Jan 12, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) runs the ball past Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Erik Walden (93) for a touchdown during the third quarter of the NFC divisional round playoff game at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Playoffs: And Then There Were....Six?

Yes, that’s it. Six. This lasts for less than a day, however, as the other two elimination games fall to this lovely Sunday afternoon.

Last night, Colin Kaepernick proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs as the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49’ers. What did he do? Oh, everything. He set an all-time rushing record for QBs in a single game…not “in a playoff game” or “while holding his lip right on a Tuesday” or any other qualifiers. Ever.

His 181 rushing yards had never ever been done by a QB. His 263 passing yards were plenty to make the defense think twice as he has evolved into yet another dual-threat quarterback along the lines of RG3 or Carolina’s own Cam Newton.

Green Bay didn’t have any answer whatsoever to him last night in the 45-31 beatdown and it was the Niners’ offense that was the dynamic one. They also had the better defense going in and were able to control Aaron Rodgers & Co. to “only” 31. Part of that has to go to the offense as they were able to not only put together long drives and chew the clock but also could score on big plays from anywhere.

The Niners are clearly peaking at the right time. The only question I have is “How far can a second-year QB who has only started a handful of games take them?” If last night was any indication, the sky’s the limit.

The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, lost in double overtime to the team playing with the most emotion of anyone in the NFL – the Baltimore Ravens. They’ll be on the road at either Houston or New England for the AFC Championship Game next week. Don’t let that 38-35 score fool you; the Broncos scored 14 points on returns, so the defense only gave up 21 points to the Peyton Manning-driven offense.

It also means their special teams need work!

As for the NFC Championship, the Niners will face off against the winner of the Seahawks at Falcons matchup from today. I think they could handle Atlanta, but that fast, physical Seahawks defense and dynamic QB of their own, Russell Wilson, are a formidable group to face. The road goes through Atlanta today and the Falcons are not known as a great postseason team by any stretch.

Nope…Matt Ryan – or “Matty Ice” as they say for some bizarre reason – has never won a playoff game. The Falcons struggle against the run and against big, physical teams…such as the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers beat them once on the scoreboard and twice on the field, and the Seattle Seahawks currently are the team Carolina strives to become: a physical team on both sides of the ball with a stifling defense and relentless “Beast Mode” running game with a dynamic Field General.

Jan 6, 2013; Landover, MD, USA; Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) carries the ball to score a touchdown as Washington Redskins inside linebacker Perry Riley (56) and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (91) chase in the fourth quarter of the NFC Wild Card playoff game at FedEx Field. The Seahawks win 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

As such, I see the Seahawks winning this one. They’ll slow down or stop the Atlanta running game and force “Matty Ice” to the air 40+ times. They’re also healthier going in, so I feel unless the Falcons can get off to a fast start and a two-score lead, the Seahawks will wear them down.

The playoffs (insert Jim Mora Rant HERE) are games of matchups, and both teams have mismatches to exploit. Marshawn Lynch vs. Atlanta’s front seven. Tony Gonzalez vs. pretty much any LB or safety. Julio Jones and Roddy White may be seeing the best CB tandem in the NFL, so Gonzo might be the guy with the big day for Atlanta. I just don’t see the Falcons’ defense holding up against a mobile quarterback and the read/option, scrambles, or play action. I think that’s where Seattle might make noise in the passing game.

Houston at New England – what can you say, the Pats look to have the easiest path to the Super Bowl. BOTH Manning nemeses are gone, and the Pats won’t have to play a road playoff game with the Denver loss. Houston looked good against the Bungles last week, but that didn’t impress me that much. I thought Cincy played horrible more than Houston dominated them.

The electric sack artist J.J. Watt brings 20+ regular-season sacks to go after Tom Brady with. No WONDER Houston didn’t want to pay Super Mario 100 million bucks…they get better production from a guy who costs 15% of that. That’s just smart cap management, and means that the Texans will be around for years to come. I’m just not convinced this is “their year,” but they do present some severe matchup issues against the New England Patriots on the ground. With a trio of backs with limited but serviceable skill sets that are all different from one another, the Pats should be able to mix in enough of the run to keep Houston guessing a little bit as well.

The Pats’ defense is very shaky on their best days and get lit up on their worst ones. The counterbalance there is that they can easily put up a 40-spot on any given day. The two teams are opposites in so many ways….

Houston wants to zone-block and run Arian Foster 30 times. They’ll run even more if it’s close and Ben Tate is healthy. New England did get a bit of help in the draft for their front seven and obtained troubled but talented CB Aqib Talib from the Bucs for help in coverage and it’s all just beginning to gel. Scary thought. Matt Schaub will have to make enough plays in the air to keep the defense honest and possibly catch them napping a couple of times for a big playm but Andre Johnson’s skills are beginning to wane a bit and they don’t really have that alternate threat (a la Torrey Smith of the Ravens to go with Anquan Boldin or Dennis Pitta) to hold up in a road game against top competition. Remember, the Texans lost 3 of their last 4 regular-season games.

Bottom line?

New England Patriots 34, Houston Texans 28

Seattle Seahawks 27, Atlanta Falcons 19

Above all, enjoy the games everyone!!

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Tags: 2012 NFL Playoffs

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