Philadelphia, PA – Karma has a funny way of not only finding controversial decisions but magnifying their cause and effect.
Any franchise which handled Robert Griffin III the same way as the Washington Redskins would be put under the looking glass, but the 'Skins are under a high- powered microscope, thanks in large part to the city they call home.
The nation's capital is often the center of media feeding frenzies for obvious reasons, but sports usually play the distraction to some serious real world issues. Griffin's case, however, is such a stark contrast to the way Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals handled their own franchise player, Stephen Strasburg, it was bound to set off some serious debate.
Strasburg, the Nats' top pitcher, was just one year removed from returning from Tommy John surgery last season, and was having a spectacular year before being shut down as a precautionary measure. This despite the fact the Nationals were on their way to the playoffs, not exactly a common occurrence for the franchise.
There have been no real definitive studies in MLB regarding innings after Tommy John surgery, but Nats general manager Mike Rizzo felt the prudent thing to do was to save his young flame-thrower in the hopes of extending what he expects to be a spectacular career.
Some orthopedists have said that pitchers returning from the elbow surgery can sometime show signs of fatigue, which can lead to poor mechanics and serious injury. Others say there is no research that concludes pitchers who cut their workload after Tommy John surgery are less likely to get injured down the road.
It was a controversial decision rooted in one question: Why risk the rest of Strasburg's career for one season?
Winning, for one.
Without Strasburg, the Nationals lost in the opening round of the baseball playoffs to the St. Louis Cardinals, and it reeks of hubris to expect another postseason berth in 2013. After all, the franchise has been around since 1969 and last made the playoffs in 1981.
The Redskins, of course, have a much beefier resume than the Nats, but the days of Joe Gibbs winning three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks are long gone.
Perhaps that's why Washington was so intent on allowing a clearly hobbled Griffin on the field this past Sunday during a 24-14 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The dynamic Griffin eventually left the setback in the fourth quarter after falling to the field in agony.
The team lost on two fronts when its worst fears were confirmed on Tuesday after noted orthopedic surgeon and 'Skins team doctor James Andrews examined RG3's knee and determined that Griffin's ACL, which he also tore back in 2009 at Baylor, required reconstructive surgery.
Griffin originally injured the LCL in his right knee in a Week 15 win over the Baltimore Ravens. What was supposed to be a four-week injury turned in to just one week of rest before a clearly limited Griffin returned to lead the Redskins over both Philadelphia and Dallas to win the NFC East crown.
Both the ACL and LCL in RG3's right knee were scheduled to be repaired on Wednesday with recovery time projected to be as little as six months and up to a year.
Could it have been avoided?
RG3 certainly wanted to play just like he wanted to play after suffering a concussion earlier in the season. Andrews, despite some waffling to protect 'Skins coach Mike Shanahan, clearly wasn't comfortable with it, however.
In the end, hindsight will be the only judge.
Surely RG3 will use Adrian Peterson's amazing comeback as his template. Andrews repaired A.P.'s 2011 ACL tear and the Vikings' All-Pro put together an MVP-type season.
"He has defied all odds," Andrews told the St. Paul Pioneer Press when talking about Peterson. "If you operate on the right athlete, it makes you look pretty darn good as a physician. Adrian was that genetic athlete who could do what he's done."
Andrews admits that was an anomaly, though.
"I say an athlete after (an) ACL (tear) is much better the second year back than the first year back," Andrews said. "First year back is a wash. After 24 months, (an athlete is) a lot more mature and confident."
For every Peterson, there are dozens of players who never return to their prior form. Some never even reach the field again.
Shanahan is hoping RG3 is another "right athlete" and not just the NFL's version of a Supernova, a player who shined so brightly for a short period before flaming out.
In fact, Shanahan's future employment is no longer tied up in X's and O's or even wins and losses -- it's at the mercy of Andrews' skills and Griffin's genetics.
The Divisional Round: (All Times Eastern)
Baltimore (11-6) at Denver (13-3), Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 9
THE SKINNY: Baltimore travels to Denver to face the Broncos in a divisional- round matchup the Ravens hope is far more successful than their 34-17 loss to Peyton Manning and Co. back in Week 15.
The Ravens punched their ticket to Denver with a 24-9 win over Indianapolis last weekend when quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons.
"We're looking forward to this," said Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who had all of his 145 receiving yards against the Colts in the second half, the most after intermission in a postseason game since Jerry Rice collected 157 in Super Bowl XXIII. "I was hoping we'd get Denver again. This time, we'll make it different."
