NFL Week 13 Predictions: Super Sunday Edition

It’s about time we had a strong looking Sunday schedule in the NFL. The only shame is Chiefs-Bengals and Dolphins-49ers are in the same window and neither game gets a national platform. Why didn’t they flex out Cowboys-Colts? Christ.

Not to oversell it, but these two games could have a significant impact on the races for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the AFC East, the AFC North, and the MVP race.

If the Chiefs get past the Bengals, they really could go 15-2 as their only other game left against a team with a better record than 4-7 is a home battle with the Seahawks where KC will be favored for sure.

We get to see what the Chiefs learned from the AFC Championship Game, their second blown lead of 14+ points against the Bengals last year. Patrick Mahomes played the worst half of his career after the Bengals used a three-man rush and he repeatedly held the ball long and made bad decisions. I’m surprised this hasn’t been a dominant strategy against the Chiefs this year. Double Travis Kelce and only rush 3-4 while making them beat you with the other guys, who aren’t consistent. Maybe the Bengals do it again, and they are likely getting Ja’Marr Chase back on offense. just in time. Should be a good one.

As for the Dolphins-49ers, it’s a fantastic matchup of great offense vs. great defense plus the whole mentor/assistant coach angle between Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel. I’ve actually been warming up to going with the Dolphins to win this one, if only because I expect the 49ers to disappoint in big games, and I think McDaniel may be smart enough to realize they’re not going to run the ball well in this game and adjust accordingly. Plus, I’ve been doing some digging into Tua this week and definitely went from skeptical to impressed. But the odds are stacked against him as they usually are when a quarterback on a team with a weak running game takes on a top-ranked defense on the road. But it is easier to win such a game in the regular season than in the playoffs.

Some of this week’s articles:

NFL Week 13 Predictions

The Bills came through on Thursday night, though I thought we’d see a few more points than we did.

I’m riding with Mike White to end the Vikings’ close-game win streak. Jets by 1-13 will be something I play several times.

I think the Jags lose a high-scoring game this week after winning their first in multiple years last week.

Counting on a huge game from Nick Chubb in Kyle Allen vs. Predator in Houston.

Taking the Giants to get back on track as we’re getting too used to Washington winning and I still don’t think the team is that good.

Is it just another boring Aaron Rodgers vs. Justin Fields game in Bears-Packers? This would be the moment for the Bears to come through and defeat Rodgers in a big way, but this team just stinks more than Green Bay. Packers until proven otherwise.

All I’ll say about Monday night is we’ve seen the Bucs host the Saints in prime time two years in a row. The Saints won 38-3 in 2020 and 9-0 in 2021 in two of the most dominant defensive performances you’ll ever see against a Brady-led team. The Saints don’t look capable of doing it this year, but after losing 13-0 in SF last week after a 24-0 win over the Raiders a few weeks before that, who knows anymore? It’s not like Tampa looks good.

I’ll aim for more sleep but it’s looking doubtful.

NFL Week 11 Predictions: Everything Old Is New Again Edition

The NFL’s Week 11 schedule is filled with familiarity. There are five division matches, including four rematches from earlier this year. We also have a game moved from Buffalo’s blizzard to Detroit as the Bills look to avoid a soul-crushing third loss in a row.

The Cowboys will try to end Minnesota’s absurd close-game winning streak for the third year in a row after pulling off comeback wins behind Andy Dalton and Cooper Rush the last two seasons.

The Saints will never get proper revenge for the 2018 NFC Championship Game over the Rams, but the two meet this week with the Rams at 3-6 and no Cooper Kupp.

Baker Mayfield gets to start another game against the Ravens for Carolina, and it’s the biggest spread of the week at 13 points. But it reminds me of this interesting and still true fact:

I also have an eye on how the Eagles handle their first loss of the season against the Colts, a team that would probably be a 20-point underdog if the Eagles were still undefeated and Sam Ehlinger was still the starting QB in Indy. But Jeff Saturday knew he had to get the Poor Man’s Peyton back in the lineup to have a shot with this team, so that is another interesting game tomorrow.

Plus we also have the Washington Commanders going from beating the team with the best record to facing the team with the worst record. It would be such a random NFL thing for this team to beat the undefeated Eagles and lose to the 1-7-1 Texans in the same week.

Some articles I did from another busy week:

NFL Week 11 Predictions

At least Green Bay gave its fans four nights of thinking the season was still alive before that awful performance on Thursday night. It was just the second time in 37 games that Aaron Rodgers lost by more than seven points in a prime-time start at home.

