All About Football: Week 20
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Did you survive the FIRST SNOW OF 2016??? If you did, congratulations. If you didn’t, tough luck. But, hopefully the big FIRST SNOW OF 2016 hopefully kept you inside Monday for a very good National Championship game. It is time to dive into Week 20 of All About Football.
Clemson and Alabama played a fantastic game for the national title. I feel like we got the best two college football teams playing in this game. No flukes, an undefeated Tigers squad taking on a tough one-loss Crimson Tide team, those were the best two teams in college football this year. We will talk about that and the roller coaster ride known as the NFL Wildcard playoffs.
About Last Week
Week 19 Record: 1-0
FINAL Overall Blaine Train Record: 159-73
Considering this was my first year to predict games, I think I did pretty good. Out of the 232 college football games I predicted this season, I had a 69% success rate. There were a couple of weeks that I was near .500 but, outside of that, I did pretty well. Plus, I was able to predict THE BIG GAME on Monday, which we need to discuss.
NATIONAL TITLE GAME (Jan. 11 )
Literally, Alabama hit the ground running. Heisman winner Alabama running back Derrick Henry rushed for a 50 yard touchdown to put the Crimson Tide up 7-0. But, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson answered back early. First, Watson connected with Hunter Renfrow for a 31-yd touchdown to tie the game at 7. Then, after a missed 44-yd field goal by Alabama, Watson drove the team in the final 2:17 of the first quarter to connect with Renfrow again for a 11-yd touchdown with no time left in the first quarter.
End of First: Clemson 14, Alabama 7
The first turnover of the game took place when Watson threw an interception to Eddie Jackson in the first Tigers drive of the second quarter. It was the sixth interception for Jackson this season. It would also be the only turnover of the game. The interception led to points for Alabama as Henry capped off a 7 play, 42 yard drive with a 1-yd touchdown run. Clemson had a chance to take the lead with 5 seconds remaining in the first half but, Greg Huegel missed a 44-yd field goal.
End of Second: Clemson 14, Alabama 14
Alabama took the lead on their first offensive drive in the third quarter when quarterback Jake Coker passed to O.J. Howard for a 53-yd touchdown pass. Crimson Tide pulled ahead 21-14. Clemson stepped up in the quarter. First, the Tigers nailed a 37-yd field goal, cutting the lead to 21-17. Then, the Tigers ran a long, nine-play, 60-yard drive that was capped off by a Tigers running back Wayne Gallman 1-yd drive. Clemson would take the lead going into a frantic fourth quarter.
End of Third: Clemson 24, Alabama 21
Crimson Tide hit the ground running the fourth. First, kicker Adam Griffith nailed a 33-yd field goal to tie the game up for Alabama. Then, gutsy call of the game. In a tied game in the fourth quarter, Griffith nailed a PERFECT onside kick to give the ball back to Alabama. Two plays later, Coker hooked up with Howard, who ran for a 51-yd touchdown. Alabama re-took the lead 31-24. Clemson ran a quick 1:58 drive that led to a Huegel 31-yd field goal close in on the lead, 31-27. Then, the second big Alabama special teams play of the fourth quarter took place as Kenyan Drake returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for the touchdown. Alabama 38-27. Now, time was becoming a factor for the Tigers. Watson led another touchdown drive, connecting with Artavis Scott for a 15-yd touchdown. That would cut the lead down to 38-33 with just 4:40 left to play. But, the Crimson Tide would punch right back with a back-breaking 8 play, 75-yd drive, capped off by a Derrick Henry 1-yd touchdown to increase the lead 45-33 with just 1:07 left to play. Despite a Watson to Joseph Leggett 24-yd touchdown with just 12 seconds remaining, Alabama recovered the onside kick to seal the win.
FINAL: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
Recap: What a game. Not a blowout. It was better than the two national semifinal games. Start with Clemson, who sadly suffered their only loss of the season on the last game of the year. Watson went 30 of 47 for 405 yards and four touchdowns, with just one interception. Watson also kept Alabama honest on the ground, leading the team in rushing with 73 yards. Wayne Gallman carried the ball 14 times for 45 yards and one touchdown. But, Gallman had to deal with an injury throughout the game. Watson’s favorite target was Renfrow, who had seven catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Charone Peake had six catches for 99 yards and Jordan Leggett had five catches for 78 yards and one touchdown. The defense put some pressure on Alabama quarterback Jake Coker. The Tigers had five sacks on the game, three of them by Kevin Dodd and two by star defender Shaq Lawson.
Henry proved that he was the Heisman winner in this game. He had 36 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns in the game. He helped lead to a balanced offensive attack as Coker continued to shine, throwing 16 of 25 for 335 yards and two touchdowns. But, the surprise in this game has to be O.J. Howard. On big pass plays, the junior tight end had five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Watson’s scrambling kept Alabama’s defense on their heels. But, they did have the only takeaway of the game, thanks to the Jackson interception. Plus, Rashaan Evans recorded the only two Watson sacks of the game for Alabama.
