NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Divisional Round

For as incredible as the divisional round was last season with road teams going 3-1 and every game decided on the final play, the 2022 slate was one of the worst in history.

  • Zero lead changes in the second half.
  • Three wire-to-wire wins.
  • Three home favorites won by 7+ points.
  • One game-winning drive that was settled on the first snap of the fourth quarter in a tied game, leading to the only pathetic 4QC attempt of the weekend.
  • A 7-point win marred by a major quarterback injury.
  • Three of the losing teams failed to score more than 12 points, which has not happened in the divisional round since the 2002 season.

I would rank it as the third-worst divisional round since 1970 behind only 1992 and 2000.

In 1992, you had three wins by 21+ points, and the closest game was a forgettable one in San Francisco with the 49ers beating Washington 20-13. Washington (13) scored as many points as the other three losers that weekend combined that’s how bad it was.

2000’s highlight game was that horseshit outcome in Tennessee when the top-seeded Titans choked 24-10 to the Ravens, losing on a blocked field goal return touchdown and Eddie George tipping a pick-six to Ray Lewis.

In the end, 2022 is just copying the same final four as 2021, giving us Bengals-Chiefs in Arrowhead, and the 49ers on the road against the latest NFC flash in the pan who everyone will say can win for years to come when this might legitimately be their best and final shot at a ring.

Does it play out the same way as last year? We’ll see next week, but for now, let’s try to quickly put a bow on this dud of a weekend. I can remember staying up super late last year in finishing the recap of 42-36 and the other games, still riding a sense of awe from my favorite weekend of the NFL year.

But this was not much fun this year, and I guess scoring streaks don’t mean what they used to when the teams in question have a history of coming up short this time of year.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Cowboys at 49ers: Mr. Self Destruct on Repeat All Summer

One team did this:

The other did this:

Pretty obvious which team won, and which team lost again even if you didn’t see the game.

There are other plays I could point to, like two classic 2022 Dallas interceptions thrown by Dak Prescott, or how the defense failed to hang onto multiple Brock Purdy pick opportunities. Tight end Dalton Schultz also made some boneheaded plays at the end of the game as he is no George Kittle, that’s for sure.

But the Cowboys’ destructive ways finally caught up to them even if the 49ers certainly didn’t play their A game. Kicker Brett Maher had another extra point miss, but it was blocked this time. Still, it looked like he was going to miss it if it wasn’t blocked.

That second Prescott interception in the red zone just before halftime was a killer. Instead of Dallas scoring, the 49ers turned that into a field goal and 9-6 lead as both defenses did a lot of good things. The 49ers also caught a break when Tony Pollard suffered a game-ending injury in the first half right before the last pick.

The only points of the third quarter went to Dallas on a 25-yard field goal – we found a distance Maher can still hit from – after the 49ers fumbled a punt return, so that wasn’t really earned by the offense.

Before what became the game-winning drive, the Cowboys had a chance to go for a fourth-and-5 at the San Francisco 40. They took a delay of game penalty and punted. Very conservative decision by Mike McCarthy there that proved costly.

On the second play of the drive, Kittle made that ridiculously athletic catch from above for a 30-yard gain into Dallas territory. Kittle had both 49ers’ 30-yard plays in this game, but that was the big one. Purdy’s only other positive gain on the drive was an 8-yard gain on a little throw to Christian McCaffrey.

The drive could have stalled on a third-down sack, but the Cowboys were penalized for defensive holding, giving the 49ers a new set of downs. McCaffrey walked in for a 2-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter to take a 16-9 lead.

The Cowboys ended up settling for a 43-yard field goal after a blown blocking assignment on first down blew up the drive with a 4-yard loss. Maher actually made the kick normally and it was 16-12.

Dan Quinn’s defense did a good job in the game against a team that was scoring well over 30 points per game with Purdy, but you can complain about these back-to-back scoring drives that were both long and impactful in the second half. The 49ers put together another one, taking 7:59 off the clock and adding a field goal, leaving Prescott with 2:59 left to try tying the game at 19 or taking the lead on a two-point conversion.

This was plenty of time, but similar to last year when the Cowboys had a stinker of a drive in a 23-17 game in the wild card round, they quickly folded here too, going three-and-out. Prescott was sacked and the Cowboys had to hurry the punt team to save the two-minute warning.

Remember last year’s craptacular ending with the infamous quarterback draw with no timeouts left? It took some bad game management by the 49ers to get Dallas that opportunity, and something similar would happen here as well. The 49ers came out throwing with 2:05 left, which was perfectly fine given the upcoming clock stoppage for the two-minute warning. But the short throw was carried so well by Kittle for 11 YAC that it was almost a meaningless first down as the clock stopped with Dallas still holding all three timeouts.

I’m not saying it would be easy for Kittle to give up on a play, but a gain of 9 yards would have really been the best thing possible there to burn clock. Two plays later, Elijah Mitchell did something much worse. He got to the outside and ran for a 13-yard gain to get a first down that could have burned most of the clock, but he ran out of bounds instead of sliding down once he got the first.

There would be no third first down gained on the drive. The 49ers punted and the Cowboys were left in the unenviable position of having to drive 94 yards in 45 seconds for a touchdown with no timeouts.

But at least it was a chance thanks to the Mitchell mistake. Prescott nearly pissed it away with a sack for a safety, but Arik Armstead seemed to pull up on the hit, which Prescott absorbed and threw the ball away from.

Schultz caught a couple short ones, though he didn’t get out of bounds properly on one, which led to the clock rolling. Then he casually didn’t drag his second foot down on another play with 6 seconds left, costing the Cowboys 15 yards and an outside shot at a Hail Mary from 61 yards out.

All you could really do was a lateral-filled play at this point, 76 yards away from the end zone. The Cowboys were lining up Ezekiel Elliott at center in a unique formation, so you at least expected something unique they clearly worked on. But after the 49ers took a timeout, the play was ran, Elliott was pancaked, and Dak threw a short pass to a receiver who was immediately tackled for an 8-yard gain. Didn’t even get a lateral off.

What the hell was the point of that?

Oddly enough, you can say the same about every overhyped Dallas Cowboys season since 1996, because once again they are eliminated short of the NFC Championship Game. We will now see a fifth rookie quarterback start a Conference Championship Game since the Cowboys were last in it. Purdy joins Mark Sanchez (2009 Jets) and Joe Flacco (2008 Ravens) as the only three rookies to win multiple playoff games in NFL history.

But Purdy is going to have to be better in Philadelphia next week than he was here against Dallas if he wants to become the first rookie quarterback to start a Super Bowl.

As for the Cowboys, I’m not on the fire McCarthy and trade Dak bandwagon, but I do think there is a serious limitation on how far you can expect this team to go this time of year with them leading the way. I just struggle to see the better alternatives in 2023, because last I checked, McCarthy’s one Super Bowl win is still a year fresher than Sean Payton’s.

This league is hard, and yet the 49ers are going to their sixth NFC title game in the last 12 years with two head coaches and four different starting quarterbacks.

Bengals at Bills: Buffalo’s Emotional Season Meets Flat Finale

I am not very keen on calling this a big upset. I thought the opening 4.5-point spread for the Bills was too high, and I thought the 5.5 and 6-point spreads for the weekend were even more ridiculous. I was consistent from Week 17 to this week in choosing Buffalo to win by a field goal (27-24) in a close game like how every Cincinnati playoff game is close the last two years.

But this was shockingly one sided, and not in any way that made any sense going into this matchup:

  • For all the talk about Buffalo’s turnovers this year, the game’s only turnover was a meaningless Josh Allen interception with 1:02 left to play and the Bills down 27-10.
  • The game’s only turnover on downs, often a hidden turnover in the stat sheet, was halfway through the fourth quarter, and again, Buffalo was already down 27-10.
  • The Bills had just eight offensive drives for the game, and two of them were with a 27-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.
  • The Bengals were down three starting offensive linemen coming in, yet it was the Bills who looked like the team facing that dilemma.
  • While each quarterback was sacked once, Joe Burrow was rarely pressured while Allen was frequently pressured.
  • In the regular season, Buffalo was No. 7 in rushing yards and No. 2 in yards per carry. Cincinnati was No. 29 in both categories.
  • But the Bengals rushed for 172 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in their second-biggest rushing game of the year, and the Bills had 63 yards on 3.3 yards per carry, their fewest rushing yards in a game since 32 yards in the 2020 AFC divisional round vs. Baltimore.
  • Buffalo averaged 28.4 points per game in the regular season, ranked No. 2 in the league, but the 10 points were the fewest scored since last year’s 14-10 loss vs. Patriots in extreme wind.
  • The Bengals scored a touchdown on the opening drive and led wire-to-wire in the snow, once considered to be a home-field advantage for the Bills.

While there was more than an inch of snow as the weather people incorrectly predicted this week, remember when the Bills had a home-field advantage in the elements? That seems to be gone with this offense. The defense also looked incredibly soft and unable to put together a pass rush to take advantage of Cincinnati’s line, which played far better than Buffalo’s.

The Bills are the first top-five scoring offense to be held to 10 points in a home playoff loss since the 2005 Giants lost 23-0 to the Panthers in the NFC wild card.

That was Eli Manning’s first playoff start under Tom Coughlin. The Bills are supposed to be an experienced playoff team, and they were the Super Bowl favorites for most of this year.

The 2002 Eagles also lost 27-10 at home to the 2002 Buccaneers, an all-time elite defense. That’s one of the closest examples to this game, but at least those teams had some history. This was the first Burrow vs. Allen matchup, and they are scheduled to meet next regular season in Cincinnati. If this is how the Bills are going to handle one of their main rivals in the AFC, then the long wait for a Super Bowl may have just gotten a little longer.

This was really bad for the Bills, who looked incapable of forcing the Bengals into a negative play on their first two drives as Cincy quickly led 14-0. In between, Allen was pressured on a third down, missed Stefon Diggs on a deep ball, and the offense went three-and-out.

Long drives defined the second quarter with the Bills finally getting on the board with an Allen touchdown run, but the Bengals nearly matched it on their own lengthy drive. A Ja’Marr Chase touchdown was overturned after replay showed him losing control of the ball out of bounds. Had he caught that in the middle of the field, it would have stood as a completion. But we still have difficult rules in place for touchdowns, and I’m not sure how I feel about that philosophically. Should touchdowns be held to a higher standard, or should the final yard be no different from the rest? Either way, I think they got the call right this time, and that cost the Bengals an extra 4 points.

But the Bills could not capitalize on that break. Allen threw three straight incompletions from the Cincinnati 41 and the Bills punted on their final drive of the half. The Bills started the third quarter with another long drive that consumed half the quarter, but they again stalled in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal and 17-10 lead.

That sequence really did the Bills in. They had to do better than 3 points on two drives that took up so much time. There was no sense of what the game plan was for the Bills outside of hoping Allen would throw some lasers and run through some people. He led the team in rushing with 26 yards as the two backs who were so good late in the year had 11 carries for 37 yards. Seven receivers had multiple catches, but Stefon Diggs (4-of-10 for 35 yards) and Gabe Davis (2-of-4 for 34 yards) were quiet.

Meanwhile, the Bengals converted a huge third-and-10 after the Bills lost all sight of tight end Hayden Hurst. That led to another touchdown, a 1-yard run by Joe Mixon to make it 24-10.

The Bills quickly went three-and-out and punted on a fourth-and-2 from their own 20. They’d never see the ball again without facing a three-score deficit.

Incredibly, this was the deficit for Buffalo at the start of its eight drives:

  • -7 (three-and-out)
  • -14 (three-and-out)
  • -14 (touchdown)
  • -10 (punt)
  • -10 (field goal)
  • -14 (three-and-out)
  • -17 (turnover on downs)
  • -17 (interception)

The Bills trailed by double digits on their final seven drives. In the first 17 games this season, the Bills had five drives where they trailed by double digits, and they were all in the Baltimore game where they came back from 20-3 down to win.

There would be no comeback this time. Only a massive letdown, the biggest one yet for Buffalo in this era. The Bengals drove for a field goal early in the fourth quarter to take a 27-10 lead. The Bills had a chance to kick a late field goal in a three-score game, but what good would that really do with half a quarter left against a team you cannot stop? Maybe you can get away with kicking there against the Texans, but it made sense to go for it. Allen did not find anyone open, and his desperation pass fell incomplete.

Game all but over there. The Bengals burned five more minutes and Allen added the irrelevant pick after the Bills were thoroughly dominated without any turnovers.

It was such a flat ending to one emotional rollercoaster of a season. You have to admit, the America’s Game for this team would have been quite the watch if they won it all.

  • Opening night destruction of the defending champion Rams
  • Melting down in Miami before coming back from 20-3 to beat the Ravens
  • Allen’s monster passing day vs. Steelers in Kenny Pickett’s first start, a 38-3 rout
  • The game-winning drive in Week 6’s showdown in Kansas City
  • Allen’s elbow injury at the end of the Jets game
  • The insane fumble and everything else that happened in the Minnesota overtime loss
  • The Cleveland game getting moved to Detroit after six feet of snow hit Buffalo
  • Von Miller’s torn ACL on Thanksgiving and Allen’s frozen rope to Diggs for the game-winning drive
  • The game-winning drive in the snow against Miami on a Saturday night
  • The Damar Hamlin cardiac arrest that stunned the sports world in Cincinnati, the first game cancelled for non-labor reasons since 1935
  • Nyheim Hines returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the next game against New England; one of two returns for him that day in eliminating the Patriots
  • A wild 34-31 win over the Dolphins in the wild card

With the break of getting this game in Buffalo instead of a neutral field, and the ankle injury to Patrick Mahomes on Saturday, this just seemed like a team of destiny this year with one hell of a championship story to tell.

Now, tale as old as time, it’s just a 57th-straight Buffalo season that will end without winning the Super Bowl. In some ways, this ending is much worse than the 13 seconds in Kansas City last year. At least that team had some fight. This team looked like a soft dome team not ready for the weather, which is an insane thing to say about a Buffalo team, but that’s where they are now.

I prefaced this season talking about The Five-Year Rule for both the Bills and Ravens. No team has ever won its first championship by starting the same quarterback for the same head coach for more than five seasons.

In picking Buffalo to win the Super Bowl, I had them beating Baltimore and Lamar Jackson in the AFC Championship Game next week. Now, the Bengals eliminated both and it’ll either be another Kansas City or Cincinnati Super Bowl.

The five-year window has closed on the pairings of Sean McDermott/Allen and John Harbaugh/Jackson. It’s not looking good for their futures together. Getting into battles with Mahomes and the Chiefs is one thing, but now that you’ve let Cincinnati officially move past you in the AFC too, it may take significant changes for these teams to get over the hump.

But with no one in the AFC seemingly able to stop this Cincinnati team, their confidence is at an all-time high. Even if you’re a trash corner like Eli Apple, it is hard not to be this cocky after a 27-10 win in Buffalo.

Who dey think gonna beat them Bengals? Might have to be an NFC team with a great pass rush again. At the very least, I’m happy to see there will not be a neutral-field conference championship game. I think that would be a terrible move for the league to try in the future.

Jaguars at Chiefs: Quick, Break the Henne Emergency Glass

We’ll see if Patrick Mahomes can make it 3-for-3 in appearing in the Super Bowl after narrowly avoiding a season-ending injury. He did it in 2019 when he dislocated his kneecap in Denver and only missed two full games. He did it in 2020 when he tweaked a nerve during the third quarter of the divisional round against Cleveland, leaving the game as Chad Henne was able to come off the bench and direct a 22-17 win before Mahomes returned for the AFC Championship Game a week later.

But this is not a good time for Mahomes to suffer a high-ankle sprain with the Bengals coming to town next week. We’ve already seen the Chiefs go 0-3 with a healthy Mahomes against that team. Now his athleticism will no doubt be compromised, and that could be a big problem as this game on Saturday showed.

It’s a shame too because Mahomes came out firing with his A+ game against Jacksonville. That opening 83-yard touchdown drive was perfection as the Jacksonville defense had the right approach many times, but he continued to find different throwing angles and showed off the full extent of his abilities.

