By Jason Keidel
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: a playing card that can have any value, suit, color or other property in a game at the discretion of the player holding it.
: a person or thing whose influence is unpredictable or whose qualities are uncertain.
If the NFL gods took Merriam-Webster’s word when they applied it to the first round of the playoffs, then the last two days clearly qualified.
The Seahawks, the presumed sleeper in the NFC, should be gone. But they aren’t, thanks to a Blair Walsh brain cramp in the biggest moment of his career, shanking a 27-yard field goal with seconds left.
The Bengals, up a point with 96 seconds remaining and with the ball near the red zone, should be here. But they aren’t. A Jeremy Hill fumble and a defensive meltdown signed their football death warrant.
The Packers, the dead club walking, should be gone. But they aren’t, thanks to Aaron Rodgers remembering he’s, well, Aaron Rodgers. He was playing with the moxie and adolescent abandon that made him a former Super Bowl MVP and current league MVP.
Wild-card weekend left us with more riddles than statements.
Will the Pittsburgh Steelers — a walking triage — even travel to Denver on Sunday? It could be the first time a team plays without its top two running backs, its all-world wide receiver and its Pro Bowl quarterback. Denver may be the favorite, and Peyton Manning may bogart the bold ink, but Pittsburgh’s sprawling medical report is the story.
Some of the injuries — Le’Veon Bell, Williams and Big Ben — are the result of bad luck. Mangled limbs come with a violent game. But the hit Vontaze Burfict put on Antonio Brown made Odell Beckham Jr.’s tantrum look like a temperance meeting. Adam “Pacman” Jones says that Brown flopped, a dubious assertion when you consider he’s been officially placed into the league’s concussion protocol. If Brown “acted” knocked out, then he should be considered for an Oscar.
Are the Seahawks, who travel to Carolina this weekend, the team that vaporized the Arizona Cardinals, 30-6, on the last day of the season? Or the team that lost, at home, to Carolina in Week 6 and should have lost Sunday?
Maybe it was the arctic climes, the Vikings defense or a combination thereof, but the offense that had Russell Wilson humming and Doug Baldwin catching touchdowns at a record rate came to a frigid halt in Minnesota. And Carolina’s defense is markedly better than Minnesota’s.
Green Bay finally looked like Green Bay on Sunday, with Rodgers recalling his epic talent just in time to inch closer to another Super Bowl. A date with the Cardinals is hardly comforting, however, as the Packers were shredded just two weeks ago, 38-8, at Arizona.
If there’s a silver lining, it should be the awakening of Randall Cobb and Davante Adams, both of whom snared TD passes in Washington. If James Starks and Eddie Lacy can keep some semblance of a running game, then the Packers have at least a puncher’s chance.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs left no doubt about its dominance, slapping a chokehold on the Texans from whistle to gun — literally, as Knile Davis returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, leaving Houston to gag on his smoke and never to catch its breath again.
Though the Texans were the only team in NFL history to reach the playoffs while starting four different quarterbacks, it spoke to the old football maxim — if you have several quarterbacks, you have no quarterback. Houston was a fine story this year, but the Texans need a serviceable QB if they are to be more than J.J. and the Watts.
While New England would be favored over anyone in the AFC, the Patriots are just 3-4 since wide receiver Julian Edelman was injured. And the Chiefs are scalding, the only NFL team in history to go 11-5 after starting 1-5. With 11 consecutive wins, the playoff pedigree of coach Andy Reid, the steady hand of quarterback Alex Smith and the emergence of rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, Kansas City is perhaps the last team Brady and Belichick want to face Saturday.
It’s the first time in NFL history that all four road teams won in the first round of the playoffs. The odds may be stacked against the road teams this weekend, but there are still four wild cards in the deck.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel