1. Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino called out the officials this week for being more lenient and choking on their whistles during the Wild Card round. Should the playoffs be officiated a little looser than the regular season or do you side with Blandino’s strict approach to the rules?
RICHARD BOADU: The playoffs should be called more lenient than the regular season. It's the post season so it's the best of the best mashing for their dreams which is to get their hands on that Lombardi trophy. You don't want the zebra's getting in the damn way which they tend to do. This is no different than a Hail Mary pass or the final seconds of an NBA game — let the players decide the game on the field.
JAMES CARR: Please. You know I hate rules. In fact, I believe the NFL has too many rules and it's hurting player safety. Game didn't used to be this fast when wide receivers weren't treated like art at the Lourve. That's when football was about who wanted it more. Now it's more about offensive schemes and whether the defensive line can disrupt it
DJ DUNSON: The rulebook is already thicker than your average Bible. They should teach out of that thing at state universities. Of course it should be split into an NFL Officiating Rulebook 1000, 1001, the accelerated course and Advanced Officiating. We’ve seen what happens when officials call the game incredibly tight. We get situations like what happened between the 49ers and Panthers when Cam Newton spun around and collided with the shoulder of linebacker Dan Skuta. The contact was Newton’s fault, but Skuta was still hit with a 15-yard illegal helmet-to-helmet penalty. When we stick to rules too religiously, nations start wars and bad calls like that determine outcomes on the football field. In the playoffs, it ends seasons.
2. Which impact player had the worst performance of the weekend, Jimmy Graham or Andrew Luck?
BOADU: If Jimmy Graham double and tripled covered, there's not much he can do. It's up to Sean Payton to find more creative ways to get him the ball. Now, Andrew Luck, the ball is always in his hands. He's the leader of the team, so it falls on him whether or not the Colts win or lose. He's played with bi-polar quarterback disorder the past two weeks. He was able to overcome it last week, but not this week. Worst Performance of the weekend goes to Andrew Luck in a landslide.
CARR: Hard to blame a player who's being double and triple covered. Interesting, though, that Michael Bennett of the Seahawks noted that Graham can't block and is only used on passing situations (because when he wasn't, the run game was in trouble). That would have made things a lot easier for the already dominant Seattle defense to see what was coming. Still, this one is on Luck. Too many interceptions. But he's a young guy, and I'm not worried that he'll bounce back.
DUNSON: Before the game, Graham was real conspicuous. He was already the NFL’s most invisible 6-6 tight end, but he was wagging his finger in the face of Seattle’s defenders made him a target. They sent that man a message out there. Seattle has some big corners and Graham found himself unable to pick on somebody his own size. Once the game started Jimmy Graham disappeared like Barrett Robbins before the Super Bowl. Just one catch?
3. Is this the best coaching job Bill Belichick has ever done with the Pats? And what’s the most impressive part about their eighth trip to the AFC Championship during the Belichick era?
BOADU: This is easily the best coaching job Bill Belichick has done. He lost three Pro Bowlers in Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez before the season even started, and then he lost Vince Wilfork.
Mix in that they play in the weakest division in football although the AFC South might have something to say about that. Also, the fact that the AFC overall was the weaker conference making the Patriots road to the playoffs a little bit easier. Nevertheless, what Belichick was able to do with Tom Brady was nothing short of DOPE.
CARR: Yeah, it's gotta be up there, but they still haven't won the Super Bowl, so it can't claim the top spot just yet. This question gets asked almost every single year the Pats make the playoffs, especially recently. Remember Randy Moss' amazing season? Could be his top year too, but they still caught an L when it mattered most, and that's what's remembered about that season. The Pats are like the Yankees at this point. The playoffs are assumed, and the memory bank only has room for playoff glory.
DUNSON: They have on tight end on trial for at least one murder, another who suffered a season-ending knee injury after recovering from back and arm surgery and Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles. Brandon Spikes was put on IR joing Jerod May, Sebastian Vollmer, Tommy Kelly, Aaron Dobson was kept out and Kenbrell Thompkins left after suffering a head injury. Josh Boyce's injury actually forced the Pats to turn to Bubble Boy receivers Austin Collie and Danny Amendola. This is like an XFL roster.
They are one padded practice away from signing T.O. or Randy Moss to their active roster. Super Bowl or not, this has been an incredible season on both sides of the ball. Normal teams would have tanked after suffering all those injuries (see: Texans, Falcons). Belichick is still thinking a Super Bowl.