After Jacksonville matched the touchdown set up by a long kick return for a short field, it looked like we might get a legit shootout. But on the second Kansas City possession, the ankle injury happened to Mahomes:

Clearly hobbled, Mahomes stayed in the game, but I thought it was negligent to put him back in the game a la Robert Griffin II a decade ago. Then to call a stretch run play on the first snap since the injury? Even dumber. Mahomes completed his first two passes with the injury, but they were both short, and his last throw was an ugly one, leading to a field goal.

Thankfully, the team did take him out and he went to the locker room for an x-ray and treatment. It was a tough spot for Chad Henne to enter the game at his own 2-yard line, but he is a veteran who has been in the offense for years. He may not have did anything individually spectacular on the drive, but he did exactly what you could ask of a veteran backup: make smart plays and protect the ball. Henne almost had a pick on an early throw, but it was clearly tipped at the line and you could see he had the right decision. Would have been a bad luck pick, but the drive continued, and Isiah Pacheco helped out with a 39-yard run to eat up nearly half the field.

But Henne had a 4-of-7 success rate on the drive, converted a pair of third downs, and he finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce, who looked unstoppable in Saturday’s role of eating up the Jaguars on option routes and just sitting in the open area underneath. He’d finished with 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.

Imagine Henne leading a 98-yard touchdown drive in a playoff game before Mahomes. Besides taking a knee to take the game to half with the Chiefs up 17-10, that one 98-yard touchdown drive was all Henne had to do in this game, but what a great job from the backup quarterback.

Mahomes returned for the second half after what had to be one hell of a drug cocktail. I did not think we’d see him again with that shot of him on the sideline cheering Henne’s drive on, and with the Chiefs leading. But with the Jaguars only down a score and some likely begging to play from the league’s MVP, Mahomes was back in there.

That first drive did not look good, and the second would fail too after a third-and-1 run came up short with the direct snap to Noah Gray. But the Jaguars were failing to threaten on offense with far too many screens and passes behind the line of scrimmage from Trevor Lawrence.

Mahomes hit Gray for a 27-yard gain, his only 20-yard completion of the game. That set up a field goal and 20-10 lead going into the fourth, but the Jaguars finally put together a drive again and scored a touchdown to make it 20-17 with 11:49 left.

Could the Jags really come back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter of back-to-back playoff games? But Mahomes would do his best work since the opening drive and complete four passes for 48 yards, including a clutch 6-yard touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He’s the best quarterback at turning a one-score lead into a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, and that drive just grows the legend.

But could the defense close out the last seven minutes? Lawrence finally started using his legs and had a great 12-yard run on a third-and-10 to set up first-and-goal in a hurry. But while Jamal Agnew had some great returns to help his team out, he cost them with a big fumble with 5:29 left. Just lost the ball at the 3-yard line.

But the Chiefs did go three-and-out after the second run failure on third-and-1 of the game. Figures, Mahomes puts up 20 points on eight drives with one leg on the last seven, and it’s still two third-and-1 run stops that did the most damage to this offense.

However, any hope for Jacksonville was quickly lost after Lawrence panicked under pressure and threw up an interception to rookie Jaylen Watson, the seventh-round pick who shined in Week 2 with the huge pick-six against the Chargers.

The Chiefs burned the clock to 1:04 left, then Jacksonville could only get a field goal before failing on an onside kick to end it at 27-20. The Jaguars (+9.5) still covered, moving head coach Doug Pederson to 7-0 ATS and 5-2 SU as a playoff underdog, which are fantastic records. But even with the Mahomes injury, the Jaguars were unable to capitalize on offense early, and the two big turnovers late did them in.

I would be careful about penciling in the Jaguars for many more of these games going forward. Look what was once said about Andrew Luck and the Colts or Deshaun Watson and the Texans. Those franchise basically imploded after losing to the Chiefs in the divisional round in 2018 and 2019. But it was a successful season for the Jaguars, and they look to be moving in the right direction.

But frankly, playing AFC South teams like this in the second round is how the Chiefs have become just the third team after the 1973-77 Raiders and 2011-18 Patriots to play in at least five straight Conference Championship Games.

Even Brady and the Patriots weren’t doing this in the 2000s AFC when the conference was deeper. They started doing it in 2011 when they drew some of the weakest teams to ever advance in the tournament such as the 2011 Broncos (Tebow), 2013 Colts (who came back from 38-10 vs. Reid’s Chiefs), 2016 Texans (beat Connor Cook), and 2017 Titans (who came back from 21-3 vs. Reid’s Chiefs). Throw in Reid and Pederson losing in New England with the 2015 Chiefs, and you can say the Chiefs had a lot to do with New England’s streak still being the record.

So, here we go again with the Chiefs hosting the AFC Championship Game for the fifth year in a row. Not looking forward to Mahomes’ ankle talk all week, but it is the huge story in the AFC.

But Saturday’s win is a data point for “he could beat that team with one leg tied behind his back.”

Giants at Eagles: Giant Ass Kicking

It has been some time since we’ve seen this kind of early knockout and ass kicking in the playoffs. There was no letdown on Philadelphia’s part after the bye week. The Eagles led 28-0 at halftime and won 38-7 to complete the three-game sweep of the rival Giants, who were just no match for the top seed this year.

The 2019 Packers were down 27-0 at halftime against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game before losing 37-20, so at least they had a little fight after the break. The last time a team was getting shutout at half by 28-plus points in a playoff game was when the 2015 Panthers went up 31-0 on the Seahawks in the divisional round. Seattle got it to 31-24 late but could not recover an onside kick.

But this is just the sixth time in playoff history where a team was shutout by 28-plus points at halftime.

Never good to be in the company of the 73-0 game for the loser. The Giants were just never in this one. They gave up a 40-yard bomb on the second play of the game, Dallas Goedert made an incredible one-handed catch to get a 16-yard touchdown, and once Daniel Jones took a bad sack on a fourth-and-8 in response, it was already a dangerous time for the Giants.

The Eagles took the short field for another 52-yard touchdown drive, and then Jones made his worst throw of the night for a pick by James Bradberry. Boston Scott later pounded in his 11th touchdown against the Giants, and the Giant Killer is now 9-for-9 at scoring touchdowns in games against the Giants. Did he grow up a Patriots fan or something? He was born in Louisiana and went to school there. I’m not sure why he shits all over the Giants every time, but he did it again in the playoffs to secure his legacy against them.

Throw in the obligatory Hurts touchdown run before halftime and it was 28-0. Between the early Scott score and Hurts easily running that one in, the Eagles looked like they were toying with the Giants.

Things did not go much better in the second half. One 39-yard run by Saquon Barkley helped the Giants to their only touchdown drive in the game to make it 28-7. But the moment worthy of criticism came on their next possession, which extended into the fourth quarter.

Facing a fourth-and-6 at their own 42, the Giants punted with 13:12 left. You’re down three touchdowns, you’re almost certainly going to lose barring a miracle. Why are you punting, Brian Daboll? If you go for it, you might convert and keep this improbable rally going. If you don’t get it, there’s still some value here in that the drive should not consume much time with the Eagles on the edges of field-goal range. You could even push them back a little and force a punt.

But the Giants punted, and the Eagles burned almost eight minutes on a run-heavy drive before kicking a field goal to make it 31-7 with 5:16 left. So much good punting did there. But the Giants had a terrible run defense this year, and it was exposed in this game and especially on that drive when Kenneth Gainwell ripped off 12 yards with a great effort on a third-and-12.

But even if they didn’t add the three points on that drive, it took up way too much time. On their next drive, Jones started getting into sack trouble against the defense that had 70 sacks this year. Still, he made a fourth-and-16 conversion look so casual with a 17-yard completion, his longest completion of the game to a non-running back. Gee, maybe that fourth-and-6 earlier would have been worth the try?

The drive eventually stalled and was turned over on downs. The Eagles padded the score with Gainwell taking off for a 35-yard touchdown run on a third-and-9 that he didn’t need with 1:51 left. The Eagles finished with 268 rushing yards and Hurts only needed to throw for 154 in his first playoff win. Jones then completed a few hospital balls to his receivers, because I guess 38-7 in the last two minutes is the right time to start getting aggressive as a passer. Then it was finally over.

I think the frustrating thing about the Giants is that they never seemed to have any plan for the game. Maybe it was blown up by the quick 14-0 hole, and maybe they were shell shocked by the fourth-down sack and the interception. But I have no idea if they wanted to establish Saquon, make use of Jones’ legs, try to use the slot receivers to stay away from the outside corners, or just chuck it deep and hope for pass interference.

They did none of those things. Barkley had 8 carries for 22 yards when you set aside his 39-yard burst in a 28-0 hole. Jones lost more yards on five sacks (26) than he had on six runs (24 yards). Richie James had 10 targets compared to 17 for the rest of the team, and he was the only receiver with more than 21 receiving yards. The game only had six penalties for 30 yards between the two teams, and it was free of controversy because the Giants were knocked out almost immediately.

It is unusual to see a Giants playoff run that doesn’t end one-or-done or in the Super Bowl like 12 of their last 14 trips have.

This game had the biggest talent disparity this weekend and the results backed that up. Now we’ll see if the Eagles can win against a legitimate elite team for the first time in the Hurts era.

NFL 2022 Divisional Round Predictions

My favorite weekend of the NFL year is here. This historically has been the toughest week for road teams to win, because you used to have a pair of teams in each conference coming off a first-round bye. So when those upsets did happen, they are instantly memorable, and they almost can hurt worse than getting blown out in the Super Bowl does.

But with only one bye per conference now, maybe things aren’t what they used to be. Last season, the road teams were 13 seconds away from going 4-0 with each win by 3 points. The Bills screwed that up, but it led to a change in playoff overtime rules, and it was the best second round of all time. Hard to top that this weekend.

I think the schedule is amusing this weekend as you have both No. 1 seeds playing both longshots on Saturday. Not much is expected of the Jaguars and Giants, but you never known. Crazier things have happened in both franchise’s histories. The Jaguars winning would be akin to the 1996 team upsetting Denver in the divisional round. We know all about the Giants shocking the 2007 Cowboys (top seed) and 2011 Packers (15-1 team) in this round.

Then you get the two marquee matchups on Sunday. We finally get to see Bills vs. Bengals, and Cowboys-49ers is a classic NFC playoff matchup and a rematch from last year’s wild card round.

If I had to pick a Super Bowl matchup today, I’d probably still go Bills vs. 49ers.

But a team that turns the ball over that much and a team with a rookie quarterback are hard to trust this time of year. That’s just part of what makes this weekend so interesting.

If you are holding out hope for a Super Bowl rematch of Bills vs. Cowboys, here is an interesting stat I came across in research for this week. The Cowboys recently had a 9-game streak snapped of scoring at least 27 points. The Bills also did it earlier this year, though most of the games were carried over from 2021.

But such a streak has only lasted nine games 14 times in NFL history. If you look at the previous 12 cases before the Bills and Cowboys, all 12 of those teams advanced to at least a conference championship game in one of the seasons the streak took place. All but the 2018 Chiefs reached the Super Bowl or league championship game, and five of them won a ring.

Regardless of this table, I think Bills vs. Cowboys is very realistic if both can win this weekend.

Some articles I did this week:

NFL Divisional Round Predictions

After going over these games so many times this week, I am beyond ready to get this weekend going. Here are my final score predictions for each game:

Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5 at Bovada)

The Chiefs should win, but you have to be impressed with Doug Pederson starting his career 6-0 ATS as a playoff underdog. Even better is the 5-1 SU record. The Chiefs are not your typical 14-win team by any means. They join the 2001 Rams as the only 14-win teams with a minus-3 turnover differential. They’re also 32nd in touchdown passes allowed and 31st in red zone touchdown percentage on defense. But these kind of stats would mean more against a Cincinnati or Buffalo team that has had their number since last year.

I don’t think the Jaguars are ready for this yet, but I do think they have learned how to battle back and will make a game of it, even if it means dialing up trick plays or doing a surprise onside kick. Anything to steal a possession. I also have my eye on kicker Harrison Butker this postseason. Everyone is worried about Brett Maher in Dallas, but Butker could be a weak link for the Chiefs.

Also, can we get back to Travis Kelce scoring touchdowns and Jerick McKinnon not catching one every single week?

Final: Chiefs 30, Jaguars 23

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5 at Bovada)

I think between the NFC preview and upset articles linked above, I laid out a good case for why the Eagles peaked too early and have some strong warning signs for a No. 1 seed that loses the first playoff game at home. We’re still waiting for a signature win in the Jalen Hurts era, and while this will count, it’ll be interesting to see what happens next week no matter who wins the other game.

But I can’t go as far as to pick the Giants to win outright, because I do think the crap quality of the Vikings and Colts defense has played a big factor in the offensive success in recent weeks. The Eagles had 70 sacks this year and can defend these receivers with their healthy corners. A.J. Brown usually shows up for big games. Boston Scott is the Giant Killer as he is a ridiculous 8-for-8 at scoring touchdowns in games against them.

If the Giants had one of their better defensive units like 2016, I could totally buy this upset. But I don’t see it happening this week, but once again, I think it’s going to be close and the Giants are going to push them and leave them with little momentum going into next week.

Final: Eagles 24, Giants 17

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (-5.5)

In Week 17, I was on board with the Bills winning 27-24, and I see no reason to change my pick. I think the spread is a little high here, I think the Bengals have a right to be pissed this isn’t played on a neutral field as they were denied the chance to finish a game they led 7-3 and were driving for more that could have given them the No. 2 seed over Buffalo, and I think the Bills miss Von Miller in this matchup.

Imagine a talent like Von in this game against the team with three injured linemen. But I don’t think it’s going to be a Chiefs-Bucs Super Bowl type day for the Bengals. They’ll adjust and they’ll just have to compensate for sacks/pressures by getting turnovers from a Buffalo team that has 30 giveaways in 17 games, one of the worst teams this year at protecting the ball.

But I expect both quarterbacks to play well, and I am sticking to my preseason pick and Week 17 pick of Buffalo.

Final: Bills 27, Bengals 24

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers (-3.5)

You see the Dallas upset link above, and the other upset article picks this game too, so not much surprise where I’m going with this one.

I wrote the Cowboys off for months, and some of it was just doing my part to reverse jinx Brady and the Buccaneers. Some of it was legitimate belief though that this team is too self destructive to win a playoff game. Now here I am backing the Cowboys on the road against a team that’s won 11 in a row with the top defense.

But I also think there’s a real paper tiger element to the 49ers’ season, and I can’t just ignore that they had the weakest schedule, went 0-1 against the only elite team they played, and Dallas is 3-1 against the other 12+ win teams this year. The Cowboys have an elite offense and defense with the most takeaways. The 49ers are 0-4 with multiple giveaways and 14-0 when they don’t do that this year. Pretty cut and dry.

If the Cowboys can make Brady look like he’s 50, then they need to make Brock Purdy look like the last pick in the draft and pick off some of these bad throws he got away with last week. And for Dak Prescott, it might be now or never. Go get this one.

And really, the 49ers almost blew a 23-7 fourth-quarter lead last year to Dallas in the wild card round. A game with Kyle Shanahan, Mike McCarthy, and Dan Quinn should have plenty of shenanigans going down. Hell, it’d be the story of the week if Brett Maher wins it on a long field goal. But I’d have multiple two-point conversion plays prepared for this one just in case.

I just wouldn’t have any QB draw in the god damn playbook this time.

Final: Cowboys 26, 49ers 23

Yes, I went against the grain and picked the underdog to cover in all four games. That hasn’t happened in the divisional round since the 2006 season, or that weekend where the Chargers intercepted Tom Brady on fourth down and fumbled the ball back to him. But it has happened before, and after a competitive regular season, mostly competitive wild card round, why not expect more of the same this weekend?

The only real gaps between these teams is that the Jaguars and Giants stick out like sore thumbs. But when it comes to the other six, you are likely just looking at who is going to make the big mistake, and who is going to make the play that lives in infamy for the highlight reels. It is going to take two or three coin-flip wins to get this championship. No one is good enough to run away with it anymore.

Enjoy the games.

NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Wild Card Weekend

Much like those Burger King commercials tossing “You rule!” at the end, I pretty much feckin’ cringe when I hear “Super Wild Card Weekend.” So, I couldn’t bring myself to call it that in the headline, but it was a great weekend of games.