I really like some of the underdogs to cover this week. One game I had no idea what to do with was MNF as it is uncertain who will be the quarterback for Arizona with Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy both injured. But it would be funny to see the 49ers blow that game because this is the sixth time Kyle Shanahan has come into a game with his career record at .500. He is 0-5 in those games and has never been above .500 as a head coach in the NFL. Is this finally the game that gets him over the hump?

I also want people to understand the crazy run Minnesota has been on. It’s in those articles linked above, but this team is 7-0 in close games and 5-0 at 4QC/GWD opportunities. If you go back to last postseason for Kevin O’Connell where he was the Rams offensive coordinator and they became the first team in history to win three straight playoff games by 3 points, that means he is on a personal streak of 10-0 in close games and 8-0 at GWD opportunities.

The 2022 Vikings can also become the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games by 1-to-8 points. They have tied the record by the 1996 Jaguars and 2020 Chiefs. Those Jaguars lost their eighth game, 20-6 in the AFC Championship Game in New England. Those Chiefs blew off Week 17 against the Chargers by resting starters to end their streak, technically won an eighth straight game under Patrick Mahomes by one possession against Cleveland in the playoffs (Mahomes left injured), then beat Buffalo by 14 in the AFC Championship Game before getting smoked 31-9 in the Super Bowl.

But what amuses me most about these Vikings is the scoring differential that ranks 94th out of 95 teams to start 8-1 since 1940. The only team below them (1976 Raiders) never lost another game and won the Super Bowl. The team above them (1987 Chargers) never won another game and missed the playoffs at 8-7 in that strike replacement game season.

Talk about two extremes. I don’t think the Vikings will follow either path, but it sure would be funny to see them finish 9-8 after an 8-1 start just to cement Cousins as the ultimate .500 QB.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 8

We officially are in a world where Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are on 3-5 teams, and Geno Smith (No. 4) and Marcus Mariota (No. 6) are in the top six in QBR on division-leading teams after eight weeks.

Not eight quarters. Not at the end of September. It is Halloween and this season’s candy has drugs in it.

The 2022 NFL season is like what you would get from an alternate timeline stemming from 2014 where Brady’s “We’re onto Cincinnati” and Rodgers’ “Relax” never happened. Also, we really might be making Mariota and Geno happen in the NFL.

It is a weird season, but I don’t think Sunday taught us much we didn’t already know. Close games were also down again with only seven games featuring a comeback opportunity. Who saw Falcons-Panthers as a candidate for Game of the Year?

Since it is Halloween, the headings this week will make references to horror/thriller movies.

This season in Stat Oddity:

49ers at Rams: The Silence of the Rams

Not to dwell much on this game, because it’s almost boring how much Kyle Shanahan owns Sean McVay, but this could go down as a pivotal breaking point in the NFC race.

Perhaps more than any game this year, the Christian McCaffrey trade paid its biggest dividends here. I don’t think the 49ers win this game so thoroughly without the trade, especially with Deebo Samuel out injured. It also would have been a swing in LA’s favor if they pulled off the trade as we know they are capable of doing and were reportedly interested in acquiring CMC. Good job, San Francisco.

But CMC was a force on Sunday as he threw, caught, and ran a touchdown in San Francisco’s 31-14 win. That hadn’t been done since LaDainian Tomlinson over 15 years ago.

Outside of getting away with a horrific throw that Jalen Ramsey should have intercepted, Jimmy Garoppolo was sharp (21-of-25 for 235 yards) as he usually is against this team. McCaffrey was dynamic, George Kittle snagged a late touchdown, and the team closed out well in the fourth quarter.

For the Rams, I really need an explanation for how they could have Cooper Kupp in a 17-point game after the two-minute warning. It is inexcusable coaching. Kupp looked seriously hurt after getting tackled with just over a minute left to play. Early reports are he dodged a bullet, but we’ll see if Tom Brady already found a new witch to keep Kupp out of their matchup of disappointing teams next week.

But to put your star quarterback and receiver in a 31-14 game with 2:24 left when you’re 91 yards away from the end zone? Screw that. You already lost. It’s over. Raise the white flag and send in the backups at your crucial positions.

The rule of thumb here should be that if it’s a 16-point game, then you can play it out. Your chances of going 8+8 in that time are still total shit, so ideally, it’s more realistic to still battle in a 14-to-15 point game. Touchdown, onside kick, touchdown. That’s at least possible. As for time, applying the 2003 Colts-Bucs standard, you should probably pull your irreplaceable guys in any three-score deficit situation in the last four minutes, barring any incredible field position advantage. Definitely the last three minutes.