In the end, it was an even matchup. And, let this be a lesson about how big special teams can be in big games. Thanks to an onside kick recovery and a kickoff return for a touchdown, the second half special team play for Alabama was a back-breaker for Clemson. And, with that, we say adios to the 2015 College Football season.
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF TIME
Last Week: 2-2
Blaine Train Season Record: 161-100
Clearly, the most crazy, entertaining, hardest hitting game of the four wildcard games last week was between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Steelers jump up to a 15-point lead in the third quarter, right around the time that Steelers defender Ryan Shazier knocked out Bengals running back Gio Bernard, causing him to fumble the ball. Shazier would not be flagged for the hit and would set in place a serious chain reaction. Sure enough, Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, knocking the QB out of the game. This would lead to the Bengals scoring 16 straight points and taking a one-point lead with just 1:50 left in the game. However, the play everybody is talking about takes place right here: Roethlisberger comes back from being hurt and, on the Cincinnati 47 yard line, throws to Antonio Brown. Now, there are two camps here. The NFL and the Pittsburgh camp believes Burfict was leading with his shoulder to knock out Brown, no matter if he caught the ball or not. The Cincy camp continues to question if Brown suffered a concussion at all. Either way, Burfict was flagged with a 15-yard penalty, followed by Adam Jones picking up another 15-yard penalty for yelling at the refs and, 30 yards later, Steelers hit the field goal to send them into the next round of the playoffs.
Another game with some drama was the coldest game this season. Playing in below-zero weather that classified this game as the third-coldest in NFL history, Seattle came back from behind to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 10-9. When Minnesota jumped out to a 9-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, it didn’t look good for Russell Wilson. But, his 7 play, 80-yard drive was capped off by a three-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin to cut into the lead. Later in the quarter, Seattle hit a 46-yd field goal for Seattle to take the lead once and for all.
The other two games were blowouts. Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer threw four interceptions as Kansas City destroyed the Texans 30-0. Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers woke up on offense in the second quarter and went on a 35-7 run to defeat Washington.
Saturday, January 16
Kansas City Chiefs @ New England Patriots
3:30 PM, CBS
My Pick: New England
This was a tough game to pick. Normally, it should be a no-brainer about Tom Brady and the Pats winning playoff games. But, Kansas City is riding high on a 11-game winning streak. Last week, the Chiefs forced 5 turnovers. They will be a factor in this game against a passing attack that features Gronk and other receivers for Brady, who has thrown for 4770 yards and 36 touchdowns this season. While it is hard to pick against a team with the momentum, I think it is harder to go against New England in the playoffs.
Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals
7 PM, NBC
My Pick: Arizona
So, I went back and forth on this game. I was going with the Packers for the upset on the road because I thought that it is hard to pick against Green Bay in the playoffs. The NEWSROOM thought I was crazy. But, after I have looked more and more into this, more I realize that this could really be the Cardinals year. For starters, the Packers did struggled for the beginning of their game against Washington last week, including Aaron Rodgers being sacked for a safety. Rodgers only went for 21 for 36 for 210 yards and just two touchdowns. Not nearly the impressive numbers that we can see from Rodgers in the playoffs. Not to mention, these two teams played each other a few weeks back, where the Cardinals dominated the Packers 38-8. So, I will go with Arizona, knowing full well that I am picking against a team that does well in the playoffs.
Sunday, January 17
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers
My Pick: Carolina
Big time matchup going down in Charlotte. First, you have the Seahawks, who have the NFL’s best defense, only allowing an NFL-best 17.3 points per game. Last week, they did a great job about shutting down Adrian Peterson, keeping him to just 45 yards. Plus, they received good news this week as Marshawn Lynch has practiced fully throughout the week and looks to be playing against Carolina. Big time plus for Seattle. The Panthers were able to stop Seattle early in the season, 27-23. Carolina wants to exercise the demons of being bounced out of the playoffs by Seattle last season. Wilson versus Newton II. Earlier in the year, Wilson played better but, it was Newton that helped bring Carolina back from behind late to win the game. This time around, it will depend on how both offenses deal with the defensive matchups. I think it will be a close one, but Carolina will prevail in the end.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Denver Broncos
3:30 PM, CBS
My Pick: Denver
First question: Does Antonio Brown play? If this was the regular season and he was going through an concussion protocol, the answer would be an easy no. But, it is the playoffs so, who knows. Next, how effective will Big Ben be, playing hurt and going against a tough Denver defense? Especially if there is no running game for Pittsburgh to turn to, it may be a long day for the Steelers offense. On the other side, expect Peyton Manning to be back under center and ready to go on Sunday. As much as Brock did a decent job holding down the fort, this is Manning’s team in what could be his final playoff run as a player. You never know. I think the Bengals game took some of the motor out of Pittsburgh in these playoffs, and now they have to take on a really tough Denver defense. I think Denver will dominate this game.
There it is, we are getting closer and closer to the end of the football season. Should be another fun weekend of NFL playoffs. Next week, Championship Sunday and we will know who will be the final two teams heading to the big game. Until then, I am the Blaine Train, have a good one.