Even with several backup quarterbacks and plenty of playoff inexperience, every team showed up competitively for at least three quarters. Every team except the Chargers, who only showed up for two.

Just four weeks ago, we had the largest comeback in NFL history, which I did a big story on for the Vikings. Twenty-eight days later, we had the fifth-largest comeback win in Jacksonville. The wild card round is now home to three of the five biggest comebacks in NFL history, all from a deficit of 27-plus points.

But the 49ers’ rookie quarterback did something we hadn’t seen since 1937, the Chargers cemented their legacy as the Falcons of the AFC, the Bills are the only team capable of making the No. 7 seed look like it belongs, the Giants ended another historic NFL winning streak, and Joe Burrow willed his defense to the longest fumble return touchdown in playoff history (and maybe the most significant one ever).

Oh yeah, there were also a shitload of bad third-and-1 calls in every game as teams don’t seem to understand how important possession is in the postseason. Between the third-and-1 calls and the turnovers, there is a lot to go over here.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Cowboys at Buccaneers: Not with a Bang But a Whimper

So, was that it? We were fooled last year, but the Rams loss was really such a perfect game for Tom Brady to end his career with. But he just had to come back for this, an 8-10 finish with the worst offense of his career and an embarrassing home playoff loss in a 31-14 game that wasn’t even that close.

This letdown of the week against Dallas was so forgettable that I’m not even going to bother creating a separate link to cover it. I’ve just pasted it at the top of the week’s recap after 2 A.M. Hard to believe a playoff game with Brady, Mike McCarthy, and Dan Quinn could be this dull.

First, we were treated to five minutes of neither team looking like it could gain a first down. But once Dallas broke through with a touchdown, Brady had a long drive to answer going into the second quarter. After a weekend that was so competitive and dramatic, this was a wire-to-wire win that had one moment of competitiveness.

Then it was over in an instant after Brady forced a brutal pass from the 5-yard line and it was intercepted in the end zone, his first red-zone pick with the Buccaneers. What a time to make it.

The Cowboys drove 80 yards from there and Dak Prescott finished with the naked bootleg for a 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth down. He would also throw his second touchdown of the half to tight end Dalton Schultz, but kicker Brett Maher missed all three extra points in the half as Dallas led 18-0.

The Bucs looked terrible, but this rope-a-dope strategy has been their bread-and-butter all year. They had to make a run in the second half, right? Well, the Cowboys were still hot in the third quarter with another 86-yard touchdown drive to take a 24-0 lead that wasn’t 28-0 because Maher somehow missed four straight extra points.

It appears Gisele was the one with the dark magic, because Brady only seemed to have time to make a voodoo doll for Maher, his only source of luck in this game. According to Elias, Maher’s four misses are the most missed extra points in any game (regular season or postseason) in NFL history, and he did it on four in a row.

It’s still a nice addition to the list for the LOAT in maybe his final game, but this was a snoozer with no real drama in the second half.

From the ESPN broadcast, we learned that Tampa Bay was 3-for-59 (5%) on third down with 10+ yards to go this season, the worst by any offense since 1980. Throw in 0-for-5 in this game and that’s 3-for-64, one of my favorite new stats.

The Bucs would not go scoreless as Brady finally found Julio Jones, who looked as good as he did all year, for a 30-yard touchdown on the third quarter’s final play to make it 24-6.

But any hope of a wild fourth quarter was quickly put to rest by Prescott, who was money on the night. Bypassing a fourth-and-4 because of how bad Maher was, the Cowboys used a bunch formation and somehow got CeeDee Lamb wide open for an 18-yard touchdown, Dak’s fourth of the night to go along with 305 yards and a rush touchdown. Just by far his best playoff game, and the kind of performance you want to see from a 12-win team against an 8-9 fraud.

Brady had three more drives after that, and he got a touchdown on the second one. The Bucs also recovered an onside kick, just the fourth in the league this year, at the 2:00 warning, but it was too late by then. Mike Evans even dropped a long touchdown on one of the few good Brady throws of the night just to fvck my last bet.

It was amusing to not look at the stats once during this game and only check them after it was over. Brady finished with 66 passes but only 351 yards. Brady is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw 65-plus passes in a game and score fewer than 17 points. George Blanda once threw 68 passes in a 24-10 loss against the 1964 Bills in the AFL.

Home games where Tom Brady’s team trailed after all four quarters:

  • New England: 6-for-162 (3.7%)
  • Tampa Bay: 8-for-27 (29.6%)

The problems for the Bucs were the same they were all year in their worst moments. They were one-dimensional, they were ineffective on first down, seemingly every second down was a WR screen, and a dump pass to the running back was their best play. The deep shots were almost all bad, and Brady threw countless passes into the dirt as Micah Parsons and pass rush ate well against that line.

Dallas did just about everything very well but special teams. On the bright side, at least Maher made the extra point on his fifth try, so hopefully he will get that out of his system for next week in San Francisco. That’s where Dallas is headed after finally winning its first road playoff game since the 1992 NFC Championship Game in San Francisco. This is a way better matchup than having to watch Brady and this putrid offense against a team they trailed 35-0.

As for Brady’s future, he’ll have to decide that. I’m not sure this season could be any clearer that he should have never ended his retirement after 40 days. The 49ers aren’t going to want him when they have three better options in 2023. Any team he goes to is going to have to be stacked and in win-now mode, and there are almost none of them out there that don’t already have their quarterback.

Will he really think going to the AFC West at 46 years old, with the Raiders and Josh McDaniels, and dealing with Mahomes and Herbert (and maybe Russell Wilson with a good coach again) is a good path to get to the Super Bowl again?

The NFC South is still his safe haven, but this Tampa team is poorly coached and not good enough anymore to go on a deep run.

The same can be said of Brady, who without a Jared Cook fumble in New Orleans two years ago likely never gets out of the divisional round in the last four years. No matter where he goes to play next, they are going to be dealing with an old quarterback who doesn’t want to get hit anymore, doesn’t hold the ball to extend plays, doesn’t give you the rushing threat almost every starter has these days, and he’s going to throw passes in the dirt and bitch his teammates out on a weekly basis while looking miserable.

Even Michael Jordan knew better than to give the Wizards a third season or a third NBA team his services. Tom, just hang them up, and take the god damn FOX money so you can still be an annoying part of our NFL Sundays.

Ravens at Bengals: Clutch Defense to the Rescue for the Offensive Team Again

It is starting to get unfair, isn’t it? The young, offensive-driven team with the franchise quarterback, three great wide receivers, solid backs, a marginal offensive line, and a coach you still would struggle to pick out of a Costco cashier lineup is now 4-1 in the playoffs.

And once again, they used a clutch takeaway on defense with the game tied and the odds stacked against them.  

From the 1-yard line in a 17-17 game in the fourth quarter, Baltimore quarterback Tyler Huntley tried to extend the ball on a quarterback sneak on third down and had it swatted away, popped out right to Sam Hubbard, and he returned it 98 yards for a game-winning touchdown with 11:39 to play. It is the longest fumble return touchdown in NFL playoff history.

Given what was at stake, you could argue this is the first or second-biggest fumble return touchdown in NFL history. The only other game-winning fumble return touchdown in the fourth quarter or overtime of a playoff game was when Arizona’s Karlos Dansby got the ball after a strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers to beat Green Bay 51-45 in overtime in the 2009 NFC Wild Card. The Packers were deep in their own end at the time.

While there were still over 11 minutes left when this happened, the Ravens were in prime position to take a 24-17 lead on a night where the Bengals once again failed to crack 300 yards on this Baltimore defense. It’s happened all three times this year, though at least this one can be argued that they only had seven real drives.

But this was a massive swing in playoff win probability for a Super Bowl contender, and given the record length, you have to consider it right up there with any fumble return touchdown ever.

AFC North Race Changed on Lamar Jackson’s Health

The Bengals have not won a Super Bowl yet, but they were certainly close last year, and here they go again with their fourth one-score win in the postseason. The four playoff wins are double what the Ravens (2) have mustered as postseason wins in the last decade since winning Super Bowl 47. That’s also one more playoff win than Mike Tomlin (3) has in his last 12 seasons since losing Super Bowl 45.

But this year’s AFC North race was heavily tilted by Lamar Jackson’s knee injury in Week 13. The Ravens never scored more than 17 points in their final seven games after that injury.

The fact that they didn’t score more than 17 in this game would have surprised no one before the game, but if you tuned in for the fourth quarter, you were shocked to see how they crumbled in the moment this time.

Leading Up To the Historic Fumble

I pointed out multiple times this week that the Week 18 game between the Ravens and Bengals, which the Ravens played many backups for, featured 28 offensive drives. That is a gross number of drives for two offenses of playoff teams. There were a lot of punts and turnovers in that game.

But this game had just 16 possessions, and the Ravens even had two extra possessions than the Bengals, though not for the best reasons.

These teams thrived on long drives, but the Ravens seemed to capture some real belief in an upset after a quick-strike in the third quarter following Joe Burrow’s sneak touchdown to take a 17-10 lead back for Cincinnati. Huntley found Demarcus Robinson wide open for a 41-yard touchdown pass after he burned corner Eli Apple on a double move to tie the game.

The Bengals went three-and-out, and the Ravens began their fateful march as the game moved into the final frame. Just when it looked like another bad third-and-1 play was dialed up, Mark Andrews came down with a great 25-yard reception, his best play in a postseason game where he has been criticized for his lack of plays in the past.

But after a 35-yard run by Huntley set up first-and-goal at the 2, he really messed up by short-arming a throw in the flat to Patrick Ricard. The play was there, but Huntley missed his fullback. That led to the pivotal third-and-1, and obviously I am in favor of a quarterback sneak. But it looked like a full yard away or better, so when Huntley decided to leave his feet and stick the ball out, you kind of felt disaster was coming. Sure enough, the Bengals knocked it out and Hubbard made the record-setting return.

The lunge to stick the ball out on the sneak, often done so well by Drew Brees in his days, is really a last resort play. You can do it on fourth down or maybe a two-point conversion from the 1, but in this situation where you know the Ravens could just go for it on fourth down, it was really risky to do it on third down. A tactical error for sure.

Ravens Flopped After the Fumble

Unsurprisingly, the Ravens struggled to score the rest of the way. But the Ravens also got hosed on a weak roughing the punter call to extend a Cincinnati drive, though the Bengals failed to gain a first down on their final four series of plays. 

It looked like the Cincinnati offense was blowing it, and after a bad punt effort for the Bengals, Huntley had the ball back with 3:14 left at the Cincinnati 46 – tons of time and an incredible situation to be in for the underdog. You know John Harbaugh was going for two instead of overtime, but would the Ravens score too fast?

We should have been asking would they score at all, because the Ravens seemed to play the clock more than they remembered to call good plays. It took two minutes to move 18 yards. While everyone would love to score in the final seconds and win by one point, things rarely work out that nicely.

The Ravens even tried squeezing a run in only to be denied by a holding penalty. Huntley’s passes were not even close to connecting with a human being, and just like that it was fourth-and-20 from the Cincinnati 27 with 8 seconds left.

Hail Mary was the only choice. Huntley stumbled a bit before regaining himself, making the throw, and only on a deflection did the Ravens have a slight shot at a miracle catch before the ball hit the ground, ending their season and allowing the Bengals to double them up in playoff wins for the last decade.

Burrow the Babyface LOAT?

Cincinnati’s offense scored 17 points, did not have a single 20-yard play, did not have a single first down without penalty on the final four series, and yet they still won the game by the skin of their teeth against a backup quarterback.

That is some LOAT material if I’ve ever seen it, which was something I floated out repeatedly last postseason about Burrow turning into the new Tom Brady.

But this is already the third playoff game where Burrow’s defense forced a turnover in a tied fourth quarter or overtime. They intercepted Ryan Tannehill at midfield in the AFC divisional round last year to set up a game-winning field goal in the final minute. They intercepted Patrick Mahomes in overtime in the AFC Championship Game to set up another game-winning field goal. Now the longest fumble return touchdown in playoff history against the Ravens.

Since 2001, there have only been 16 turnovers in a tied fourth quarter or overtime in a playoff game. Burrow has been the beneficiary of 3-of-16. The only other quarterback with more than one was Drew Brees, who had two in the fourth quarter against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. Even Brady has never had one of these go his way if you can believe it. Burrow also threw an interception in Kansas City last January, so he has been involved directly or indirectly in the last four of these moments.

So, this is one area where Burrow is blowing the LOAT and everyone else out of the water.

But what’s not very LOAT like is losing a third starting linemen in the last three weeks as left tackle Jonah Williams left with a bad looking injury. Neither is having to go to Buffalo when the NFL should have considered this a neutral situation just as much as Bills-Chiefs, but I have all week to write about the future here.

Hell, I had to write three different previews this week for this one Ravens-Bengals game (four if you count the prediction blurb on this blog), so let’s just save the preview talk for later. But this game did turn out a lot better than I thought it would even though my predictions was Bengals 24-16. The Ravens are a tough out. But we may never see Jackson again in a Baltimore uniform, so this could be the end of an era there.

Meanwhile, the Bengals play on.

Giants at Vikings: Giant Streak Killers End Kevin O’Connell’s Run

It finally happened. The 2022 Vikings lost a one-score game after going 11-0 at them in the regular season. They failed at a comeback and game-winning drive opportunity after going 8-0 in them. Going back to last year’s Super Bowl run with the Rams, Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell had streaks of 14-0 in close games, 11-0 at game-winning drives, and 10-0 at fourth-quarter comebacks.

They’re all over too as the best streak-killing franchise in the NFL ended another one:

  • It was the Giants who beat the 1934 Bears (13-0) in the NFL Championship Game.
  • It was the Giants who ended the 49ers’ three-peat Super Bowl attempt in the 1990 NFC Championship Game.
  • It was the Giants who beat the 1998 Broncos (13-0) to deny them a perfect season on their way to repeating.
  • It was the Giants who beat the 2007 Patriots (18-0) in Super Bowl 42 to deny 19-0 perfection.
  • Now it was the 2022 Giants who end another Minnesota season filled with history-making wins.

If you studied the game these teams played in Week 16, then you should have expected something close, high scoring, and dramatic. The teams did not disappoint. In fact, they were even better than expected.

I joked Saturday that Daniel Jones would throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in Minnesota. He came close with 301 passing yards and 78 rushing yards, only the second quarterback in playoff history to hit those numbers. Lamar Jackson had 365 passing and 143 rushing in that upset loss to the 2019 Ravens when he had 83 dropbacks.

Jones only had 55 dropbacks, but it was one of the best games of his career, if not the best given the moment. He found plenty of open receivers and his legs were dynamic in the first half when he did most of his damage.

Kirk Cousins did not play a bad game by any means, and he was within reach of a ninth comeback and game-winning drive after leading the Vikings to a 24-24 tie in the fourth quarter as the teams traded long drive after long drive. On a weekend with many turnovers and short fields, it was refreshing to see a 31-24 game where all but one scoring drive was 75-plus yards.

But it was the Vikings’ game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter that was the shortest scoring drive at 56 yards. The Vikings were going to go for a fourth-and-1 at the New York 16, but they had to change course after a poor time for a false start.

Jones was no stranger to game-winning drives this year, and he led his sixth of 2022 by driving the Giants 75 yards for a touchdown. Isaiah Hodgins had a huge game with 108 yards and a touchdown, and he had a 19-yard catch on the go-ahead drive. Jones converted a fourth-and-1 run, and Saquon Barkley scored his second touchdown run in his first playoff game to take a 31-24 lead with half a quarter left.

The Vikings went three-and-out on an uninspiring drive, and it was starting to look like the close-game streak was on life support. But the Giants blew a shot to run out the clock after Darius Slayton spoiled a strong game by dropping a pass on third-and-15 with room to run, stopping the clock.

The lucky Vikings, the worst 13-win team in NFL history, were full of life again with just under 3:00 left and 88 yards away from the end zone. After a horrific roughing the passer penalty gifted them 15 yards and a first down, you could already see the 32-31 win coming after a two-point conversion. O’Connell was going to set more history with a fourth-straight playoff win by 1-to-3 points.

