Boats, organizational makeovers and wild blowouts ...
Wild-card blowouts, that is, as all four of the home teams took care of business one year after all four road teams won in the postseason's opening round. Each of this year's wild-card bouts came with its own explanation for the lopsidedness: a rookie third-stringer who couldn't hit the broad side of the barn, a Lions team that couldn't hit the other guys' running back, a Dolphins defense that simply couldn't hit the brakes on Pittsburgh's Triplets. Then there was Giants at Packers.
Did Big Blue lose because its wideouts were on a yacht doing the Shake Weight, or because Aaron Rodgers is the best player in the league? Well, neither is true. Though you can make the case that the game could have gone differently if OBJ caught the ball, then pulled an Isaac with double-barreled index fingers celebrating what would've been a first-quarter touchdown. And for all of the Rodgers love -- which is deserved -- I think the Packers' offensive line should get some credit. Not to mention, did anyone else see what Le'Veon Bell was out there doing earlier in the day? Just curious.
Just did this list for NFL Films and NFL.com a couple of months ago ... Yeeeah, might be time to readdress.
So where do Green Bay and the other wild-card winners stack up in this week's Power Rankings? Rodgers' brilliant play has his ballclub sitting pretty, but where would you place the Pack? Send thoughts to the usual spot: @HarrisonNFL.
Oh, and one note: During the playoffs, I'll only be ranking the teams that were still alive during the previous week of play. So, 12 teams in this week's edition, eight teams in next week's ... You get it.
Let the dissension commence!
NOTE: The lineup below reflects changes from our Jan. 3 Power Rankings.
Please forgive a small reminder of what greatness looks like: In theory, it's a two-time MVP quarterback who has won four Super Bowls reminding everyone publicly -- but specifically targeting his teammates through a quote -- that the 14-2 Patriots are going to have to "grind it out" against a team they beat by 50 touchdowns (without said quarterback) earlier this year. Hypothetically speaking, of course. OK, what were the true motivations behind this Brady dispatch? 90 percent keeping teammates focused ... and 10 percent laying the groundwork in case the game's closer than the rout Jacoby Brissett quarterbacked in Week 3, a preemptive strike against an increasingly snarky media? Maybe. Who cares. Either way, a focused, ticked-off, hyper-competitive Brady is better than your quarterback. Yes, even you guys in Atlanta and Green Bay.
Ready to hear a bunch of folks (pundits and football fans alike) spinning yarn about how the red-hot Packers are poised to upset the Cowboys in Dallas? You had better be. 'Cause it's coming. All. Week. Long. It will become "the sneaky pick." That annoying dude who sits next to you at Initech can't wait to bend your ear with his prolific prognosticating over lunch: "Nobody's saying this, but IIIIII think the Packers are going to go in there and beat the Cowboys. Bet Aaron Rodgers throws another Hail Mary, too. It's a part of their offense." Cool -- sounds good. Oh, oh, just one thing: Maybe Green Bay should stop the Dallas running game first. Otherwise, there won't be too many possessions for Rodgers to be heaving passes into the end zone.
So, Spartacus ... sorry ... Ben Roethlisberger was in a walking boot following the Steelers' wild-card win over Miami, thus setting the table for his transcendent guttiness to shine through in the Divisional Round. Wow, what a fantastic narrative. The only thing more tired than that storyline is using the word "narrative" in sports. Even Steelers fans are completely desensitized. Let me speak for nearly every Pittsburgh fan I know: We don't care -- just don't put up another stinker on the road so that our defense has to live on the field or Le'Veon Bell has put up two bills in order for us to win. OK, OK, enough cynicism. Honestly, I hated hearing that Roethlisberger got tangled up, mostly because we haven't seen a healthy Steelers outfit in the postseason since 2008. Literally. And I still think that, had Le'Veon Bell not gotten hurt in Week 17 of the 2014 season, the Steelers would have beaten the Patriots and played the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. #hottakes #KirkDouglas
Small request for the almighty football gods: Could you magically make Derrick Johnson healthy again? Oh, how the Chiefs could use their ILB -- and defensive leader -- this weekend ... Kansas City can win without him, but stopping Le'Veon Bell is quite the challenge -- even when your entire defense is healthy. These Chiefs do remind me of the '69 title team, in that they have a highly respected coach, an efficient quarterback, a committee backfield and a big-play pass catcher. Those Hank Stram teams were also the first we know of to play some version of today's 3-4. The ILB back then who made sure those guys weren't out of position was Willie Lanier. And that defense was a big reason why K.C. upended the top-seeded Raiders (who had a better record than the 2016 Patriots) to go to Super Bowl IV (a game the Chiefs also won). It can happen again, even without Johnson. Stopping Bell is far easier said than done, though.
