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Is the NFL still a passing league? NFL Unfiltered: Divisional Playoff Edition

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Nothing gets my juices flowing more than when someone says the NFL is a passing league.  

It is one of those subtexts that are nothing but a false narrative perpetuated by fantasy team owners and higher profile football analysts, who once played on offense.  

That is no knock on the millions of Americans who participate in one of the country’s most popular pastimes. It takes discipline and skill to decipher all that statistical minutia every summer. Moreover, it requires a full commitment of both time and money.  

It is also not meant to denigrate the contributions of analysts like former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, whose knowledge makes us all a bit wiser.    

Still, it is time to recognize the obvious: you cannot pass your way to a Super Bowl title.

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 Perhaps all the numbers quarterbacks accumulate throughout the regular season lulls analysts into thinking championship teams must pass 40-50 times per game.  Maybe year after year of watching the NFL through eyes focused mainly on catches, yards and touchdowns makes it difficult to accept the game’s realities.  

Either way, a buddy of mine told me he hopes the championship games are “better” than the divisional playoffs.  He is a Washington Redskins’ fan, so it is possible he is lukewarm about football in general because his squad stinks. Or, maybe the playoffs prevent him from scratching his fantasy football itch and he just cannot enjoy the true essence of pro football in January.  

But the reality is, the playoffs are about terrific three yard runs, defensive tackles fighting through blocks, outstanding open field tackles and a few good throws mixed in.  

Consider the tactics of head coaches Sean Payton and Bill Belichick, two of the smartest and most respected coaches in the league.  Both made a concerted effort in their respective playoff games to take the ball away from their future hall of fame quarterbacks.  

Is that enough to alter your thinking?  If winning in the playoffs is about throwing the football all over the yard, why stifle Drew Brees and Tom Brady in an elimination game?  

Imagine being the head coach of a quarterback who threw for over 5,000 yards for the third time in his career.  Now imagine preparing for a playoff game and realizing your best chance to win is to prevent said quarterback from throwing too many times.  

Unfortunately, the NFL’s media machine completely ignored reality. Instead, it focused on Payton’s “brilliant” adjustment and tailback Mark Ingram’s emergence. And while both of those storylines are accurate, they fall short of the more interesting subplot, which is Payton knew a lot of passing wouldn’t work.  Even from Brees.   

That missed opportunity by analysts is precisely why most casual observers and fantasy football participants believe the NFL is a passing league.  

But when Payton changes his philosophical approach to win a playoff game, it proves the NFL is still about running the football, playing good defense and passing to keep opponents honest.  

Believing otherwise is sheer fantasy.  

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THINGS THE PUNDITS CAN’T OR WON’T SAY: Divisional playoffs

-Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning’s apologists are quick to remind us Manning did not always play on the best teams. They ignore the fact the 2006 Indianapolis Colts won as a Wildcard team.  They beat the second seeded Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore and defeated the top-seeded Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.  

-Manning’s incessant need to control an offense more than anything else, is the reason he has a losing record in the playoffs.  

-These current Broncos are nowhere near the best supporting cast of Manning’s career. And it isn’t even close.  

-Belichick’s love affair with the forward pass cost Brady more championships.  

-Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is playing as poorly as any playoff-winning quarterback in recent memory.  If the trend continues, and the Seahawks go on to win Super Bowl XLVIII, it is a testament to playground football everywhere.

-It makes sense Wilson is out of rhythm; the Seahawks offense doesn’t allow him to get comfortable.  

-Thanks to ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, another popular narrative is that some quarterbacks only focus on their primary read during a pass play.  He is partly correct, but he fails to mention ALL quarterbacks prefer the first read on a pass play.  That includes Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who threw an interception on the game’s third play because he focused on, you guessed it…his first read.  

-Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera never managed to calm his team.  He prepared the Panthers like the ex-linebacker he is and it cost them dearly.  

-All the jawing and extra-curricular stuff after whistles are boring.  At some point the officials ought to start tossing players from the game.  

-In my view, the San Francisco 49ers are better than the Seattle Seahawks.  But it is up to head coach Jim Harbaugh to approach this game like former 49er Alex Smith is still the quarterback.  

-It sounds crazy, but in the 49ers/Seahawks game, sacks and punts are positive plays.  In fact, any play that doesn’t result in a turnover, is positive.   

 Earl Myers is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia area.  He closely follows North America's four major sports leagues but just about any sporting event gets his attention.  His goal is to provoke a little thought in his readers.

Contact Earl at emyersiii@hotmail.com

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