But after the Vikings got to midfield, things stalled. Cousins threw a good ball to K.J. Osborn on a third-and-8, but the defense held up, and maybe even got there a little early and held up Osborn. No flag. On fourth-and-ballgame, the Vikings ran a play that will be crucified for quite some time.

While T.J. Hockenson had a great game with over 100 yards again, he’s not exactly Rob Gronkowski with the ball in his hands. He wasn’t going to break a tackle on a 3-yard throw and pick up the first down with YAC. But that’s where Cousins threw the ball, and that’s how Minnesota’s season ended. All those record comebacks and they throw a full 5 yards short of the sticks on fourth down to a draped receiver.

It sure was a letdown and the kind of failed completion that Cousins is better known for than the comeback legend he was in 2022. But I have to say the design of the play was poor, and most of the receivers were too far away from the marker either way. Cousins could have just chucked up the ball to Justin Jefferson, because we know that’s worked before on fourth down. It probably gives them a better chance than what he ultimately did, but he didn’t take it after a quick pressure was in his face as the Vikings had a glaring offensive line issue that was part of their downfall.

But the Giants also did a fabulous job of taking Jefferson (7 catches for 49 yards) away, especially after an opening drive that saw him catch four balls for 30 yards. He had just 19 yards the rest of the way as the Giants made sure to keep an eye on him.

The Giants did not blitz much like they are known for doing, but like in Week 16, they did a great job of limiting the big plays against the Vikings. With Jefferson a non-factor after the first drive, they also took away the drive-sustaining plays he can make as he had 12 catches in Week 16. The Vikings were also outrushed by the Giants by Jones alone 78-to-61.

It is hard to put too much criticism on the Vikings’ offense. They scored three touchdowns and a field goal on eight drives. They just faltered in the fourth quarter, which is something I have been expecting since October. The fact that it came in a playoff game at home against the Giants is likely not just coincidence, but it says more about how well the Giants played in Week 16 than any playoff choking issue or curse on the franchise.

But Brian Daboll and his staff did an excellent job, and Jones was very sharp on the road. They’ll face a much tougher task in Philadelphia next week, but maybe this is their chance to get revenge for 2008 when the Eagles upset the top-seeded Giants and ended their repeat bid.

It is New York’s first playoff win since Super Bowl 46. As for the Vikings, they will be a very trendy pick for big regression next year in their record. But again, I’m not going to bother talking about that now when we have most of 2023 to point out how the Vikings just aren’t winning the close games like they were last year.

Because no one is this lucky to win every close game in the NFL. 

Dolphins at Bills: Buffalo Marathon Ends with Legitimate Scare

No one circles the wagons to barely beat the No. 7 seed by three points at home like the Buffalo Bills.

I am not sure how an NFL game can last nearly four hours without going to overtime, but if it wasn’t for Buffalo, No. 7 seeds would look illegitimate after three years of this playoff format.

The only No. 7 seeds to not lose by 12-plus points played at Buffalo: 2020 Colts lost 27-24 in a thriller and the Dolphins were a 14-point underdog but still had their shot in a 34-31 game in the fourth quarter.

You have to give Miami rookie coach Mike McDaniel a lot of credit for playing the Bills tough all three times despite having the lesser team. On Sunday, he was down to a third-string rookie quarterback and did not have his best running back (Raheem Mostert).

The Dolphins only rushed 20 times for 42 yards. Skylar Thompson was 18-of-45 passing for 220 yards, though he had several big drops, especially from Jaylen Waddle, who looked a bit soft in his playoff debut. Tyreek Hill was no Buffalo killer this year with 69 yards on seven catches and 15 targets.

But even with those abysmal numbers and an early 17-0 hole, this game was very close and a legitimate scare for the Bills, who have spent most of this year as the Super Bowl favorite. They were fortunate they didn’t have to face a healthy Tua Tagovailoa in this one.

It’s the Turnovers, Stupid

This was mostly a game because of turnovers, which isn’t surprising in the playoffs. But the Bills better get control of this, because turnovers are likely going to be the downfall to their season. They had a neutral turnover differential in the regular season with 27 giveaways (third most) and 27 takeaways. Not what you’d expect from a 13-3 team.

They lost the takeaway battle 2-3 in this one. We are still waiting to figure out what kind of playoff quarterback Josh Allen wants to be, and right now, a chaotic one is the best answer. He was absolutely brilliant in the two games last season, but between this game and his first two runs, he’s looking more like a Brett Favre (young and old) out there.

Even from the first drive of the game Allen was up to some shenanigans with the ball coming out of his grasp on a third-down run before it went out of bounds. Then he was picked on a deep ball by Xavien Howard with the Bills up 17-3 in the second quarter, and that started the comeback.

Khalil Shakir dropped a 54-yard pass from Allen, which came a few drives after Dawson Knox tried to use the ground to help him catch a touchdown, so it was a day filled with some amazing catches and some poor jobs by players on both teams at catching the ball.

But Buffalo was close to blowing them out before halftime. Sloppiness won out. Miami had settled for another field goal, and three plays later, Allen was intercepted again after trying to go for Cole Beasley. The Dolphins turned that into an 18-yard touchdown drive and game-tying two-point conversion, shocking the crowd, but not before the Bills added a field goal to take a 20-17 lead into the locker room after a two-hour half.

But the third quarter started worse with Allen getting stripped of the ball and seeing Miami recover it for a touchdown to take a 24-20 lead – Miami’s first third-quarter lead in a playoff game since playing Buffalo in the 1998 season. A long time ago.

Allen was sacked seven times with three turnovers on the day, and he started to press when trailing on two bad drives in a row. But this was where the Dolphins really missed an experienced quarterback, because they couldn’t take advantage of Buffalo’s implosion. On a third-and-19, Thompson made his dumbest play of the day to force a pass that was intercepted, putting the Bills at the Miami 33 and setting up an easy short field for a go-ahead touchdown. Miami never led again.

You can understand why teams like screens and draws in those situations. You’re unlikely to convert, so just get out of there with something safe. McDaniel miscalculated letting his rookie throw, and if he was going to throw, he should have just thrown a bomb instead of a ball that put Buffalo that close to the end zone for some much-needed help.

Closing It Out (Barely)

The Bills seemed back on track with consecutive touchdowns and a 34-24 lead, but like in Week 15, the Dolphins kept coming back. Another touchdown drive made it 34-31, and Allen was again pressing with sacks and incomplete shot plays. Allen also took back-to-back sacks in the four-minute offense and nearly lost another fumble.

But for all the good McDaniel did as an underdog here, the management of getting plays called in and getting the snap off in time was piss poor. The Dolphins also wasted two timeouts early in the half, and they even had to spend their third timeout with the clock stopped and 4:13 left. That really made their last drive in a 34-31 game do-or-die without any timeouts, and they botched that too by getting a delay of game penalty on a fourth-and-1 to make it fourth-and-5. I don’t know how you get caught trying to change personnel with under 15 seconds on the play clock on the biggest play of the game. I refuse to just blame the rookie quarterback for this problem that lasted most of the game.

Supposedly, McDaniel tried to justify the delay of game by saying they were told they had a first down and didn’t think it was fourth down. Either way, this was poorly managed throughout the game, and it hurt Miami.

On the fateful fourth down, Thompson’s pass to Mike Gesicki wasn’t bad but the defense was better. It was incomplete with 2:22 left. The Bills could run most of the clock out, and they did after Devin Singletary fought forward for a 7-yard gain on third-and-7.

At least that’s how they marked it on the field. You’ll never convince me he made the yard to gain, and it should have been fourth down. The Bills probably sneak it and get it anyway, or Miami probably doesn’t do anything with it in under 40 seconds. But I still would prefer to see a more legitimate ending, because it sure felt like Miami got screwed on that spot. 

Miami is the first double-digit underdog to cover the spread in the wild card round. Buffalo has been my pick all year to win the Super Bowl, but boy, let’s just hope the Dolphins had some secret sauce for them, or else this is going to be a fast exit.

Chargers at Jaguars: I Think This Just Might Be the Chargering Masterpiece

They have done it. In Justin Herbert’s 50th NFL start, the Chargers carved out their masterpiece by blowing a 27-0 playoff lead to the Jaguars in a 31-30 loss that would be shocking to most fanbases, but it was almost inevitable for the Chargers.

Not only is it the third-biggest playoff comeback and fifth-biggest comeback in NFL history, but the Jaguars pulled this one off against all odds after losing the turnover battle 5-0.

You are not supposed to beat the 3-13 Lions by going -5 in turnovers, let alone win a playoff game. But this is Chargering. The game will stand out in the record books for years to come:

  • Trevor Lawrence joins Bobby Layne, George Blanda, Joe Ferguson, and Russell Wilson as the only five quarterbacks to throw four interceptions and win a playoff game. Blanda was the only one to throw five picks. But those other four teams all had multiple takeaways in the win.
  • The Jaguars are the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game with five turnovers and no takeaways. Teams were 0-10 doing this. Jacksonville is the ninth team since 1970 to win a game doing this when you include the regular season.
  • Since 1950, NFL teams allowing 30-plus points with 5+ giveaways and no takeaways are now 3-164 (regular season and playoffs). The last win was 1970 Bills against the Jets.
  • This is the first time a team won a playoff game with a turnover margin of -5 or worse. Teams were previously 0-26 in the playoffs, and all but one lost by double digits.
  • In 50 starts, the Chargers have blown more 17-point leads (4) in Justin Herbert’s career than they did in the previous 19 seasons (3) from 2001-19 since they drafted Drew Brees.
  • The Jaguars had one comeback win from a deficit of 16+ points in their first 455 games. They have three such comebacks in their last 10 games (17 vs. Raiders, 17 vs. Cowboys, 27 vs. Chargers).
  • The Jaguars had lost 41 straight games when allowing more than 20 points. After snapping that streak against Baltimore in Week 12, they are 4-1 in such games.

But much like how the Colts didn’t really deserve a 33-0 lead against the Vikings four weeks ago, the story of this game was a fortunate start by the Chargers that they weren’t playing well enough to sustain. The Jaguars have been making comebacks lately, and we know the Chargers are the right team in the AFC to pull one off against.

Digging the 27-0 Hole

Trevor Lawrence was the quarterback who never lost a Saturday game in his career, and he never threw a first-quarter interception in the NFL, a fact I wasn’t aware of until Saturday night. But he threw three interceptions in this first quarter, a fourth in the second, and the Jaguars also muffed a punt. Lawrence joined Tom Brady (vs. 2009 Ravens) as the only quarterbacks since 2001 to turn the ball over three times in the first quarter of a playoff game.

Right from his first pass, a double-deflected ball at the line that was intercepted, you knew we might be in for an adventure. That helped Justin Herbert to an easy 18-yard touchdown drive where Austin Ekeler did most of the work on a 13-yard scoring run to take a 7-0 lead.

Lawrence was then picked off on a fourth-and-7 by Asante Samuel Jr., though I felt there was an arm grab and it could have easily been penalized. He must have been watching his dad’s tape with the 2000s Patriots for how to get away with contact in big games. The Chargers turned that into a field goal and 10-0 lead.

But after some bad luck with a double tip and no penalty call, Lawrence’s third interception (also to Samuel Jr.) was an abysmal decision. That set up a 16-yard touchdown drive that was all Ekeler runs. In one quarter of his playoff career, Herbert had more touchdown drives that started in the red zone (2) than Peyton Manning (1) had in his first 25 playoff games.

What the hell was going on out there? The Jaguars were destroying my narrative of Herbert becoming this quarterback with the weight of the world on his shoulders every postseason, and now he’s getting every break in the world. Herbert had several passes tipped and deflected in this game, yet they all kept harmlessly hitting the ground. If Lawrence threw them, they would have been picked. It was the No. 1 pick who was looking like the unlucky one.

But Herbert had a few good third-and-long throws on another touchdown drive to get a 24-0 lead. Lawrence threw his fourth pick and third to Samuel, but this was the beginning of the turning point for the game.

The Turning Point

The Chargers did not do anything with Lawrence’s fourth pick, going three-and-out. However, the Jaguars gave them the ball right back by muffing the punt return, setting Herbert up at the Jacksonville 6, a golden opportunity for a third touchdown drive that started in the red zone. Even Tom Brady would be jealous of this.

But Herbert badly missed a wide-open Keenan Allen in the end zone and the Chargers had to settle for a field goal and 27-0 lead. Would things have been different if Mike Williams (back) was active? Maybe, but he’s not 10-foot-tall either. Herbert just missed it badly.

But this sequence has a lot to do with why the Jaguars survived a five-turnover meltdown, because they basically consolidated their last two turnovers into one part of the game, and it only cost them a quick 3 points after the Chargers failed in goal-to-go.

Still, that was only one of two golden opportunities the Chargers blew in the second quarter. The next part, which officially got the comeback going, was when the Chargers got cute on a third-and-1 and tried to do a jet sweep to Michael Bandy. The timing was off, the ball was fumbled, and it nearly ended up being a disastrous turnover.

At 27-0, you still had to view it live as a “wow, Chargers are just getting everything to go their way” moment by them not losing possession and giving Jacksonville a short field. However, it was a disastrous moment as the Chargers could have put this game away with a two-minute drill and taking a 30-0 or 34-0 lead into halftime.

Instead, Jacksonville took advantage of a bad punt and short field to finally get on the board with a touchdown drive, converting a fourth-and-1 along the way, for a 27-7 deficit at halftime.

If you know the Chargers well, you know this was going to be a game again.

The Second-Half Comeback

I’m obviously not going to put this blown lead all on Herbert, but he did have some costly misfires and didn’t do much to help after the big lead, a lead that he didn’t do much to earn.

To start the third quarter, he had three straight incomplete passes at the Jacksonville 38, and the Chargers punted instead of getting more points. The Jaguars turned that into a long touchdown drive to make it 27-14. Gerald Everett caught a ball for 21 yards that was actually a drop, but the Jaguars did not challenge in time, so that was a big drive starter that helped the Chargers to a field goal to make it 30-14.

But they would never score again. Lawrence got hot, Zay Jones scored a 39-yard touchdown, and Joey Bosa got heated with his first unsportsmanlike penalty. The Chargers led 30-20 going into the fourth quarter.

But here is where head coach Brandon Staley really blew the game for his team. I even tweeted that we’re going to find out how smart he is if he acknowledges how much better a 17-point lead is than a 13-point lead is better than 10. He had to be thinking touchdown on a long drive, but the Chargers came up short just outside the 20.

There was a holding penalty that would have made it third-and-13, but the Jaguars declined. Had they knew that Staley would go for this fourth-and-3 like he should have, then maybe Doug Pederson accepts that penalty. But Staley was content with the field goal and the kiss of death known as a 13-point lead.

He got what he deserved as Dicker the Kicker remembered which team he plays for and missed a 40-yard field goal, bringing a tear to Nate Kaeding’s eye somewhere in the galaxy.

Had the Chargers been focused on the three-score lead, they could have wrapped this one up. But Lawrence continued to drive his offense and found Christian Kirk for a 9-yard touchdown with 5:25 left. Bosa was again penalized for throwing his helmet in a fit of rage after he felt the officials missed a false start on the touchdown. I certainly think they missed it too.

But by enforcing the penalty on the extra point, the Jaguars could go for two from the 1-yard line, which is the right call in that spot. Lawrence used his size to do the sneak with full extension, and the Jaguars were only down 30-28.

This was happening for sure now. Just a question of how the finish would look.

Once Herbert took a sack on first down, you knew Lawrence was getting his chance for a game-winning field goal. The Chargers went three-and-out and Lawrence had 3:09 from his own 21, plenty of time.

But a very poor decision to throw on a third-and-1 put the drive in jeopardy with 1:27 left and just out of field-goal range. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t run Travis Etienne there against the No. 32 run defense in yards per carry. On fourth-and-1, it looked like the Jaguars were going to do the trendy push sneak, and they went with a big formation that felt like trouble for them getting a push.

But with a risky call that worked out great, they pitched the ball to Etienne on the edge and he turned up the field for a 25-yard gain and even stayed in bounds to burn more clock. That set up kicker Riley Patterson for a 36-yard field goal on the final play, and he nailed it to complete the comeback and get the 31-30 win.

