Blog Entry

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

Posted on: January 11, 2012 12:56 am
Edited on: January 11, 2012 1:32 am
Eli and Aaron meet again this weekend. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Every year, the NFL schedule makers help create myriad storylines during the regular season. But even the most carefully-planned crafter of matchups couldn't have worked up what we're seeing in the 2011 playoffs.

Not only are all four playoff matchups rematches of contests from earlier in the season (the Saints and 49ers went head-to-head in the preseason), but there's a smaller -- albeit more intriguing storyline -- that goes along with each. Let's examine.

The Matchup: Patriots (-13.5) vs. Broncos
The Grudge
: Josh McDaniels vs. Tim Tebow
Actually, there's no "grudge" between McDaniels and Tebow, per se. In fact, McDaniels is probably happier to see Tebow's success than anyone in the Broncos organization.

Their stupefying march to New England is borderline miraculous and made even more surprising by the fact that McDaniels tenure in Denver -- which lasted a scant 28 games -- was supposed to bottom out the franchise for years to come.

Tebow was the answer for Denver because things were too be too bad to bother with convention. Instead, he provided the spark that gave the Broncos their first division title and first playoff berth since 2005.

McDaniels, who also drafted Demaryius Thomas in the first round of the 2009 draft, can't (and won't) be totally redeemed yet, because Denver's still picking up some pieces from his time spent in the Mile High.

And forget forgiveness, even if the Broncos win, especially since he retreated back to the dark side in an official capacity just moments after the Broncos toppled Pittsburgh in Denver on Sunday.

Broncos fans, members of the Denver media, Broncos players and even Patriots players believe that McDaniels has some magic elixer up his sleeve to stop the Broncos. He might know the personnel on the roster, but they're operating under John Fox.

That still won't change the motivation for both sides, though.

Leach could be the key against his old team. (Getty Images)

The Matchup: Ravens (-7.5) vs. Texans
The Grudge: Vonta Leach vs. Texans
Leach isn't the only ex-Texan looking to get back at his old team -- Pete Prisco correctly nailed the motivation that will fuel safety Bernard Pollard when he faces his old team, especially with the strides they've made on defense. Leach's deal with Houston goes deeper than just changing teams, and he'd tell you that himself:

"Bottom line #texans did not offer me a fair deal or my worth and I found a home in bmore and I'm happy #Ravens!" Leach tweeted on January 7th.

In case you missed it, Arian Foster (who joked with Leach on Twitter about grabbing a meal while he was in town on "business") led the league in rushing with Leach as his fullback last year. Leach was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro last year, and with the Texans deciding that they could handle their business on the ground sans his presence can't sit well with the ECU grad.

While many believe this game will come down to whether T.J. Yates or Joe Flacco can make more plays, I wholeheartedly disagree. The winner of this game will have more rushing yards and longer touchdown runs, and Leach will be the guy motivated to make sure that Ray Rice ends up with a bigger game than his old teammate Foster.

The Matchup: 49ers vs. Saints (-3.5)
The Grudge: Jim Harbaugh vs. Sean Payton
When the Lions and Saints squared off last week, the idea was that an upset by Detroit might create Handshake Gate 2.0.

But the reality is there might have been a bigger rivalry stewing between Payton and Harbaugh all season long, thanks to Payton releasing his entire pound of hounds at Alex Smith before the season began in a game that ultimately didn't count.

Both coaches downplayed the preseason kerfuffle this week, but what else would you expect?

Harbaugh's talk leading up to Wild-Card Weekend as if the Saints were his only focus, and it's a) hard to blame him (they're the better team/likely opponent) and b) have you seen this guy with revenge on his brain? It's terrifying.

Payton ain't exactly the last guy who'd stick it to someone, but we could see some epic-level celebration if San Francisco wins. Like, Harbaugh could end up doing the Truffle Shuffle at midfield.

At the very least, we could see some Schwartz-level fist-pumps.

The Matchup: Packers (-7.5) vs. Giants
The Grudge: 2007 vs. 2011
Everyone automatically assumes the easy reference for this game is the Giants 2007 season, when they beat the Packers in Lambeau (after losing to an undefeated team 38-35 during the season) en route to winning a Super Bowl.

But these teams (the exact same ones!) already played this year, when the Packers won in New York.

In that game, Eli was working his way to elite status by leading the Giants back. Only Aaron Rodgers got the ball last and when that happens the Packers typically win. In this case, they did, and it's something that's sitting on the minds of both teams.

