The match-up for Super Bowl 51 is now set in stone. The New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will play for football's ultimate prize on February 5, after both teams destroyed Green Bay and Pittsburgh respectively in the conference championships. It was the first time since the 2005-2006 season that we saw both conference title games decided by more than 17 points.
Falcons 44, Packers 21
This was a non-contest, which is sad considering this was billed as a match-up between two great offensive teams. Well, the Falcons were awesome offensively. The Packers were downright offensive; literally. Atlanta jumped out to a 17-0 start so quickly that you knew that Green Bay had no shot. The Packers had two chances to do something early, but a missed field goal by Mason Crosby and a fumble toward the end zone by Aaron Ripkowski did them in.
Matt Ryan was downright spectacular. He ripped apart Green Bay's battered secondary for 392 yards and four touchdowns, while Julio Jones ripped off 180 yards and two scores receiving. It was a dominate effort by the duo.
As for Atlanta's much maligned defense, you have to give them credit here. They kept Aaron Rodgers in check for the most part, and never allowed him to get comfortable in the pocket. They sacked him twice and hit him a total of seven times in the game. They held him to just 287 yards passing, the lowest amount of yards he's thrown for in a game since a December 18 game at Chicago. In short, it was total domination by an Atlanta Falcon team that played with a purpose on Sunday.
The Falcons had been in this same spot four years ago and blew it against the San Francisco 49ers. They didn't let a 17-0 lead get away from them this time. They increased their lead to 24-0 before the half on a Julio Jones touchdown in the corner of the end zone. Then jumped out 31-0 to start the second half on Jones' 73-yard touchdown catch-n-run. At that point, the game was officially over.
Patriots 36, Steelers 17
Like the Falcons, the Patriots steamrolled over their competition, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in the AFC title game. New England jumped out to a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter when Tom Brady hit Chris Hogan for a 16-yard scoring strike, and from that point on the game was feta accompli.
The biggest concern for Pittsburgh coming into the game was whether their sluggish offense could find the end zone, and the answer was clearly, no! After a second quarter touchdown that cut the deficit to 10-6, the Steelers managed only a field goal on their next six possessions. Most of their possessions either ended in a punt or a turnover.
Meanwhile, Brady continued to pile up the yards. He threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Hogan continues to turn into a poor mans Julian Edelman, who was once a poor man's Wes Welker so many years ago. Hogan caught nine balls for 180 yards and two scores. Not bad at all for a Patriots team that is clearly on a revenge tour after the fall out from last season's Deflategate meltdown.
Speaking of Deflategate, remember last season when Tom Brady was booed relentlessly at last year's Super Bowl in San Francisco when all the past Super Bowl MVP's were introduced? He took personal offense to it. I remember there was a report that Julian Edelman even saying he texted Brady that they were going to use that as added motivation. Not that the Patriots didn't have enough motivation after the NFL levied a 4-game ban on Brady at the start of this season.
Roger Goodell has stayed clear of the Patriots all postseason; he attended the NFC Title Game in Atlanta instead. He won't be able to avoid the Patriots this time, especially if they win. That plot twist will be one of the main plots for Super Bowl 51 in Houston. If the Patriots do win, and they are a -3 point favorite in Vegas right now, the trophy presentation will be so awkward it will make the handshake between Donald Trump and Barack Obama look cordial.
ATLANTA'S NEW STADIUM.
What the heck does a new stadium have to do with a Super Bowl that is played in Houston? Very simple, the Falcons are opening a $1.5 billion stadium in Atlanta next season. You don't think Arthur Blank would love it even more if his team wins the Super Bowl in two weeks so that he can get the annual prime time NFL season opener in his brand new building against the Dallas Cowboys on September 7? You betcha!
BOSTON COLLEGE vs. BOSTON LEGEND
Might as well get this out of the way. The quarterback battle in Super Bowl 51 will feature Matt Ryan, an alum of Boston College against Brady. This is going to draw a lot of conversation among Bostonians in the next two weeks.