Doug Pederson is now 6-0 ATS and 5-1 SU as a playoff underdog. This is his first playoff win without Nick Foles.

It looks like Staley is going to survive another year, but his mismanagement of Week 18 and this game, among other things this year, cast real doubt that he’s ever going to lead this team to anywhere but disappointment.

This was a game about field position early. The Chargers scored 27 points on their first seven drives because three started in the red zone and all of them started at the Los Angeles 32 or better. But they managed just one field goal on their last five drives, all of which started inside their own 25.

Once the Jaguars stopped gifting the Chargers short fields, the game completely turned around. Lawrence did a wonderful job of shaking off a brutal start in his first playoff game to deliver.

As for Herbert, he was kind of like Matt Ryan four weeks ago in Minnesota. He was more of a supporting actor than the driving force behind the lead or a significant part of the choke.

Never in doubt. But after a wild start, the Chargers remembered they are the team we thought they were, and they let Jacksonville off the hook with a Chargering masterpiece.

Seahawks at 49ers: When You Break a Sammy Baugh Record…

The first game of the weekend feels like ages ago thanks to the excessively long Buffalo game and the journey we had to take from Jacksonville’s 27-0 deficit to a win.

But San Francisco’s 41-23 win was interesting in that it produced arguably the best playoff game by a rookie quarterback since pre-World War II days in the NFL.

We knew Brock Purdy had this streak going of six straight games with multiple touchdown passes, and only Justin Herbert (2020) had done that in seven straight among rookies. We also know Purdy usually throws for 200 yards, but you have to go back a long way to find a time a rookie quarterback put up numbers like that in the playoffs and his team won.

Of the few rookie quarterbacks to win a playoff game, most did it the game manager way, like a Joe Flacco (2008) or Mark Sanchez (2009). They’re the only two to win two playoff games, but Purdy has a chance to join them after he threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns against Seattle.

  • You have to go back to Bob Waterfield in 1945 to find the last rookie quarterback to throw two touchdowns in a playoff win.
  • You have to go back to Sammy Baugh in 1937 to find the last rookie quarterback to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in a playoff win.
  • Hell, Baugh was the last rookie to throw for 200 yards in a win way back in 1937 too, but that’s the company Purdy keeps now.

Baugh and Waterfield did it in championship games, so you can say that’s a lot more impressive in that era than facing the 9-8 Seahawks. But Purdy belongs high on a list of best playoff debuts for any quarterback regardless of age.

Was it all pretty? No, I counted four or five risky throws that a better defense (or a luckier one) may make him pay for in future rounds. Deebo Samuel also showed his world-class YAC with a 74-yard touchdown that was all him. But I did like the improv skills that Purdy showed on his two touchdown passes to the running backs, and he made an incredible play in the fourth quarter to Brandon Aiyuk that was unfortunately dropped in the end zone as Aiyuk had to focus on getting his feet in bounds and forgot his hands.

Where the hell did they find this kid? That one incompletion there is something you won’t see many quarterbacks make in many years of playing. Like, some could play 23 years and literally never do anything close to this.

So I definitely came away intrigued even more with Purdy. As for the rest of the game, you have to say Seattle did a good job for three quarters. They survived the early Kyle Shanahan script, Geno Smith was calm in his playoff debut, they strung together plays, DK Metcalf showed up for a great game, and they even got a penalty on a late hit that set up a field goal and Seattle led 17-16 at the half.

But that Deebo YAC on a third-down short of the sticks led to a huge first down out of the break, and the 49ers were back on top 23-17 with Purdy’s 1-yard rushing touchdown. But I really thought at this point that Geno was dialed in and about to show this defense is falling apart at the wrong time. He converted a third-and-12, the Seahawks were driving into the red zone, then the ineligible man downfield penalties started hitting hard.

It was third-and-14, and one quick pressure led to Smith coughing up the ball, and Nick Bosa was there for the recovery with 2:25 left in the quarter. Total game changer and the 49ers rolled from there. The offense scored another touchdown to go up 31-17, Seattle’s line again self-destructed with penalties to bring up third-and-22, which led to a punt, and that’s when Samuel turned on the jets for the 74-yard dagger to make it 38-17.

Geno immediately threw a pick out of desperation and maybe frustration, and the 49ers just used that to burn more clock and add a field goal after Aiyuk failed to hang onto that play above. Seattle would add a touchdown to make it 41-23 but only 1:48 remained and the game ended after a failed onside kick.

An overmatched Seattle played this very well for three quarters, but when you have four different players capable of a 30-yard play for the 49ers, it was too much offense to handle.

Based on the way the other teams have looked in recent weeks, it is hard not to think the 49ers have all the right stuff to beat anyone and be the legitimate favorite to win it all. I don’t even know what we’re going to do with Purdy if he literally throws multiple touchdowns every week and wins every game on his way to a Super Bowl. He’d be leading the No. 1 scoring offense most likely since he took over. The only thing close to this is Kurt Warner’s story with the 1999 Rams, and while I’m not ready to say Purdy looks that accurate or great, it’s the only historical comparison we really have.

The kid just matched a Sammy Baugh record from 1937. What are we even supposed to do with this info? You expect it all to go horribly wrong in a game or two because he is a rookie and Kyle Shanahan is his head coach, but what if it doesn’t?

Maybe this is just their year.

NFL 2022 Wild Card Predictions

It has already been a strange, competetive, mediocre season, so who knows how this postseason will go. My preseason pick was Buffalo beating Tampa Bay 45-17, and I’m really not shying away from that yet. It could definitely happen with the way this NFC is.

In lieu of my usual full-length playoff previews on this blog, I have links to similar full-length previews that I wrote:

This will still be the only place I post my final score predictions for each playoff game.

Some articles I did this week:

Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers (-10)

Preview: Seahawks-49ers

I just want to see if Seattle can score more than 13 points, which is how many points the offense has in eight quarters this year against this defense. I expect the 49ers to win, though Kyle Shanahan and a rookie quarterback is one hell of a playoff combo for classic Shanahanigans. But probably not this week as the Seahawks do not match up well with this team. But I expect it to be closer than the last meeting in SF, and to be the highest scoring game of the season between these teams.

By the way, the team going for the 3-0 split is 14-9, so it usually happens. 49ers didn’t pull it off last year against the Rams, but this is an easier opponent.

Final: 49ers 27, Seahawks 19

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)

Brandon Staley really got Mike Williams hurt right before the playoffs, and the Chargers still lost to Denver. Frankly, I can’t understand why the Chargers are favored in this game, or why the spread has only gone up. They’re on a short week, they were bad last week, they lost Williams, they already lost 38-10 to this Jacksonville team, and they’re on the road here against a team that is statistically better by most metrics. Not a lot better, but better.

I can’t help but think Justin Herbert is going to feel the sting of a one-man show road playoff loss where he throws for over 300 yards, but gets nothing on the ground while the Jaguars crank up Travis Etienne against the defense that ranks No. 32 in yards per carry allowed.

I am concerned about the lack of points in the passing game in the last three weeks for Jacksonville, but we’ll see. This one should be close. Jacksonville’s last seven home games have all been decided by 1-to-7 points.

Final: Jaguars 27, Chargers 24

Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills (-13.5)

Rookie quarterbacks tend to stink in the playoffs as is, but Skylar Thompson is below average and probably replacement level. Mike McDaniel will have to cook up something amazing to keep this one close, or the Bills will have to have a bunch of turnovers. They were No. 3 in giveaways despite playing 16 games.

But the blowout of Miami by Buffalo that I’ve been waiting for since that Week 3 game should happen here. Just unfortunate it’s happening under the circumstances where the Dolphins don’t have their best QB or RB available for this game.

Final: Bills 34, Dolphins 13

New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings (-3)

Giants-Vikings

Be sure to read my previews on this game for all the good stats and records involving these teams who love playing close games. I can’t help but think the Giants are going to play well on offense and have a real shot to pull this one out. But I’ll cautoiusly pick the Vikings to win at home.

Final: Vikings 30, Giants 27

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals (-8.5)

Ravens-Bengals

I’m just a bit tired of seeing Baltimore (without Lamar Jackson) this season. This game should be better than the Week 18 crapfest these two just played, but I do not see the Ravens being able to score enough to win with Tyler Huntley. At the very least, their defense has been way better this year against Cincinnati, so I think the team is good enough to keep it close and cover.

Final: Bengals 24, Ravens 16

Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5)

Upset: Bucs over Cowboys

I’ve pretty much been saying since October after the Cowboys lost in Philadelphia that they would lose in the wild card round to the Buccaneers. With the way Week 1 happened and the way the Cowboys played in Washington and have been turning the ball over, I see no reason to change the pick now. If anything, they are just preparing to make sure they have a letdown here.

The team without a winning record who gets to host a playoff game is still 4-1 in those games. It’s an advantage the NFL needs to eliminate. However, I’m not sure this Dallas team would win at home either. Remember 19-3? Just figures Dak Prescott would have his worst games of the season to start and end the year.

Just curious to see how Dallas is going to blow this one. Leonard Fournette had his only 100-yard rushing game of the season in Week 1. Playoff Lenny time? Dallas is the only game this year where Tampa held a team under 10 points.

A Dan Quinn defense that has already blown leads of 14 and 17 points after halftime to Green Bay and Jacksonville? A Dallas offense that has thrown a pick-six in three of the last four games? The brain trust that brought us the QB draw in the closing seconds of last year’s wild card loss?

Yeah, save the popcorn for Monday night.

Final: Buccaneers 23, Cowboys 20

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

After 271 games, the 2022 NFL regular season is over. The simplest preview of the playoffs is that it looks like a 3-team buzzsaw in the AFC (Chiefs-Bills-Bengals) and the 49ers may be tempting fate in the mine field that is the NFC and get to the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback playing better than anyone could have imagined.

Plenty of playoff articles to come, but for now, let’s put Week 18 to rest with its eight comeback opportunities and relatively low drama. Let’s face it, there isn’t much to say about many of these games, and I don’t want to go into 2023 preview mode this early, so this will be a light finish.

But first, a look at how I did on the preseason predictions.

Season Predictions: Worst Fears Confirmed, But Not Exactly the Worst Year Ever

I always knew I had my work cut out for me after nailing so many picks for the 2021 season when I got 28 teams within two games of their final record. Regression to the mean was coming, and I took some chances on my 2022 NFL predictions with picking the Colts and Broncos to win double-digit games and make the playoffs, for Arizona to turn a messy offseason into another postseason, for the Rams to finish as the No. 1 seed for their title defense, and for the Chargers to unseat the Chiefs in the AFC West by one game.

Even one of my best predictions was one I couldn’t ultimately reap, because I said before Week 1 that my initial run through of the schedule was too kind to give the Eagles a 14-3 record, so I watered it down to 11-6 as my final prediction. Sure enough, they did finish 14-3 on their way to the top seed in the NFC.

At the end of the day, I was off by 2.78 wins on average, which is the same as I did in the 2020 pandemic season. A far cry from the 1.28 games in 2021, but not unchartered territory for me.

Since I had the Bills finishing 13-4 and Bengals finishing 9-8, and that game was thrown out, it probably deserves an asterisk to say I had a second team to the exact record when Buffalo was 13-3 and I had 13-4. But the Bills, my Super Bowl pick, still look good going into the playoffs, and after the Damar Hamlin story, I actually feel even more confident in them pulling together to finish this job. But still much work to be done for the Bills.

I’ll have more articles this week looking back where some of these teams went wrong or where I went wrong. Those West divisions certainly had me hoodwinked and bamboozled.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Lions at Packers: Did Detroit Just End Aaron Rodgers’ Career?

It is 5:30 AM and this is my last game to write about after a long weekend. I don’t really want to go down the eulogy for Aaron Rodgers rabbit hole again, but that could have been the end last night. The way he walked off the field with Randall Cobb at his side, the subtle salute to the fans before going in the tunnel, this felt different than the playoff loss to the 49ers last year.

As for the game, it was pretty much a greatest hits of Green Bay in a big home loss with playoff implications:

  • Aaron Jones lost another big fumble in scoring territory before halftime that the Lions turned into a field goal.
  • Defense gave up a huge 43-yard bomb to Kalif Raymond to the 1-yard line.
  • Some bad play around the red zone (misfires, sacks on third down) left the Packers settling for too many field goals.
  • A terrible fourth-and-1 run was snuffed out by the Lions at Green Bay’s own 32, which led to an early Detroit field goal.
  • Mason Crosby hit the crossbar on a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter.
  • Lions converted a fourth-and-2 on their way to the go-ahead touchdown drive with 5:55 left as Jamaal Williams scored two short touchdowns against his former team.
  • On a third-and-10, Rodgers flinched under pressure and just threw up a deep ball that was picked. Better than getting sacked or checking down for a yard, but he never saw the ball again with 3:27 left.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown caught a pass in his prostate area.
  • The fearless Lions, playing with nothing to lose, were aggressive and smart in running out the clock by declining penalties, trying bold laterals by design, and ultimately putting the game away with a fourth-and-1 pass conversion from Goff to DJ Chark.

It really is a shame the Lions (9-8) were eliminated before the game started with Seattle’s win, and that their season is not continuing next week. Because this team is playing well and they can score. Jared Goff did not throw an interception in the last nine games this season and he will finish No. 5 in QBR (61.2) on the season. Crazy stuff.

Rodgers will turn 40 next season in December. Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger all recently retired after their age-39 season. Does Rodgers follow suit? We’ll just have to wait and find out, but it really does seem like he’s gotten all he could get out of this run with the Packers. I have some faith that Matt LaFleur can make Jordan Love work, but it will be a lot different not seeing Rodgers in Green Bay.

Titans at Jaguars: Fumbling Away the AFC South

Going back to Saturday night’s showdown for the AFC South, this really felt like some 1990s Tom Coughlin vs. Jeff Fisher matchup to me. The game was a grind after some early fireworks, including rookie Treylon Burks trying one of the wildest laterals you will ever see in a play where the clock was not a factor.

But the Titans ended up blowing a 10-0 lead, the 50th time (NFL record) that happened in the 2022 season, and they failed to score on their final five drives. You have to wonder if they win the game if they just play the most conservative approach possible down the stretch.

In the biggest game yet for the Trevor Lawrence era, the offense wasn’t exactly dealing. In fact, the Jaguars are the first team to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback win without gaining a first down in the fourth quarter since the 2000 Panthers against the Chargers (credit to ESPN Stats & Info for putting that one out there).

A game like this is why I really need to add a no decision column to my fourth-quarter comeback opportunity records for quarterbacks, teams, and coaches. Lawrence had the ball in a 16-10 game to start the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars were already in field goal range thanks to a Josh Dobbs interception. The drive gained 7 yards (no first downs) and ended with a 36-yard field goal.

Okay, but it was still a 16-13 Tennessee lead. The Jaguars went three-and-out on their next two drives with Lawrence going 0-for-5 in success rate (0-for-6 in the quarter).

But after draining more than 5:00 off the clock and barely over 3:00 left to play, the Titans faced a third-and-6. Josh Dobbs had a decent game all things considered to this point. But the last thing he could do was turn the ball over. The blitz came and got him from the blind side and he lost the ball on a strip-sack that was picked up and returned for a 37-yard game-winning touchdown by Josh Allen with 2:51 left. It was close to being a forward pass, and the review was surprisingly fast, but it did look like a fumble.

Huge mistake. The Titans aren’t built for comebacks this year with the weak passing game. Dobbs took a sack at midfield that brought up a third-and-12, and the Titans took their first timeout at 1:46. Right there, I felt like they should have hurried up and ran the next play. If they couldn’t make 12 yards in two plays, then maybe they could use their three timeouts to get the ball back for a second drive.

But when you use the timeout, you are basically putting the game all on this drive, and a false start only made it worse to bring up third-and-17. Then a 4-yard completion burned a second timeout for the Titans, and now the game was going to be decided on a fourth-and-13. I thought that was managed poorly.

