Three AFC North teams entered the postseason. One remains.
Both the Bengals and Steelers came up short this weekend, meaning the Ravens will be the lone AFC North representative in the divisional round of the playoffs this weekend.
Despite the fact that only one of the four games the last two days was decided by fewer than 17 points, I still thoroughly enjoyed watching all the action. We saw stingy defensive performances (the Giants didn’t allow Atlanta’s offense to score a single point), silly offensive showcases (the Saints are just nuts) and ridiculous individual efforts (Calvin Johnson somehow put up 211 yards and two TDs even though everyone on the field knew he was getting the ball).
Oh, yeah, and Broncos fans are starting to get spoiled. How many thrilling, dramatic wins can one team - and one quarterback - put up in a single season?
Here’s a list of what we learned over the past two days:
* While Matt Ryan might have been the first quarterback taken in the 2008 draft and his career statistics are slightly superior to those of fellow ‘08 draft pick Joe Flacco, can we finally put to rest all the talk about Ryan being the better of the two signal callers? Ryan is still winless in his playoff career (he’s now 0-3 in four seasons with the Falcons), while Flacco has already won four postseason games and has a shot at a fifth this weekend. Stats are nice. Wins are better.
* Entering wild card weekend, I thought the Ravens’ best chance of making it out of the AFC was to face the Texans in the divisional round, then have the Steelers and Patriots battle it out in the other AFC semifinal. After watching Houston and Pittsburgh this weekend, however, I’m not sure I didn’t have it backwards. The Steelers looked old, slow and banged-up yesterday, while the Texans looked pretty darned sharp in a win over Cincinnati. I still like the Ravens this weekend, but Houston presents a host of challenges.
* One of them is Andre Johnson, who might not be healthy but is still a beast. With Johnson battling a hamstring injury and rookie T.J. Yates throwing him the ball, Johnson still made a team-high five grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown Saturday. The Ravens need to have all eyes on the freakishly athletic wideout this weekend.
* The Texans’ No. 2-ranked defense wasn’t dominant Saturday, but they sacked Cincinnati rookie quarterback A.J. Dalton four times and forced three turnovers. The Ravens will need to protect Flacco and the football Sunday.
* Drew Brees is good. That is all.
* Don’t look now, but the Giants are starting to look a lot like the Giants team that went on a surprising Super Bowl run back in 2007-08. Their pass rush at times looks unstoppable, their running game is improving and Eli Manning is playing at a high level. Now they head to Green Bay to face the top-seeded Packers, which, by the way, was the location and opponent they saw in the NFC championship game in ‘07-‘08.
* Seeing Hines Ward walk off the field in Denver yesterday, I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s the last time we’ll see the veteran wideout in a Steelers jersey, or on an NFL football field, for that matter. Ward has dealt with concussion issues lately and he saw his playing time and effectiveness dramatically decrease this season. There appears to be a pretty decent chance the smiling agitator will never again face the Ravens.