The Broncos, who enjoyed a first-round bye, are the AFC's No. 1 seed and have home-field advantage throughout the conference bracket. Manning comes in after a spectacular first season in the Rockies and with 5,389 career postseason passing yards, the third-most in NFL history behind Brett Favre (5,855) and Joe Montana (5,772).
PREDICTION: Broncos 24, Ravens 17
Green Bay (12-5) at San Francisco (11-4-1), Saturday, 8 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 3
THE SKINNY: The Packers and 49ers opened the year on Kickoff Weekend but things have changed drastically since, especially for San Francisco, as the two teams get set to do battle for the sixth time in the postseason.
Green Bay has won four of the previous five meetings in the playoffs -- most recently in 2001 -- but San Francisco defeated the Packers in Week 1 by a 30-22 score at Lambeau Field. That, however, was with veteran Alex Smith at quarterback and second-year man Colin Kaepernick has since taken the reins for Jim Harbaugh's club.
The 49ers will be hosting a divisional round game for the second consecutive year and are perhaps the NFL's most talented team with nine different players selected to the Pro Bowl.
"We lost the NFC Championship Game at home last year," said safety Donte Whitner. "We want to take that next step this year and that's our goal. We want to win the first playoff game, win the second and then go to the Super Bowl. We feel like we're a top team in the NFL."
Green Bay, which defeated the division-rival Minnesota Vikings 24-10, in a wild card matchup last weekend, has other ideas, however.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who comes from nearby Chico, Calif., will make his first ever start in San Francisco and enters the game with the highest postseason passer rating (105.4) in league history, with 16 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. This past weekend, Rodgers, perhaps the best signal-caller in the game, threw for 274 yards and had a stellar 104.9 passer rating against the Vikings.
"We're a little thankful that we get the chance to play San Francisco again," said Packers fullback John Kuhn, who scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) in the wild card win. "They really whooped up on us the first game of the season. We're looking forward to going out there and playing a better game."
PREDICTION: Packers 24, 49ers 20
Seattle (12-5) at Atlanta (13-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Falcons by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The NFC's top seed, the Atlanta Falcons, will return to action after a first-round bye. Led by Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons are looking to translate their regular season success into the postseason.
Ryan has 56 wins as a starting quarterback, the most in a player's first five seasons in NFL history, but has yet to taste victory in the playoffs.
"Matt's had a great regular season for us this year," said Atlanta head coach Mike Smith. "He's gotten the individual accolades. He's led our team through some tough ball games and been able to pull them out. I think those experiences will help us in the postseason."
The Seahawks, meanwhile, defeated the Redskins, 24-14, in Landover this past Sunday. Seattle erased a 14-0 deficit in that one -- its largest of the season -- en route the franchise's first road playoff win since 1983.
"It was only two touchdowns, but it's still a big comeback and, in this setting and with this crowd, it's a marvelous statement about the guys' resolve and what is going on," Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not about how you start, but how you finish."
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw a touchdown pass -- his 27th, the most in a single season by a rookie (including postseason) -- and running back Marshawn Lynch matched the franchise single-game playoff record with 132 rushing yards with one score against Washington. Seattle suffered two significant injuries, however, losing defensive end Chris Clemons to a torn ACL and place-kicker Steven Hauschka to a calf injury.
PREDICTION: Falcons 27, Seahawks 17
Houston (13-4) at New England (12-4), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 9 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Texans and Patriots will meet for the second time this season and the first time in the playoffs. In Week 14, New England raced out to a 28-0 lead on its way to a 42-14 rout, one which set off a late-season 1-3 slump for Houston and enabled the Patriots to go one and snare a bye,
"It's meaningful for our whole team what we're trying to accomplish," said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw four touchdown passes in the Week 14 win. "You don't take these things for granted. It's a privilege to be in this position and to be one of the teams to have played well enough over the course of the year to deserve the first-round bye."
The Texans earned the trip back to Foxboro with a 19-13 win over Cincinnati last weekend. Houston running back Arian Foster rushed for 140 yards and a touchdown in that one and became the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of his first three playoff games.
"We understand the challenge that we have," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. "That is what is awesome about this league; it's the ultimate challenge. The Patriots have been at this level for a long time. We had a rough trip up there last time, but we've earned our right to go back. We want to go back and play a lot better than we did last time."
Brady is one of five players to be named Super Bowl MVP multiple times (Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII), and enters the postseason with a 16-6 record and a .727 postseason winning percentage, the third-best mark in NFL history, trailing only Terry Bradshaw (.737) and Troy Aikman (.733).
"You should take full advantage of every opportunity because you never know if you'll get the opportunity again," Brady said. "Regardless if this is your first, second, third year or if it's your 10th or 11th, you never know if you'll make it back."
PREDICTION: Patriots 31, Texans 17