Dobbs threw well short of the sticks and the play gained 9 yards before the Titans turned it over on downs. Game over. Jaguars win the AFC South and their biggest game since the 2017 AFC Championship Game. Jaguars come back from 2-6 to 9-8 while the Titans lost seven in a row after a 7-3 start. We’ll see if Mike Vrabel doesn’t fall on the sword for this slide. They already canned the general manager (Jon Robinson) in December.

The Jaguars are going to have to play better to beat the Chargers, but that should be a much more offensive game than this one. Tennessee was tough against the run and the Jaguars only had 10 handoffs for 22 yards. Look for much more from Travis Etienne against the Chargers.

But yeah, I did not credit Lawrence for a fourth-quarter comeback in this one since the game-winning score was fully provided by the fumble touchdown. It clearly was not a game-winning drive either. I’ll have to consider working on a no contest column after this game in the offseason. Similarly, Kirk Cousins should get a no contest for his 4QC attempt against Buffalo since the go-ahead score was that fumble return touchdown. Games like this are tricky and they seem to be popping up a little more frequently these days.

Just protect the ball, guys.

Rams at Seahawks: Playoff-Bound Geno

Before this season, Geno Smith had three fourth-quarter comeback wins in his career, but he had two huge ones this year against the Rams to help push the Seahawks (9-8) into the most unexpected playoff spot of the season.

The Seahawks had to come back in the fourth quarter against the Rams to win 19-16 in overtime, then needed to watch the Lions upset the Packers at night to get the job done for the playoffs.

It didn’t seem likely when the day started, but what has ever seemed likely with this Seattle team? From Geno making the Pro Bowl and leading the NFL in completion percentage to Kenneth Walker quite possibly winning Offensive Rookie of the Year – he was my pick at +3000 odds in an August article – to winning four more games than Russell Wilson’s Broncos to losing home games against the Raiders and Panthers, this season has been crazy for Pete Carroll’s group.

Baker Mayfield threw up a prayer in overtime that was intercepted, and from there, Seattle drove into field goal range to let Jason Myers redeem himself from missing off the upright to end regulation with a 32-yard field goal to win the game.

The Seahawks are going to be a double-digit underdog in San Francisco next week, but you never know against a rookie quarterback in a division game.

Crazy to think we may have seen the last of Sean McVay coaching the Rams (5-12) in this game too. Big changes coming there.

Jets at Dolphins: Can We Just Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water Here?

I’m sorry, but Skylar Thompson vs. Joe Flacco in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter just reeks of irrelevant end to the season for AFC East Stooges rather than a postseason-clinching game.

But this is where we were after Miami’s five-game losing streak. They got the proper help from the Bills beating the Patriots, and they just needed to beat the lowly Jets.

As much as I didn’t want to see overtime either, I wish the refs didn’t feel the need to call a phantom horse collar tackle.

That wiped out a third-and-7 situation and put the Dolphins inside the Jets 40. Four plays later, the Dolphins hit a 50-yard field goal to take a 9-6 lead with 18 seconds left. The Jets tried the lateral play, but all it did was go down as a safety, giving the Dolphins (-3.5) perhaps the most unearned, inexplicable cover of the season in a 11-6 final.

Miami gets the rubber match in Buffalo next week. They probably will give the Bills a better game than the Steelers would have, but if Tua Tagovailoa cannot go, then it is not an attractive matchup in my book. The AFC East was awfully close to sending just one team to the playoffs, but we’ll see what the Dolphins can do in Buffalo.

Ravens at Bengals: The Settled AFC North

We can stop talking about the coin flip and unsettled AFC North race. The Bengals won it fair and square this year after beating the Ravens 27-16 in a slog of a game that saw 28 total possessions between the teams.

The Bengals quickly led 17-0, but things did not come easy for the offense after that. They were fortunate to be facing third-string rookie quarterback Anthony Brown, who threw two early picks before hitting some big plays later.

Really, I’m not looking forward to seeing these teams match up a third time next week in Cincinnati. Not unless Lamar Jackson makes his return, but even then, given his playoff history and more than a month of missing practice, how good can he be? I think the Bengals could have held back and ran a fake game plan in this one to still get the easy win. I’m not expecting much from the Ravens next week.

Patriots at Bills: New England Never Stood a Chance

While it was likely hard for the Bengals to take the field of the site of Monday night’s tragedy with Damar Hamlin collapsing with cardiac arrest, imagine the emotions going through Buffalo players on Sunday. Fortunately, they got the best news possible on Hamlin this week, and they were able to put on a show with him following along on social media.

Nyheim Hines put his name in the history books by returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, the kind of thing you could only script if we’re being honest. Then he did it again later for a 101-yard return just 13 seconds after the Patriots took their only lead of the game. There were four kickoff return touchdowns all season before Sunday, and Hines just added a pair himself. Incredible stuff.

And yes, this is just the second time under Bill Belichick that the Patriots have allowed two special teams return touchdowns in a game. The last was against the 2015 Eagles and those were both related to punts (one return, one blocked punt return).

The Bills needed this too after a shaky start with back-to-back turnovers between the quarters. But Josh Allen found some big plays and continues to be one of the toughest quarterbacks Bill Belichick has had to defend. He finished with 254 yards and three touchdown passes, including a dagger to Stefon Diggs for 49 yards on third-and-10 to take a 35-23 lead in the fourth quarter. That stood after Mac Jones tossed two picks, including a deflected one in the final minutes.

For the third year in a row, the Bills emphatically beat the Patriots late in the year to show who runs the AFC East now. This is technically the second season in a row the Patriots were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss against the Bills.

The Bills are the No. 2 seed, will probably be the last 13-3 team we ever see, but they are still in position to do what they wanted to do all along this year. The AFC Championship Game will even be played at a neutral site should it be Bills vs. Chiefs again.

Something tells me that crowd will be heavily tilted to Buffalo no matter where the game is played.

Browns at Steelers: Pittsburgh Bests Cleveland for 30th Straight Season

What does that title mean? Since 1990, the Steelers have finished ahead of the Browns in the final regular-season standings in every season for a total of 30 straight. Remember that the Browns did not exist in 1996-98 before coming back in 1999.

When you get to face a sack merchant like Deshaun Watson, it was kind of inevitable that Pittsburgh would pull this off. I called it months ago:

I did not call for a 9-8 season and nearly sneaking into another postseason, but that happened too. The Steelers finish the season allowing no more than 17 points in seven straight games, their longest streak since 2001.

It was not the prettiest win. Diontae Johnson came up just short of a touchdown, making scoreless history with the most targets (147) and catches (86) in a season without a touchdown catch. Kenny Pickett also failed to throw multiple touchdowns in any game this season, though he did find George Pickens on a 31-yard score in this one – only the second offensive touchdown that occurred outside the red zone for Pittsburgh in 2022.

Watson took seven sacks, and it could have been several more if he wasn’t elusive. But on one sack, he was clearly pulled down by the facemask, yet no flag was thrown as if the referee acknowledged who he was, sided with the dozens of accusers, and said to hell with this predator. I can’t say I didn’t laugh my ass off at that moment. However, if you ever wanted hard proof that make-up calls exist in major sports, watch the roughing the passer call on Cam Heyward they later bailed out Cleveland with to make up for that missed facemask. Total bullshit.

The fact that came the drive right after the missed facemask makes it such a clear case of a make-up call. The Browns would get a touchdown to make it 20-14, but for Pickett’s inaccuracies on the day, he was money on every third-and-long down the stretch. The Steelers scored to put it away at 28-14, just the second time all season they scored more than 24 points.

At the end of the day, losing 16-10 in Miami was a killer for the Steelers’ wild card hopes, but I think this team would have been smoked in Buffalo next week anyway. I’m mostly just mad that they let Zach Wilson and the Jets score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter in Week 4. That was the real kick in the nads this season.

It was a weird season for the Steelers. They beat Brady, they beat the Raiders, they split with every AFC North rival, and yet they still missed the playoffs despite a 9-8 record to extend to a 19th straight non-losing season, tied with the 2001-19 Patriots for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Expectations should be higher next year. As for Cleveland, what a joke Watson was this year after Jacoby Brissett played so well. Believe it or not, Brissett is going to finish No. 8 in QBR (59.7) this season. Watson did not qualify with enough attempts, but his 38.6 would have ranked 27th between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.

Yeah, it’s been a wild year for many around the NFL. But at least we still have the standard of Pittsburgh finishing ahead of Cleveland in the AFC.

Chiefs at Raiders: Quick Work

The first game this weekend had some of the least drama as the Chiefs made quick work of the Raiders to wrap up the No. 1 seed in a 31-13 win. No 17-0 comeback this time. No 30-29 finish. No 37-34 shootout between Jarrett Stidham and Patrick Mahomes like Stidham had with the 49ers’ top-ranked defense a week ago. No, just domination by the Chiefs, who had six sacks.

The game was a letdown in that regard as you would have thought it’d be more dramatic with the way these teams played so many close games. It was only the second time this season the Raiders were not in a one-score game in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs no doubt picked on an easy schedule down the stretch and took full advantage of the Bills-Bengals cancellation to get to 14-3 and the No. 1 seed despite losing to the next two seeds. But one thing I will say about the AFC West race that never materialized is that the Broncos (5) and Raiders (6) both finished with as many wins as they had blown leads in the fourth quarter. Those teams were absolutely underachievers, but they were also much better than their records.

Things could improve quickly with better coaching in 2023, though it seems like McDaniels will be safe in Las Vegas. I’m not sure how – just losing to Jeff Saturday should be a firable offense.

Giants at Eagles: No. 1 But Not Dominant

Jalen Hurts returned after a two-game absence for his shoulder injury, but it was not the most inspiring 22-16 win over a Giants team playing a bunch of backups and the Eagles favored by 16.5 points at home.

You could twist yourself into a pretzel debating if the game’s final score was indicative of the closeness, but you cannot deny Hurts showed some rust and it just wasn’t that impressive of a win given who New York was playing, including Davis Webb at quarterback. It was the first game all season where Hurts did not throw or run for a touchdown, though Boston Scott scored another one to prove he is the Giants Killer.

But the Eagles let a 19-0 game get to a miracle onside kick recovery away from being really interesting at the end. Ultimately, they are still the No. 1 seed, but I will take the 49ers over them in a playoff game, and I still think Tampa Bay will beat this team if they match up in the divisional round.

Cowboys at Commanders: Howell Bad Was Dallas?

I did not watch a lick of rookie quarterback Sam Howell in the preseason, but I know his stats were impressive and likely the result of good work. Granted, we’ve seen fool’s gold from rookie quarterback preseason stats before with Blake Bortles and Daniel Jones, so take those with a grain of salt.

But if I was given a choice of Carson Wentz or Sam Howell to start against the Browns last week, I would have gone to Howell no doubt. You know how I feel about Wentz. He’s the guy you go to if you don’t want to advance in the playoffs. If he played this game, I doubt he wins it too.

We have our first .500 team in the 17-game era as Washington’s upset win produces an 8-8-1 record. It was an upset with Dallas favored by 7.5 points on the road, and even if the Cowboys were not properly motivated, this performance was a shit show. They were trying to become just the seventh team to score 27 points in a 10th-straight game, but they couldn’t even get to 7 points this week.

Prescott threw another pick-six and was 14-of-37 for 128 yards. This was even worse than the performance he started the year with in Tampa Bay in Week 1’s 19-3 loss.

Oh yeah, it’s finally time for the playoff matchup I’ve been talking about since October. Is there any doubt the Cowboys are going to shit the bed in Tampa Bay with turnovers and lose that game too? I don’t even think they should be favored at this point.

Cardinals at 49ers: Ready to Break the Glass Ceiling

Watching Brock Purdy throw multiple touchdown passes in six straight games while Kenny Pickett couldn’t do it once this year in twice the games is frustrating. You can’t just put it all on scheme and weapons either. George Kittle caught 11 touchdowns this year, most of them from Purdy in the last month, and he never had more than six scores in a season before 2022. It just seems like Kyle Shanahan trusts this rookie in a way he didn’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo.

But we’ll find out plenty in the weeks to come with Purdy in the playoffs as he attempts to become the first rookie quarterback to start (and win) a Super Bowl. He’s already seen Seattle’s defense once and did fine in that game, but we’ll see how it goes. Being the No. 2 seed is pretty good this year in the NFC as it likely means Seattle, Minnesota, then possibly hosting Tampa Bay, the team they were up 35-0 on a few weeks ago.

This could be the year we see a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl, and let’s face it, in the first 56 seasons there were almost no situations this advantageous between the weapons and defense around a rookie quarterback. No one would really blink an eye if he wasn’t Mr. Irrelevant and a third-string rookie quarterback.

As for Arizona, a miserable season, but salute to J.J. Watt on an incredible career. One of the best to ever do it and he was a force down the stretch this season. Injuries are the only thing that slowed him down.

Buccaneers at Falcons: Stats Over Winning, Eh?

The Buccaneers were my upset pick this week, because there was no way Tom Brady was going to play in a game just to accumulate some meaningless counting records for most pass attempts and completions in a season just because he throws the ball more than anyone in 17-game seasons.

No way was he playing for records over not having his first losing record (8-9) or suffering his first loss against an Atlanta team he was 11-0 against.

But it happened. Even when Brady could have come in at the Atlanta 22 after his defense forced a fumble in a 10-10 game in the second quarter, he stayed on the bench while Blaine Gabbert came in to lead that short-field touchdown drive. It would be the last score of the game for the Bucs, who also played Kyle Trask in the fourth quarter of a 30-17 loss. Total preseason approach.

The Buccaneers finish with a losing record and Brady’s first loss to the Falcons. I’m still stunned that happened. At least Desmond Ridder finally threw the first two touchdown passes of his career, and rookie running back Tyler Allgeier had a big game to finish with over 1,000 rushing yards.

But the Bucs are still beating Dallas next week. Just accept it. It’s inevitable.

Chargers at Broncos: Who Was Brandon Staley Trying to Impress?

You could argue Brandon Staley did as poor a job as anyone in managing their team’s situation in Week 18. He is new to this postseason thing, but Staley came into the game locked into the No. 5 seed and going to Jacksonville next week. I’m not one for blowing these games off with 60 minutes of rest, but you have to keep the big picture in mind at some point.

It’s not like the Chargers were getting productive minutes out of this game. They lost Mike Williams to injury in the second quarter. That’s tough to blame Staley for, though he has been an injured player this year and probably should have been made inactive in the first place. But the Williams injury should have been a reminder to not push for this one, and to definitely not have Keenan Allen in the game late in the fourth quarter catching a touchdown pass from Chase Daniel in a losing effort.

Like, what the hell was the point of that? It’s not like he was trying to get to 1,000 yards on the season or anything. Asking Justin Herbert to throw nearly 40 passes in three quarters of action was just insane on Staley’s part, and all the Chargers got out of it was a loss, no momentum going into next week, and possibly a big injury to one of their best receivers. Not good.

Meanwhile, I got burned badly riding with Russ this season in Denver, but this game was the kind of player I expected to see show up more often. Wilson had three completions of 50-plus yards on his way to 283 yards and three touchdown passes. It was the first time all season the Broncos scored 30 points.

Depending on the head coach hire in Denver, I’ll probably pick them again next year to do well. The jokes have been there all season, but I think we’re underestimating how quickly they could turn things around with the right coach. This team blew five fourth-quarter leads and had plenty of talent on injured reserve. Let’s not bury Wilson’s career just yet.

Vikings at Bears: No. 1 Pick Belongs to Chicago

Unlike the Chargers, the Vikings did this right by getting good work in for the starters before resting and winning comfortably, 29-13 for a change, against the Bears. They even won big without intercepting Nathan Peterman, who started in place of Justin Fields, once on 19 passes. Tim Boyle played too and played the role of Peterman better than the OG himself, throwing two picks on eight passes.

With the Chicago loss and Houston win (thanks, Lovie), the Bears hold the No. 1 pick with a 3-14 record. A lot to say about this going forward, but I think you have to at least work out and interview the top quarterbacks, including Alabama’s Bryce Young. It’s a really bad look for Fields to get drafted high in 2021, then two years later you are picking No. 1 in the draft with him there. That’s not normal nor is his lack of passing production.

Interesting times ahead in Chicago with major cap space and draft capital.