The Giants want revenge for an earlier loss in the season, obviously. But the Packers are motivated for a different reason: no one is talking about them. We mentioned earlier this year that the Packers are the most dominant team in NFL history to fly under the radar. It remains that way for a number of different storylines.

The Giants might not have forgotten the previous game from 2011, and maybe they haven't forgotten 2007. But don't think for a second that the Packers have either. Both those games are still fresh on their mind. And, we're willing to bet, serving as more than enough motivation to take care of business against New York in Lambeau.

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Since: Oct 31, 2006
Posted on: January 11, 2012 4:41 pm

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

@Silky Smooth 1 are a fool.

That's all. 

Since: Sep 5, 2009
Posted on: January 11, 2012 3:34 pm

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

     The seven and a half point spread in the Raven game is just about right.  Ravens, 27-20.

Since: Dec 6, 2010
Posted on: January 11, 2012 12:53 pm

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

The run for Denver will make the difference in this game.  Chewing up clock and keeping Brady on the sidelines is how you beat the Patriots.  Taking care of the ball will be part of a successful day for Tim Tebow and the Broncos as well as evidenced in their most recent meeting.  The Patriots are not going to beat you with defense and can't as shown in the last 3 or 4 years.  A sloppy field will be to Denvers advantage.  Some pressure on Brady will go a long way.  Two knee braces does not lend much help to lateral or forward movement...he has to stand in the pocket because he can do nothing else.  Granted he does that better than anybody but it makes him one demensional and the Broncos have some speedy atheletes on the defensive side of the ball.  Rob Gronkowski as Aaron Hernandez present a matchup problem for Denver because of their size/speed and the Broncos lack of secondary size.  Denver will need to harrass those two TE's and keep someone close to them all day otherwise its going to be a long day for Denver.  But and effective running game and a smart pass rush by the Broncos will ruin the Patriots chances for advancement.  The coaching doesn't matter, it comes down to the atheletes execution on the field.  The Read Option and taking care of the ball on offense for Denver will pay dividends against a porous Patriot defense.

Since: Mar 12, 2007
Posted on: January 11, 2012 11:47 am

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

You are aware that NE has the 32d ranked defense in the NFL, right? Unless you watched the last game between NE and Den you will see that Denver had that game under control until the mistakes (3 TOs) in the 2d qtr killed them. Give NE credit for capitalizing but Denver was holding their own and had a 17-6 lead until it unraveled.

I don't know what to expect this weekend because Denver is so unconventional I don't even think they know what they are going to do. Denver did what it needed to do early in the game by running it down their throat and had ball control. If they do taht and minimize Brady's cahnces by him sitting on the bench then Denver has a chance.

We shall see.

Since: Aug 24, 2006
Posted on: January 11, 2012 11:19 am

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

Whatever, Vonta. That deal was fair. Especially since James Casey and Vickers have stepped in your place at a much cheaper price and the running game hasn't missed a beat.

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: January 11, 2012 8:43 am

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

The real story is, will Tim Tebow be able to throw against the Patriots defense? If yes, the Broncos have a shot, if not, then it's whether Tom Brady can put up points on the Denver defense...most likely yes, at home. Is there another Tebow miracle in our future? No...

As for the Ravens and the Texans, I disagree with whether Ray Rice or Arian Foster gets more yardage. I think if T.J. Yates can throw the ball downfield and not get pummeled by the Ravens D, the Texans have a chance. Otherwise, it's no dice.

The Saints have proven they can score on anyone with their offense...if they do, the 49ers are in trouble because they don't have the weapons to make a comeback. Alex Smith had a nice year, but he isn't Drew Brees.

Last, if you don't think the Packers to win, then you must be a Giants fan. Eli Manning has proven himself a lot this year and the Giants have some weapons themselves...Victor Cruz, Hakeen Nix, etc. Aaron Rodgers has more weapons, but the Packers defense isn't as good as the Giants. Should be a lot of fun to watch.

Since: Aug 23, 2010
Posted on: January 11, 2012 8:18 am

Grudge Report: Divisional matchups are chippy

This is where Coaches earn their money.  There are 2 coaches (haughball and Kubiak) that are coaching their first playoffs.  It's going to be interesting to see how they handle the pressure.  Will they play to win or not to lose?  How mature is your team because now is not the time to be a hot head and cost your team by making stupid penalties.  I'm looking for the Packers, Pats, Ravens and Saints to advance this weekend.Cool

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