Green Bay has going for it is quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the best player in the NFL, and that is often enough. But they are missing their best player on their weak defense, Clay Matthews. Unless Rodgers can play like Johnny Football, this should not be close. However, San Francisco is puzzlingly underwhelming in victory, beating teams in games that are close when they should dominate. I canít figure out why. San Francisco is the better team, but if they play like they have all year, not up to their potential, Green Bay has a chance because if it's close in the fourth quarter, nobody would bet against Rodgers. The sub-zero weather could be a big factor, although the field now has warmers so won't be frozen (unlike the Ice Bowl in the 1967 Championship game against Dallas). San Francisco.

The bad part of writing this column is that I often have to pick against teams I would normally be rooting for. Without this column I would be pulling for Kansas City, New Orleans, and San Diego.

4 January 2014