Texans at Colts: Lovie Smith’s Last Victory for the Bears

The Texans already fired Lovie Smith on Sunday night, not even waiting for the clock to strike on Black Monday as it’s known around the league. I wouldn’t have hired him in the first place, but that makes two years in a row the Texans went one-and-done on a coach. That’s some Jim Tomsula/Chip Kelly stuff there (2015-16 49ers).

But I hope it was an act of defiance and a nod to his old team in Chicago that Lovie played for the win in his final game even though it would hand over the No.1 pick in the draft. He’s not losing to a chump like Jeff Saturday, who only beat a bigger chump in Josh McDaniels in his first game coaching.

The Texans led by 10 points multiple times but sure seemed to be in tank mode after back-to-back interceptions by Davis Mills, including a pick-six. The Colts took a late 31-24 lead and it would have been very easy for the Texans to come up short while looking like they tried everything to win.

Maybe that was even the plan, but the Colts kept giving up fourth-and-long conversions. The worst was a fourth-and-20 when an Indy defensive back made Rahim Moore look competent by going up for an interception, seeing the ball go through his hands, and landing in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown with 50 seconds left.

Of course you go for two in this situation, and even then the Texans could have intentionally ran a garbage play to secure the No. 1 pick. But they converted and held on for the 32-31 win.

The Texans finish 3-13-1, edged out by the Bears and their 3-14 record. The Bears even beat Houston way back in Week 3, so you can say Lovie gave them two gifts this season.

Was it worth it? We’ll see if someone offers a king’s ransom to the Bears for that top pick. Lovie wasn’t a good hire, but they gave him a terrible team to work with. It was a no-win situation this year.

Panthers at Saints: They’re Going to Do This Shit Again Next Year, Aren’t They?

I’d prefer to pretend this 10-7 game didn’t even exist, but I guess I have to cover Sam Darnold getting a game-winning drive in a game where he was 5-of-15 for 43 yards, two interceptions, and a 2.8 passer rating. Yes, 2.8.

This was about the worst outcome possible for the NFC South if you wanted to see major changes next year. Just the last two minutes alone encapsulate why these teams need to clean house at head coach and quarterback. Darnold threw a pick, the Saints totally botched the situation and burned 16 seconds before having a 55-yard field goal blocked, then Darnold made one completion that set up a game-winning field goal with no time left.

It is the first Carolina game-winning drive since September 29, 2019. The streak of 50 straight losses when trailing in the fourth quarter still stands and will have to be broken next season. But if the Panthers keep the same coach and quarterback, it may not end again.

With the bottom three teams finishing at 7-10 and Tampa Bay at 8-9, watch them all think this is fine because they “were close” to winning the shit division. So, they’ll stick with Steve Wilks and Sam Darnold in Carolina, Andy Dalton and Dennis Allen in New Orleans, Arthur Smith and Desmond Ridder (better argument there at least) in Atlanta.

Why would Brady bail on that division when it’s practically a free ticket to a home playoff game in a sad conference? Look at the AFC where seven first-round quarterbacks are in the playoffs, and someone like Kenny Pickett is going to want to crash that party next year. Don’t sleep on Russell Wilson turning things around with a new coach either, and Bryce Young might still end up in Houston.

The NFC is a con and I expect this postseason to play out accordingly. Bet on the LOAT now if you want the best price you’re going to get.

Next Week

  • PLAYOFFS!?
  • A 3-0 sweep coming for the Seahawks at the hands of San Francisco?
  • Was 38-10 a rib-injury influenced fluke between the Chargers and Jaguars?
  • Can Tua Tagovailoa (or at least Teddy Bridgewater) return for the playoffs in Buffalo?
  • Will the Giants finally put an end to Minnesota’s close-game win streak?
  • Can Lamar Jackson return for the playoffs, and will he actually play well this time?
  • How badly are the Cowboys going to implode in Tampa Bay on Monday night? Thank Christ that game will not have Tony Romo on the call. I’ll Manning Cast the shit out of this one.

NFL Week 18 Predictions: I Know It’s Over, And It Never Really Began Edition

It looks like we have made it to the end of another regular season in the NFL. In about 23 hours we’ll see if Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have set themselves up for possibly another playoff loss to the 49ers, or maybe it’s the Seahawks or Lions.

Chances are, if your team hasn’t clinched a spot yet, you’re not winning the Super Bowl this year. I still strongly believe this is a Chiefs-Bills-Bengals AFC and a 49ers-Eagles-Brady’s luck NFC. Maybe the Cowboys if the ball bounces their way, but I doubt it.

Saturday’s two games, which I’ll recap tomorrow night, did not inspire much offense as all four quarterbacks hit the under in passing yards and defense led the charge in both games.

We could be in store for some ugliness tomorrow as many teams just try to put the final bow on this season, and every player couldn’t help but feel impacted by Damar Hamlin’s cardiac incident on Monday night. Thankfully the news continues to be good for Hamlin, and I wouldn’t want to be the Patriots becuase I think Buffalo is going to kick their ass right out of the playoffs. In fact, I feel only more confident in my preseason pick of the Bills winning the Super Bowl. This team can celebrate a new lease on life after getting the best news possible on Hamlin after such a grim scene Monday night.

But we are also in that week where teams are just throwing Nathan Peterman (Bears), Davis Webb (Giants), and Joe Flacco (Jets) on the field to wrap this up. Is Kyle Trask going to play for the Bucs? I can’t see Brady, on hubris alone, willingly accepting a losing record at 8-9.

We just saw Josh Dobbs fumble the season away for the Titans. We’ll see what happens on the final Sunday of a weird regular season.

Some of this week’s articles:

I plan on having a bunch more during the playoffs.

NFL Week 18 Predictions

A rough Saturday for predicting the closeness of both games, but the favorite won both.

I have to go back to the drawing board next year. The ATS picks have just been lousy this year, and I think a big part of it has been trying to match up my preseason projections, which were really wrong on several teams (Rams, Broncos, Colts, Bucs, Cardinals, etc.), with what I was seeing on the field during the season. Way too many teams surged and slumped and I seemed to always be on the other side of it.

  • Could Denver and Indy really be this bad with Wilson and Ryan? Apparently, YES.
  • Are the Jags actually going to turn this around and the Titans going to collapse like that? YES.
  • The Lions at 1-6 and the Packers at 4-8 are dead, right? Apparently not.
  • Rodgers and Brady are going to figure this thing out, right? Eh, running out of time and only in the playoffs (maybe) because the NFC sucks.
  • The Vikings can’t keep winning every close game, can they? Fucking hell, it sure looks like it

I knew after having my best season of predictions that the regression was going to hit hard in 2022, but this has been rougher than I expected. We’ll see what the final results are tomorrow night.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 17

I have been warning people for weeks about how shaky and fraudulent this NFC is. On Sunday, the top three teams almost all lost, but the 49ers were able to pull one out in overtime because the Raiders are just that creative at losing games under Josh McDaniels.

But the Eagles lost for the second week in a row, and Minnesota’s close-game magic is still intact after another ass-kicking. This time it was at the hands of Green Bay, which just has to win at home against Detroit to make the playoffs again.

Great job, NFC. Even when Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are playing the least-inspiring football of their careers, you can’t drive the stake through the heart and rid yourselves of them. The Buccaneers won the NFC South again as expected, but you won’t believe how many close games the Panthers have lost in the fourth quarter going back to 2018 now. Scroll down to the second game recap for the answer.

Blowouts were up this week, and only seven games featured a comeback opportunity. Let’s just hope that means they are saving a classic finish for Monday night when the Bills meet the Bengals. I strongly believe more now than at any point this season that the best postseason result is to see that three-way battle play out in the AFC with the Bills/Chiefs/Bengals and the last one standing takes on the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

But that might be too much trust in the team that nearly lost to Jarrett Stidham on a wild Sunday.

This season in Stat Oddity:

49ers at Raiders: The Purdy-Stidham Shootout We Never Knew We Needed

It was just last week when I said I was getting bored already of the Brock Purdy-led 49ers. Bored of the wire-to-wire wins. Bored of the defense being great. Show me what happens if he has to win a high-scoring game or come back late. Show me if he can bounce back from a mistake. Give me as much info as possible before the playoffs to see how he might handle different situations, because things are not always going to be this easy.

Well, little did I expect one of the season’s best shootouts to come between Purdy and Jarrett Stidham, the latter making his first NFL start in place of the benched Derek Carr. If you told someone in August this would be a Week 17 game, they would assume both teams had horrible seasons and injuries.

Well, there have been injuries, and the Raiders are having a horrible season. But they are undeniably the most creative team at finding ways to lose. The Raiders have now blown six fourth-quarter leads this year, and this was the fifth time they have blown a double-digit lead.

But the finish to this one was wild with almost every drive ending in a turnover or score. Just when you thought the 49ers would pull away after a well-designed YAC play, the Raiders would hold them or answer with their own big play.

Even after the 49ers took a 34-27 lead with 2:17 left, Stidham confidently led the team right down the field to tie. Davante Adams made an incredible catch for 45 yards, keeping the ball from hitting the ground. Adams definitely helped Stidham a lot, but it’s not like Carr played without Adams this year. I’m not sold Carr could have repeated this Stidham performance, throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns and taking a top-ranked defense to 34-34 in overtime.

But it really should not have gone to overtime. Purdy locked onto Brandon Aiyuk all the way down the field, and even got away with a pop-up ball after he was hit to get another completion to Aiyuk to set up a field goal. But before you could think about crowning a new LOAT, Robbie Gould badly missed a 41-yard field goal wide right. We’d go to overtime where the Raiders won the coin toss. Again, not LOAT material.

But then the other shoe dropped as Stidham was intercepted and the ball was returned to the Las Vegas 7. Purdy came out and took a knee, because otherwise I wouldn’t be giving any credit for a game-winning drive. Gould then redeemed himself with a 23-yard field goal to win it 37-34.

Incredibly, the game of the day’s overtime finish was seen by very few around the country because of absurd NFL broadcasting rules. It is 2023 now, so I’m not sure how that can still happen.

I felt denied the chance to see the Raiders blow another one in real time. But this was definitely right up there with Marcus Mariota vs. P.J. Walker (37-34 in Week 8) as the unexpected shootout of the season.

Panthers at Buccaneers: The Inevitable NFC South Outcome

It may have taken 17 weeks and sunk to lows few could have imagined, but the 2022 NFC South race is over, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won the division title for the second year in a row. Just like we expected.

It took another double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter and three Sam Darnold turnovers to pull it off, but you couldn’t say same old 2022 Bucs in this game. This was different as Tom Brady played his best game of the season, and really one of the best of his career in the 30-24 win.

When these teams met in Week 7, Mike Evans dropped a long touchdown pass on the first drive despite being wide open. When I saw that, I figured they were going to kill Carolina that day, but the blunder seemed to set a tone for the rest of the day, and the Bucs never pulled themselves out of it and lost 21-3 in a shocker. Since then, the team’s play has been so poor offensively that we are just used to seeing this now. They win after defenses get tired in the fourth quarter and they can go hurry-up just like they did in Arizona last week.

But Sunday was different. Even when Carolina took a 14-0 lead early, it’s not like they were making Brady play poorly, which is always the most surefire way to beat him. You are not going to rely on winning a shootout at the end or making his teammates screw up. You beat him by beating him down and making him play like shit. This has been the case since 2001. Chris Godwin fumbled a pass on the opening drive for the Bucs, but they didn’t fall apart this time after a first-drive mistake. Ryan Succop also failed on three different kicks on the day.

Evans not only made up for Week 7, but he took full advantage of the secondary not having corner Jaycee Horn (wrist surgery) by constantly getting open down the same right sideline and catching three touchdowns to go along with 207 yards in maybe the best game of his career.

When the Bucs fell behind 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Evans was still the key target with touchdown catches of 57 and 30 to make the comeback and take a 24-21 lead. But Darnold had his chance to be the hero. He had two turnovers earlier in the game, snapping his streak of four straight games without an interception.

But Darnold’s defense sacked Brady on a third down, made him so angry he spiked the ball and drew a 5-yard penalty for delay of game, and Darnold was given 2:32 to deliver his own signature drive in the biggest game of his career.

It went about as well as you expect from a quarterback with a 3-14 record at fourth-quarter comebacks. On the very first snap, Darnold was sacked and stripped of the ball. The Bucs took over at the Carolina 6. Two plays later, Brady snuck in the touchdown for a 30-21 lead after Succop missed the extra point.

Carolina got a field goal to make it 30-24, but it did not recover the onside kick. Good timeout management helped the Panthers get the ball back with 26 seconds left, and it could have been in incredible field position after a bad snap on the punt. But the punter was able to pick the ball up and somehow gather himself to get off an incredible kick downed inside the 3. But a penalty negated that and there was a re-kick.

Still, that play really saved the day for Tampa as Carolina could have taken over 30 or 35 yards away from the lead. Instead, Darnold had to go 92 yards in 26 seconds without a timeout. Yeah, good luck. The lateral play to end it was one of the better attempts you’ll see, but it ultimately failed.

That was the end of the NFC South race. Brady finished with 432 yards on a reasonable 45 attempts this week. Darnold had 341 yards, but the three turnovers were costly. As expected, the vaunted Carolina running game was held in check with just 16 carries for 47 yards from the running backs this week.

So, you could say it was same old Panthers. The stench of Matt Rhule is hard to get out, but these issues have been going on even longer than his arrival in 2020.

  • The Carolina Panthers have lost 50 straight games when trailing in the fourth quarter.
  • Carolina’s last 4QC win was October 21, 2018 in Philadelphia, a wild one from a 17-0 deficit in a 21-17 win.
  • Since that day, the Panthers are 0-29 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, or the games where they had the ball, down 1-to-8 points.

This is an insane stretch spanning five seasons now. We just saw Tampa Bay the last two Sundays win a game after trailing by double digits in the fourth. You don’t need a Brady to do this. The next game up is Pittsburgh and rookie Kenny Pickett has marched down the field for a game-winning touchdown in back-to-back weeks.

Twenty-nine straight losses? It is absolutely embarrassing. Even the last game-winning drive for the Panthers was in 2019 in a game where Kyle Allen threw an incomplete pass in a 10-10 game against Houston on the first play of the fourth quarter, then Joey Slye made a 55-yard field goal for a 13-10 lead in a 16-10 win. Not exactly the stuff of legends.

I have no idea if Brady will retire again or try to join another team, but since the 49ers don’t need him, he would be crazy to leave this NFC South. It is the gift that keeps on giving, and since the race still turned out to be this close, don’t be surprised if his new Three Stooges decide to not make wholesale changes for 2023.

Brady can win the South again with a sad record, host a playoff game, and who knows what can happen when you have this many Perennial NFC Pissants who can implode in January when you are talking about the Packers, Vikings, Cowboys, Eagles, and 49ers.

He will never go back to the AFC when he has this advantage in the NFC.

Steelers at Ravens: Latest Prime-Time Chapter in the Rivalry Delivers

Steelers-Ravens is the only division rivalry in the NFL where the teams can play entertaining games despite neither reaching 20 points. They did it again Sunday night in a 16-13 classic after Kenny Pickett delivered a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute for the second week in a row.

Pickett did very little before that last drive, but it was that kind of game with the Steelers rushing for nearly 200 yards with Najee Harris (111) going over 100 for the first time this season.

Baltimore killed the Steelers on the ground in Week 14, but Pittsburgh did a better job holding them to 120 yards in this game, 95 fewer than last time. Pickett also avoided the three interceptions that Mitch Trubisky threw in that 16-14 loss.

The Steelers had a rough sequence on defense late in the first half when Cam Heyward was called for a ridiculous flag at the bottom of a pile that ended up costing the Steelers four points on a late touchdown pass when it should have been fourth down and a field goal attempt. But the defense stepped up in the second half and gave Pickett enough chances to get it done again in the fourth quarter.

The third chance was the charm, starting with 4:16 left at the Pittsburgh 20. Pickett had three big completions on the drive, including a 28-yard completion at the two-minute warning. But he saved his best play for the third-and-8 when it looked like the Steelers would never crack the end zone after settling for field goals all night. Pickett escaped pressure and improvised to find Harris in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown with 56 seconds left to take a 16-13 lead. Minkah Fitzpatrick was able to put the game away with an interception off Tyler Huntley with 13 seconds left.