Well, at least Odell Beckham and the Giants receiving corps can go to Miami this week with no problem.
The chickens came to roost for Beckham and the Giants, who carried themselves with little regard for their opponent all week and it came back to bite them. This is what they got and deserved. 38-13. A total beatdown. Boatgate did not play a role in deciding this game at all, even if people think it did. Rather the Giants were totally outclassed, outplayed and outmatched against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
But the same Giants football team that made light of Beckham's Miami trip, will have to relive "boat-gate" courtesy of the media and fans alike tonight, tomorrow, all off-season, and even next season too. Like their neighbors the Jets whenever their former coach Rex Ryan did or said something ridiculous only to have it blow up in his face, the Giants are going have to eat their humble pie.
Let's break this down piece by piece.
Odell Beckham Jr. The 3000 lb gorilla in the room got bigger and bigger the worse Beckham played on Sunday. He recorded only four catches for 28 yards. He was targeted 11 times, and dropped four passes. Two of those drops came early in the game. The first one came on a third and five at the Green Bay 35, which cost the Giants a first down and points. Later in the quarter, Manning had Beckham deep down the sideline for a touchdown, but the receiver had the ball bounce in and out of his hands. Instead of six points, the Giants had to settle for three instead.
After that we didn't see much from Beckham again. He was double-teammed most of the night, and whenever he did get the football it was either off his hands or out of his reach. With each drop and incompletion that went his way, you could hear the throng of social media hounds pounding their collective keyboards on Twitter, trolling the wide receiver.
It didn't get better for Beckham after the game. Reports surfaced that he had a locker room tirade that included smacking his head against his locker and punching a gigantic hole in a wall. Here is the photo below:
It's getting so bad on Twitter right for Beckham that people are putting sad Jordan's in that gapping hole to mock him.
Beckham is clearly not handling the adversity well. This moment is another in a long line of troubling moments for the Giants superstar. From his feud with Josh Norman, to his tirade on the field against the Redskins in week 3, to his blasting of officials after a Week 16 loss to Philadelphia, Beckham is both the games most talented and most troubled player. Someone needs to help this young man before he becomes the subject of a 30-for-30.
Giants Defense: For most of the first half, the Giants defense was outstanding. They absolutely shutdown one of the hottest offenses in the league with a designed four man rush and zone coverage. Aaron Rodgers had nowhere to throw early on. He was sacked three times, and was throwing balls all over the place just to avoid the Giants pass rush. Statistically, the Giants held the Packers to 49 yards of offense with 5:06 to go before halftime. Then, things fell apart ...
Aaron Rodgers caught fire and couldn't be stopped: Things fell apart for the Giants when Rodgers hit Devonte Adams down the sideline for 31-yards to the Giants seven-yard line. It was the longest pass play of the day for Green Bay, and settled down an offense that looked flustered and lost. Two plays later, Rodgers found Adams again for the touchdown to give Green Bay a 7-6 lead.
Right before halftime Rodgers killed the Giants once and for all when he heaved a Hail Mary into the end zone that was caught by Randall Cobb in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Cobb had both feet in bounds when he stretched above three Giants to catch the football. It was a spectacular play, and ultimately was the backbreaker that Green Bay was looking for.
Eli Manning and the Giants didn't do enough in the first half: This goes back to all the drops that Beckham had, but he wasn't alone. All of Manning's receivers were letting him down in this game, including Sterling Shepherd who had a big drop in the first half as well. The Giants rolled up 198 yards of offense in the first half, but had only six points to show for it. That is not going to get it done, especially when the opposing quarterback is a future hall of famer in Aaron Rodgers.
Mike McCarthy almost gave the game away: With 6:08 to go in the third quarter, Green Bay had already failed to convert a third and short at their own 42-yard line. Instead of doing the reasonable thing and punting the football, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for it, and it almost cost him dearly. The Giants stuffed Ty Montgomery on the play and got the football back in great field position. It didn't take Eli Manning long before he found Tavarres King for a 41-yard touchdown to cut the Packers lead down to 14-13. That was as close as Big Blue would come the rest of the night.