McVay failed against Shanahan once again, but I’m more outraged about the ending than anything else in this game. The 49ers simply have a better roster than the Rams do this year. A sweep was bound to happen when you’re used to getting owned by a team like this. Be glad you stole the one win in the most important meeting last January.

Packers at Bills: Child’s Play

Strange game on Sunday night. It felt like the Bills were toying with Green Bay after scoring on five straight drives and taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter. After defiantly stopping Aaron Jones on a fourth-and-1 run in the fourth quarter, the Bills really could have blown this one open with Stefon Diggs having his way with the secondary.

But as if he was bored with the game, Josh Allen started making risky passes and threw interceptions on back-to-back drives, including one in the end zone with 10:05 left. Aaron Rodgers was mostly a bus driver for the game’s first 50 minutes, taking advantage of a strong rushing performance from his backs (30 carries for 197 yards) while trying to avoid the pressure from the pass rush when he had to throw to his limited receiving corps.

But Rodgers put together a 95-yard touchdown drive to make it 27-17. The defense didn’t get a quick enough stop, and by the time Rodgers got the ball back, he was in miracle territory. Mason Crosby’s 55-yard field goal was wide and short with 38 seconds left to end it, but the Packers (+10.5) covered in a 27-17 loss, the first time Rodgers was a double-digit underdog in his NFL career.

In a weird way, it wasn’t an awful night for the Packers. They ran it well, they got a few great catches from rookie wideout Romeo Doubs, and they didn’t get entirely blown out and covered.

Buffalo looked mortal in this one, but it was still never in any real danger of losing. At this point, Green Bay is going to hand Philadelphia its first loss in November in what is still a non-playoff season because of the hole it is digging right now.

Steelers at Eagles: Drag Matt Canada to Hell

Frankly, I am glad the Steelers are on a bye next week as I need a break from spending three hours watching them struggle to score very few points and look clueless for long stretches on defense.

I’ve said it before that Mike Tomlin did Kenny Pickett no favors by choosing to start him when he did. It is quite possible that two of Pickett’s first four starts are on the road against the Super Bowl teams this year (Bills and Eagles). When your defense gets absolutely shredded by Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, it is hard for the rookie to keep up, especially when he’s running Matt Canada’s offense with the new T-Rich (Najee Harris) in the backfield.

Pickett almost escaped this one without an interception, though he had one late in a 35-13 game on another tipped ball. No big deal, but what happened before then wasn’t very positive. Pickett now has two touchdown passes to eight interceptions in five games.

The Eagles have been historically great in the second quarter, and they did not disappoint with a 14-3 second quarter in this one to take control of the game. When the Eagles came out in the third quarter and Hurts threw his fourth touchdown, and the first to someone other than A.J. Brown, it felt over at that point. Going through the motions for the last 28 minutes.

With the Eagles, I’m still not convinced I’m watching some kind of all-time 7-0 team that’s going to challenge a perfect season here. But compared to the Steelers? It’s no contest right now. A.J. Brown (three) caught more touchdowns on Sunday than the Steelers have touchdowns to their wide receivers (two) this season.

Remember when the 2004 Steelers, behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, beat the undefeated Patriots and Eagles in back-to-back weeks? Fun times. We are far removed from those days. With the 22-point loss, the Steelers tie their 1986 team (2-6 with minus-77 scoring differential through eight games) for the worst start to a season since the merger.

Giants at Seahawks: Paranormal Activity

I really botched the preview (and parlays) for this one. Expecting a little shootout and showcase for the running backs in what would be another game decided by one score, we got a 27-13 win by the pass-happy Seahawks who only got 51 rushing yards out of rookie Kenneth Walker.

I did not think the Seahawks would pass up the chance to run the explosive Walker against the 32nd-ranked run defense in yards per carry, especially against the most blitz-happy pass defense on a week where DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were not 100%.

Yet, Geno Smith put the ball up often and early, and both those receivers caught a touchdown. Lockett’s was a game winner to break a 13-13 tie in the fourth, which was nice since he was screwing this game up with a fumble and dropped touchdown earlier.

Just when you think the Giants were going to go on another fourth-quarter comeback, they fumbled a punt return with just over six minutes left. That gave the Seahawks the ball at the 32 and they only needed two plays to get the insurance touchdown at 27-13. No one scored the rest of the way, making it the first Giants game decided by more than eight points this season.