What Pickett has done the last two weeks is incredible in the rarity of it all. Maybe it deserves a tiny asterisk because of how historically bad the Raiders and Ravens are in 2022 at holding these leads. Yes, this technically is another double-digit blown lead after halftime for the Ravens, who led 13-3 in the third quarter.

But just consider how infrequently the other great quarterbacks of this century have pulled off what Pickett has done two weeks in a row now, and that is lead a game-winning touchdown drive in the final 5:00 when only a touchdown would do (trailing 4-6 points).

Game-winning TD drives led in final 5:00 of 4Q in career (down 4-6 points)

  • Tom Brady – 9 (2002 CHI, 2007 BAL, 2009 BUF, 2013 NO, 2013 CLE, 2017 PIT, 2021 NYJ, 2022 LAR, 2022 NO)
  • Drew Brees – 4 (2002 KC, 2010 DAL, 2016 SD, 2018 PIT)
  • Peyton Manning – 3 (1998 NYJ, 2006 NYJ, 2009 NE)
  • Aaron Rodgers – 3 (2012 DET, 2014 MIA, 2018 CHI)
  • Patrick Mahomes – 2 (2020 ATL, 2022 LAC)
  • Ben Roethlisberger – 2 (2009 GB, 2010 BAL)
  • Kenny Pickett – 2 (2022 LV, 2022 BAL)

In the last two games, Pickett has already matched the career total of such drives from his predecessor, Ben Roethlisberger. Pickett and Mahomes are also the only quarterbacks on this little list who were able to notch a second before their seventh season as a starter.

After starting 2-6, the Steelers (8-8) are just one home win against Cleveland away from a 9-8 record, extending to a 19th straight season without a losing record. Pittsburgh actually was in more dire of a situation last year when it snuck into the playoffs in the final week. But even if the Steelers do not make it back this year, they are building something for the future here.

Saints at Eagles: Agents of Chaos

There is little rhyme or reason to the Saints since Drew Brees retired. They have destroyed Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady while getting destroyed by Daniel Jones and Sam Darnold in other games. They’ve been involved in three shutouts since last December, winning two of them. They gave up 40 points in Philadelphia last year but cut that in one fourth on Sunday.

These Saints are merely agents of chaos, and now that they are eliminated from the playoffs, all they can do is throw a real wrench in the NFC standings. This 20-10 win in Philadelphia is the latest in unexpected results for these Saints. Even though Andy Dalton took six sacks and threw a pick, he still outplayed Gardner Minshew, who also took six sacks in the game.

But trailing 13-10 in the fourth quarter, Minshew threw a pick-six after Marshon Lattimore (back in the nick of time) jumped a route for an easy score with 5:27 left. Minshew could then only gain half of the yards needed on a fourth-and-22, and the Saints were able to run out the final 3:35 on the clock.

The Saints held the ball for 37 minutes and had a huge advantage in plays early in the game in building a 13-0 lead. A.J. Brown taking advantage of a blown coverage for a 78-yard touchdown was seemingly going to get the Eagles right back into it at 13-10 going into the fourth, but the Eagles were scoreless on their final four drives.

Even the vaunted QB push sneak was stuffed at midfield with 8:32 left in the fourth quarter. It’s not so much that Minshew did a poor job with it that Jalen Hurts would have done better, but the Eagles just rushed the whole play despite it being a big moment. They got zero push, and Minshew was just stopped cold for no gain. Maybe the stronger, more athletic Hurts gets more out of it, but it was poorly managed and rushed by my view. I do not believe good things happen on the sneak when you rush it and no one on the line is really dug in.

Last week it was the four turnovers that did the Eagles in, and almost none of that was Minshew’s fault. This week it was the one turnover, but it was on him and it was a crucial pick-six. The Eagles also lost one of their double-digit sack defenders (Josh Sweat) to a scary injury, but he says he will be back this season. Still, injuries are really piling up at the worst moment for this team.

It seemed like a foregone conclusion in October that the Eagles would be the No. 1 seed this year, but now they could be the No. 5 seed if they do not finish the job here. I think they beat the Giants, who really have nothing to play for next week, and wrap up the No. 1 seed next week. But this is an extremely bumpy ending for a team that once looked like it had no major flaws.

Vikings at Packers: The Worst 12-Win Team Ever

If the 2022 Vikings aren’t winning a close game, they are getting their ass kicked in a game decided before halftime.

In a first quarter that took forever, the Packers were up 14-3 despite Aaron Rodgers having one successful dropback. The Vikings allowed a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown and a deflected Kirk Cousins pass on a fourth down was intercepted for a touchdown.

It basically just snowballed from there as the Vikings managed to miss a field goal and see the Packers turn that into a 56-yard field goal to take a 27-3 lead into the locker room.

A scramble touchdown by Rodgers put the Packers up 41-3 in the fourth quarter before the Vikings added two touchdowns in garbage time to bring their pathetic season scoring differential to minus-19 points – by far the worst for a 12-win team in NFL history.

Incredibly, even with Minnesota’s garbage time numbers, Justin Jefferson finished with one catch for 15 yards on five targets. I am not convinced these Packers are a legitimate threat in the playoffs, but they are improved from the team that started 3-6. With how shaky this NFC field is, the Packers can do something this year if they beat Detroit at home and get in next week. They control their destiny, and they will be underdogs in the playoffs for a change.

Let me stress something: THIS IS NOT 2010 AGAIN. That team was elite on both sides of the ball and lost a lot of close games, including two after a concussion for Rodgers. But the Packers are creating turnovers and doing a lot of things to win in ways that go far beyond Rodgers playing like a Hall of Fame quarterback.

I think they win next week and get in the tournament. Then… who knows with this NFC. These Vikings are still alive for the No. 2 seed and they are as fraudulent as it gets.

Broncos at Chiefs: Too Close for Comfort Again

Like a “choose your own adventure” book, NFL games can have plenty of different outcomes, and that may be extra true when it is a division rematch. Every week we try to pick the right narrative of how a game will unfold, and that’s what we end up betting on with our predictions.

Conventional wisdom would have said the Denver team that nearly came back from 27-0 down last time against these Chiefs would give them a hard time again after firing Nathaniel Hackett. Maybe the defense that intercepted Patrick Mahomes three times can do something similar.

But my idea was to go against conventional wisdom, which does often work in the NFL as this league is devoid of logic at times (see Jarrett Stidham vs. 49ers). I liked the Chiefs to blow Denver out this time, and for Travis Kelce to end his four-game scoring drought. Jerick McKinnon can’t keep catching touchdowns every week, can he?

As it turns out, this was more of the same from last time. Mahomes only threw one pick instead of three, but it was a bad one in the red zone that kept things close in the first half. Throw in your obligatory KC fumble coming on a punt return to give Denver a short-field touchdown, and Denver ended up with a couple leads in this game, including a 17-13 lead to start the fourth quarter.

But Mahomes found Blake Bell on the first play of the final quarter, and he did his best Kelce impersonation for a 17-yard touchdown to take the lead again. Kelce and Mahomes have not connected on a touchdown in five straight full games together for the first time. McKinnon even scored two more receiving touchdowns, becoming the first running back since Bill Dudley in 1947 to score a receiving touchdown in five straight games.

After a terrible Russell Wilson interception, McKinnon’s second score seemed to give the Chiefs a comfy edge at 27-17. But this Kansas City defense is an adventure in itself. Wilson was able to overcome a fourth-down interception with an illegal use of hands penalty, and he finished the drive with his second rushing touchdown to make it 27-24.

Wilson got the ball back with plenty of time to take the lead, and it looked like he might do it with the ball nearing midfield after the two-minute warning. But we might be starting to see the impact of Mahomes as teams are really taking their time against him, wary of the clock situation if they score too fast. The Broncos probably tried an ill-advised run on third-and-5, and that set up fourth-and-2.

Wilson took a sack by Chris Jones, but the referees sure did swallow their whistles for a long time instead of calling in the grasp. It’s as if they were baiting the Chiefs to forcibly throw Wilson down or do something to get a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down. Wilson even looked like he maybe got a throw off, but it goes down as a sack on fourth down.

Three plays later, Mahomes converted a third down to Kelce to ice another close call. But with 328 yards and three more touchdown passes, it will likely be enough for Mahomes to win MVP barring something unbelievable on Monday night and in the season finale against the Raiders. The Chiefs should be rooting hard for the Bengals on Monday night, because that is their best hope of getting the No. 1 seed. I do not see this team in the Super Bowl if they have to beat both the Bengals and Bills in the playoffs after their recent struggles with them. Can they beat one in Arrowhead? Sure. But I’ll fade them if they’re the No. 2 seed and they have to beat both, including (likely) Buffalo on the road in the AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs are 13-3, but they have been slumming it with the likes of the Broncos and Texans in the last month. It would be nice to see them pound the Raiders in Vegas on Saturday, but as the 49ers showed this week, no game is a sure thing this season with the way these teams play week to week.

Conventional wisdom is dead.

Dolphins at Patriots: Oh, Teddy

Well, I guess I was wrong that the Dolphins would beat the Patriots without Tua Tagovailoa, who is 4-0 against New England. Tua did not lead the offense to many points or have great stats in those games, but he by and large avoided the big mistakes that a Bill Belichick team will feast on.

And that is where Teddy Bridgewater screwed everything up. Leading 14-10 late in the third quarter, Bridgewater threw an interception, possibly broke his finger, and took a stiff arm to the face on the return touchdown. It is the fourth straight game the Patriots have scored a defensive touchdown, which had not been done by a defense since the vaunted 2002 Buccaneers.

Miami never led again, and Bridgewater may not play again this season with the finger injury. That leaves third-string rookie Skylar Thompson as the last quarterback standing in Miami, losers of five straight.

Thompson had a couple cracks at a go-ahead drive, but he too threw an interception against Belichick’s defense. Eventually, Mac Jones threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers, who redeemed himself by holding on after a tough landing to take a 23-14 lead with 4:37 left.

Miami eventually got the ball in the end zone to make it 23-21 with 1:04 left, but the Patriots recovered the onside kick to end the game. The Patriots are currently the No. 7 seed, but they are in a three-way tie with the Dolphins and Steelers at 8-8 for that last wild card spot. But the Dolphins have the easier draw next week with the Jets while the Patriots have to play a Buffalo team that could have varied degrees of motivation. The Steelers need both teams to lose, which is hardly impossible.

But quarterback injuries are definitely killing the Dolphins again, and it may prove to be the final nail in the coffin on a once promising season.

Browns at Commanders: Does He Know?

The Commanders (7-8-1) are eliminated from the playoffs after a 24-10 home loss to Cleveland, which saw Deshaun Watson lead as many touchdown drives in the second half (three) as he led in his first 18 quarters this season.

There was some pretty atrocious tackling and coverage on Amari Cooper in that half, but let’s get right to the elephant in the room. Ron Rivera blew this season by going back to Carson Wentz at quarterback. Why did he think that would work given Wentz’s history of poor play in big moments? Why did Taylor Heinicke deserve to get benched after a couple of turnovers on the road against the league’s best defense (49ers)?

Worse, Rivera sounded and looked like he genuinely did not know his team could be eliminated Sunday.

Yeah, you’re done, and Wentz might get you fired next like he did Doug Pederson in Philadelphia, and he had a hand in Frank Reich’s departure in Indy after blowing that shot at the playoffs last year.

This is who he is, and it only took him three snaps to throw his first of three interceptions in the game. Let this be the last straw for teams thinking they can fix Wentz.

Colts at Giants: Welcome Back to the Playoffs, New York

At least one New York team is ending its playoff drought. The Giants (9-6-1) are in and the No. 6 seed after a 38-10 beatdown of the Colts. It was the first time all season the Giants scored more than 27 points in a game. Daniel Jones had a field day with 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground and two more through the air.

The Giants dominated the Indy line as you’d expect, but if this game will be remembered for anything, it would be this absurd celebration by Giants rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux right next to an injured Nick Foles, who would leave the game.

Absolute bellend. It wasn’t even a snow game. And you would think after the eighth or so snow angel, the Colts may have retaliated, but protecting the quarterback has not been a priority from that group this year.

Jets at Seahawks: Geno Smith Ends New York’s Season

It is only fitting that Pete Carroll and Geno Smith would end the postseason hopes of the first NFL team to get rid of both. Frankly, I have no idea why Seattle was a home underdog in this one. The Jets looked cooked last week, and even if they went to Mike White, he’s not exactly a proven commodity. He threw an early pick and looked inaccurate for much of the game.

Kenneth Walker hit a 60-yard run on the first snap from scrimmage, and that opening-drive touchdown was technically enough to outscore the Jets, who lost 23-6 after more sacks and hits on White. The Jets (7-9) are eliminated from the playoffs after a 6-3 start.

The Jets apparently need to shop for another quarterback for 2023. Hey, do you think Seattle would part with Geno Smith?

Rams at Chargers: The No. 5 Seed Is Possible for Chargers

Apparently, the Rams are only interesting every other week under Baker Mayfield. His no-show in the passing game made for an uninteresting 31-10 Chargers win, the first time since November 2017 that the Chargers won back-to-back games by at least 17 points.

But if you give Justin Herbert a defense and a running game (30 carries for 190 yards against the Rams), then look out. The Chargers (10-6) could beat the AFC South winner in the wild card round if they can get that No. 5 seed from the Ravens.

Meanwhile, with an 11th loss, the Rams have secured the worst Super Bowl title defense season in history with a 5-11 record. We know they sold out the long-term for the short-term success, but 5-11 is still a surprising and disappointing outcome.

Bears at Lions: Detroit Stays Alive with Rout of Chicago

The Lions (8-8) are back to .500 after making short work of the Bears in a 41-10 blowout. It’s like watching two different sports with these teams. While both rushed for 200 yards, the Lions also got 255 passing yards out of Jared Goff with three more touchdown passes.

Justin Fields finished 7-of-21 for 75 yards while taking seven sacks for 45 yards. Sure, he rushed for 132 yards, but it led to 10 points when you only put up 30 net passing yards on 28 passing plays.

The Bears are the first NFL team to complete no more than 7 passes while allowing 40 points in a game since Jeff Fisher’s 2009 Titans lost 59-0 in New England. That was a snow game. This was in a dome against the No. 32 scoring and yardage defense.

But now it looks like the Bears can finish with the No. 32 scoring defense.

Jaguars at Texans: Meaningless Game Is Houston’s Worst of the Year

Welp, my worst pick of the week was thinking the Texans had some secret sauce against Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars after nine straight wins, including 3-0 in the Lawrence era.

As it turns out, Lawrence just needed a 62-yard Travis Etienne touchdown run (only play of drive) and a fumble return touchdown to score more than enough points to beat the lowly Texans.

Houston’s 31-3 loss is by far its worst of the season, surpassing the 18-point loss to the Raiders that happened after Houston blew a fourth-quarter lead.

But it did not matter what Jacksonville did in this one. It’s all about Week 18 against Tennessee for the AFC South title.

Cardinals at Falcons: Another One for Kliff to Thank the Players for Losing Close

Good luck to the Hard Knocks crew in trying to hype up the David Blough vs. Desmond Ridder battle in Week 17. It was actually not that poorly played of an NFL game with both offenses hitting 20 first downs, only one turnover on an aborted snap, and it was played in a tight, one-score window for 60 minutes with three lead changes in the last 10 minutes.

It’s just hard getting people to care about such a game at this point of the season given the low stakes. After the Cardinals took the lead on a 57-yard field goal from Matt Prater, rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder was able to lead the first game-winning drive of his career. Drake London didn’t fumble away a Ridder completion for a change, and the Falcons did a textbook job of milking the clock and getting as deep as possible for Younghoe Koo’s 21-yard field goal to win the game 20-19 with no time left.

It was like one of those close 2021 Atlanta wins when Ryan would use up the game clock for a field goal, denying the defense the chance to blow the lead again. The best way to do it, of course.

Next Week

  • Next week’s season finale? Let me just take in Bills-Bengals first.