Rodgers put the Giants to sleep: After the Giants cut the Packers lead to 14-13, most teams would wilt under such circumstances. The Packers aren't most teams, especially with Rodgers under center. Rodgers guided the Packers on a four-play 63-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 30-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Randall Cobb that pushed the Packers lead back to eight, 21-13. It was like the Giants touchdown never happened.
Did Bobby Rainey go to Miami too? New York later screwed up big time when Bobby Rainey decided to field a kick-off that was destined for the sidelines. Instead of letting the ball bounce out of bounds for a kicking violation that would move the football to the New York 40, Rainey fielded it at the Giants three-yard line and stepped out of bounds. Of course the Giants would go three-and-out on this possession.
Now the Packers were on the march again, with Rodgers getting the Packers within range for a Mason Crosby field goal to make it 24-13.
Goodnight Folks: The fourth quarter proved to be no contest. The Packers dismantled the Giants will at this point with two more touchdowns to blow the game wide open. Rodgers continued to toy with the Giants. He connected Montgomery on a 34-yard pass play to move the Ball to the Giants 36. Two plays later he hit Adams again for a huge first down on third and nine at the Giants 23, and capped off the 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Cobb to make it 31-13.
Aaron Ripkowski would score the final touchdown of the night on a one-yard dive over the goal-line, completing a nine-play, 55-yard drive that ate up almost six minutes.
Final Stat Line: Even though he was sacked five times, Rodgers threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-13 win for Green Bay. Dvonte Adams and Randall Cobb each had over 100 yards receiving. They needed that kind of effort because Jordy Nelson left this game with a rib injury. There is even concern for Ty Montgomery who left this game after getting twisted up on a tackle in the third quarter. The Packers would love to have everyone healthy for Dallas next weekend. Stay tuned.
For the Giants, Eli Manning played well. He threw for 299 yards and didn't throw a pick until the games final minute. Odell Beckham Jr. wasn't the only boat gate player who had a bad day. Victor Cruz was held to just 30-yards on three catches, and Roger Lewis had no catches. Only Sterling Shepherd had a good day of the "Yacht Club."
What's Next: A lot of heat on the Giants on Beckham Jr. The Giants have a clear image problem that they must address. From the Josh Brown fiasco that was poorly handled to Beckham's misbehavior, it was not a good year from a PR standpoint. They need to rein things in. Ben McAdoo will get bombarded with questions on Monday and all week about "boat gate" and this defeat. This will be a big moment for the young head coach. He has to handle this well. As for Beckham, the guy needs help. If he doesn't control his emotions, New York City is going to eat him alive and he will find himself playing elsewhere when he becomes a free agent in two years.
On the field, the Giants must address their lingering issues with the offensive line and running game. Neither was good enough this year. They also must address the back-up quarterback position, and likely find a replacement for Victor Cruz who is a free agent. Defensively, they have to keep this group together. Another year under Steve Spagnuolo, and the Giants could lead the league in D next year.
A look ahead at the Giants 2017 opponents: Home: Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, L.A. Rams, Seattle, Detroit, Kansas City, San Diego. Road: Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, Arizona, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Denver, Oakland.
No matter how you slice it. No matter how much talk radio heads like Mike Francesa will try to act like it means nothing. No matter how much Eli Manning tries to dismiss it in press conferences, the fact that Odell Beckham Jr. and three other Giants receivers decided to partake in a booze and drug party with Justin Bieber the night after the regular season finale is a disgrace.
It's a disgrace because the Giants still have something to play for this week. The team visits the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in the NFL Wild Card game. Yes, this occurred on Monday, on the players scheduled "day off," but it leaves no excuse for the players to do this, and its even less of an excuse for the Giants to allow it to happen.
Just because nobody got hurt physically, nor arrested doesn't justify the actions of this quartet. They humiliated their franchise, and worse off made a totally mockery of Sunday's wild card game. If the Giants lose on Sunday, this is all anyone will talk about. Even if the Giants go to the Super Bowl, this is all anyone will talk about.