Geno Smith gets credited with his first game-winning drive since December 28, 2014. Is that a record for length in between game-winning drives? No, Doug Flutie went over 10 years before, but he also wasn’t in the NFL for most of that time. Smith’s gap is the fifth longest on record.

This Geno season is just off the charts insane, and it is making these Seattle games hard to predict. The thought that a Pete Carroll team would beat the Chargers and Giants by double digits is crazy. Those games would go down to the wire in the Russell Wilson era for sure.

Panthers at Falcons: Tom Brady’s Final Destination Is Losing Division to This

Imagine an NFL game with:

  • Game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion to start the fourth quarter
  • Go-ahead field goal
  • Answered by go-ahead touchdown, the running back’s third of the game
  • Answered by a deep 47-yard touchdown pass
  • Four-and-out stop
  • Kick a field goal to go up 34-28 with 36 seconds left
  • The rare 75-yard touchdown drive manufactured in 24 seconds with WR1 pulling in a Hail Mary with 12 seconds left
  • An excessive celebration penalty pushing the ball back 15 yards and the kicker misses the extra point, leading to overtime
  • Bad interception seems to doom home team in overtime
  • Redemption-seeking kicker adds to his bad reputation by missing 32-yard field goal
  • Home team drives for 41-yard game-winning field goal to move into first place with 37-34 win
  • There were seven plays of 30-plus yards in this game, and all but one of them came in the fourth quarter or overtime.

If that’s how Buccaneers-Ravens or Bills-Packers turned out this weekend, we’d be calling it the Game of the Year. An instant classic. But when it’s the Panthers and the Falcons in the 2022 NFC South, we just laugh at it.

But that was some very dramatic stuff with both teams trying desperately to stay on brand and not win this game. I don’t like Atlanta’s late field goal to go up six, which implores the Panthers to go for the touchdown. They got it as D.J. Moore was incredible, but the excessive celebration is a lame call in such an emotional moment. Wise to enforce it on the extra point, and now we see if kicker Eddy Pineiro has a long career ahead of him as two misses this bad can be devastating to a kicker’s psyche.

It really felt like the Atlanta defense choked away another one, then Mariota did the same in overtime. But Pineiro had their back both times. Kicker has been a problem for basically the entire run of the Carolina franchise.

When you come up with a top games of the season list for this year, I think you’ll have to include this one. Against all odds.

Cardinals at Vikings: We Need to Talk About Kyler

Remember when the Cardinals were 7-0 last year but they should have lost to Minnesota in Week 2 if the kicker didn’t blow a 37-yard kick? Well, the Vikings got a little revenge for that one with this 34-26 win.

Kyler Murray threw for over 300 yards and got his first score to DeAndre Hopkins this year. Rondale Moore apparently only scores and puts up yards on the Cardinals, repeating some of his effort from last year in this one with 92 yards and a touchdown.

But it still was not enough to overcome the many mistakes. The Cardinals botched a snap in a 28-23 game in the fourth quarter while driving. They had to settle for a field goal and 28-26 deficit. Thinking they were getting the ball back, the special teams muffed the punt and gave up a short-field touchdown. But it wouldn’t be a Minnesota game without a kicking miscue, and a missed extra point kept it a one-possession game at 34-26.

But despite getting three drives in a 34-26 game in the final 8:30, Murray was unable to get the job done. He was off with his receiver on a pick, he threw too short of the sticks on a fourth down, and he was sacked on the final two plays of the game, causing him to run out of time.

Minnesota is 6-1 with another win by one possession, but as long as the Packers keep struggling, it may not matter if this team isn’t worthy of a 6-1 record. They will be the best option left to win the division title.

Commanders at Colts: Misery, It Follows Indy

If you are going to bench Matt Ryan for Sam Ehlinger, maybe you should try scoring more than one offensive touchdown on a short field that was only successful because of a pass interference flag. Otherwise, you might as well just start Ryan.

Ehlinger wasn’t bad for an inexperienced player making his first start, but the game ended up exposing that the supporting cast just hasn’t played well this year from the line to Jonathan Taylor to the receivers. On Sunday, Taylor lost a big fumble in the second half, the defense blew a 16-7 lead to a scrambling Taylor Heinicke, and Michael Pittman Jr. dropped a perfect pass from Ehlinger in the final seconds. It was a pass that could have led to a game-winning field goal, though with the Colts’ kicking situation, it was not a given the kick would go through. But at least give them a chance. The offense failed again.