The first-round bye gave Julio Jones and Co. an opportunity to get healthier. Work with a bunch of ex-players at NFL Media, and they constantly hammer home the fact that no one is fully healthy at this point of the season. Jones' toe was problematic over the back half of the season, but if, for any reason, Richard Sherman doesn't travel with him all over the field, Atlanta's offense should wreak havoc. My guess is Sherman will shadow No. 11, and it will be up to Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel to win their matchups. Other key matchups: Falcons RBs split out vs. Seahawks LBs. This is going to be a helluva game. It was top shelf back in the 2012 playoffs, too.
Aaron Rodgers picked it up in the second half versus the Giants, sending a shudder throughout the NFC. Interesting that he gets so much credit for the Hail Marys -- at least to me, Sunday's extraordinary connection was a better play by Randall Cobb, who delivered the Golden Tate-esque pushoff. The most impressive facet of Rodgers' game -- one that's often missed by the gushing announcers -- is the resiliency he displays when he's not playing well. Packers fans know their quarterback. They will tell you that Rodgers is not brilliant all the time. But when he does struggle, there is an absolute refusal in him to stay in that slump ... or let receiver drops get the best of him. That's what makes Rodgers one of the best to ever lace 'em up.
Dude, this Seahawks-Falcons tilt is going to be bad-ass. No, this game doesn't need an eloquent statement to describe it. It represents the quality of Divisional Round football -- Seattle at Atlanta might not be the premier matchup in this week's buildup, but it certainly could end up being just that when all is said and done. (And it's better than anything Wild Card Weekend had to offer.) The Seahawks' defense faces a bona fide MVP candidate in Matt Ryan, with the unit fresh off an admirable performance against Matt Stafford this past Saturday. One thing that would really help that group this Saturday: Thomas Rawls being as decisive -- and effective -- as he was against Detroit. Play clockball = Win the game.
Sooooo maybe Texans at Patriots on Saturday night is not your game of choice. My guess is, people will head to Flingers for some Natty Lights and maybe watch the game casually. But in Houston, Texans fans are locked in, because there is no way their team can perform as badly as it did at Gillette earlier this season. Who wouldn't love to see Jadeveon Clowney go all LT and wreak havoc on Tom Brady and that offense? For Houston to win, the former top overall pick and Lamar Miller must play out of their minds.
Much has been -- and will be -- made of the Giants receivers' boat trip. There are those who will defend OBJ no matter what, and those who will be hard on him no matter what. Did it affect the receivers' play? You tell me. The irony in all this is that Tony Romo and Jason Witten (particularly Romo) took flak from all over for going to Cabo during the bye week before a Divisional Round game in the 2007 playoffs. In other words, they were even further from game day than OBJ and friends -- and yet, that trip was blamed for the Cowboys' loss. Who did Dallas lose to? Tom Coughlin's upstart Giants team featuring a young Eli Manning. That group went on to win the Super Bowl. As for the 2016 Giants, don't let a cruise with Captain Stubing obscure an outstanding season, particularly from the defense. Snacks Harrison was awesome this year.
Respect is pouring into the Dolphins' coaching offices from all corners, enough to swim in. So has Adam Gase pushed this organization around the corner, finally? Looks like it. Quarterback, running back, wide receivers and offensive line (with healthy help) are stable. We will see personnel changes on defense, starting with the possible replacement of coordinator Vance Joseph, who has suddenly become a hot commodity in NFL cities looking for a head coach. His meteoric rise has raised some eyebrows, given the defense's performance during the regular season and in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Miami finished 29th in total defense and 18th in points allowed, which means the Dolphins often bent without breaking down. None of this is meant to disparage Joseph; rather, it's notable that despite the lack of dominance on his side of the ball, he could be a front man for a team very soon. Says much about his personality and the respect he has around the league.
Hot take: Matthew Stafford's middle finger ruined the Lions' entire season. Alright, so maybe the Seahawks would have won the wild-card matchup anyway. But with all this MVP talk, which team relied on its quarterback more than Detroit relied on Stafford? And what happened when he played with that bad middle digit? The Lions went from 9-4 to 9-8, just like that. Up until that point, Detroit was giving the entire NFC North a, well, healthy middle finger. I don't think these are the Same Old Lions.
Blegh. Consider what happened in the wild-card game the equivalent of putting a One Direction song on the back end of a Guns N' Roses live album. What a fun season the Raiders produced. Unfortunately, Connor Cook often overthrew, underthrew, or missed his receivers entirely on Saturday. When Cook did hit Amari Cooper or Michael Crabtree in stride, they dropped the ball. Jadeveon Clowney didn't. None of that should detract from a sterling 12-4 regular season from the Silver and Black. The NFL is better when the Raiders are better.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.