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Sports Medley: 2015 NFL Playoffs Round Two

by Tony Medley

First Round Games wrapup: The most significant play of the weekend occurred with 8 minutes left in the Detroit-Dallas game when, with Dallas trailing by three points, 20-17, and Detroit with the ball at around the Dallas 45, Dallas was initially called for pass interference on a key third-down play, which, if completed, would have given them a first down at the Dallas 30 in field goal range. But the flag was picked up and no penalty called. The primary official did not throw a flag; the flag was thrown by an official across the field.

Controversy has flooded about this call ever since. Letís look at the facts. First, when an NFL official throws a penalty flag, he owns that flag. He cannot be overruled by the referee or any other official. The only way the flag may be picked up is if the official who threw the flag agrees to pick it up. Thatís what happened here. Another official, the primary official for the call, had a different view. The officials discussed it and the flagĖthrowing official agreed that the flag was thrown in error. So there was no controversy among the game officials about whether or not it was pass interference.

Many thought it was face guarding. But face guarding is a penalty only in college, not in the NFL. Second, the rule says that to be a foul the player must materially affect the other from being able to make a play on the ball. Here, there was little physical contact (if any), the receiver did not stop and reach back for the ball; he continued going forward. The ball hit the defender in the back. Thatís just incidental contact and not a foul. Most former officials agreed with picking up the flag. Former NFL official Gerry Austin, however, agreed with the game officials that a flag should not have been thrown, but opined that once it was thrown it should have been enforced. Thatís just nonsense. The point should be to get it right, and they did.

There were actually three other infractions on the play that were not called, (1) Dallas defender grabbing the receiverís jersey, which didnít affect the play and was properly not called; (2) face mask by Detroitís intended receiver which would have been a penalty against Detroit; and (3) Cowboy Dez Bryant coming off the Dallas bench to protest the initial call, which is normally a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. None of them affected the play and were properly not called at such a crucial time of a playoff game. The rule should be that referees should not decide games with penalties at crucial times unless they are clearly obvious and affect the play. It would have been a travesty had the flag been enforced on what happened here.

The Carolina-Arizona game could rank as the worst game ever played lowlighted by horrible quarterbacking by both sides. If Arizona could have played a healthy Carson Palmer, they probably would have won easily. In the other two games, both Indianapolis and Baltimore completely dominated the lines of scrimmage and, as a result, neither game was close. On the positive side, Cincinnati didnít lose because of quarterback Andy Dalton, who played a pretty good game. Andrew Luck played a phenomenal game for Indianapolis. The Steelers were completely outclassed. Itís unlikely that injured Steeler running back Le'Veon Bell would have affected the outcome had he played because the Steelersí offensive line was completely overpowered by Baltimoreís defense. Iíve only seen two running backs who didnít need blocking, Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders. Good as he is, Bell isnít in that class.

Hereís the breakdown on this weekendís games:

Carolina at Seattle: I had not really seen Carolina play much before I picked them to beat Arizona. Had I known what a horrible passer Cam Newton showed hmself to be in this game, I would not have been as sanguine about picking Carolina. He has a three-quarter, close to sidearm, throwing motion, and throws off of his back foot. His passes are inaccurate and his timing is poor (admittedly, however, this opinion is formed based on just this one game; but Newton had no pass rush against him and always had plenty of time to throw).  Exacerbating his performance was his body language. He looked like death warmed over before and after every play and dragged around the field like he needed a stretcher. Maybe he was injured, but his passing performance wasnít that of an NFL-quality quarterback. Carolinaís only hope against Seattle is that its defense can stop Seattleís powerful offense because if Newton continues this type of play Carolinaís offense is basically inept, relying almost solely on Newtonís running, and certainly isnít a match for Seattleís defense which is still one of the best in the history of football. This game should not be close. Seattle.

Baltimore at New England: I had not seen Baltimore play much, either. While I picked Pittsburgh to beat them, I saw in the first quarter that Baltimore was dominating the offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage, and realized that Pittsburgh had little chance to win. Baltimore is much better than I imagined. New England has Tom Brady throwing to Ron Gronkosky. Because their running game is weak, thatís their offense. Although Baltimore is not known for its pass defense, it completely bottled up the NFL-leading passer, Ben Roethlisberger. I was impressed with Baltimoreís all-around ability, offense and defense. Its offense is well-rounded between running and passing. I erroneously picked Cincinnati to defeat Indianapolis based on only one game that I saw it play (against Denver). But I guess thatís my story and Iím sticking with it because Iím doing the same thing here. Off of what I saw of Baltimore against Pittsburgh, I think Baltimore has a better team than New England, and that Baltimoreís quarterback, Joe Flacco, is the equal of New England quarterback Tom Brady (given Bradyís age) in a big game and lack of a deep receiver threat. And at every other position, I think Baltimore is better (judging solely from the Pittsburgh game). Baltimore.

Indianapolis at Denver: Indianapolis showed a much better offensive line against Cincinnati than I expected. Like Baltimore and Carolina, I didnít watch Indianapolis enough this year to get a real feel for the team, which is why I picked Cincinnati to beat them. Itís hard to judge Indianapolis off the Cincinnati game because Cincinnati was missing its top two receivers, A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, completely blunting its offense, and its middle linebacker, Rey Maualuga, the teamís best run defender, who was obviously hurting at the start of the game and went out near the beginning of the second quarter, yet Cincinnati was still in the game well into the second half. Denver has greatly improved its defense this year (3rd in the league overall, 2nd against the rush, 9th against the pass), and it has Peyton Manning at quarterback. Manning is not the Manning of old, and is behind a suspect offensive line. But Denver isnít Cincinnati, and Manning is not Andy Dalton. Denver.

≠Dallas at Green Bay: I confess to a bias here because Iíve liked Dallas all year long. This is the toughest game of the week. Dallas has a better running game and Green Bay has the better passing game with Aaron Rodgers (Duh!). Itís tough to pick against Rodgers, who is probably the most valuable player in the NFL. And this is especially true when one considers that Dallas has one of the weaker pass defenses in the league. If Rodgers reinjures his leg, itís all over for Green Bay. But with Rodgers, Green Bay should win. Another thing going for Green Bay is that in the last decade the home team has a 72-26 advantage in the playoffs. As long as Rodgers is healthy, Iím favoring Green Bay. But if Rodgers is injured, Iím going with Dallas.