It was another tough loss for Indy and a close win for the Commanders, who are 4-4 now. Terry McLaurin, who grew up as a local Colts fan, is a big-time receiver and it was nice to see his emotion come out after snatching an interception away from the Colts to come down with a 33-yard catch that set up Heinicke for the 1-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left. It was the biggest play in the 17-16 win.

An upset win if you buy the spread, but I always thought the Commanders hand the upper hand in this one.

Dolphins at Lions: The Vanishing of the Detroit Offense

The Dolphins had to do something they had done only once this season: Score more than 21 points in a game. The Lions were back to their high-scoring ways, and it was clear early that this would be a shootout. In fact, the only stop in the first half by either team was Miami fumbling in scoring territory on its opening drive. That helped Detroit take an early 14-point lead, and it would lead 21-7 as well, but the Dolphins kept scoring after that early miscue.

The problem is the Lions only had three possessions in the second half and failed to score on all of them. Penalties from the offensive line hurt the first two drives, then in a scoreless fourth quarter with Miami leading 31-27, Jared Goff threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 with 2:52 left. The Dolphins did a great job in the four-minute offense with Tyreek Hill continuing his huge day (12 catches for 188 yards) and finishing the Lions off so they never got the ball back.

I still am not sure what to make of the Dolphins (5-3) in this AFC, but I know they are more interesting to follow than what we are used to from Miami.

Broncos at Jaguars: Lawrence in the Clutch? Get Out. Nope.

I thought Doug Pederson was inheriting the best quarterback prospect of his coaching career, but Trevor Lawrence is worse in the NFL than Carson Wentz. At least Wentz could look like a fake MVP at this point in 2017, his second season with Pederson. Lawrence literally can’t win a game unless his defense is dominant in a wire-to-wire win.

The Jaguars tried to escape this one with 17 points, including two touchdown drives set up on short fields. While that is enough to beat the 2022 Broncos in most weeks, it was not the case in London. If Russell Wilson was going to be that annoying on the plane ride over, he damn well better back it up on the field. Down 17-14 late, he threw a perfect bomb for 47 yards to start the drive, scrambled for a key third-down conversion, and the running game put the ball in the end zone to take a 21-17 lead with 1:43 left.

That 21 is the magic number for beating Jacksonville, which has now lost 40 straight games when allowing at least 21 points. With time for a comeback, Lawrence squandered it immediately by throwing an interception on the first play. The route was jumped by K’Waun Williams. Wilson converted a fourth-and-1 sneak to ice the game.

Wilson is the 14th quarterback in NFL history with 30 fourth-quarter comeback wins. He has done it in the third-fewest games (181), which includes playoffs.

Lawrence is now 1-11 (.083) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities. The Jaguars are 0-6 in that department this season (worst in the league) and the first team to blow four fourth-quarter leads after doing so three weeks in a row. Detroit (0-3) is the only other team to not win a close game yet this season.

That 2-1 start by Jacksonville was some of the tastiest fool’s gold I’ve seen in years in the NFL. Denver has fooled me plenty as well, but there is still more to build there with this defense and if Wilson can ever get back on track.

Bears at Cowboys: The Texas Run Defense Massacre

Since 1970, NFL teams were 372-9-1 (.975) when they rushed for at least 200 yards and had a passer rating of 115 or higher. The Bears did both those things in Dallas (240 rushing yards, 119.4 passer rating) and still lost 49-29 in a game that wasn’t that close most of the day.

Chicago is the first team in NFL history to lose by more than seven points when rushing for at least 170 yards and having a rating of 115 or higher.

How did it happen? First, 42 of those rushing yards to get over the 200-yard mark came in the fourth quarter after the Bears were down 49-29. They also lost a fumble by David Montgomery that was returned for a touchdown. Justin Fields took four sacks, which do not bring down the passer rating, and the Bears had four failed completions in the last eight minutes alone.

It was not the strongest offensive performance, and the defense was abysmal as Dallas converted 9-of-11 times on third down. Dak Prescott looked closer to 2021 form (21-of-27 for 250 yards, three total touchdowns). Tony Pollard lived it up in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence with 131 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

The Bears are moving the ball better and scoring, which is nice to see, but the defense was a massive letdown again on the road. The Cowboys can take a deserved 6-2 record into the bye before some challenging games in the next month.

