NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Conference Championship Games

After 283 games, the 2022 NFL season will still come down to a battle of No. 1 seeds with 16-3 records. The Philadelphia Eagles crushed the San Francisco 49ers 31-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20.

I hate going against my gut – 49ers-Bengals was last Sunday’s initial pick – but working on these games all week changed my mind multiple times. By Saturday when I posted my final score predictions, I was able to nail the proper framing too.

Turnovers from the quarterback position did in the 49ers on the road, though I never imagined Josh Johnson to be part of the story. San Francisco finishes the season 0-5 with multiple turnovers and 15-0 without multiple turnovers.

The Chiefs exposed the backups on Cincinnati’s main weakness, the offensive line, and they made Joe Burrow pay with five sacks and shut down the run. Chris Jones stepped up with his fair pair of playoff sacks and even the special teams showed up late to help Patrick Mahomes and the offense on a day where health was in short supply.

What does it mean for Super Bowl 57?

  • We will not see the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to start a Super Bowl after Brock Purdy injured his elbow on just his third dropback of the game.
  • We will not see a team on a 13-game winning streak (49ers) take on a team on an 11-game winning streak (Bengals) as both teams lost on the road.
  • We will get the Andy Reid Bowl. The Kelce Bowl. The best quarterback vs. the No. 1 pass defense. Plenty of time to talk about that one the next two weeks.

So, let’s recap a Championship Sunday that had one massive disappointment and one great game that really cements Bengals-Chiefs as the top rivalry in the NFL right now.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Chiefs: The Rivalry Is On After Chiefs Survive Thriller

After how terrible the NFC game was, you had to hope we were in store for something good here as these teams only seem to know how to play 3-point games against each other.

This was the least-efficient offensive game between the two, but the intensity and stakes were never higher. Last year, the Bengals were more of a curiosity than a confident team playing in the championship game. They proved they could come back again from a big deficit against these Chiefs. Then for the first time in this series in Week 13 this year, they showed they can control the game too and again close out the win by outplaying the Chiefs in the fourth quarter.

But this time, the Bengals outscored the Chiefs in the fourth quarter and still lost after Kansas City got the full team effort it needed to survive this one. While I still would have drafted wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase over offensive tackle Penei Sewell, a game like this does push the needle in favor of the line over receivers when it comes to building around a great quarterback talent.

The Bengals were unfortunately down three offensive line starters for the second week in a row, but unlike in snowy Buffalo without Von Miler, those chickens came home to roost again with Burrow taking five sacks and the running backs held to 13 carries for 41 yards. When your offense is one-dimensional and the protection is that bad, it gets harder to take advantage of the injuries the Chiefs suffered on defense, including their best corner (L’Jarius Sneed) four plays into the game and linebacker Willie Gay.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs came into the week with  Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain hogging all the injury coverage, then a Friday practice back injury for Travis Kelce popped up, and during the game, the Chiefs lost JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney, and Mecole Hardman at wide receiver. The Chiefs only gave Mahomes 17 carries for 34 yards in run support in this game.

This team was running on fumes by the end of the game, but Mahomes and Kelce are just exceptional talents and they got just enough help from the rest of the team to pull this one out.

The First Quarter: Lucky It Wasn’t KC 14-0

The Chiefs came out hot with three sacks on the first two drives, including the first sack of Chris Jones’ postseason career. Somehow it took him 14 games to break through, but he picked the best time as I thought he might with the deficiencies the Bengals have. He even did it on a third down and made sure to hold Burrow up and not take him down to draw an egregious penalty.

On offense, things were looking like business as usual for Mahomes and Kelce, who showed no glaring signs of injury like you may have expected after last week and Kelce getting a game-time decision tag. Kelce even tried a designed lateral to Jerick McKinnon in the field of play in the first quarter. The ball was a little off, but McKinnon fortunately got on it for the recovery.

But missed opportunities were a big theme for the Chiefs early. Kadarius Toney could not come down with a 25-yard touchdown on a third down on the opening drive on a well-thrown ball, and the Chiefs wasted a challenge on that call.

Isiah Pacheco showed great effort on a 9-yard touchdown run that was wiped out by a holding penalty, and the Chiefs had to settle for a second field goal and 6-0 lead one play into the second quarter.

The Second Quarter: More Missed Opportunities for Chiefs

Maybe Burrow needed to warm up his LOAT magic on a very cold night, because he took his fourth sack on a ninth dropback and was facing third-and-14. But he converted to Tyler Boyd, who also had a 24-yard catch two plays later before eventually leaving the game with an injury too.

But that drive also ended with a field goal after Hayden Hurst was unable to come down with a nice pass in the end zone not much unlike the Chiefs’ miss with Toney on their first drive. It was 6-3.

The Chiefs ended up getting a fantastic, season-best game out of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the mistake-prone No. 2 receiver from Green Bay. He had back-to-back plays gain 40 yards, and he finished with 116 yards and a touchdown.

But after Mahomes took a sack he may have normally escaped, it was fourth-and-1. Instead of throwing into the flat, Mahomes held the ball and was able to find Kelce in the end zone for a 14-yard shot to take a 13-3 lead.

Just when you think it may not be Cincy’s day, Burrow threw a pick and the Chiefs could have gone up 20-3 in the first half not much unlike last year’s game before losing it in overtime. But Mahomes threw three incompletions from the Cincinnati 39 and the Chiefs punted on a surprisingly weak three-and-out.

Burrow then tried to throw deep and it was intercepted on a deflection, but that was negated by a 20-yard penalty on the defense. Was this the beginning of the comeback? The Bengals got a two-minute drive going and Tee Higgins was the big target with a 21-yard catch down to the Kansas City 5 with the clock going under 20 seconds.

This is where I think Burrow screwed up. Instead of quickly lining up for a spike and saving a solid 10-11 seconds for two shots into the end zone, he went for the fade on first down, and it was a rushed, poor throw that had no shot of scoring. That wasted too much time, and Burrow’s next pass was also incomplete with 4 seconds left. They had to kick the field goal at that point and trail 13-6 at the half. I think either spike on first down or save the timeout he used earlier in the drive. Somewhere, a spike should have happened to give them more valid shots at the end zone.

But it was only 13-6 and you could sense some disappointment that the Chiefs were not up much more after all the opportunities in that half.

The Third Quarter: The Turning Point (Burrow Willed It)

So much for the Chiefs coming out hot to make up for the last offensive series. They went three-and-out again.

Like he did last year in the title game, Burrow, who led the game with 30 rushing yards, showed some good scrambling skills on a third down, then he finished the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins to tie the game. Just a perfect throw to a spot where only the best No. 2 wideout in the game could get it over two defenders.

Now we had a game, and the game had a turning point. The Chiefs had gone 60 minutes of real time without a first down before Mahomes scrambled and found Hardman on a third-and-4 with a strike for 11 yards. But not only did Hardman get injured and left the game on this play, but Mahomes likely aggravated his ankle injury and was hobbling around after the play:

Ouch. Two plays later, Mahomes hung in the pocket with good protection and threw to an uncovered MVS, who charged ahead for 25 yards. MVS would later stretch the ball out on a third-down play to get just enough forward progress to convert and extend the drive after the Chiefs used their final challenge.

After Mahomes took a sack, it was third-and-10. He hung in there and delivered perhaps his best bullet of the night with a 19-yard touchdown strike to MVS in the end zone to give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead.

Mahomes gutted it out on that drive, but after the Bengals went three-and-out, the Chiefs blew another golden opportunity to go up two scores going into the final quarter.

First, you rarely ever seen an offensive lineman penalized for taunting, but that happened to Andrew Wylie, which wasted 15 of the 25 yards the Chiefs gained on another third-down conversion to MVS. But after reaching the Cincinnati 46, Mahomes had his worst moment of the game when he mishandled the ball on a throw, and it fell out of his hands for his first career playoff fumble lost:

This is when you really do start believing that Burrow has that Brady luck in him after seeing such an unforced error like that at midfield. Playoff hero Sam Hubbard got on the ball of course.

But the Bengals had a decision to make after the Chiefs massacred Samaje Perine on a third-down catch to end the quarter and bring up a fourth-and-6 at the Kansas City 41.

The Fourth Quarter: Frantic Finish

Hard to disagree with going for it here, and Burrow just threw it up for Chase, who came down with it in coverage for 35 yards, the only 30-yard play in the game. Just a great receiver and a confident quarterback. Perine finished the drive in the end zone and the game was tied at 20. It is the first fourth-quarter touchdown drive led by Burrow in a playoff game.

There was a noticeable decline in Mahomes’ quality of play after he aggravated the injury in the third quarter. He was not immobile or worthless, but he was not as accurate and under control like he was early in the game. I counted at least three plays in the second half where he really flirted with a backwards lateral or a pass that was barely forward as he tried to get the ball out to someone in the flat.

One of those plays was a pass to McKinnon, who dropped it upon quick review. That should have stopped the clock to bring up a third-and-9, but the clock was told to run at the ready for play, and a few seconds did erroneously come off before the third down was snapped, which was a short completion, I believe. The Chiefs were going to punt, then we were told the play was blown dead and never should have counted, which gave the Chiefs another crack at it.

I guess they technically got it fixed, but that was not a good look for the officials, and not a good break for the Bengals. Sure enough, a Mahomes sack was wiped out by defensive holding on Eli Apple of all people, and the Chiefs had a first down.

However, Mahomes was off again, and the drive stalled. Burrow had his chance to take the lead, but his third-and-3 arm punt was intercepted way down at the Kansas City 14 with 6:53 left. It effectively served as a 50-yard punt, though I think he could have got the first down with a safer, smarter play.

But for the third time in the game, the Chiefs drove into Cincinnati territory and came away with no points and not even a field goal attempt. The Bengals had an interesting choice after the Chiefs were penalized for holding. They could either put the Chiefs in third-and-22 and out of field-goal range, or decline the penalty to make it fourth-and-8 at the Cincinnati 37. I think Zac Taylor made the right call to decline as you hate to give Mahomes another shot on third down. From the 37, a 55-yard field goal would be tough in those cold conditions.

I think Reid surprised a lot of people when he chose the punt, which felt like the worst option, which is backed up by at least one set of data:

When you risk the potential of never seeing the ball again, I think a long field goal or letting Mahomes throw is viable. Tough decision, and it was not looking good after the way the defense was approaching the drive.

After Burrow was hit with a questionable intentional grounding penalty, it was third-and-16. You do not expect them to convert, but Hurst was left wide open for 23 yards after a blown coverage.

Was Burrow really about to do this on the road?

No, false alarm. The drive stalled after Burrow was sacked by Chris Jones on third-and-8 for the fifth sack of the game. That tends to be the magic number for playing Cincinnati.

In the last 31 games, Burrow is now 21-1 when he takes fewer than five sacks and 1-8 when he takes at least five sacks. There was a long gap between sack No. 4 and sack No. 5, but Jones made the biggest play when it was needed the most.

The defense did its part. Then it was the special teams’ turn. After an underwhelming rookie season for Skyy Moore with some big fumbles on returns, he almost doubled his longest punt return of the season with a 29-yard return to set up Mahomes at his own 47 with 30 seconds and one timeout left. It was the longest punt return of the season for the Chiefs, so good timing there.

We know Mahomes can set up a field goal in record time, but this drive was not going great, and you had to start thinking about seeing the new overtime rules in effect. But on a third-and-4, Mahomes scrambled the best he could and was able to get out of bounds after the marker for a first down. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Joseph Ossai, a second-year linebacker, let his instincts take over and he pushed Mahomes while he was clearly out of bounds and that resulted in a 15-yard flag.

It was not a smart play, but I don’t think I can crucify the player for this one. These quarterbacks are getting tricky with the way they slide down late or decide to stay in bounds sometimes and get more yards. But that was definitely a killer as it made the field goal 45 yards instead of 60 if they would even try it from that far. There also would have been a little time to get closer with a fresh set of downs, but the Chiefs were out of timeouts, so play calls would be very limited there. Just a massive penalty, and probably a gift.

I keep waiting for Harrison Butker to screw the Chiefs in a big game since he misses enough makeable kicks in the regular season to think he might be untrustworthy, but he keeps getting the job done in the playoffs. He was good from 45 yards and the Chiefs led 23-20 with 3 seconds left. That was only enough time for the Bengals to try a lateral play on the kick return that never went anywhere.

Three of the NFL’s last four drives in the final 40 seconds of a playoff game to win it or force overtime with a field goal have been led by Mahomes with Butker kicking a field goal:

In every sense of the word, the Chiefs survived this game, which is what they were going to have to do with the health situation this week. Now they hopefully can get some good rest and be fresher for the Super Bowl in two weeks, because the Eagles are going to be a difficult opponent.

As for the Bengals, that is now all seven playoff games in the Burrow era ending with the Bengals scoring 19-to-27 points and not allowing more than 24 points. Only Joe Montana (five games in 1981-84) in the early days of the 49ers dynasty had a streak anywhere near that in playoff history.

But we need to chill on the Joe Cool nickname here. I hope Burrow changes his stance here on “Who cares about third-down sacks?” His season largely just ended on one.

An embarrassing Mahomes fumble, a conservative punt decision from Reid, and a blown coverage on third-and-16 – this could have been the unholy trinity to kill another Kansas City postseason short of a championship.

Burrow’s fifth sack on third down by Jones, the 29-yard punt return by Moore, and the 15-yard penalty gift from Ossai – this holy trifecta saved Kansas City’s season and has them in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years.

It took a full team effort for the Chiefs to win this one, and we do not always see that from their wins, but it was the right mix of all three units coming through this time.

I was going to make a section here at the end to describe the Chiefs Twitter brouhaha from earlier this week, but there are two weeks and then some to write about legacies and such things. More importantly, my motivation to write defensively over nonsense at 4:38 A.M. after the team I wanted to win won this dramatic game is just not there. So, I’ll only say be glad that the Chiefs did not fall to 2-3 in home title games, which the favorite wins 72.1% of the time now (62-24).

Be glad they are not 0-4 against these cocky Bengals. Be glad we don’t have to hear “Burrowhead” bullshit, and hopefully the Cincinnati mayor is given a gag order the next time they are in the playoffs.

The Chiefs came through this time, but in the words of Kobe Bryant, the job’s not finished.

49ers at Eagles: Purdy Got Hurt and Hurts Was Purdy Bad

Well, that fvcking sucked.

The NFC’s Game of the Year was a matchup I was looking forward to for a few months now, but it could not have gone much worse than it did in Philadelphia’s 31-7 win.

Rarely do you say a playoff game was decided by each team’s first possession, but that was basically the case here as everything spiraled from the Eagles getting a touchdown they didn’t deserve and Brock Purdy’s elbow injury.

  • The Eagles got a fraudulent touchdown because the referees missed a catch that wasn’t a catch, and Kyle Shanahan was asleep at the wheel with his challenge flag.
  • Purdy was injured (elbow) on his third dropback.
  • The 49ers were sloppy and gave the Eagles a second touchdown drive on a drive that featured three defensive penalties for an automatic first down.
  • Backup quarterback Josh Johnson apparently hasn’t done much two-minute drill work with his 13 NFL teams in his career as he fumbled a snap that led to a 30-yard touchdown drive.
  • A weak roughing the punter was called to extend Philadelphia’s fourth touchdown drive and 28-7 lead.
  • I guess you can only prepare so much on the fly with the Wildcat and using Christian McCaffrey as your emergency QB, but there was a terrible Deebo Samuel run on a fourth-and-2 that set up the Eagles for their final scoring drive (field goal), and even that one included an embarrassing unnecessary roughness penalty on Dre Greenlaw for punching at the ball.
  • After a near fight and Trent Williams showing he had enough of this shit, Deebo had one more brutal fourth-down run where he tried to be Superman but just lost 7 yards and fumbled for technically the third lost fumble of the game for the 49ers.
  • Eagles finally ran out the clock to end this stinker.

But back to that opening drive. You see the 49ers bring pressure on Jalen Hurts, he gets off a low but catchable ball to A.J. Brown for 10 yards on third-and-8, and you think this is going to be a very good game like it should have been.

Then the Eagles go for a fourth-and-3, Hurts is a little too far with the ball, but DeVonta Smith appeared to make this incredible diving catch for 29 yards down to the 6. You think with the way he reacted to hurry up to the line and run the next play that even he knew he didn’t catch it because the ball was loose on the ground, but there was no challenge from Kyle Shanahan. What the hell, man? It probably wasn’t going to get any bigger in the first half than a complete or incomplete call on a fourth down in scoring territory.

The Eagles scored a pretty easy 6-yard rushing touchdown two plays later with Miles Sanders to take a 7-0 lead they didn’t deserve. Maybe the official’s view of the ball was obscured, but where is the expedited review from the booth to correct that one? Where is the challenge from Shanahan? Just failure all around and good luck for the Eagles.

Who knows how the game plays out if the 49ers take over at their own 35 in a 0-0 game, but the Philadelphia pass rush was definitely an issue for what is a good line in San Francisco. I was worried about Brock Purdy making mistakes in this game, but little did I know it’d go down like this.

It’s such a shame too because what a story this rookie was. He completed his first two passes. Nothing that will blow your socks off, but successful gains of 9 and 10 yards to George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk (his only catch of the game).

Then at the 50-yard line, everything changed. Purdy was hit on the arm just as he was trying to release the ball, and Haason Reddick got him just in time for it to be a strip-sack with clear recovery by the Eagles. Nick Sirianni was not asleep at the wheel and got the challenge off, and he got the ball. Purdy was out with an elbow injury and Josh Johnson had to warm up.

The Eagles actually went three-and-out with a very conservative drive. Reddick sacked Johnson on his first dropback to welcome him to the game. Neither offense was doing much as this was starting to look like last year’s 17-11 matchup.

Eventually, the 49ers were winning the field position battle and used a short field (46 yards) to tie the game with Christian McCaffrey doing the heavy lifting on a great 23-yard touchdown run.

The 49ers stopped Hurts on a third-and-2 run, but the Eagles boldly went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 35. It paid off as Hurts again converted on the sneak.

From there, the 49ers gave up three first downs via penalty, including a big one on third-and-7 that I really wasn’t feeling DPI on Jimmie Ward against A.J. Brown. The other calls looked more legit, and the marathon drive went on until Sanders again scored from 13 yards out, untouched to take a 14-7 lead.

I even said on Twitter that the 49ers had to be careful here. Going into the locker room at 14-7 would not be that bad when you get the ball to start the third. But they tried to go hurry up and that’s when Johnson just flat out dropped the ball on a horrible play that the Eagles recovered 30 yards away from the end zone. They only needed four snaps to cover that before Boston Scott ripped off a 10-yard touchdown run that also looked too easy against an elite run defense.

The Eagles led 21-7 at halftime and things looked bleak.

Just when you thought the 49ers still had a chance after converting a third-and-13 to start the third quarter, Johnson was knocked out with a concussion. Well, it sure does suck that Jimmy Garoppolo was just not quite healthy enough to get back this week as there was hope he’d be available for the Super Bowl.

The 49ers’ emergency option was CMC, and he just took a handoff from Purdy, who came back in the game, for a 4-yard gain and punt.

Could Purdy throw? Apparently not as he would throw just two short passes in the entire second half despite having to finish the game for Johnson. The 49ers really did nothing that unique or fun with Samuel and CMC, though you can hardly blame them for not preparing more offense beyond the third-string rookie quarterback they brought into this game. Just a disastrous year for quarterback injuries for this team.

Meanwhile, Donovan McNabb fvcking wept as Hurts was getting bailed out from a very weak performance in this game.

The 49ers had the top-ranked defense, but he did not even look under duress as much as the 49ers quarterbacks did (or Joe Burrow later in the day), and even the coverage was not all that tight on his receivers. But Hurts’ accuracy was poor, he got the 29-yard gain to Smith that should have been incomplete, and he finished this game with 121 passing yards on 25 attempts.

That is 4.84 YPA in a championship game the Eagles won 31-7. It’s the first time a quarterback won a conference championship game by 14+ points with a YPA under 5.0 since Steve McNair against the 1999 Jaguars with Tennessee (33-14 win with 4.9 YPA).

It wasn’t even that great of a rushing day for Hurts, who finished with 11 runs for 39 yards. It just so happens that 29 of those yards, and his 15th rushing touchdown of the season, came after the 49ers were penalized for a brutal roughing the punter penalty to negate a fourth-and-6 punt from midfield.

I felt like the defender was blocked into the punter. Either way, it should be a really unnecessary hit to count as roughing the punter, and that one was weak in my view. But the Eagles turned it into another touchdown and this was over at 28-7 late in the third quarter.

If Purdy could physically throw, I believe they would have tried more. But it just did not happen in this game. The fourth quarter was just watching the 49ers get more and more frustrated with themselves as Samuel and McCaffrey couldn’t sustain drives for them with zero passing game. This isn’t Army vs. Navy after all.

Then the ruckus late in the fourth quarter was a bad look with Williams and K’Von Wallace getting ejected.

That was just a trash game, and we’ll never know what Purdy would have did without the injury. Maybe he has a decent game and it puts more pressure on Hurts, who did not look good at all to me.

But this seems to be what happens when the Eagles face a good team. The health of the opposing quarterback is just not there, and sure enough, they are getting Mahomes in the Super Bowl after he appeared to aggravate his ankle injury. We know he’s going to play, and both these quarterbacks can use the time off before this one, but we’ll see how the Chiefs handle that pass rush.

I think they handle it better than the Bengals would have, but I have two weeks to overanalyze a game where both fan bases will think I hate their team when the reality is I have a clear rooting interest in this one.

NFL 2022 Conference Championship Game Predictions

After the games ended last Sunday, I had a very clear prediction in mind for this week that it would be Cincinnati vs. San Francisco in the Super Bowl.

But as the week has gone on, I’ve done a 180 on both games, and maybe a 270 would be more accurate as I’m torn on both as I can see good arguments for every team to win.

This usually doesn’t happen for me, but this is also an unusual pair of games for Championship Sunday. It is looking like it will be just the third time where both games had a spread under 3 points. There have only been 12 games out of 104 since 1970 in this round that had a spread under 3 points, and the kicker is 10 of those 12 games were still decided by double digits.

I wrote previews this week, and now I may be giving conflicting final picks because I really am not sure on either game. I’d say all four possible Super Bowl matchups have just about a 25% split of happening, which I would almost never say about a final four.

Hopefully the games will be good, because last week was not.

Teaser picks for both games (total and spread).

San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)

Full preview link

How the 49ers can upset the Eagles

NFC-CG Props

It comes down to this: Eagles are the last team standing that have no glaring flaw, while the 49ers have to overcome a rookie QB making his first road playoff start against the No. 1 pass defense that has 70 sacks and great corner play. NFL history alone would tell you the Eagles win this game and possibly by more than one possession, but we also know Kyle Shanahan has had his teams very close in the playoffs. They have blown a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl and NFC-CG.

And No. 1 defenses also fare pretty well this time of year, but again, the Eagles are quite good on that side of the ball too. Brock Purdy hasn’t lost a start yet, but Jalen Hurts has lost one all year for this team and it still took four giveaways (three, really, with a junk fumble TD padding the stats) and an insane day on 3rd down by the Washington offense.

I think Purdy makes dangerous decisions because that’s what you’d expect from Mr. Irrelevant, but I keep seeing the Seahawks and Cowboys fail to make him pay for it. I think the Eagles make him pay, and I think they get just enough out of the ground game and using Hurts’ legs to win this one.

But it should be a game that comes down to turnovers, which isn’t something that we’ve seen a lot of this postseason like we usually do. Hell, the Jaguars won a game by being -5 in turnovers, Bills were negative against Miami and won, the NYG-MIN game had none, and the Bills were also down 27-10 with a minute to play against the Bengals before a turnover (meaningless one). The biggest turnover this postseason so far is the QB sneak by the Ravens against the Bengals.

But why turnovers? The defenses involved here, and the fact that the 49ers are 15-0 with 0-1 turnovers and 0-4 with 2+ turnovers this year. The Eagles have two 4-turnover games in losses and Gardner Minshew threw a pick-six in the third loss against New Orleans.

I think the Eagles force enough mistakes from the rookie to end this 12-game winning streak for the 49ers.

Final: Eagles 27, 49ers 20

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-1.5)

Full AFC Championship Game prevew

Early week preview on this game

AFC-CG Props

This spread has gone crazy from KC -2.5 to CIN -2.5 to CIN -1 to KC -1.5 as no one knows what to really make of Patrick Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain. We’ll just have to see Sunday, but with the spread and the Chiefs not even listing him on the final injury report, it would sound like it’s business as usual. Mahomes’ O/U is even 283.5 passing yards, and the Bengals have held him to 275 or less in the last three meetings. Travis Kelce popping up with a back injury is concerning though.

I’ll address the Twitter brouhaha more in Stat Oddity tomorrow night after we see what happens, but all I’ve been saying is it would be a bad look for what was supposed to be the NFL’s next dynasty to do this:

  • Lose 31-9 in the Super Bowl vs. Tampa while getting badly outcoached on both sides of the ball
  • Go 1-3 vs. two chief rivals in AFC last year (Bills and Bengals)
  • That includes the 2021 AFC Championship Game loss where the Chiefs were a 7-point home favorite, blew the biggest home lead (21-3) in title game history by Mahomes botching the end of the first half and getting zero points there, then falling victim to a three-man rush to take four sacks in the fourth quarter, almost have a season-ending fumble in the red zone that was recovered by the line, almost throw an overtime pick on second down, then get intercepted on third down to set up the Bengals at midfield for their game-winning field goal.
  • Then to go 0-2 vs. chief rivals (BUF/CIN) again this year with Mahomes throwing a game-ending INT vs. Bills and Kelce fumbling against the Bengals and Mahomes taking a third-down sack that led to a missed 55-yard FG before the Bengals ran out the clock.
  • But they beat the Jaguars last week and Buffalo lost badly, so here we are again in Arrowhead for the title game. But the Chiefs will fall to 2-3 in AFC title games and 3-4 in all championship games in the Mahomes era if they do not win this game, for which they are again favored as they have been in all 13 playoff games.
  • If Andy Reid loses this game, he will be 3-5 in title games at home in his career, and he and Bill Cowher will account for 8-of-17 (47.1%) title game losses as a home favorite in the salary cap era.

Some would say that’s a bad look, or disappointing. But I am still trying to adjust to this new logic introduced this week that simply being in these games means more than winning or losing them, or even losing more of them than you win.

I think this game could have a Colts-Patriots 2003 AFC Championship Game level of impact on the league for the next 10-to-15 years. The narratives could be absurd, especially if the winner goes on to finish the job in the Super Bowl.

But as for the matchup, I’m most interested in seeing if Mahomes’ injury is relevant or if he looks normal as could be, which seems miraculous given the usual nature of this injury. But beyond that, can this actually be a benefit to the Chiefs if it causes Reid to call a much different game that gets the ball out faster from the pocket so Mahomes doesn’t have to use his legs that much?

The Bengals have done a fantastic job of making Mahomes hold the ball. Sometimes it was the three-time rush, and sometimes it has just been making him indecisive and watching him scramble too much. This has been a common theme in most of KC’s losses since 2020. The last 5 times he’s lost, which includes the 0-3 record vs. Cincinnati, were games where Mahomes held he ball over 3.0 seconds per throw. His two worst games in that stat the last two years are against the Bengals, who even had him up to 4.0 seconds in the 2nd half of the title game last year when they went 3-man rush on 45% of passes.

Then in 2020, we know that Mahomes had almost 500 scramble yards on passes in both losses against the Raiders and Buccaneers. Making him scramble for his life has been effective, and I just wonder if the Bengals dial up more blitzes in this one to test his mobility. How does KC answer? With more screens to RBs, with more of Pacheco on the ground, more involvement of Kadarius Toney, more short passes to Kelce like they did last week when he had 14 catches for 98 yards? It’s a very interesting chess match on that side of the ball that we’re about to see.

As for the other side, I think Burrow and the Bengals shredded the Chiefs in Week 13 and should be ready for this one against by far the worst defense still playing this season. But what if, for a change, the Chiefs actually stepped up on defense to help out their not-100%-healthy QB? Maybe Chris Jones could even muster a playoff sack or two as he still has none in 13 career playoff games. Burrow is 21-1 in his last 30 games when he takes fewer than 5.0 sacks and 1-7 when he takes 5+ sacks. Put his ass down in this game. He’s not a playoff legend yet as he still has never led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in six playoff games.

We’ll see what happens, but the Chiefs come in with the better QB, the Bengals have the better team. If Mahomes is still struggling on handoffs and throwing some funny balls because of the injury, then giving them the nod for best QB may even be off in this matchup Sunday. But no one knows until he plays on it.

So, am I going for the reverse jinx to screw the cocky-ass Bengals who are tempting the football gods with all the noise this week, the reverse-reverse jinx to shut up Kansas City’s most annoying fans on Twitter, or do I honestly think the Bengals are winning this game? All I can tell you is I want the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, just like I did the last four Championship Sundays, and batting 1-for-4 is fine if this was baseball.

Sorry if I have higher standards, but who saw the Bengals making back-to-back Super Bowls so quickly? Also, if they win on the road again without three starting offensive linemen, how impressive is that when Chiefs fans blow a gasket over the Eric Fisher injury two years ago? Coach better. Play better.

But you know what, I’m going to stick to my original research that started this nonsense and declare it would be too much of an oddity for Mahomes to have more home title game losses in just five years than any QB in history has in their whole careers. The Bengals are lucky but they are not the 2003-04 Patriots.

Final: Chiefs 28, Bengals 27

And you know what, I’m still probably taking the NFC to win the Super Bowl no matter which of these teams win tomorrow.

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 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 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 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.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 16

Nothing says fraudulent NFC like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady getting bailed out on Christmas to get to 7-8 and still very much alive for the playoffs. Rodgers was playing an AFC team (Miami), but the fact that Green Bay got help from four NFC teams it needed to lose Saturday (Seahawks-Giants-Commanders-Lions) says all you need to know about this NFC race.

It should just come down to 49ers at Eagles in the NFC Championship Game, but something tells me we are in store for a rude awakening next month. These teams cannot be trusted.

The top three in the AFC (Bills, Chiefs, Bengals) didn’t exactly light it up Saturday, but at least they all won on a day where the league played more games in freezing temperatures than any day since the 1990s. There were nine comeback opportunities in total, and four teams came back from double digits to win, bringing the season total to 46 (new NFL record).

We have just 11 teams with a winning record going into Week 17. Last season, the first 17-game season, finished with 18 teams boasting a winning record, including 10 in the AFC alone.

Embrace the mediocrity?

This season in Stat Oddity:

Eagles at Cowboys: NFC Game of the Year Actually Delivers

Ever since the Eagles beat the Cowboys with Cooper Rush in Week 6 to improve to 6-0, this rematch scheduled for Christmas Eve was circled as potentially the Game of the Year in the NFC. Since last year’s best NFC teams (Rams, Packers, Buccaneers) were falling apart early, and since the 49ers do not play the Eagles in this regular season, it basically was the default choice for Game of the Year. Screw Philly beating up on the Vikings on a Monday night in Week 2. That was expected.

But this game lost so much luster with Dallas blowing big leads in Green Bay and Jacksonville. Then Jalen Hurts was injured last week and out for this game, putting backup Gardner Minshew in his place. It just didn’t have those big hooks anymore like realistically being a game for control of the division and No. 1 seed, not to mention the MVP implications for Hurts.

However, I probably didn’t give this game enough credit on Saturday even when watching most of it. This is the first NFL game since 2020 Bills vs. Seahawks where both teams scored at least 34 points and both quarterbacks passed for over 340 yards.

Minshew held his own on the road, the Eagles twice led by 10 points after Dak Prescott had another pick-six early, and we got many glimpses as to why this team has been the No. 1 seed all year.

But just like in the Washington loss, the Eagles turned the ball over four times, mostly on fixable/fluky plays, and that is what doomed them the most in this loss.

The Eagles had three turnovers while starting 8-0. They have 14 turnovers in the seven games since. Regression happens a lot to freakishly-low turnover offenses, but the Eagles are giving it up more than you’d like to see in the last two months.

In this game, Minshew shouldn’t be getting the blame despite accounting for three of the turnovers on the stat sheet. But both interceptions were the result of Quez Watkins getting outmuscled for the ball on throws that weren’t bad. Minshew also was handing off to a running back who fumbled, but that gets charged to the quarterback for being the last to possess the ball.

The turnover that really hurt the most was Miles Sanders’ late fumble on the first play of the drive after the Cowboys took a 37-34 lead with 2:19 left. That put the Eagles down 40-34, and left Minshew with 101 seconds to get a game-winning touchdown.

But before we get to that last drive, let’s back up to the moment where the Eagles really blew it on defense. After taking a 34-27 lead and sacking Prescott on consecutive plays, the Eagles just had to defend a third-and-30 to get the ball back halfway through the fourth quarter.

Prescott threw deep and T.Y. Hilton was there for a 52-yard gain. Based on the air yards, it was the longest completion of Dak’s career according to Next Gen Stats.

According to Stathead, this is only the third pass play on third-and-30 or longer since 1994 to convert a first down. It’s the only one to happen in the fourth quarter of a one-score game.

The Eagles just made so many mistakes in the fourth quarter after taking the lead for the last time. The Cowboys weren’t exactly clean either. Prescott ran out of bounds with 2:01 left on a first-down run after Minshew’s last interception, buying the Eagles a timeout. Dak also took a bad sack on the next snap.

I really wasn’t a fan of kicking the field goal to go up six with 1:41 left, but I guess you figure you can do that when Minshew is the quarterback instead of Hurts. But Minshew was already working on a 300-yard game, and those skill players are really nice for the Eagles. Tough call.

But after Minshew found DeVonta Smith on the last drive for 19 yards, I thought he should have used his last timeout immediately with about 40 seconds left. That was more than enough time at the 19 in the red zone to get the job done from there. But Minshew spiked the ball with 33 seconds left.

After a couple shot plays that did not work, it was already fourth-and-ballgame. That’s why I hate the spike because you need that extra down more than you need the time, and if you’re just going to chuck shots at the end zone for the touchdown, what value did saving that timeout do? The Eagles never ended up using their third timeout.

On fourth-and-10, the pressure got there and Minshew forced a pass into the end zone that was nowhere close to being caught. The Cowboys pulled it out 40-34.

It would be nice to see a rematch of this in the playoffs, and even nicer to see both Hurts and Dak at quarterback. They’ve only met once so far despite the chance for six such matchups already. The last three Dallas-Philly games Dak played in have been super high scoring, so we’ll have to see if that trend continues should they meet again.

But the outcome of this one really did not change my mind on either team. I still think the Eagles are the better team of the two, but it comes down to protecting the ball better. If either team can limit the turnovers, they can beat anyone this year.

Buccaneers at Cardinals: Brady’s Rope-a-Dope Strikes Again

If Eagles-Cowboys was the NFC’s Game of the Year, then Bucs-Cardinals was its Sham Game of the Holiday Season.

Only Tom Brady can play like ass for 50 minutes against the team that came into the week having allowed the most points in the NFL, with a third-string quarterback (Trace McSorley) making his first start, and still get the praise for a 19-16 overtime win.

This was the third part in a 2022 trilogy of Brady’s rope-a-dope strategy where he plays terrible football against bad teams like the Rams, Saints, and Cardinals, only to suddenly start moving the ball at the end while those teams do all they can to help aid the win.

I’d say this was the most inevitable yet, but still not the most egregious after what the Saints did. Go figure, the NFC South one was the worst one.

For 49 minutes, Brady did not have a completion longer than 12 yards. He threw two more bad picks, so the days of this offense avoiding turnovers are well over. But for as bad as it was, the Cardinals only led 16-6. This was still doable with McSorley’s inaccuracy and inexperience on the other side. Not to mention Kliff Kingsbury’s incompetency.

Sure enough, on the very first play of the comeback, Brady threw a pass Hellen Keller could have made to Leonard Fournette six yards behind the line of scrimmage, and Fournette took off for 50 YAC for a gain of 44 yards. Just instantly changed the game with one little flip to the back in the flat, and that continued to be the popular play on the drive, concluding with a touchdown to Rachaad White.

Now up 16-13, the Cardinals were doing a decent job of working clock before inexplicably calling a timeout and taking James Conner out of the game on a big third-and-1 at midfield. You just called timeout, why are you not going with your best player in the game? The Cardinals tried to pitch the ball to a rookie running back, who fumbled the handoff and the Bucs recovered at their 45 with 4:49 left. Like I said, inevitable.

Surprisingly, this was only the second time in Brady’s career where an opponent fumbled in the final 5:00 while leading by 1-to-3 points. The other time was also Arizona in 2012, but that still ended up being an Arizona win after the only loss in Brady’s career where a kicker screwed him on a clutch kick.

The defense held the Bucs to a tying field goal after getting Brady to finally throw a pass over 6 yards on the drive, but much of the damage was done. In going from 16-6 to a tied game, Brady completed 10 passes with a total of 0 air yards (relative to the line of scrimmage) and 93 YAC. Not a single throw was completed more than 6 yards past the LOS.

The teams exchanged three-and-outs after a shocking decision to run on third down by the Bucs. McSorley finished regulation with a Hail Mary interception. He also was 1-of-10 for 4 yards when targeting DeAndre Hopkins.

It wasn’t a game that deserved overtime, but we got it. McSorley got one third-and-long conversion by a matter of inches, but he of course wasn’t going to get a second. With the ball at his own 12, Brady did finally throw a trio of legit passes to his wideouts, but the Cardinals were not getting home with the pressure like they were earlier in the game. Ryan Succop eventually came on for the 40-yard field goal for the 19-16 win.

In the end, another double-digit Brady comeback without any impressive throws. Another mind-blowing turnover by the opponent helped. The annoying part is when people say, “if it was so easy to score like that, why don’t other quarterbacks do it?”

But the real question should be if it’s that easy for Brady to score like this in the hurry-up offense with the extreme dink and dunking, why doesn’t he do it all game long? Would he ever lose games if he did that?

That’s why rope-a-dope is aptly named for Brady’s strategy, because he thrives on wearing the defense out and taking advantage of their fatigue and stupidity in the fourth quarter. When you have to rush the passer 35 or 40 times in three quarters, it is easy to get worn out by the fourth quarter.

John Elway was also a master of this, and he often used the Mile High altitude to his advantage in the fourth quarter when defenses were tired. Then he would create a lot of big plays and scrambling and finding receivers behind the defensive backs.

But I at least can give Elway credit for creating some of those big plays and a great highlight reel. With Brady, you can go through many of his comebacks and not find a single completion thrown over 15 yards down the field. It’s just paper cut after paper cut, because he knows defenses lose the thread in these moments and play prevent, hoping to eliminate the big play. But he’ll take the same route five snaps in a row if you’re not going to bother covering it. Maybe that’s part of his greatness, but I just see it as taking advantage of incompetence.

It’s also not something this Tampa Bay team can really pull off against an elite team this year. They have to do it against one of the worst in the league, and ideally someone starting a third-choice quarterback. They’ll get another one of those next week with Sam Darnold and Carolina, though that team did already beat them 21-3 with P.J. Walker outplaying Brady.

But it’s just felt inevitable all year long that Brady would win the NFC South because it’s terrible, then draw a Dallas team in the wild card round that they’ll be capable of beating since Dak Prescott had his worst game of the season against them in Week 1 (19-3 loss). If this team gets past the first round, who knows what that confidence can lead to.

Of course, if you just score more than 16 points on the Buccaneers in 2022, you are 7-0 against them. More than ever, Brady is limited in the ways he can win games. But if you leave him enough rope, he’ll find a way to get you to hang yourself.

After two decades, you would think every coaching staff in the league would have a good read on what Brady’s going to do in these situations. But they’d still rather worry about him magically getting good at throwing it 20 yards downfield to Mike Evans when he knows he can get that yardage with a couple plays to the running back in the flat and the slot receivers on 5-yard arrow and out routes.

It is disheartening that highly-paid coaching staffs are still falling victim to this stuff. Make him move off the spot, make him throw the ball past the sticks, and take your chances with that. I guarantee it will work better than what the Cardinals did in the latest Brady rope-a-dope.

Packers at Dolphins: Tua Tanks

If the Dolphins (8-7) miss the playoffs after a fourth-straight loss, they are going to look back at this Christmas game against Green Bay in horror:

  • Since 1991, teams who averaged at least 7.4 yards per play and allowed a maximum of two third-down conversions were 59-0.
  • Make that 59-1 now.
  • The Dolphins lost 26-20 despite averaging 8.4 yards per play and holding Green Bay to 2-of-14 on third down.
  • Miami itself was only 2-of-7 on third down while the Packers were 3-of-5 on fourth down even if they failed on an ill-advised fake punt.

Despite hitting big plays early, the Dolphins failed to score a single point in the second half for the third time this season. It also was a historical waste of a game where Miami averaged 8.4 yards per play with Tua Tagovailoa averaging 10.9 yards per pass play.

Of the 187 teams since 1966 to average at least 8.25 yards per play in a game, the Dolphins (20) are the only team to score fewer than 21 points.

After Miami gave Raheem Mostert two carries for 31 yards to start the game, Miami inexplicably gave him six carries for 14 yards the rest of the game.

Miami led the game 20-10 in the first half, but the Packers came back to tie in the third quarter after Aaron Rodgers threw a great pass to veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis for an unexpected 31-yard gain. That set up a tying touchdown run, then the Dolphins missed a 48-yard field goal.

Rodgers threw an interception on a very hot-and-cold day for him, but the Packers immediately returned the favor on defense by intercepting Tua. The Packers ultimately moved the ball 4 yards after that, but it was in great field position for a 28-yard field goal and 23-20 lead.

Tua was intercepted again with 6:02 left despite being in field goal range. The Packers added a field goal after going with the old strategy of running the ball on third down and kicking a field goal to take a fool’s gold 6-point lead with just over 2:00 left.

In the modern NFL, you really have to consider going for the knockout punch or being content with it staying a 3-point game and relying on the conservative nature of coaches to kick a game-tying field goal and go to overtime.

But just two plays into the next drive, Tua threw his third pick of the quarter to end the game. Quarterbacks who threw for over 300 yards on no more than 25 pass attempts are now 110-7-4.

The Packers (7-8) live to fight another day after getting the road win, getting help from four wild card teams losing on Saturday, and their last two games are at home against their dome whipping boys (Vikings and Lions). The playoffs are suddenly realistic again for Green Bay, and it just took the worst quarter of Tua’s career to do it.

Giants at Vikings: Crown the Close Game Kings

If there was a team capable of beating the 2022 Vikings in a close game, it would be the Giants. They were 7-0 at upholding a one-score lead in the fourth quarter this year, and they had five game-winning drives during a 6-1 start. The Giants are also known for upsetting some historic streaks in their franchise’s history as well as spoiling some fine Minnesota seasons.

But the Giants fell victim to Minnesota’s close game magic too. Kirk Cousins ended up leading three scoring drives in the fourth quarter this week. The touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson to start the quarter secured the team’s eighth fourth-quarter comeback win, tying the single-season record by the 2016 Lions, who did it in 13 games.

Later in the quarter, the Vikings blocked a punt by the Giants, and they turned that short field into another touchdown to Justin Jefferson. But instead of going for two to take a 25-16 lead and all but end the game at 3:00 left, the Vikings kicked the extra point to make it 24-16. I hated that call, because you keep it a one-possession game by doing that.

I’ll never understand how anyone could think the two-point conversion is a real saving grace there. If you’re going to allow a 75-yard touchdown drive with the game on the line, what makes me think you’ll stop them on the two-point conversion too? Give me the strategy that makes it more likely they’ll need an onside kick recovery, which succeed at abysmal rates.

But I guess winning 25-16 wouldn’t be dramatic enough for these Vikings. Sure enough, the Giants drove 75 yards on them with Saquon Barkley’s 27-yard touchdown run coming at 2:01. They tied the game with the two-point conversion pass at well.

It just meant more time for Cousins to find Jefferson for more yards. He came up with two big catches for 33 yards, but the Vikings were very cavalier in using clock and could only set up Greg Joseph for a 61-yard field goal.

I like to call these Vikings the worst 12-3 team ever, one of the luckiest teams ever, but there was nothing lucky about this kick. Joseph nailed it down the middle with a few yards to spare too. Great kick for a 27-24 win.

Cousins now ties 2016 Stafford for the most game-winning drives (8) in a regular season too. If you include playoffs, the only other seasons to get to eight game-winning drives are Jake Delhomme (2003 Panthers) and Eli Manning (2011 Giants). Those two were Super Bowl teams.

Time to update the stats I posted in last week’s feature about these Vikings and their comebacks:

Going back to last year’s divisional round, Kevin O’Connell as the Rams coordinator and Vikings head coach has done this:

  • 14-0 in close games
  • 11-0 at game-winning drive opportunities
  • 10 fourth-quarter comebacks (five when trailing by 10+ points)
  • First team in NFL history to win three straight playoff games by 3 points
  • The most improbable fumble return TD since Joe Pisarcik and the Miracle at the Meadowlands
  • Largest comeback in NFL history (33 points)
  • Tied records for most fourth-quarter comebacks (eight) and game-winning drives (eight) in a single season

I still have every reason to doubt this team will go all the way doing this in the postseason. But if it means we’re going to get some exciting, memorable playoff games, and we can laugh at that season where Kirk Cousins led 10 or 11 game-winning drives, then I’m all for this continuing through February in Minnesota.

Seahawks at Chiefs: Whole Lotta Nothing Going On

Sure, it was cold in Kansas City, but this was one of the least eventful games in the Patrick Mahomes era. Mahomes was flirting with his lowest passing yardage total in a game he wasn’t injured in his career (that number is 166), but two quick connections to Travis Kelce over the middle led to 72 yards, allowing Mahomes to finish with 224 yards.

He finished the drive with a third-down scramble for a 3-yard touchdown, showing good athleticism to reach for the pylon. The Chiefs led 24-3 before Seattle converted a pair of fourth downs and finally reached the end zone with 2:25 left for the 24-10 final.

Just not much going on here as the Seahawks were 2-of-14 on third down and definitely missing Tyler Lockett at wide receiver. But the Chiefs will take a low-drama win, and if the Bengals can beat the Bills next week, they have a good shot at the No. 1 seed.

Bengals at Patriots: Joe Burrow vs. Bill Belichick Is a Jedi Knight Battle

Oh, how Bill Belichick wishes he had a quarterback like Joe Burrow instead of what he’s stuck with. At halftime, Burrow was 28-of-36 for 284 yards, three touchdowns, and one ill-advised interception in the red zone in an otherwise perfect half the Bengals led 22-0.

Meanwhile, Mac Jones was 5-of-8 for 34 yards as if they were playing different sports. But that second half was a big turnaround with the Patriots scoring a touchdown on defense for the third week in a row after scoring on a Burrow pick-six. Nick Folk missed the extra point in a game with several missed extra points.

Evan McPherson also missed a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter with the Bengals still up 22-12, so we had a real Jedi duel going on here with Belichick trying to will his team into a comeback.

Luck still seemed to be on Belichick’s side when Jones converted a third-and-29 by throwing a Hail Mary that was tipped volleyball style at the goal line to Jakobi Meyers for a 48-yard touchdown. But another missed extra point kept it at 22-18.

Ja’Marr Chase fumbled for the Bengals on a third-down catch, and the Patriots were 43 yards way from a 22-point comeback. But after getting to a first-and-goal at the 5, the Patriots coughed up the ball on a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble with 59 seconds left. The Bengals just ran it three times to make the Patriots use their timeouts, then punted. The Patriots had to go 76 yards in 41 seconds, and that went about as poorly as you’d expect. On a positive note, no lateral fumbled for a touchdown this week.

This is the third time since 2020 that the Patriots have lost a fumble in the red zone in the final five minutes of a game they were trailing by 1-to-8 points. It never happened from 2001 to 2019 when you know who was the quarterback.

Cam Newton fumbled in the red zone against the 2020 Bills while trailing 24-21 in the final 40 seconds. Running back Damien Harris fumbled in the red zone in a 17-16 game against Miami, in what was Mac Jones’ first NFL start, with 3:35 left. Now this play by Stevenson.

What more can you say about losing the LOAT? Meanwhile, Burrow is the first quarterback in NFL history to win a game wire-to-wire in regulation while completing 40 passes. He is only the third quarterback in NFL history to complete 40 passes in a game where his opponent scored fewer than 20 points, joining Rich Gannon (30-17 vs. 2002 Steelers) and Patrick Mahomes (20-17 vs. 2022 Titans).

Commanders at 49ers: Another Purdy Good Win

Not to sound like a hater, but I am a little bored with Brock Purdy and the 49ers after three starts and three wire-to-wire wins by 8-plus points. Deebo Samuel gets hurt and they just activate George Kittle’s Beast Mode (120 yards and two touchdowns), or Ray-Ray McCloud runs for a 71-yard touchdown. The defense still hasn’t allowed a 60-yard runner this year after Brian Robinson (22 carries for 58 yards) got close.

With the Raiders and Cardinals left on the schedule, I guess clamoring to see Purdy in different situations before the playoffs just isn’t that likely with this team. We’ll have to wait for the playoffs to see what happens if he has to lead a game-winning drive against those crazy Vikings or throw it 40-plus times in a shootout with the Eagles or AFC team.

One thing I’m sure of is that Ron Rivera should not go back to Carson Wentz for these last two games after Taylor Heinicke had a couple turnovers against the top defense. Wentz came in down 16 points and made a few decent plays to get a touchdown, but he took a sack on the two-point conversion attempt.

One thing I really liked was San Francisco going for a fourth-and-3 up 30-20 instead of kicking a field goal to go up 33-20. Screw the 13-point lead. Go for 17 and the death punch, or just run out the clock with the first down. The 49ers got Christian McCaffrey a touchdown on a quiet day for him to end it at 37-20.

The 49ers continue to roll with eight straight wins.

Raiders at Steelers: This One’s for Franco

I am still in shock that Franco Harris passed away just three days before the team was retiring his number and celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Immaculate Reception. If there was a retired player from the 70s that I would say was most synonymous with the Steelers and someone you can see proudly repping the team to this day, I would pick Franco. He was just that kind of humble guy and fan at heart. He put the Steelers on the map with his big playoff moment and the city will never forget him.

So, you knew it was going to be an emotional night on Christmas Eve and one of the coldest games in decades in Pittsburgh. I thought maybe running the ball frequently with Najee Harris would be the best way to limit any mistakes from rookie Kenny Pickett, who was coming off a concussion.

But what do I know when it comes to the Pittsburgh coaching staff? They went with a 42-24 split of Pickett plays to handoffs, and Chris Boswell had his struggles on two missed field goals in a low-scoring game.

The defense was fine outside of an abysmal tackling effort on a third-and-16 that led to an opening-drive touchdown, but it would be the Raiders’ only touchdown of the game. Pickett started the second half with an interception in Vegas territory, but the defense returned the favor immediately by intercepting Carr.

It was that kind of second half. The Steelers had five drives and could only muster one field goal in a 10-6 game as the defense pitched a second-half shutout. Remember, the Raiders forget games are 60 minutes long this year.

With 2:55 left, it was now or never for Pickett from his own 24. The drive was all Harris (as a receiver) and Pat Freiermuth until Pickett converted a fourth-and-1 with a QB sneak. One play later, Pickett ripped a 14-yard throw to George Pickens for the go-ahead touchdown with 46 seconds left. Nice throw, but I’m not sure what the safety was trying to do on the play.

Carr then tossed his third pick of the half on a great diving catch by Cam Sutton. The Steelers had a player come off the bench to celebrate, leading to a 15-yard penalty that could have been costly with the Raiders having all three timeouts. You couldn’t just take three knees to end it. But I’ll give the Steelers (Matt Canada?) credit for an ingenuous call on second down to hand off to backup tight end Connor Heyward (Cam’s brother) for a 21-yard gain to ice it.

The Steelers won 13-10 on Franco’s night. The Immaculate Reception was a 13-7 Pittsburgh win. Pittsburgh (7-8) is still alive for the playoffs.

The Raiders have blown a league-high five fourth-quarter leads this season. Just win until you lose, baby.

Bills at Bears: Beating Chicago at Its Own Game

The final says 35-13 but this was a 21-13 game in the fourth quarter with Chicago having possession. But for the league-high ninth time this year, the Bears were unable to come back from a one-score deficit. They couldn’t even get a first down on their last four drives in the fourth quarter with Justin Fields at quarterback.

On a cold afternoon, the Bills beat the Bears at their own game, winning the rushing battle 254-80. It was the best job any defense did against Chicago’s rushing attack, which saw the return of Khalil Herbert, since Fields started taking off as a runner against Washington.

The Bills held Fields to 11 yards on 7 runs. They stopped him cold for 1 yard on a third-and-13 scramble on that fourth-quarter drive when it was still 21-13. From there, Buffalo’s running backs helped set up Josh Allen for a 4-yard touchdown run of his own to take a 28-13 lead with 3:45 left. The Bills later added a “F You” TD on fourth down to Dawson Knox on a fourth down with 1:02 left.

The versatility of the Bills is appreciated. James Cook was one yard shy of giving them two 100-yard runners in the game to compensate for Allen only passing for 172 yards and a few bad interceptions.

Fields passed for 119 yards (44 on one play that led to no points after coming up short on a fourth-and-3 pass). With Davis Mills leading his first comeback in Tennessee, Fields now has the worst 4QC record (1-11) and the worst 4QC/GWD record (2-11) among active quarterbacks.

Texans at Titans: The AFC South Has No Bottom

My upset pick this week was Houston over Tennessee. I just didn’t like the way the Titans have been playing, and the Ryan Tannehill injury was the last straw. You don’t just repeat the Week 8 strategy of barely throwing with rookie Malik Willis and expecting Derrick Henry to rush for over 200 yards again.

Sure, the fact that he did it four times in a row against Houston is absurd, but after an early 48-yard touchdown run, the Texans clamped down and held Henry to 126 to end the day – good given their past standards. They also forced another big Henry fumble, something he has been doing lately, to start the fourth quarter with the Titans driving into scoring territory with a 14-10 lead.

That was a big one and the Texans turned it into a field goal. They got the ball back, and Davis Mills, the quarterback who was 0-8 at 4QC opportunities, was able to put tougher a 73-yard touchdown drive to take a 19-14 lead with 2:52 left. Nice of Brandin Cooks to make his mark on the season with a 6-yard touchdown.

Missing the two-point conversion could have been bad, but the Titans are one of the worst configured offenses to drive 75 yards in under three minutes, especially without Tannehill.

Into Houston territory, Willis was intercepted. The Texans kind of botched the ensuing drive, so the Titans got it back quickly with 1:10 left and another chance. But this time it had to be a 96-yard drive. A face mask penalty at midfield gave the Titans a shot at a Hail Mary. Willis was intercepted, but what more can you do on that situation?

With the Cowboys and Jaguars left, the Titans are in serious danger of going from 7-3 to 7-10 and missing the playoffs. For now, the 1994 Eagles are the only team to start 7-3 and finish 7-9. That got head coach Rich Kotite fired after four years with the team. We could see Mike Vrabel fall on the sword next in Tennessee after it already fired GM Jon Robinson in early December.

Lions at Panthers: Running Back to Norms

Every once in a while, I put out a narrative that the football gods steal for use that weekend:

While Jared Goff only finished with one official turnover, it was Carolina’s running game that stole the show with D’Onta Foreman (165) and Chuba Hubbard (125) combining for 290 of the team’s 320 rushing yards. They had 240 rushing yards at halftime.

This was just a massacre on the ground for a team that had 21 rushing yards against the Steelers last week. Crazy league. But I just felt like the season-long trend said the Lions are a liability on defense, and we know the Panthers want to run this type of offense under Steve Wilks. They traded Christian McCaffrey and instantly became a better rushing team. Imagine that.

But the Lions were just dominated in the trenches, trailing 31-7 early in the third quarter. They couldn’t get any closer than 17 points while having the ball in the fourth quarter.

Detroit is now No. 9 in the NFC, and the playoffs are not looking optimistic anymore. The Panthers can win the NFC South by winning their last two games. That would be a crazy story, but just as I expected the other shoe to drop on a Detroit run, I think Carolina will suffer the same fate in Tampa Bay next week.

But a sweep there would be glorious.

Saints at Browns: Dome Team Beats Predator in Deep Freeze

With the gamebook showing a minus-16 wind chill, this game in Cleveland looked like the coldest of all the games this weekend. The total settling at 32 points made it the lowest betting total in an NFL game since 2009.

But these offenses were actually better in the frigid conditions than some of the slop games we have seen in recent years. While neither team hit 250 yards of offense, that had more to do with a lack of passing. It wasn’t a punt and turnover fest and each team only had 10 legit possessions. Their third-down numbers were even solid with the Saints at 7-of-15 (46.7%) and Browns at 7-of-16 (43.8%).

An interception by each quarterback setting up a short-field touchdown drive threatened to hit the over with ease. But all the scoring stopped after the Saints, who were down 10-0 as the dome team, warmed up and made it 17-10 in the third quarter.

With 5:16 left, Deshaun Watson tried to mount an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. With a couple big catches by Amari Cooper, it got to the New Orleans 15. But from there, Watson’s passes were incomplete, and on fourth down, the pressure got to him for the game-ending sack.

The weather did not help in this one, but for those keeping track at home, that is now three offensive touchdown drives in four games for the Watson-led offense. Jacoby Brissett led three touchdown drives in his last start against the Buccaneers, an overtime win.

Falcons at Ravens: Tyler Huntley Is the 4th AFC Pro Bowl Alternate?

You may have missed that the Falcons and Ravens played a 17-9 snoozer. Desmond Ridder was able to throw for 218 yards in his second start, but the Falcons never found the end zone after Drake London fumbled another completion like last week, and the Falcons had some of the worst spacing you’ll ever see in short-yardage runs in the red zone.

They also were strategically inconsistent by going for a fourth-and-1 at the 1 with 6:49 left in a 17-6 game, then later settling for a field goal with 2:03 left. That second one was handled so poorly that the Falcons went from running a play with 2:58 left to giving the Ravens the ball back with 1:57 left, burning the two-minute warning stoppage on the kickoff.

But in the end, none of it mattered. Two runs and the Ravens had another first down to end the game. The Ravens (10-5) have clinched a playoff spot thanks to the Patriots losing, but they still are looking like a team who will be the No. 5 seed and have to play the AFC South winner (likely Jacksonville). Can they win that game if Lamar Jackson returns? Sure, but I just don’t see the scoring ability with this roster to keep up with the likes of the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals in the postseason.

Broncos at Rams: Nathaniel Hackett Swansong?

After two Russell Wilson interceptions set up the Rams for two touchdown drives that covered a total of 45 yards, this one was basically over at 17-0 just over 10 minutes in.

The Rams ended up winning 51-14, which is a hilarious point total for a team that has scored 51 points in its five lowest-scoring games of the season combined. The Broncos also had one of the best defenses this season, yet they watched Baker Mayfield go 24-of-28 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Even Cam Akers rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns.

After such an embarrassing performance on Christmas, do the Broncos fire Nathaniel Hackett on Monday and just go with an interim coach for the last two games? If anyone has demonstrated they can’t hack it at this job after one season, it is this guy.

Next Week

  • Cowboys-Titans to mercifully close out TNF?
  • Every game leading up to MNF involves a losing team.
  • So, believe me when I say Week 17 is all about Bills-Bengals on MNF, the sequel to the AFC’s Game of the Year. It’s the first Allen-Burrow matchup in the NFL. Should be a great one.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 15

When your weekend starts with the biggest comeback in NFL history, you know things are going to be wilder than usual. The NFL’s Week 15 can lay claim to being the wildest week of the 2022 season with a record 33-point comeback, two more 17-point comebacks, three overtime games won on touchdowns, two non-offensive game-winning touchdowns, a snowy fourth quarter classic in Buffalo, and we still have to see what Baker Mayfield can do in Green Bay on Monday night.

After a lack of drama and lead changes in Week 14, the week I called the worst of the year, every single game but one was within one score at some point in the fourth quarter. It took the greatest kicker of all time having a 50-yard field goal blocked in his face to not have it happen in 100% of the games this week.

That does not mean we had 15 games with a comeback opportunity. We had 11 for the first time since Week 5 now that the bye weeks are over. But what a week it was with plenty to recap.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Colts at Vikings: The Biggest Comeback/Collapse in NFL History

For a special recap of this historic game, check out my feature, The 2022 Vikings Are Young, Dumb, and Full of Comebacks

Giants at Commanders: Fumbles and Bad Refs

We finally had a winner in Giants-Commanders this year despite how close this was to going to overtime with the score 20-20 again. But Taylor Heinicke and Washington had a brutal night at the ends of each field. The Giants got back on track with a win thanks to the familiar formula of pressure defense and grinding out the fourth quarter.

The Commanders could have taken control early like they did two weeks ago when these teams met, but a third-down sack of Heinicke knocked them out of field goal range on the opening drive, then rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux had perhaps his play of the season with a strip-sack returned for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Washington trailed 17-9 to start the fourth quarter but struggled to hold onto the ball and put it in the end zone. Antonio Gibson narrowly avoided another lost fumble on a drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal two plays later to make it 17-12. Just like two weeks ago, the Giants couldn’t put things away on offense despite driving into Washington territory.

But after Heinicke hit a deep ball to Jahan Dotson for 61 yards, that drive would also stall after he was strip-sacked for the second time on third-and-goal with 6:06 left. The Giants added another 50-yard field goal to make it 20-12, but we were in almost the exact same situation as two weeks ago with Heinicke having the ball with a chance to tie. The clock was less favorable, and they would need a two this time, but it was very close to the same thing.

The Giants also looked like they were going to blow it again on a night that showed the Commanders have a really nice trio of wide receivers in Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and rookie Dotson. But do you know who apparently are not fans of this receiving trio? The refs. After a Heinicke scramble set up third-and-goal from the 1, Brian Robinson’s touchdown plunge was nullified by an illegal formation penalty on McLaurin.

This is the kind of thing you could struggle to notice at the snap, and according to former official Terry McAuley via NBC broadcast, this was a weak call that did not need to be made. McLaurin says the ref told him he was lined up fine, so make of that what you will.

But the big stink came on fourth-and-6. Heinicke threw a pass out of desperation to Samuel in the end zone, and corner Darnay Holmes was there early, interfered with Samuel, but no flag was thrown for defensive pass interference. Game over, Giants win.

Now in that video, Holmes is perfectly fine at the beginning. Samuel even uses his right hand to push Holmes away at the 7-second mark. But after that push creates some separation, you can see Holmes panic and start to ride Samuel’s back at 9-10 seconds. By 12 seconds, he decides to grab onto the receiver’s chest with both hands and leap on his back again to help knock the ball away.

What more do you need for DPI? Oh yeah, I guess it would help if Samuel was Mike Evans and Heinicke was Tom Brady, because we know that is getting flagged 100% of the time if they were involved. It would also have gone the way of Davante Adams no matter if Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr threw him the ball, and the same is true for Mahomes and Kelce, or any other star players you want to throw into the mix.

Officials call the game differently at the very end of the game even though a foul is a foul is a foul. Call it preferential treatment or giving the benefit of the doubt, but some players tend to get calls others wouldn’t from refs too. That’s just an unfortunate part of the game.

What can be done to change that? I’m not sure. I just know it is a very bad look for the league when NBC’s rules expert (McAuley), a former official himself, can quickly look at these plays and call the illegal formation unnecessary and the missed DPI blatant.

I am not saying we need a game where every play in the final 2:00 is highly scrutinized and reviewed for every possible little penalty. But maybe some kind of “eye in the sky” in New York with all the best angles and replays can quickly be the third-party ruler in these cases and come up with the best calls for game-deciding plays like this one.

But they know we’re still going to watch the next game no matter how bad the last call (or no call) was.

Patriots at Raiders: Belichick Is Going to Bury Jakobi Meyers with Joe Pesci in the Desert

Bill Belichick is now 11-12 against his former New England assistants, including an 0-2 record against Josh McDaniels. But in none of those games did his team ever look as stupid and undisciplined as they did in Vegas.

Forget that play. We’ll get to that. Before the final minute, you had the Patriots completely botch a goal-to-go sequence, blow a coverage on a second-and-20 resulting in a Darren Waller touchdown, have a punt blocked, and Mac Jones struggled to throw for 100 yards.

But the nice thing was they were playing the 2022 Raiders. Despite leading 17-3, you know this team forgets there are two halves to each game. Once again, the Raiders blew a two-touchdown lead after some big plays by the Patriots quickly put together a go-ahead touchdown drive with 3:43 left. New England went from trailing 17-3 to leading 24-17.

Derek Carr adopted the Brady approach of “suck fast and hope for DPI” after throwing three incomplete passes, the last being a deep ball on third down that almost connected with Mack Hollins. But since the drive was so bad and only consumed 27 seconds (punt included), Carr was going to get another shot, because you knew the Patriots would be conservative with Jones and the lead.

In fact, Carr had 2:11 left to tie it. The game could have been over with a four-and-out, but the New England defense lost Hollins on the sideline for a 12-yard gain to keep the game alive. On a play that should quiet the Raiders fans who think the refs are always out to get them, the Raiders were ruled to have scored a touchdown when Keelan Cole hauled one in the back of the end zone from 30 yards out with 32 seconds left.

There was a video of what looked like his one foot may have been on the white and out of bounds. But this was one of those plays where it stood just because you had to stay with the call on the field, which was a touchdown. Had they ruled it incomplete on the field, it likely would have stayed incomplete and brought up third down.

Tough one for Patriots fans, but they have a long way to go to make up for all the crap that went their way the last two decades. The game was only tied and likely headed for overtime, except the Patriots did one of the dumbest things in NFL history:

We have seen fumbles returned for touchdowns on the final play of the game before. It happened when Washington upset the Eagles this year. It happened to the Raiders in overtime in Arizona when Hunter Renfrow coughed up the ball.

But those were different situations. You don’t see a team try to lateral in a tied game with overtime in their back pocket, because that would be stupid for the exact reason we saw. I just said the other day that Chandler Jones was having the worst season of his career, but hey, at least he has a highlight play for the rest of his life to enjoy.

I don’t actually mind the initial lateral from Rhamondre Stevenson. It was risky and it wasn’t planned that way, but he made a decent play. But if you are Meyers, who says he knew it was tied and not meant to be a lateral, then how in the world do you make that lateral that far back into the field of play because you thought Mac Jones was open?

Him?

If he can’t throw a Hail Mary from his 45, he wasn’t going to do anything here. Just an incredibly bad decision by Meyers and maybe even a worse throw as that ball was right to Chandler Jones and nowhere close to Mac Jones. If Kendrick Bourne or Nelson Agholor made the play Meyers did, they probably get cut Monday.

With games coming up against the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills, the Patriots (7-7) are likely toast for the playoffs. When you look at the roster, it makes sense. But you never expect the Patriots to do something so incredibly stupid like they did on Sunday.

That’s what you expect the Raiders to do.

Dolphins at Bills: Buffalo Powder Is Different Than Miami Powder

Unlike Sunday night, this was just a great, dramatic game between two quality division rivals in Buffalo on Saturday night. I could watch these teams play a best-of-seven if things are going to be as good and interesting as the first two games this year.

I had been waiting since Week 3 to see this rematch, because I thought the Bills shot themselves in the foot that game and blew it way more than Miami found a way to win it. I was ultimately wrong about the Bills blowing them out here in the cold, but it was a great game with neither team able to lead by more than one possession.

The much-hyped snow did not arrive until the fourth quarter, but when it did, that made every snap an adventure down the stretch. But the game was filled with intrigue as a better version of Tua Tagovailoa showed up than the last two weeks. But the biggest surprise was Raheem Mostert (136 yards) giving the Dolphins a dominant run attack they haven’t had this year.

That’s what made the fourth quarter so questionable when the Dolphins took to the air on six of their final seven plays after the snow started. How do you not feed Mostert on a third-and-1? Instead, Tua threw a quick pass that lost 2 yards and the Dolphins settled for a 47-yard field goal.

Allen made up for his strip-sack on the previous drive with an excellent 44-yard run and a great touchdown throw to Dawson Knox for a 5-yard score. Allen dove for the end zone on the game-tying two-point conversion, and despite NFL Network cutting to a commercial break long enough for analyst Mark Sanchez to scarf down two hot dogs, the play was good and not a fumble as it appeared.

Miami’s pass-happy drive in a tied game with the snow coming down just did not make sense to me. The Bills had the ball back with 5:56 left in a 29-29 game. Allen led a drive as good as any in his career with pinpoint accuracy and sharp decision making. When any little slip or bad bounce of the ball in the increasingly slick conditions could end the game, this was impressive stuff in a very important game. I would say he’s put himself back in the MVP race if the losses to the Jets and Vikings weren’t so damaging.

Devin Singletary pulled up short of a go-ahead touchdown with 34 seconds left, which was probably the smartest thing to do in that spot. The field was cleaned off by Buffalo players well enough to give kicker Tyler Bass a very fair shot at a 25-yard field goal. He nailed it and the Bills won 32-29 and should be the AFC East champs when it’s all said and done.

I still think Miami is a playoff team this year, but with its second three-game losing streak of the year, you can see how the inexperience with success is hurting Mike McDaniel and Tua.

After zero game-winning drives in the 2021 season, the Bills are already up to four engineered by Allen this year (at Ravens, at Chiefs, at Lions, and vs. Dolphins). When you take away someone like Von Miller, on top of a loss like safety Micah Hyde, it is going to be more of a grind for this team. There is no easy path to the Super Bowl in this AFC.

More and more, the AFC is looking like a three-team race that will be a repeat of last year: two coin-flip games between the trio of Buffalo, Kansas City, and Cincinnati. Fortunately, we get to see the Bills and Bengals in prime time in Week 17, the first matchup between Allen and Joe Burrow in their NFL careers.

Eagles at Bears: Just Some Hiccups

How did Jalen Hurts fare in his first game as the odds-on MVP favorite this year? He probably played his worst game of the season with two early picks, but he still finished with 376 total yards (315 passing) and scored three rushing touchdowns in a 25-20 win.

The Bears did their usual thing: plenty of rushing yards, some good highlights from Justin Fields, but not good on third down, not enough passing, and no fourth-quarter comeback despite the Eagles letting them hang around in a 17-13 game after a doinked field goal attempt.

A.J. Brown got open for a 68-yard catch that set up Hurts’ third touchdown to basically wrap it up at 25-13 with 4:20 left. The Eagles had some blown coverage on a 35-yard touchdown to Byron Pringle with 2:42 left, but Philadelphia was able to convert one more third down to Brown to move the chains and end the game with a 25-20 win to move to 13-1.

A better team could have made the Eagles pay in that first half, but Fields had some really bad plays on third-and-1 early, and too many sacks (six for 61 yards) on the day.

The Eagles will not go into their big game with Dallas next week at their sharpest like the last three weeks, but after the way Dallas has played against Houston and Jacksonville, does it matter? Even a Dallas win is unlikely to cost the Eagles the No. 1 seed. Still, I am surprised to see the Cowboys are a 1.5-point home favorite next Saturday.

Cowboys at Jaguars: The Return of McCarthyism

If Houston was supposed to be the wake-up call for this Dallas team to get its shit together before the showdown with the Eagles, then the message was initially received. Then in the third quarter, (Mike) McCarthyism crept in and this team fell apart, blowing a 27-10 lead and losing 40-34 in overtime.

I do not know if the Jaguars are legitimately turning it around after a 2-6 start, or if they’re just the lucky beneficiaries of playing two of the worst teams ever to hold leads (Raiders and Ravens), a Tennessee team during its worst losing streak in years, and now this Dallas team that should have lost to Houston a week ago.

I do know turnovers have played a crucial part in Jacksonville’s recent wins against Baltimore, Tennessee, and now Dallas. A Dak Prescott interception late in the third quarter set the Jaguars up 39 yards away from another touchdown to quickly make this very interesting after it was 27-10 not even three minutes before that.

Like last week against Houston, Prescott would atone for his mistake with a 75-yard touchdown drive, finding Noah Brown for another 13-yard score to take a 34-31 lead. The great Dallas defense we keep hearing about? It mostly did its job the rest of the way. Trevor Lawrence put a nasty spin move on the defense, but he got a bit greedy on the play and fumbled in Dallas territory with 1:28 left.

It wasn’t a dagger with the Jaguars having all three timeouts left, but the Cowboys botched this drive. Two runs for net 0 yards by each back, then Dak tried to throw a deep one to Brown that fell incomplete. The Cowboys burned 27 seconds and even saved the Jaguars a timeout, which they desperately needed.

With CeeDee Lamb catching all seven targets on the day – he had five of the offense’s seven longest gains – I think you have to be aggressive and work an early-down pass in there, maybe off play-action. If the end result is just going to be giving them the ball back anyway with time to do something, then I am giving my best players a chance to end things on offense.

Lawrence had 1:01 to get a field goal and he needed just about every second of it. Zay Jones was the big target on the day with three touchdowns, and his 19-yard catch to the Dallas 30 was a game saver. The game is over there if the Jaguars didn’t have that last timeout. Silly Cowboys.

The Jaguars were good from 48 yards out on the field goal to send it to overtime. The Dallas defense again did a great job to force a three-and-out. But after a few Tony Pollard runs, Dak’s first dropback in overtime was a disaster with a tipped ball going to Rayshawn Jenkins for a 52-yard game-winning pick-six.

You just can’t trust these teams this year. It would be such a McCarthy thing to restore false hope and beat the Eagles next week. But guess what? The Eagles are unlikely to be caught for the No. 1 seed, let alone the division at this point.

We would really be looking at the NFC’s Game of the Year next week in Dallas if this team didn’t blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in Green Bay and a 17-point third-quarter lead in Jacksonville.

13-1 at 12-2 on Christmas Eve? Hell yeah, that would have been a spectacle. But if you’re talking about the NFC Game of the Year this season, the answer has never been more obvious what that should be.

It’s the 49ers at Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. It sure isn’t a game involving this Dallas team.

Bengals at Buccaneers: Joe Burrow Pulls the Remaining Horseshoe Out of Tom Brady’s Ass

If I told you a team in this game blew a 17-0 lead by doing a stupid fake punt, turning the ball over four times in a row, which set up three touchdowns inside the opponent’s 40-yard line, then wasted a huge fourth-down sack with a tacky 5-yard penalty, you’d bet everything you owned on the team who blew it being Cincinnati, right?

Well, this was some role reversal. This game went from nauseating (blame Tony Romo’s hard-on for Tom Brady) to hilarious in record time. The Bengals trailed 17-0 late in the first half and got into the locker room with 83 yards, the worst first half for any Joe Burrow start in his career. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers actually looked like a competent, balanced team like they were in 2020-21.

But before I could even start joking that Brady at age 45 plays tighter defense on Burrow’s receivers than Mahomes or Allen could ever dream of, this one took a sharp turn in the third quarter. The Buccaneers tried a fake punt from their own 26, and the direct snap to Gio Bernard seemed to catch him by surprise, and the play failed. The Bengals only got a field goal out of it, but better than nothing.

Then Brady threw a pick as he tried to make one of those very low throws to a diving receiver, but he got the defender instead. Still, his defense looked like it was going to force a four-and-out after Burrow took a 23-yard sack on fourth-and-3, or one of the worst plays you’ll ever see a quarterback make. However, he was bailed out by a defensive holding penalty on Lavonte David.

If Kevin O’Connell stole part of Brady’s lucky horseshoe back in January with the Rams, then Burrow must have snuck in there at halftime to extract the other piece lodged up Brady’s ass. This turnaround was absurd.

The Bengals turned that first turnover into a touchdown. Three plays later, Brady was strip-sacked and the Bengals were 13 yards away from the lead, which they took quickly at 20-17.

How about three in a row? Brady was just trying to hand off on a running play, and I’ve never seen the ball just pop right out of a quarterback’s hand when he was about to do so. The ball never got to the back and that goes down as another turnover for Brady.

The Bengals turned that into a touchdown too on a drive from 39 yards out with Ja’Marr Chase getting in on the action. Burrow even got away with a dropped interception or two this half. Everything was clicking for our young LOAT.

But Brady could come back, right? Cue the DPI throw to Mike Evans, and this was still a ballgame at 27-17. But nope. Under pressure, Brady’s pass fluttered from the contact and the Bengals came up with a diving interception and great defensive effort for the fourth straight turnover. That one only led to a quick three-and-out, but it changed field position, and Tampa responded with a three-and-out back. Perhaps a curious decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from your own 11 with 9:26 left after the game this team was having.

This time, Burrow put together a more legitimate drive on a longer field (62 yards) and he put away the Bucs with his fourth touchdown pass to a fourth different receiver. He even drew the Bucs offsides on a fourth down during the drive.

Brady added a 75-yard touchdown drive in garbage time to get the Bucs to 23 points for just the second time in 2022, but the Bengals recovered the onside kick to end it at 34-23.

I should be enjoying this Tampa Bay season a lot more than I am, and I know I would had the Rams and Saints not blown those two games against them. This team should be 4-10 right now, last place in the worst division. But ever since Week 1, I felt it was inevitable they were going to win the division and get rewarded with a home playoff game. Even as they continue to lose, I still think the odds of them beating Dallas in the wild card round in Tampa are incredibly high.

But this was still stunning because they went from looking the most competent they have all season to just a pure disaster all around.

Are the Bucs the first team in NFL history to give up at least a 34-0 scoring run in back-to-back weeks? They were down 35-0 to the 49ers last week. The quick answer is no. The 1961 Raiders were shut out 55-0 and 44-0 to start their season 0-2 if you can believe that. The 1978 Colts also did really bad with 38-0 and 42-0 losses to begin their season.

But for Brady, eight days ago he had only experienced a team scoring more than 31 straight points on him once (2020 Saints led 38-0 and won 38-3). Now it’s happened the last two games.

I just hope this doesn’t somehow end up as the Super Bowl matchup, because there is no way the Bengals are repeating this.

Chiefs at Texans: Just Needed the Rosencopter

The comparison of Peyton Manning to Patrick Mahomes wouldn’t be complete without a hard-fought win in Houston against the Texans when you least expect it. But the Chiefs are now 4-9-1 ATS, second-worst record in the league, after failing to cover a 14.5-point spread that was, frankly, ridiculous for a road team. Not to mention what happened with these teams a week ago.

This would have been a brutal loss for the Chiefs as they had nearly 300 more yards (502-219) than the Texans. But once again it was the turnovers that kept it close, and it was a turnover that made sure the Chiefs would still win.

This week it was not one but two obligatory fumbles by the Chiefs, including one from Isiah Pacheco and one from JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu’s led to the Texans taking a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

But Patrick Mahomes used his legs again on a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown run. He completed the two-point conversion pass and the Chiefs led 24-21. But like I said in Week 11 after the Chargers game, we got to see what is becoming the signature Mahomes comeback. He leads them from behind with a go-ahead touchdown, the defense gives it up, then he still gets the win with a touchdown anyway.

But this one had no business going to overtime like that. After the Texans used a long drive to kick a game-tying field goal, Mahomes had the Chiefs right back in scoring range thanks to a 14-yard scramble on another third down. But instead of trying to get a little closer for a kicker who had missed another extra point, Andy Reid seemed content with staying conservative and settling for a long field goal. A designed run by Mahomes for 2 yards and a RB screen that lost a yard prove that.

Butker has been solid from long range, but from 51 yards out with 12 seconds left, he was wide right and the Chiefs were going to overtime. The Chiefs won another coin toss, but Mahomes made one of his few mistakes in the game by taking a sack on third down that knocked the offense out of field goal range.

But Davis Mills immediately returned the favor on a scramble when Frank Clark knocked the ball out and the Chiefs recovered. All that was missing was Mills spinning through the air a la the Rosencopter.

Unable to trust Butker, the Chiefs couldn’t just take a knee from the 26. With Pacheco fumbling earlier, the Chiefs turned to Jerick McKinnon, who has been money for them as of late. He immediately ripped off a 26-yard touchdown run against a run defense I crap on every single week in previews, prop picks, and recaps. That was the right call for sure, and while Mahomes gets a cheap game-winning TD drive, he should have had the game won on a field goal in regulation. Mahomes had the highest QBR (92.3) in Week 15.

Still, it turns out to be the fifth time that Mahomes has led a fourth-quarter comeback win with two go-ahead touchdown drives. That’s already more than the total Aaron Rodgers (two), Peyton Manning (one), and Tom Brady (one) have in their careers combined.

Mahomes finished 36-of-41 passing, setting an NFL record for highest completion percentage (87.8%) in a game with at least 40 pass attempts. He hit his last 20 passes, starting with a great touchdown grab by Marquez Valdes-Scantling to end the first half. He also had the two-point conversion pass in there, so it’s arguably 21 in a row.

Mahomes didn’t hit anything deep in this game as the Chiefs dinked and dunked and picked the Texans apart in the 0-15 yard range. They used short passes as an extension of the run game against the worst run defense, so it was a smart plan. Mahomes’ success rate was 30/49 (61.2%), which is very high for a game. If they can ever figure out how to hang onto the ball better, they wouldn’t need overtime and late-game heroics to beat teams like this.

Titans at Chargers: Herbert Gets Help

Justin Herbert is back to .500 (23-23) in his career after getting more help than usual in a 17-14 win over the Titans. Sure, he still had to throw for over 300 yards, including an absolute dime for 35 yards to Mike Williams on the game-winning drive, but he got some decent contributions from his running game and defense in this one.

Herbert was able to win his first game when throwing multiple interceptions. He was previously 0-6 when that happened. Hell, before Sunday, Herbert was 6-20 when throwing an interception.

The Titans had a team record four straight games without a takeaway before playing some volleyball in the end zone before halftime to end that streak with a Herbert pick. Incredible play. It was that kind of stuff that kept this a 7-7 game for so long. It didn’t help that Ryan Tannehill and Austin Ekeler were knocked out early, but both returned to finish the game. Ekeler showed his strength on a touchdown run and finished with 12 carries for 58 yards. That may not sound like much, but when you can get Herbert 22 carries for 82 yards from the running back position, that’s better than a lot of Chargers games.

After Ekeler’s touchdown gave the Chargers a 14-7 lead in the fourth quarter, both offenses struggled. Eventually, the Titans got the ball back with 2:57 left. Derrick Henry was able to get over 100 yards rushing, and the Titans needed it with Tannehill looking limited on his ankle injury. The drive was starting to flounder before back-to-back throws by Tannehill picked up 45 yards. The Chargers were wise to use timeouts after each red-zone snap, because Mike Vrabel is definitely a coach who will wind the clock down and go for two to win after the touchdown.

Tannehill snuck in the touchdown himself with 48 seconds left. The extra point was the right decision. Overtime and a possible tie would still be advantageous to the Titans in their division race with Jacksonville.

But even without a timeout and 44 seconds left at his own 23, Herbert is good enough to get the job done. He picked up 22 yards in 12 seconds with receivers getting out of bounds, hit the great throw to Williams for 35, then got the spike down. A delay of game penalty wasn’t great, but it wouldn’t be a Chargers game without some drama.

Dicker the Kicker was true from 43 yards with 4 seconds left. The Titans were stopped on the kick return to end the game at 17-4. Tennessee (7-7) has lost four in a row while the Chargers (8-6) are up to the No. 6 seed thanks to the head-to-head win over Miami last week and the losses by the Patriots and Jets.

We are getting closer to Herbert in the postseason after he’s led five game-winning drives in consecutive seasons. Herbert’s 13 game-winning drives are tied with Matt Ryan for the third most in a quarterback’s first three seasons. Only Russell Wilson (15) and Dak Prescott (15) had more.

Lions at Jets: Greg Not Enough Leg Helps Detroit Continue Playoff Push

Bit of an unexpected passing duel outdoors in December between Jared Goff (252 yards) and Zach Wilson (317 yards on 18 completions) with only one turnover in the game.

But most of the game was about defense. You figure the Lions would be at a disadvantage with the No. 31 defense in points and No. 32 in yards while the Jets have been one of the best, but it took one play to swing things. After the Jets took a 17-13 lead, the Lions faced a fourth-and-1 at midfield at the two-minute warning. The Lions rolled the dice with a pass, and backup tight end Brock Wright leaked out uncovered and caught an easy one that he was able to turn into a 51-yard touchdown. It was Detroit’s only 20-yard offensive play in the game.

Only needing a field goal, Wilson took some annoying sacks, but he also did a good job with some miraculous throws and catches by rookie Garrett Wilson. An even greater fourth-and-18 conversion went for 20 yards to Elijah Moore, and the Jets were able to use their final timeout with a second left after that play.

Overtime or a Detroit win would come down to the leg of Greg Zuerlein on a 58-yard field goal. The kick wasn’t even close, and the Lions escaped with the 20-17 win. Both teams are .500 now with 7-7 records. Huge win for Detroit with a more than doable remaining schedule of Panthers, Bears, and Packers.

Ravens at Browns: Not Baltimore’s Day

Hard to believe this was the only game in Week 15 where one team led by 10+ points for the entire 15 minutes of the fourth quarter. It was a lousy kicking day with both kickers missing twice, though Justin Tucker being one of those kickers is the shocking part. He had a 50-yard field goal blocked in the first minute of the fourth quarter to keep it a 13-3 game.

Beyond the uncharacteristic, awful kicking day, the Ravens just didn’t seem to recognize the situation. Cleveland’s offense sucks with Deshaun Watson, who has managed two touchdown drives in three games, and you were playing this game without Lamar Jackson again. Take easy points when they come, so that means not going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 7 on your long opening drive by giving the ball to the fullback Patrick Ricard, who was stuffed.

There went three points. Tucker missed a 48-yard field goal before halftime despite making from 53 earlier, so that’s six points. To start the third quarter, Huntley forced an awful pass on third down in the red zone that would have been short of the sticks even if it was caught, and that was intercepted. There’s nine points. The Tucker blocked field goal could have been 12. DeMarcus Robinson also lost a fumble near midfield on a completion in the third quarter.

Just a poor game all around by the passing game and kicking unit. Defense and run game (nearly 200 yards again) were just fine.

It’s the first of Huntley’s eight major appearances that wasn’t decided by 1-to-3 points. The Ravens (9-5) are now in second place in the AFC North and things may very well stay that way the rest of the season.

Falcons at Saints: Bad Start to the Ridder Era

Atlanta rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder made his first start, getting a quick taste of the Saints rivalry. It did not go well. Ridder finished 13-of-26 for 97 yards, took four sacks, and ran six times for 38 yards. The Falcons gave him nearly 200 yards of rushing support to help keep the game close, but he definitely showed some inaccuracy and a lack of experience as you would expect from a third-round rookie in his first start.

Ridder joins a weird list of five other quarterbacks to throw for fewer than 100 yards on more than 25 pass attempts in their first NFL start since 1950:

  • Don Meredith (1960 Cowboys; turned out to be a good player for Dallas)
  • Will Cureton (1975 Browns; only game in his career)
  • Heath Shuler (1994 Redskins; first-round bust for Washington)
  • Jonathan Quinn (1998 Jaguars; forgettable career backup who was a third-round pick in 1998)
  • Doug Pederson (1999 Eagles; much better career as head coach)

We’ll see where Ridder ends up. Rookie wide receiver Drake London had 70 of Ridder’s 97 passing yards, but he also had the big blunder of the game that prevented Ridder from becoming a legend in his first start against the hated Saints. Down 21-18, Ridder looked to convert a fourth-and-5 to London at midfield, but he was stripped of the ball and the Saints recovered with 2:06 left.

The Saints kind of botched the clock situation from there, so Ridder got the ball back with 9 seconds left. After a short completion, he took off for an 18-yard run and dipped out of bounds even though the clock had already expired.

Take note, New England. That’s the moment where you are supposed to throw a lateral back into the field of play.

Ridder will learn. Maybe.


Steelers at Panthers: Pittsburgh Sweeps NFC South

I should have known better with that shit division. The Steelers completed their 4-0 sweep of the NFC South with a 24-16 win in Carolina that wasn’t even that close. The Steelers converted 12-of-16 third downs, used the first 11:43 of the third quarter to go on a 21-play, 91-yard touchdown drive, and completely shut down Carolina’s running game (16 carries for 21 yards).

Earlier this week, I researched what happens the next game after Mike Tomlin’s run defense gives up 180 yards like it did last week against Baltimore, and they still usually allow an average of 107 yards the next game. There’s rarely a huge improvement. But this was a complete shutdown of D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard.

The Steelers would be right in that 8-6 or 9-5 wild card mix if they played this complete of a game a few more times this year against those weaker opponents like the Jets, Patriots, Browns, and even the Dolphins.

Surprisingly, the AFC is only 34-34 vs. NFC this season. However, the NFC South is 3-15 against AFC teams. Of course.

Cardinals at Broncos: Playing Out the String

Week 15 is a little early for a game to be irrelevant, but this matchup had it in spades with the 4-9 Cardinals against the 3-10 Broncos with backup quarterbacks for both sides. Even Colt McCoy didn’t finish the game for the Cardinals due to a concussion. Backup Trace McSorley had to replace him, and McSorley was intercepted in the fourth quarter while trailing 17-9, giving safety Justin Simmons a pick off each Arizona quarterback.

That led to a 5-yard touchdown drive, which all but put the game away at 24-9 in case you were wondering how Denver managed 24 points. Keep in mind the Cardinals entered the week allowing the most points in the league this season, so giving up 24 to Brett Rypien and the Broncos is on brand.

Both teams are 4-10 now and their recaps will only get shorter from here on out. Happy holidays.

Next Week

  • Jags-Jets is the NFL’s classic “if you want to get some late Christmas shopping done Thursday night, go for it” matchup. But this year it’s better than usual with both teams in the playoff hunt and must-win mode.
  • Saturday’s early slate is a bit meh when NYG-MIN is the highlight, but we’ll see how the Vikings follow that 33-point comeback.
  • The Game of the Year in the NFC is probably going to be a 49ers-Eagles NFC Championship Game that we deserve, but I guess Eagles at Cowboys in the 4:25 slot will have to suffice for the regular season. Dallas’ loss in Jacksonville takes some more luster off this one.
  • Watching Derek Carr against the Steelers or a Christmas movie at night? Tough call.
  • Boy, the NFL got hosed on Christmas day. Hard to blame them for thinking GB-MIA, DEN-LAR, and TB-ARI would be hits, but they ended up scheduling five of the most disappointing teams in the league this year.
  • Chargers-Colts should be up for some shenanigans on Monday night.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 14

If Baker Mayfield can put together two fourth-quarter touchdown drives 48 hours after joining a wounded roster, what’s holding the rest of the league back? The only fourth-quarter lead change on Sunday involved the 1-win Texans blowing a late lead to the 17.5-point favored Cowboys.

It was one of the least dramatic days of NFL action we have seen in some time. The seven comeback opportunities (six on Sunday) are tied for the fewest in a week this season. But some of the opportunities weren’t even that good with teams like the Ravens and Panthers just running the clock down on the Steelers and Seahawks after drives earlier in the quarter failed.

Beyond that lack of fourth-quarter drama, most of the best teams won again (Eagles, Bills, Chiefs, Cowboys, Bengals, 49ers, Ravens).  

A strong contender for worst week of the season so far. Hard to believe there are only four left in this regular season, and the next two weeks will split up the action with Saturday triple-headers.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Chargers: The Uncomfortable Justin Herbert Conversation

I was able to write the other 10 recaps during Sunday Night Football, and after taking a break to watch The White Lotus S2 finale, I’m still not sure what the hell was going on in Los Angeles tonight.

It was a game without a turnover, yet one of the pivotal plays was a fumble at midfield that just so happened to be picked up by Tyreek Hill for a 57-yard touchdown return.

Tua Tagovailoa went from being one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league this year to staring down a start that had him 3-for-17 for 25 yards more than halfway through the third quarter. Then he found Hill down the sideline and 60 yards later it was a 17-14 game.

So, it felt like there was some Chargering in store for us, but 43 yards away from the lead in the fourth quarter, Tua threw his Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI pass into the dead sea way down the field with no one in sight. He was slapped with an intentional grounding penalty, which brought up third-and-19 to kill that drive.

The Chargers went on another long drive with Herbert throwing darts that ended short of the end zone, but at least this one still put a field goal on the board despite a scary fumble at the 6-yard line with just over four minutes left. The Chargers were able to recover and saved the field goal for a crucial 23-14 lead.

Miami did not have the greatest of response drives, but the Dolphins were able to convert a 55-yard field goal to keep the game alive with 1:10 left. Hope finally ran out after the onside kick failed, but not before a nice bounce that at least made it dramatic. But the Chargers recovered, and it was over at 23-17.

Herbert is now 9-0 when the Chargers allow fewer than 20 points. I think the main takeaway from that stat is that they’ve only held nine of his first 45 opponents under 20 points.

There is still enough season left for the Chargers (7-6) to be that 11-win team many of us thought they should be this year. It will take more efforts like this, though it’s not like the Chargers were on top of their game here. They gave up two big touchdowns to Hill and somehow turned 39 completions from Herbert to 23 points. Watching a quarterback throw the ball 51 times in a game where he never trailed and his team allowed 17 points is weird. That’s Brady stuff.

But they looked better than Miami, who got a 10-of-28 for 145 yards game out of Tua. Nearly half his yards came on that one pass to Hill. Is there an injury throwing Tua off his game the last two weeks? Something is off.

All I can safely conclude is that these two teams are in a tier below the Bills, Chiefs, and Bengals in the AFC.

Texans at Cowboys: Texas-Sized Upset Narrowly Avoided

Well, that was a hell of a lot closer than it should have been. The Cowboys were a 17.5-point favorite at home against a Houston team that was 1-10-1 and was alternating Davis Mills with Jeff Driskel at quarterback.

Had Dallas lost, you’d have to go back to 1977 to find a bigger upset by point spread when the Patriots lost 24-14 to Buffalo as an 18-point favorite. The last 17.5-point favorite to lose in the NFL was the 2020 Rams against the Jets. The 2019 Patriots also did it in Week 17 at home against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins in a game that cost them a first-round bye.

This would have been more embarrassing given the record of the Texans, their quarterback situation, and just how hot the offense has been for Dallas.

But the Texans have not been allowing many offensive touchdowns in recent weeks, and that showed up again here. Tony Pollard had a couple early scores, but he finished with just 42 rushing yards. In between their second and final touchdown, the Cowboys had two field goals, two interceptions, two punts, and Ezekiel Elliott was stuffed at the 1-yard line on the team’s only full third-quarter possession.

Dak Prescott has been a little sloppy with picks this season, and it looked like he threw one with 5:37 left that was going to bury the Cowboys who were already down 23-20. The Texans returned the pick to the 4-yard line and could go up two scores. But it was a bad run by Rex Burkhead that lost 2 yards on third-and-goal at the 1 that put the Texans in trouble.

If you’re going to do this Driskel QB runs thing, why not use him on third-and-1? I agree 100% with Houston going for the fourth down even after losing two yards, but it ended up being another bad call with Driskel looking confused on the designed run. The Cowboys stuffed him, and Prescott had his shot at redemption from 98 yards away with 3:20 left.

Prescott had 15 game-winning drives in his first three seasons (2016-18), but we have seen very little of this from Dallas in the last four seasons when he has just four game-winning drives (including this one).

In fact, this game was the first time all year the Cowboys had a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. They were down too many points in the fourth against the Buccaneers (lost 19-3) and Eagles (lost 26-17) for those games to qualify. They were technically never down in the fourth quarter or overtime when they blew a 28-14 lead in Green Bay and lost 31-28 in overtime. This was the first one all year, and Dak made sure it was a success with his arms and legs.

Michael Gallup looked like he had a 2-yard touchdown catch, but a good hit when he landed dislodged the ball and made the play incomplete. The Cowboys went to old reliable on third down in Elliott, and he was able to cash it in this time for the go-ahead touchdown with 41 seconds left. Dallas finally led 27-23.

Mills got the ball out to midfield, but his deep shot was intercepted in the end zone to end the game. Mills is a better quarterback for Houston than Kyle Allen, but it was still a surprise it was this tight.

Many of us thought the Eagles were disappointing in how they played in Houston when they won 29-17 on a Thursday night. But this? I think this game gives me the validity I need when I say the Cowboys are going to lose in Tampa on Wild Card Weekend in the 5-4 matchup in the NFC. I hope they prove me wrong, and a win is a win, but this was frighteningly too close to a loss for me.

Eagles at Giants: Philly Increases the Gap in Best Division

Welp, so much for the Giants forcing Jalen Hurts into a bad game like they did last year in a 13-7 upset at MetLife. The versatile Eagles passed for 156 yards in the first half and rushed for 192 yards in the second half in a 48-22 rout of the Giants.

The Eagles scored touchdowns on their first three drives, effectively winning the game at 21-0. The Giants took seven sacks and only managed a garbage-time touchdown in the last minute when trailing 48-14.

Not surprisingly, once the schedule changed for the Giants to where they couldn’t win close games against mostly bad teams, the wins have dried up. As for the Eagles, I’m not sure what more you can say about this team. They are more balanced between offense and defense and the run and pass as any team in the NFL right now. Their stars have mostly been healthy. They were slipping a bit against Washington and Indy, but the offense has been money the last three weeks.

I guess we’re just waiting for that Christmas Eve game in Dallas to see if this team shows any cracks. It won’t happen in Chicago next week.

Buccaneers at 49ers: 35-Oh You Don’t Deserve a Home Playoff Game

Now if only Kyle Shanahan had this kind of knockout punch for Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI with Atlanta…

The 49ers were starting rookie quarterback Brock Purdy for the first time, but he looked more than ready for the opportunity. Purdy finished 16-of-21 for 185 yards, two touchdown passes, and he ran for a short touchdown. He showed good poise and accuracy. He led the 49ers to at least 23 points for the second week in a row. Brady has led the Buccaneers to 23 points just once in 13 games this year.

It was another lousy game for the Buccaneers. It was also just the second time in Brady’s career (376 starts) where a team scored more than 31 points against him before he ever got on the board. The only game worse than the 35-0 start Sunday was that 38-0 run the 2020 Saints put on him in a prime-time game the Saints won 38-3.

This time, Tampa’s only score came on a deflected touchdown at the goal line. But there would be no collapse this time. Brady continued to throw almost each play in the fourth quarter down 35-7, and the drive stalled with another failed fourth down with 8:40 left. The teams just went through the motions after that.

The 49ers are still going to be a major threat with Purdy, especially if he can play like this with any consistency. But it was not a perfect day for the 49ers as Deebo Samuel was injured in the first half and carted off. Initial reports are optimistic that it won’t be a season-ending knee injury, but we saw how that goes with the Von Miller injury on Thanksgiving.

The 49ers are still a force with an offense led by CMC, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, but Samuel is the edge they need when they play a team like the Eagles or Cowboys in the playoffs. Hopefully his season isn’t over, but the cart is rarely good news.

But at least this game gave me some confidence that should these teams meet again in the playoffs, the 49ers should win barring a collapse from Purdy with turnovers. This Tampa team stinks, and if it wasn’t for the incompetence of the division and the way the Rams and Saints blew those late leads, this team would be 4-9 at best right now with Cincinnati up next.

In fact, this game just makes me more pissed off about what the Saints did Monday night, because this division should be a four-way tie at 5-8 right now. Tampa would probably still win it in that scenario, but it’s blasphemous that any of these teams get a home playoff game.

Chiefs at Broncos: Shaky Chiefs Win 14th Straight Against Broncos

It is a shame Russell Wilson had a concussion in the fourth quarter, because this first meeting with Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs as a member of the Broncos was in an odd way his best game this season.

It was looking like the lowest point yet when the Chiefs took a 27-0 lead after a great defensive play on a pick-six put the Chiefs up big. But Mahomes got a little careless on a few picks up big, Jerry Jeudy went nuclear on the field and turned his anger into three touchdown catches, and the Broncos were right back in this game in a hurry after scoring a season-high 28 points.

But it was a fourth-quarter scramble where Wilson picked up 14 yards on a third-and-11 that he hurt himself. He banged his head on the ground and the bump was very visible. He also looked like he had no idea where he was on the ground. It was a scary moment, but he was able to walk off the field. Brett Rypien came in and fired the third touchdown of the day to Jeudy on a fourth down to make it 34-28 with tons of time (10:49) left.

These Chiefs rarely make it easy anymore. The teams exchanged some three-and-outs, then Mahomes threw his third interception of the game. When it looked like Rypien had his shot at the go-ahead drive, he was hit in motion and the pop-up was picked off with 4:21 left.

Mahomes had a key third-and-11 conversion to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 20 yards, then Isiah Pacheco iced the game with an angry 10-yard run.

The Chiefs escaped Mile High with a 34-28 win, eliminating the Broncos from the playoffs and handing them a 14th straight loss in this rivalry.

Despite the highlight-worthy touchdown toss to Jerick McKinnon early in the game, Mahomes likely did himself no favors for the MVP race. But he did throw for 352 yards and three touchdowns. All three times in his career when he’s had three picks, he’s also had at least 350 yards and multiple touchdown passes. The Chiefs have also scored at least 30 points in all those games.

Jets at Bills: Defense Frustrates Allen Again, But Familiar Story on Offense

We should probably give the Jets some credit for their defense this year after holding the Bills at home to 20 points, 2-of-13 on third down, and just 232 yards of offense. The Bills already had a season-low 317 yards in the first meeting with the Jets, but this was worse in some wintry conditions with rain/snow coming down.

This game was scoreless late into the first half until the Bills got the Jets to jump offsides on a fourth-and-1. That led to an incredible 24-yard touchdown catch by Dawson Knox.

Mike White took some big hits in this game and left at one point in the third quarter. Joe Flacco came in and coughed up the ball on a strip-sack. The Bills turned that into a field goal and 17-7 lead. The next Flacco drive was a three-and-out that the Bills also turned into good field position and another field goal (20-7).

White returned, and after the punt team got a safety by blocking a Buffalo punt, it was Michael Carter’s turn to screw things up with a fumble inside the Buffalo 25 with 5:34 left. White, who has passed for over 250 yards in every start he’s finished, eventually got the Jets on the board with a field goal to make it 20-12 with 1:18 left.

The Bills went three-and-out after a brazen pass attempt on first down fell incomplete, saving the Jets a timeout.  But by the time White finally got a comeback opportunity, he was down 20-12 with 46 seconds and 79 yards to go and one timeout.

He threw four straight incompletions with his fourth-down pass batted down at the line to end the game. The Bills hung on, but it was far from pretty.

Ravens at Steelers: Son of a Mitch

You just had to expect the Steelers would turn the ball over in this game. They weren’t going to be the 10th offense in the Super Bowl era to go five straight games without a giveaway. That’s some Alex Smith type stuff there (three of the nine teams had Smith at quarterback).

But who imagined Kenny Pickett would leave early after another concussion, and Mitch Trubisky would throw three awful picks, including two in scoring territory? Those plays were the game as the Ravens didn’t do a lot in the passing game with Tyler Huntley starting, getting injured, and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown having to finish the game.

But the Ravens ran 42 times for 215 yards and the Steelers could rarely stop it. After the Ravens blocked a 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to hold on to a 13-7 lead, they pounded ahead for their own field goal, and you know Justin Tucker was good with 3:19 left to make it 16-7. J.K. Dobbins was a factor in his return with 120 yards on 15 carries.

Trubisky was 22-of-30 for 276 yards, but those three picks were killers. While he did lead a late touchdown drive to give the team a chance at 16-14 with 2:30 left, the defense was unable to get the ball back. Gus Edwards plowed ahead on three straight runs for the game-clinching first down.

In the seven games where Huntley has at least 20 action plays, the Ravens are now 3-4, but the shocking part is the seven games have been decided by a total of 13 points. It’s always super close, which can be said for most Steelers-Ravens games too. But that’s why you can’t piss away three possessions with turnovers like Trubisky did.

Would Pickett have been better in the game? I’m not so sure he has been aggressive enough lately to hit some of the big throws Trubisky did in this game to the wide receivers. But obviously the mistakes were too much to overcome.

Vikings at Lions: The Close Game Win Streak Still Lives

As someone who does not like the NFL’s new playoff format, the 2022 Vikings may be the first team to make me glad the No. 2 seed no longer gets a first-round bye. If the Vikings even hang onto that seed, the fact is they are the first 10-3 team in NFL history to have a negative scoring differential. They are -1 now after a 34-23 loss in Detroit where the Vikings were an underdog despite having five more wins on the season than the Lions.

On the plus side, the close game winning streak is still alive at nine games. This game did not have an official 4QC opportunity. The Vikings were down 21-13 going into the fourth quarter, but the Lions had the ball and extended the lead to 28-13 with another touchdown on a day where Jared Goff (330 yards and three touchdowns) was hot.

Kirk Cousins threw for 425 yards and didn’t get any help from Dalvin Cook, who was held to 23 yards on 15 carries and had a big fumble in the red zone.

Justin Jefferson had a career-low 14 yards against the Lions earlier this season. He went almost 200 yards beyond that with a career-high 213 this time, but that slow start by the Vikings never kept them close enough to steal another win.

Even after Minnesota scored a late touchdown to cut it to 31-23 with 2:50 left, the Lions converted a third-and-7 with a neat pass to Penei Sewell, an offensive lineman. That led to another field goal and the 34-23 lead that made sure this would finish as a two-score differential and that Cousins would never have the ball down one score in the fourth quarter.

So, the Lions by 1-13 points proved to be a great pick, but we’re technically still waiting to see the Vikings lose a 4QC/GWD opportunity and/or blow a 4Q lead this year. But the Lions are playing well right now with only a close loss to Buffalo since the start of November.

Browns at Bengals: Burrow Gets His Cleveland Win as Predator Sequel Flops

Joe Burrow finally has his first win against the Cleveland Browns in his fifth try, and Kevin Stefanski has his first loss against Cincinnati in his sixth meeting with the in-state rival. We can stop talking about the Browns having any playoff hopes this year. They should have kept starting the quarterback who doesn’t need supervision when he gets a massage.

The secret sauce to Cleveland’s flawless record against Burrow was getting big plays out of the quarterbacks even when those quarterbacks were Baker Mayfield and Jacoby Brissett. In those four games, the Browns averaged 36.3 points and 10.8 yards per pass attempt.

On Sunday, the Browns scored 10 points on 11 drives. The offense only had one 25-yard play, and that was a 28-yard completion in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with a failed fourth down.

Nick Chubb was held to 34 yards on 14 carries, the first time he was under 100 yards against Burrow’s defense.

Burrow was not at his best with 239 yards, but he only took one sack this time, and the Bengals lost Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins to injury during the game. Ja’Marr Chase was great with 119 yards and a touchdown. The Bengals also hit a 45-yard touchdown on a flea-flicker to Trenton Irwin.

The Bengals are 9-4 and keeping pace with the Ravens in the AFC North. The Browns are 5-8 and will face the Ravens on Saturday. It was a good win for the Bengals to get over this annoying Cleveland hump.

Panthers at Seahawks: Second Episode of “Let Geno Cook” Bombs

Regardless of record, some opponents are just bad matchups. I picked Carolina ATS because I knew the Seahawks were at a big disadvantage in the ground game. The Panthers like to pound it with D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard, and the Seattle run defense has been bad for most of the year. Kenneth Walker and DeeJay Dallas were out for Seattle, leaving the offense very limited at running back.

Geno Smith was going to have to carry the offense for the second week in a row, and despite finishing with 264 yards and three touchdowns, he also had some turnovers. But despite trailing 17-0 early, this was still a 20-17 game going into the fourth quarter. The Seahawks had the ball but unlike last week when Geno worked some rare (for him) late-game magic against the Rams, he was buried on a third-and-10 sack.

The Panthers kept the ball on the ground instead of going to the air with Sam Darnold like they mistakenly did on a goal-to-go sequence that failed in the third quarter. The end result was a touchdown and 27-17 lead. Another three-and-out by Seattle, another time-killing drive with the run by Carolina, and this one was all but over at 30-17 with 1:56 left. The Panthers were a bit lazy on defense with the 13-point lead, the most dangerous lead in football this month, but Geno’s 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Goodwin left only 24 seconds to recover an onside kick and set up a Hail Mary.

Onside kicks are now 3-for-40 this season after Carolina recovered to end the game at 30-24. The Panthers had 46 runs for 223 yards while Sam Darnold only had to throw 24 passes. That’s their formula. The Seahawks had 11 handoffs for 26 yards. They’ll be better when Walker comes back, but with the 49ers up next on a short week, the playoffs might be slipping away for Seattle.

Jaguars at Titans: Remember When the Titans Were Good?

Firing your GM on the first Tuesday in December can never be a good thing, but the Titans have lost the plot to this season with a third-straight loss. We thought the Eagles lighting them up for 35 points last week was just a result of the Eagles playing well and A.J. Brown making sure to embarrass their ass. But this was Trevor Lawrence, with almost no running game to speak of (22 carries for 53 yards), just tearing the defense apart with 368 yards and three touchdowns. You could argue he’s had his two best games in the last three weeks between this and the Baltimore comeback.

The turning point came at the two-minute warning in the first half. The Titans were up 14-13 and Derrick Henry caught a pass near the red zone. But he fumbled and the Jaguars turned that into a 78-yard touchdown drive. They took a 20-14 lead into the half and never looked back. The Jaguars were up 36-14 in the fourth quarter after Henry lost a second fumble. After one more touchdown, the best Tennessee could do was turn it over on downs while trailing 36-22.

The Titans probably are not in danger of blowing this division yet, but they are looking like an easy playoff win for a team like the Dolphins or Ravens/Bengals runner-up right now.

Next Week

  • All for seeing more Brock Purdy on Thursday night in Seattle. Big chance to all but put away the NFC West.
  • I was hoping to catch up on some TV this Saturday, but the NFL is giving us a triple-header that is less than exciting. Dolphins-Bills at night is the highlight.
  • Not looking forward to Steelers-Panthers one bit.
  • You know it’s a bad Sunday slate when the Giants-Commanders rematch is probably the highlight of the day.
  • Maybe Joe Burrow can definitively pull the horseshoe out of Tom Brady’s ass and assume the mantle of the LOAT for the next two decades.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 13

I knew Sunday was going to be a pivotal one in the NFL, but no one could expect so many quarterback injuries. The 49ers got the worst of it with Jimmy Garoppolo’s broken foot, but we could be seeing the beginning of the end for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens this year, opening the door for the Bengals to take the division and possibly the No. 1 seed.

The Chiefs fell. The Dolphins fell. Anyone who loved the chalky Super Bowl of Bills-Eagles, which looked so good for the first few months, had a great weekend as that looks as likely as ever.

But the season can turn in a snap. The 49ers found that out the hard way on Sunday.

It was a day with nine comeback opportunities in total.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Bengals: Three for Three by Three

Imagine losing to the same team by three points three times in the same calendar year, and they’re not even in your division. The only way it could happen is if you met in January, rematched in the playoffs, then met again the following season as the Chiefs and Bengals have done.

The Chiefs already have their hands full with Josh Allen and the Bills. How do we expect them to get back to a Super Bowl if they can’t beat Joe Burrow and the Bengals too? There’s really not a path in the AFC playoffs where they can avoid both.

The Bills and Bengals are both young, cocky teams who only gain more confidence each time they knock off the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Chiefs these days go as Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce go. On Sunday, Kelce had a poor game. Who is going to step up to help him out? Not this guy. The Chiefs do a lot of talking, but it’s a flawed roster with a lot of players trying to piggyback off the success of the best quarterback and tight end in the league.

On a day when CBS’ Jim Nantz and Tony Romo decided to have an ill-timed dynasty discussion about the Chiefs in the first quarter, the Bengals showed once again why that talk is neither valid nor necessary in 2022.

The Chiefs came into Week 13 with a defense ranked No. 23 in points per drive allowed. After a 27-24 final in which each offense only had eight possessions, that number is only going to get worse. This is not a championship-caliber defense, and the Bengals were the latest talented offense to expose it with no turnovers, only one sack surrendered, and 7-of-11 on third down.

The Bengals even helped the Chiefs out with an awful play call on fourth-and-1 before halftime and Tyler Boyd dropped a wide-open touchdown in the third quarter, leading the Bengals to settle for a field goal.

In a game with so few possessions, every mistake would be magnified. Kansas City’s fourth drive lasted just 49 seconds before halftime as the Chiefs simply ran the ball twice deep in their own end. When you only let Mahomes touch the ball seven times, and you end two of those drives with a fumble and missed field goal, your chances of winning are slim to none with this defense.

But the Chiefs did take a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter after Mahomes barely broke the plane by going vertical on a fourth-and-3 run for a touchdown. They had a chance to build on a 24-20 lead in the fourth quarter, but after having such a quiet game, Kelce tried to get extra yards in traffic, and the Bengals stripped him before he was down for a huge fumble at midfield.

The Bengals turned that into the go-ahead touchdown and 27-24 lead. The Chiefs needed an answer, but pressure short-circuited the drive with Mahomes losing 4 yards on a third-down sack, the second third-down sack in the game. I did not notice the Bengals using a lot of the three-man rush from the second half of the AFC title game, but it did pop up on one third down when Mahomes held the ball forever and a 34-yard gain was wiped out by multiple linemen being illegally down the field. If they frustrated him in this game, it was usually timely on a couple third downs, which is sometimes all you need in a game with eight possessions.

Harrison Butker had a tough job on his hands, and his 55-yard field goal was wide right with 3:19 left. The Chiefs had four clock stoppages left, but do you trust this defense? The Bengals didn’t even play it that great with Ja’Marr Chase, who caught almost everything in his return game for 97 yards, going out of bounds twice, Burrow taking a bad sack, and the Bengals needing to overcome a third-and-11 at the two-minute warning.

But on that third-and-11, the Chiefs seemed to slow up at Burrow’s right side on a quick rush, and he got the pass off on time and accurately to Tee Higgins for 14 yards and the conversion. Game over. Another 27-24 final but done dramatically different from the AFC Championship Game, which had 21 possessions from the two teams.

Chase and Valdes-Scantling each had two 20-yard plays, and they were the only such plays in the game. Kelce provided the obligatory Chiefs fumble this week, and it was a costly one.

With the remaining schedule, the Chiefs could still finish 14-3 and get the No. 1 seed if the Bills slip up once. Two games against Denver and one with Houston could get the defense up to middle of the road in scoring.

But when push comes to shove against the best of the best in the AFC, it doesn’t feel like these teams have to prove they can beat the Chiefs anymore. Since losing their last Super Bowl appearance, the Chiefs are 1-6 against the Bills, Bengals, and Ravens.

The next time a booth wants to do a dynasty discussion, I hope they start on that note, but I have my doubts. Just as I’m going to have my doubts the next time the Chiefs go into a big game against the Bills or Bengals.

Dolphins at 49ers: Great Defense Beats Great Passing Offense Again

This was another one of the day’s letdowns as it could have been a shootout between Tua Tagovailoa and Jimmy Garoppolo. Instead, the Dolphins got the quick strike with a 75-yard touchdown on the opening play before doing little on offense the rest of the way. The 49ers got a field goal, but Garoppolo broke his foot on a sack on that opening drive, so his season is over too.

