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PICKING THROUGH THE WEEKEND TRASH: FIVE THOUGHTS ON THE NFL PLAYOFFS

DEPTH RULES ALL
There’s a reason why the New England Patriots have been so successful over the past decade. And why organizations like the New York Jets continue to flounder. In today’s NFL, you need depth. Plain and simple. With the amount of injuries that team’s deal with on a week-to-week basis, you need reliable backups. The Patriots have understood this philosophy for over a decade now, and it continues to pay off. Take Sunday’s, 41-28, win over Houston. Danny Woodhead goes down early in the game with a thumb injury and is unable to return. Insert Shane Vereen: a speedy second year running back from California who has shown flashes of brilliance but has also been buried in the depth chart behind Stevan Ridley, and Woodhead, and even the immortal Brandon Bolden. Three touchdowns and 129 total yards later, Vereen is no longer considered a fourth-stringer. In fact, he essentially took over on Sunday as both the No. 2 running back AND as the No. 2 wide receiver behind Wes Welker. Five catches for 83 yards? Not bad for a kid who had caught eight balls all season. The Patriots took a fourth-string running back and turned him into Houston’s worst nightmare. What other team can do that?

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Now, in that very same game, the Patriots would go on to lose Rob Gronkowski (again) to a broken forearm (again). That’s okay, though, because your No. 2 tight end, Aaron Hernandez, is as good as any other starting tight end in the league.  Meanwhile, Michael Hoomanawanui continues to be serviceable off the bench as well. Later in the game, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones goes down with an ankle injury. No worries, apparently Justin Francis and Trevor Scott are functional replacements. Who woulda known? The Patriots have been utilizing this philosophy for years. They continue to spend money on extra depth instead of giving superstars (not named Tom Brady) long term deals, and it continues to pay off in the long run. No other team in the league gets the most of their scrubs. No other team can pick up practice squad shwag and turn them into legitimate backups. They’ve been doing with the offensive line and the secondary, in particular, for years now, and somehow it continues to work. It’s awfully similar to the philosophy that holds true in Lumpster’s Dumpster: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

THANK GOD FOR THE AQIB TALIB TRADE
Speaking of the secondary, I can think we can all agree that trading for Aqib Talib may have saved New England’s season. I mean, considering that the likes of Sterling Moore, Sergio Brown, and James Ihedigbo patrolled the defensive backfield for the Pats in the postseason a year ago, this move was pretty much a blessing from God. A gift from the Lord if you will. Talib is a pretty good player. Not a superstar, franchise cornerback, but pretty solid overall. That being said, it’s the corresponding moves that the Pats were able to make upon his arrival that have made all the difference.

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For starters, it takes Patrick Chung right out of the equation (there’s a reason he got one defensive snap on Sunday) and has allowed Devin McCourty to shift to free safety. After a terrible sophomore season at cornerback, McCourty has looked like a natural as the deep safety and might just develop into one of the best “centerfielders” in the game over time. Steve Gregory has played well enough as the strong safety, and again, with Patrick Chung finally relegated to the bench, rookie Tavon Wilson has been able to step in as the third safety/dime back and play well enough. The biggest development of the whole reshuffling of the secondary has been the steady improvement of rookie Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard has stepped in and taken over as the No.2 cornerback behind Talib, while Kyle Arrington moves to the slot cornerback position where he belongs. To make a long story short, as a result of all the movement that followed the Talib trade, New England’s secondary no longer sucks a giant bag of dicks. Amen to that.

NO ONE LIKES YOU PEYTON MANNING
If I had a sweet birthday party and I got to invite all my favorite NFL quarterbacks, Peyton Manning would not be invited. Words cannot express how much I would not like to see Peyton Manning at my awesome birthday party. On the football field, I respect Manning for what he’s been able to do… in the regular season. He’s put up some gaudy numbers with the Colts and now the Broncos….in the regular season. But, as we all know by now, you gotta win in the playoffs, bruhhh!!!! A 9-11 career postseason record? That’s not even mediocre!!!! In Saturday’s, 38-35, thrilling double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Manning threw a costly pick-six, then fumbled, and then threw another awful interception in overtime that essentially ended Denver’s season. Not bad for this year’s All-Pro Quarterback, eh?

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On the other hand, Manning was outplayed by the one and only Joe Flacco. I repeat, Joe Motherfucking Flacco. With their season on the line, this guy completed one of the best 70 yard bombs you’ll ever see to the tie the game at 35 in the final minute of regulation and now has a career playoff record of 7-4. Is he the next Tom Brady? Hell no. But, with a little help from an atrocious Broncos secondary, Joe Flacco posted his best outing of the season and is slowly establishing himself as a half-way decent postseason quarterback.

JIM HARBAUGH MIGHT JUST HAVE THE LAST LAUGH
Remember how much shit Jim Harbaugh caught for naming Colin Kaepernick as his starting quarterback over Alex Smith? At the time, it seemed warranted. But two months later, Kaepernick put together a record-breaking performance against the Green Bay Packers to catapult the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship game. Alex Smith basically did the same thing last year, but the team had to win in a different manner, and he certainly didn’t break any records. Smith is a game manager, while Kaepernick is a game changer. Big difference. With Smith under center, you control the clock, limit turnovers, and let your defense lead the way. With Kaepernick under center, apparently you can hang a 45-spot on the scoreboard with ease and expect to get 444 total yards and four touchdowns from your quarterback.

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This season, the top two threats to the 49ers (Falcons & Packers) in the NFC boast talented, high-scoring offenses that can light it up against any defense (including the Niners). Harbaugh must have seen some shootouts coming San Francisco’s way, and under Alex Smith, you gotta wonder if the Niners would have been able to hang with Green Bay this weekend, nevermind Atlanta in the NFC title game. So far, the decision to start the unproven, but incredibly gifted sophomore has paid off, and if Kaepernick continues to thrive the way he has under Harbaugh, San Francisco could very well be riding their young gunslinger to the Super Bowl. Not just this year, but for years to come too.

LEAVE IT TO ATLANTA TO RUIN THE FUN
For whatever reason, the Dumpster has always had a soft spot for the Seattle Seahawks. Even when it was Jon Kitna handing off to Ricky Watters, or Matt Hasselbeck throwing bombs to Darrell Jackson, for some strange reason we support Seattle in the Dumpster. With the way things had been going this year, it seemed like Pete Carroll’s squad was destined for greatness. I mean, man did the Seahawks had something special going this season. Magic brewing weekend after weekend. So it was fitting that on Sunday, Russell Wilson and company overcame a 20-0 second half deficit to take a 28-27 lead on a Marshawn Lynch touchdown with 30 seconds left to play.

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But then Matt Ryan had to go ahead and be a dickhead and ruin the fun and solidify why he is an elite NFL quarterback by leading the Falcons down the field in less than 30 seconds to set up the game-winning 49-yard field goal. I guess Matty Ice had to win a playoff game at some point, and I do feel that the Tony Gonzalez Farewell Tour deserves the same amount of respect as the Ray Lewis Farewell Tour, but the Dirty Birds really spoiled what would have been an unbelievable come-from-behind victory for the Seahawks. It’s a damn shame.

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