Beckham along with Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard and Roger Lewis Jr. all jumped into a plane in the hours following the Giants 19-10 win over Washington and headed down to Miami to party all day and all night with "pop star" Justin Bieber and Trey Songz (whoever he is). Social media went ablaze with photos of the group hanging out on a Yacht, fooling around and apparently doing drugs, according to a report in USA Today. According to that same report Shephard could be heard telling someone "I can't take Adderall." In case you didn't know, Adderall is a banned substance in the NFL.
Of the quartet, Cruz should have known better then to allow this to happen. As the veteran of the group, he should have put his foot down and set an example -- especially around a rookie like Shepard, and especially around Beckham who is a loose cannon.
When pressed by the media about it, coach Ben McAdoo did his best to act like the events of Monday were no big deal. "Players are off until tomorrow morning. We will see them tomorrow morning and they'll get their workout in, and we'll be ready for Green Bay. The players were off, they are not working."
This coming from the same guy who wouldn't condemn Josh Brown's actions of spousal abuse from earlier in the year. Another wonderful black eye for the Giants this year that most have now forgotten.
McAdoo is walking a slippery slope. His comments are basically a blank check to his players to do whatever the hell the want -- no matter the consequences. This is a horrible example to set. Think Tom Coughlin would be happy to hear that his four receivers, including his three biggest play makers were on an all night bender in Miami -- even on a day off? I don't think so. If Coughlin were still running things at the Giants Timex Center, there would be talk of fines and maybe a benching of Beckham -- even in a playoff game.
Think this is sitting well with Giants co-owner and CEO John Mara? So far we haven't heard from him, but I can't imagine that he is too pleased. Earlier this season he had egg all over his face for the Josh Brown fiasco when it came to light that he was aware of Brown's marital issues -- including his striking of his wife at the Pro Bowl.
The Giants decided to re-sign Brown in the off-season in-spite of all the facts and didn't cut him until the pressure from outside became too hot to handle.
Now they have this mess with Beckham and company. When asked about Beckham's early season tirade with a kicking net, Mara had this to say: "He's a young man who is very emotional but he's basically a very good man who does a lot of good things off the field. ... Sometimes he goes a little too far, but that's the truth with a lot of players ...".
These four men should consider themselves lucky, it could have been much worse.
And to the Giants fans who ripped Tony Romo nine years ago for being on vacation with Jessica Simpson during the team's bye week before playing in divisional playoffs, you have no leg to stand on now. Giants fans can not defend Beckham's actions, while justifying their ripping of Romo in 2007.
Well see if the Bieber curse works its magic here. Remember it was Bieber who hung out with the Cavs during the finals two years ago -- Cleveland lost. Bieber also paid a visit to the Steelers in December of 2010 and they lost to the Jets that week. Biebs is also part of the Johnny Manziel entourage -- enough said there.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo deserves a lot of credit. For the entire week he told anyone who would listen that he was going to take the Giants season finale in Washington extremely seriously and would not rest any key starters. It was an old school approach, and considering how many teams mailed it in on Sunday, it was an approach that was greatly appreciated.
As a result, the Giants supported their coach with an impressive 19-10 win over the Redskins knocking them out of the playoffs.
Defense Win the Day: The Giants defense was once again unbelievable. They held the Redskins to just 284 yards of offense and forced three turnovers. Kirk Cousins was brutal on Sunday. He was picked off twice and sacked four times in a crucial game for his football team. The Giants forced the Skins to punt the football five times in the entire first half, allowing them to get past mid-field only twice.
Late in the game, the Giants made Cousins' life miserable. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie had a huge interception of Cousins with 4:06 to go in the third quarter with the Giants holding onto a 10-3 lead. Then in the fourth quarter, after New York grabbed a 13-10 lead, Cromartie made another huge pick of Cousins at the Giants own 25 yard-line with 1:27 to go in the game. The Giants would finish the game with a fumble recovery for a touchdown to push the lead to nine.