Enter Brock Purdy, Mr. Irrelevant from this year’s draft. He was more than respectable given his lack of experience as he threw the first two touchdowns of his career. The 49ers were not afraid to let him throw 37 times too. He was able to convert some third downs while the Dolphins were 0-for-7 on third down.

I went from skeptical to impressed by Tua this week, but it seems like any time I write something nice about a player I usually don’t praise, he proves in the very next game why I’ve been right to cover him the way I have. His accuracy was bad in this game, because the Dolphins were getting their receivers open against this vaunted defense. Jaylen Waddle was also injured and only caught one ball, which didn’t help matters. The Dolphins also conceded they wouldn’t be able to run on the top run defense, so the running backs only had 8 carries for 33 yards.

Tua was going to have to be sharp in this one, and he just wasn’t. But after one quick strike to Tyreek Hill for a 45-yard touchdown, this was just a 23-17 game with most of the fourth quarter left. The 49ers’ second-half shutout streak ended at four games.

But when Tagovailoa got the ball back, he just had to convert a fourth-and-2 at the San Francisco 36 with just over six minutes left. Somehow, the officials ruled Mike Gesicki made a 3-yard catch when it was pretty clear he never had control of it. The 49ers challenged a completion for the second time on this drive, and for the second time it was correctly overturned. You never see two challenges work on the same drive for the same play type.

The Dolphins fell apart after that failed conversion. Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey ripped off big runs and that led to a field goal that was all but clinching with 2:03 left to make it 26-17. Nick Bosa buried Tua in motion on a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown and could have seriously injured the quarterback. That’s how the 49ers turned a game where they were 36 yards away from trailing in the final minutes to a 16-point knockout.

But it is a real bummer to have a Super Bowl-ready roster and to lose two starting quarterbacks well after the trade deadline has passed. No rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl, and I’m not sure Purdy has the right stuff to break that glass ceiling. The team is reportedly adding Josh Johnson, but he has played for more NFL teams (14) than he has touchdown passes (13).

If Nick Mullens can throw for a historic number of yards under Kyle Shanahan, then maybe they can figure things out with Purdy. He’ll have the best defense and arguably the best set of skill players at his disposal. But the chances of going on the road in the playoffs and winning somewhere like Philadelphia? Just dwindled. Even the division isn’t safe anymore after the Seahawks won in LA.

It sucks because I really wanted to see this Garoppolo situation through this year and what they would do if he was in a third NFC Championship Game and second Super Bowl in four seasons. Now it’s a the third-string rookie quarterback.

Colts at Cowboys: 50 Burger on SNF?

Hard to believe the Colts were a failed two-point conversion away from taking a 21-21 tie into the fourth quarter. Still, at 21-19, you could not have imagined a 33-0 run by Dallas in the fourth quarter for a 54-19 win (first of its kind). This is only the fifth time in NFL history a team won a quarter with a shutout of at least 33 points:

The Colts were the only team in the NFL this season that had not allowed more than 27 points in any game. The Cowboys doubled them up on that, and they had 33 in one quarter.

It was as if the competitive game no one expected ran its course, then the fourth quarter was an overcorrection to the mismatch this looked like on paper with Dallas’ offense being too much for Indy, and Dallas’ pass rush being too much for Matt Ryan and the line.

The Colts turned the ball over on four consecutive drives in the fourth quarter to fuel that 33-0 run, including a Mo Alie-Cox fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

The Cowboys now have the two-highest scoring games this season at 54 and 49 points. They look Super Bowl ready when they do this stuff, but the more you look at the schedule, the more likely it appears they are going to start their playoff run as the No. 5 seed in Tampa Bay, the NFC South winner. That’s the defense that made Dak Prescott look so bad in Week 1 that this figured to be a lost season for the Cowboys.

Some revenge would be sweet in that one, but you could see it going terribly wrong too in a low-scoring mess. But Dallas has plenty of time to get this machine ready for a playoff run. The news out of San Francisco is making it likely that Dallas is the best team outside of the Eagles in the NFC.

Jets at Vikings: Mike White Got That Feral Cat in Him

It was technically a wire-to-wire win for the Vikings, because they never trailed, but it was another close win in the end for Minnesota. The Jets outgained the Vikings by 199 yards, but 1 yard in particular is going to haunt the team from coming up short in the latest chapter of the Mike White story.

Down 27-15 in the fourth quarter, White scored on a 1-yard touchdown run on a fourth down with 6:45 left, leaving plenty of time to complete the comeback. But after getting to the 1-yard line again with a second down, the Jets ended up inexplicably throwing two more passes and turning it over on downs after Braxton Berrios failed to hang on to White’s fourth-down pass in the end zone.

Didn’t anyone watch TCU this weekend, or the previous drive in this game for that matter? Run the damn quarterback at the goal line. It’s a cheat code, but the Jets didn’t do it, and they paid for it.

They still got the ball back with plenty of time (1:19 to drive 43 yards) to complete the comeback, but the drive stalled with White throwing four straight incompletions from the Minnesota 19, including a pick on fourth down that he just forced out.

White passed for 369 yards, but it took 57 attempts this week. It was a bit miraculous for the Jets to be so close after going 3-for-16 on third down, but they just needed a better series of calls at the goal line.

Titans at Eagles: Great Day for Philly

Did any team have a better day than the Eagles? They scored five touchdowns against a Tennessee team that only allowed more than 22 points in one game this season. They shut down Derrick Henry (11 carries for 30 yards), which has been the case for nearly a month now for the Titans. Jalen Hurts had one of his finest games ever with 380 yards and three touchdown passes.

The Eagles are just the third team in NFL history to rush for 350 yards and pass for 350 yards in consecutive games (in either order according to Elias). The A.J. Brown revenge game was very successful with 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Blasting the Titans with Ryan Tannehill 35-10 is an impressive win. The Eagles (11-1) are on the road the next three weeks and we’ll see how those division games go, but this looks like a very complete team. Dallas might be the only real contender in Philadelphia’s path to the Super Bowl now that Garoppolo is done in San Francisco.

Commanders at Giants: Ties Are for Losers

A tie between division rivals who are battling for the playoffs? Well, that’s as annoying as it gets. But the Giants really should have won this one. It was an awful time to take a taunting penalty when the Giants could have kicked a field goal to take a 23-13 lead in the final minutes. Instead they punted.

The defense collapsed on the ensuing drive. I have to say I would have punted on fourth-and-4 at my 27 with 2:47 left if I was Washington. You don’t convert there, and the game is all but over, but Ron Rivera rolled the dice and Taylor Heinicke extended the play to make it happen for a 20-yard gain. Three plays later, Washington was in the end zone to tie it.

The last seven drives never really materialized for either team. Maybe the Giants should have gone for a fourth-and-3 at the Washington 45 with 1:42 left in overtime, but I guess they saw value in playing for the tie. When they got the ball back with 28 seconds left, Daniel Jones was able to set up Graham Gano for a 58-yard field goal as the final play. Tough kick but he’s made longer.

The field goal was short, and it’s just another game like most overtime ties where a game-winning field goal was missed.

But with the Giants (7-4-1) and Commanders (7-5-1) in a heated playoff race, a tie just feels extra wrong in this scenario. I’m going to say advantage Commanders though. They didn’t take the loss after trailing 20-13 late, they get a bye week now, and they get the rematch at home in two weeks.

The Giants may still ultimately get in the playoffs, but they could be kicking themselves for not closing this one out properly. Unlike those pesky Vikings, the Giants seem to have used up their magic beans in close games before Halloween.

Seahawks at Rams: Bobby Wagner Revenge Game Spoiled by Rare Geno Comeback

Linebacker Bobby Wagner was in Beast Mode against his former team with two sacks, three tackles for loss, and an interception that defied logic late in the third quarter. I sure thought there was evidence of the receiver being down before Wagner ripped the ball away. This would have been a more controversial call if the Rams weren’t suffering the worst Super Bowl title defense in NFL history.

 But the Rams turned that into a field goal, the Seahawks matched, then the Rams took a surprising 23-20 lead late after backup John Wolford led a 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 6-yard run by Cam Akers.

Geno Smith was having a fine game, but he was 3-15 in his career at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities, one of the worst records all time. But on this day without any Aaron Donald to worry about, Geno was able to get it done with his receivers having big days. DK Metcalf caught the 8-yard laser for the game-winning touchdown with 36 seconds left to put Seattle back on top at 27-23.

Wolford chucked up an ugly pick out of desperation on fourth-and-20 to end the game. The Rams are 3-9 and moving in on the worst record ever for a defending champ.

The Seahawks (7-5) may have saved their season and kept hope alive for winning the NFC West, especially after the Garoppolo news in San Francisco. The teams will meet again in Week 15 on a Thursday in Seattle with the Seahawks looking for a split.

Just the fourth 4QC win of Smith’s career may go down as a big one for this season’s story.

Chargers at Raiders: Vegas’ Two-Headed Monster Impresses

You might see 27-20, Justin Herbert with 335 yards, and think another AFC West shootout. But that really was not the case. The Raiders played some great defense in this one as Derek Carr had a pick-six early, so the Vegas defense held Herbert to 13 points, sacked him five times, and forced a fumble from Austin Ekeler. It was a very fine performance on that side of the ball for the Raiders, which have been hard to come by this year.

These teams came in ranked 26th and 29th in points allowed in the same exact spots they ranked last season. But the Raiders got it done this week. On offense, you have to liked the simplified approach after sending Hunter Renfrow and Darren Waller to injured reserve after disappointing seasons. This offense is thriving with basically a two-headed monster of Davante Adams (177 yards and two touchdowns) and Josh Jacobs (144 yards and a touchdown). You know where the ball is going, yet these guys have rarely been stopped as the Raiders have won three in a row.

Not that there’s any consolation prize, but I think the Raiders (5-7) are the best team in the NFL with a losing record right now. This team would be right in that playoff mix without all the blown three-score leads.

As for the Chargers, I just wonder how hot that seat is going to get for Brandon Staley if this thing continues going south. The Chargers (6-6) are now the No. 9 seed with the Dolphins and Titans up next.

Broncos at Ravens: Déjà vu?

The quickest get-rich scheme in the NFL this year would have been to bet the house on the under hitting in every Denver game. You’d be 11-1 right now. The 2022 Broncos are the first team in NFL history to score between 9-23 points in their first 12 games. Only two teams in NFL history have had a longer streak at any point in a season or multiple seasons.

The latest embarrassment is a 10-9 loss to Baltimore with Lamar Jackson exiting early with a knee injury. The Broncos blew their fourth lead in the fourth quarter, but it’s hard to say an offense that scores 9 points deserves to win the game. Denver was 2-of-12 on third down.

Tyler Huntley replaced Jackson as he did last year, and he had a very amusing game: 27-of-32 for 187 yards, interception, 10 runs for 41 yards and the game-winning touchdown run with 28 seconds left. So many short plays, but he found a way to put together a 91-yard drive at the end. Of course, it would have been a four-and-out if Mark Andrews didn’t make a great effort on a fourth-and-1 direct snap from under center to convert at the Baltimore 18. Game over if that play fails with the Ravens down 9-3.

Still, it’s hard to feel good about the win for the Ravens with the offense continuing to underperform and losing Jackson. They also needed Brandon McManus to come up short on a 63-yard field goal to avoid another bad loss. The kick was straight enough. Just not deep enough.

Worse, is history repeating itself? The Ravens were 8-4 last year, then Jackson was injured early in the Week 14 game against Cleveland. John Harbaugh was calling it a day-to-day injury and acting like Jackson could be back the next game. He never played another down, the Ravens lost their last five games to finish 8-9, and the team missed the playoffs.

It could very well be Tyler Huntley in Pittsburgh next week against a team that is gaining confidence. Harbaugh is acting like Jackson did not have a serious injury, but here we go again in Baltimore.

Hurry-Up Finish

We’ll conclude with four games that really do not matter for the playoff races. It is December, so you can expect to start seeing a smaller word count on teams like the Texans, Bears, and Jaguars.

Browns at Texans: Allen vs. Predator Is a Flop

This game was fucking gross on multiple levels. The only way it would have been worse is if the Browns had a good record and were right in the playoff hunt, and they benched Jacoby Brissett for this.

I bet Brissett wouldn’t have thrown that horrible red-zone pick. I bet he would have led an offensive touchdown drive or two. I bet the offense would have fed Nick Chubb properly instead of trying to get their new predator at quarterback comfortable in the offense even though the running game would have destroyed Houston.

It’s a good thing the Texans started Kyle Allen, because the Browns were able to return two of his turnovers for touchdowns. The special teams also got the scoring going with a 76-yard punt return touchdown. Six points on 12 drives for Watson, and one of those field goals was a drive with no first downs. Brilliant stuff.

I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I think the contract Cleveland gave Deshaun Watson is disgusting. Make him earn his way back to big money like Philadelphia did with Michael Vick, someone who actually served his time and showed remorse for what he did. All the Browns did was empower Watson with one of the richest contracts in history, and he still doesn’t think he did anything wrong.

Watson finished 12-of-22 for 131 yards, his second-fewest yards in a start. He’ll get a pass for rust, which is valid. But he only has himself to blame for why this was his first start in the last two seasons.

Packers at Bears: He Still Owns Them

Aaron Rodgers is 25-4 in games he starts and finishes against the Bears. That now includes seven game-winning drives, matching the seven he has against the Lions for his most against an opponent. Fourteen of Rodgers’ 32 game-winning drives are against the Bears and Lions.

If there was a perfect game for the Bears to rough up Rodgers and send him packing with a losing record, it was this one with Green Bay at 4-8 and Rodgers leaving last week’s game with a rib injury.

But even after leading 16-3 in the first half, leading 19-10 to start the fourth quarter, getting 254 passing yards out of Justin Fields to go along with his usual rushing output (71 yards and a touchdown), it still wasn’t enough for Chicago. The Packers got their running game going, Rodgers came through late, the special teams blocked a 40-yard field goal, the defense intercepted Fields just outside of scoring range, and Christian Watson showed off his big-play ability with a 46-yard touchdown run at the two-minute warning.

The Bears are now tied with the 1950 Redskins for the second-longest losing streak in NFL history with at least 125 rushing yards in each game. That streak is at six games. The record is 11 games by the 1976-77 Bills.

Once again, the Packers beat the Bears 28-19, the only team they’ve been able to beat by more than three points in their last 15 games. If this is the last time they see Rodgers, they should be happy about that.

Fittingly, the win was Green Bay’s 787th in the regular season, surpassing the Bears for the most wins in NFL history. It is the first time the Bears have not held that record since 1921. Maybe they take that crown back soon enough if this is the end of the Rodgers era, but if the Chicago offense keeps closing games like it has this year, even the Jordan Love era might add on to this lead.

Steelers at Falcons: If We Can’t Cancel the NFC South, How About Benching Mariota?

Yes, I ended up watching the entire game. Pittsburgh’s offense once again looked competent with no turnovers, a productive ground game, and Kenny Pickett doing just enough for a win. Nothing spectacular but much better than where they were before the bye. Najee Harris really does look like a different player since the bye. Still not worth a first-round pick but doing his best to shed the T-Rich comparison.

But I think the Falcons need to bench Marcus Mariota after this one. He was getting a lot of open looks on play-action passes, Drake London was getting open, and Mariota’s accuracy was poor for much of the game. His pass protection mostly held up well too. He’s just not much of a passer and needs to be on a team with a No. 1 defense if they’re going to win games.

Mike Tomlin made a pretty wise decision late in the game to punt with a 19-16 lead instead of trying a 53-yard field goal to take the dreaded 6-point lead with just under a minute left. It helped that the punt was great and pinned Mariota at his own 2 from where he promptly ended the game with a pass intercepted by Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers (5-7) have their first winning streak in 2022 and would win the NFC South this year if they were eligible to. Just need to beat Carolina to complete the division sweep.

Jaguars at Lions: Back to Square One for Jags

I thought Jacksonville being favored earlier in the week was a huge overreaction to Week 12. By game time, the Lions were a 1-point favorite, and they made quick work of Jacksonville in a 40-14 win. When Jared Goff is on, this offense is well built and fun to watch. Didn’t even think about the DJ Chark Revenge Game, but he had 98 yards to go along with Amon-Ra St. Brown’s two touchdowns.

The good news for Jacksonville is Trevor Lawrence avoided a season-ending injury after a nasty twist on a takedown. He ended up finishing the game after that. Lawrence has yet to miss a start from injury, but this one was a close call.

Next Week

  • Island games (LV-LAR, LAC-MIA, NE-ARI) look bad even though we know the Chargers will find some interesting way to lose SNF.
  • Of course Garoppolo breaks his foot right before the 49ers are going to face Tampa Bay…
  • It looks like division games will have to deliver to save this week (Jets-Bills, Bengals-Browns, Eagles-Giants).