Now that the NFL's Wild Card round is over, the divisional matchups for next weekend look quite interesting. I'll be breaking down the games individually throughout the week, but for today, I want to take a quick look at why the teams won and lost this past weekends' games.
Washington 17, Tampa Bay 10
Why Washington Won: Defense. It's not hard to understand why Washington gave defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a three-year contract extension to keep him out of this offseason's game of "Who Wants to be an NFL Head Coach?" The Redskins' D shut down Tampa's running game and forced inexperienced QB Chris Simms into making key mistakes.
Why Tampa Lost: Turnovers. When young QBs try to force the game, they often throw crushing interceptions, and Simms was no exception. I don't blame him for losing the whole game, because asking him to win it at this point was a little much, and he gave it his all, but experience counts for a lot in the playoffs.
New England 28, Jacksonville 3
Why New England won: Perfection. This team does not make mental or physical mistakes in the playoffs. You have to play a perfect game to beat them. The Patriots don't do anything that fancy on either side of the ball, but they do all the basic things extremely well, and they know what it takes to win. They are going to be very difficult to beat this year once again.
Why Jacksonville lost: Overrated. There's a reason why this team was a wild card, and why they lost twice to Indianapolis; they've got a talented defense and a promising young QB, but they are too inconsistent to be considered contenders yet at this level.
Carolina 23, New York Giants 0
Why Carolina Won: Defense. Just a crushing, dominating defensive scheme. The Giants couldn't run the ball at all Sunday, which put the game into Eli Manning's trembling hands. Game over.
Why New York Lost: Eli Manning. Four interceptions and one fumble. That says it all. You can't turn the ball over in the playoffs and expect to win the game. Eli looked like the rookie (in essence) that he is.
Pittsburgh 31, Cincinnati 17
Why Pittsburgh Won: Experience. Bill Cowher's been coaching the same team for 14 years for a good reason. When they were down 10-0 early and 17-7 before the half, no one in black and gold panicked. They continued to mix the power running game with timely, well-placed passes from Ben R., and their defense covered the Bengals' receivers so well that Jon Kitna was forced to run around like Fran Tarkenton in his career-ending game against Cleveland (the one where they finally broke his leg). Indy better find their mojo, and quick, 'cause the Steelers are coming to play.
Why Cincinnati Lost: Carson Palmer's knee. The Bengals had so much momentum going early, losing Palmer took a lot of the life out of the team. I'm not saying they would have won if he hadn't been injured, but it gave Pittsburgh both a physical and psychological advantage. Their own playoff inexperience also hurt; once the Steelers overtook them for the lead, they didn't know how to respond because they hadn't been here before. Experience counts for a lot in the NFL playoffs. We'll see that experience even more clearly this weekend.