Eli Manning and Company: Manning wasn't blowing anyone away statistically, but the Giants offense and their veteran quarterback were good when they needed to be. No play was bigger than the 44-yard strike from Manning to Tavarres King that helped set up Robbie Gould's go-ahead field goal.
Giants Ground Game: The Giants ground game came to life on Sunday. Paul Perkins led the way with 102 yards on the ground, and Big Blue ran for a season high 161 yards for the game. It was about time that this ground game got moving for Big Blue.
What's Next? The Giants are locked in as the number five seed and they will travel to Green Bay to play the Packers in the Wild Card game next Sunday at 4:40 p.m. on Fox. The Giants and Packers met earlier this year in Week 5 with Green Bay winning 23-16.
These two teams are much different now. The Packers are on a six-game winning streak with Aaron Rodgers playing at a Pro Bowl level. The Giants defense is playing at an All-Pro level that wasn't seen in October. This is the third time since 2007 that the Giants and Packers will meet in the playoffs. The previous two times were both in Green Bay, and each time the Giants won.
Alright, let's be honest, it's not worth rehashing much from this contest between the Jets and Bills. Neither team wanted to be out there on Sunday and it showed. Just days after the front office fired head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills played like a team that could care less. They allowed the Jets to do as they pleased, and New York took full advantage in a 30-10 win.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: In what will almost certainly be his final game as a Jet, Fitzpatrick finished 20-of-30 for 210 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't an overly impressive start, but considering the season he had, it was good enough to beat a helpless Bills team. The Jets should let Fitz walk. He is a free agent, and dragged this team far enough into the muck.
Darrelle Revis: Finally had his first interception of the year on a deflection that helped set up a Jets field goal. This was likely Revis' final game with the Jets. He is due $15.5 million if he stays wit the team in March. The Jets are almost certain to cut him. His lack of passion for the game, and injuries have taken their toll on this once proud football player. Bilal Powell: Powell left little doubt that he needs to be seriously considered for the lead back role in 2017. He ran for 122 yards, and finished with over 1100 all purpose yards this year. While, I have my doubts that his 5-10 frame can hold up as an every down back, Powell proved how important he can be to this teams future success.
Todd Bowles: Now for the big news. Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan will be back in 2017. According to the Daily News, Jets owner Woody Johnson told Bowles he is safe a week ago, and the embattled head coach will be back for another year to the chagrin of all Jets fans. While continuity is important, Bowles lost his team this year. The locker room was in total disarray, and the players gave up on the season. That all falls on the head coach and it's unacceptable. Bowles gets another shot, albeit on a short leash.
Christian Hackenberg: To further prove my point of a fractured locker room under Bowles' leadership, a story leaked on Sunday that the coaches think that quarterback Christian Hackenberg stinks. While this might be true (nobody but the Jets have seen him), stuff like this can not get out. That too is an indictment of the head coach.
What's Next? Tony Romo: Romo made his first appearance for the Dallas Cowboys this season in their season finale at Philadelphia and played well. He was 3-for-4 with a touchdown pass before former Jet, Mark Sanchez came in and gave the game away to the Eagles. Romo looked sharp. Do the Jets go all in on Romo this off-season, knowing full well he's 36-years-old and brittle? I suggest they pass on the temptation. Romo wants a winner, which the Jets are not. And the last time New York invested in a gunslinger like this, Brett Favre imploded in 2008.
Offensive Coordinator: Chan Gailey is likely going to be one of the assistant coaching casualties on this team. His offense was putrid in 2016, ranked 25th in total offense and 27th in passing offense this year. That is unacceptable. His coaching style is way out of style. It is time for the Jets to come into the 21st Century and get a quarterback guru to run this offense. The Jets should keep taps on Mike McCoy who was fired as head coach of the San Diego Chargers. McCoy was a solid offensive coordinator with the Broncos before becoming a NFL head coach.
2017 Opponents: Home: New England, Miami, Buffalo, Kansas City, San Diego, Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Carolina.
Road: New England, Miami, Buffalo, Denver, Oakland, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Tampa Bay.