Patriots at Jets: Return of the Living Dead

The Patriots have fallen from grace as hard as any NFL team in recent memory, but we know Bill Belichick isn’t washed up as long as he is clowning the Jets and making their offense look like crap. Who cares about a quarterback controversy if you’re forcing Zach Wilson to throw three interceptions and score 10 points in the first 58 minutes now that he lacks home-run hitter Breece Hall?

Belichick is now 5-0 against the Jets since 2020, or the start of his post-Brady years. He can’t seem to get by Buffalo or the Dolphins anymore, but beating the Jets still is in his wheelhouse.

Titans at Texans: Houston’s New (Derrick Henry) Nightmare

Occasionally, a game goes exactly as planned in the NFL. Who cares if rookie Malik Willis made his first start for a sick/injured Ryan Tannehill? Derrick Henry had three straight 200-yard rushing games against Houston, and that was a couple years ago. They are worse than ever against the run this year.

Sure enough, Henry rumbled ahead for 219 yards and two touchdowns in a 17-10 win that wasn’t even that close. The Texans got a touchdown with 17 seconds left that did not matter. There were 79 passing yards after the two-minute warning, doubling the total of 79 net passing yards in the game’s first 58 minutes. We were so close to having the NFL’s first game since 1978 where neither team had more than 40 net passing yards.

The numbers Henry would put up if he played Houston every week would be astronomical.

Raiders at Saints: I Know Who Killed My Parlays

The Raiders were the third team to get shut out this season, and the third to lose 24-0 (Colts vs. Jaguars) or 29-0 (Lions vs. Patriots). But this really should be in the running for the worst performance of the season by any team.

How do you get Davante Adams the ball one time for 3 yards against a secondary that did not have top corner Marshon Lattimore? I don’t care if Adams was getting over the flu; Derek Carr is a bigger virus and this Josh McDaniels strain is an especially difficult one for the Raiders.

Like a fool, I bought into the Josh Jacobs hype after three career-best type of games. At this point, if you spot a three-game trend, bet the other way the next game. I’m not just saying this because of Jacobs rushing for 43 yards. I’ve noticed a lot of three-game hot streaks that blew up the fourth game this year as these teams and players are so inconsistent this year.

Alvin Kamara scored his first three touchdowns of the season, so the Saints have had their own issues, but not on Sunday despite still missing Lattimore and their top two wideouts. But Andy Dalton vastly outplayed Carr, who finished with 101 passing yards (career low in a game he was not injured) on 26 attempts on what had become one of the worst defenses in the league.

I guess this one was on the house from Vegas.

Next week: Tough break on Rams-Buccaneers not living up to the preseason hype, but Chargers-Falcons has to include some fourth-quarter hilarity, right? I get a much needed week off from watching the Steelers, and we’ll see if the Chiefs can avenge the only 24-point beatdown of the Mahomes era on Sunday night against Tennessee. NBC is going to need Tannehill to play in that one for it to have a chance to be competitive.  

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 7

I had my reservations about the Week 7 schedule going into the weekend, and it is hard to say that wasn’t justified with the results. There was a lot of sloppy football on Sunday with the Bills and Eagles, the leaders in each conference, enjoying a bye week.

We had a season-low seven games with a comeback opportunity, and there were only two lead changes in the fourth quarter. One even involved a game with the Raiders-Texans that was decided by 18 points.

If Sunday is remembered for anything, it would have to be a new low point in the careers of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, which just so happens to be occurring simultaneously. While both have had plenty of games worse than how they played individually on Sunday, it’s the continuation of a rough stretch since they met in a 14-12 oddity in Week 3 that is the reason why we can call this their lowest point in the NFL. Both are floundering on 3-4 teams that have fallen further than expected this year.

The NFL would be up shit creek if it did not have a rivalry between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen to promote.  

At least, that’s one of the main things I took away from Sunday.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at 49ers: Not a Super Rematch

Patrick Mahomes DGAF what “sharp money” says about his team’s chances, especially going on the road after a tough loss to Buffalo. This is exactly the kind of game the Chiefs tend to dial in for when people start doubting them. While I understood the tactical advantages to the 49ers having a real shot in this one with them getting some of their best players back and adding Christian McCaffrey after a big trade, there’s still that glaring mismatch of Mahomes vs. Jimmy Garoppolo.

It showed up here again even if Mahomes was intercepted on his first drive and the 49ers quickly built a 10-0 lead. Of course, the Chiefs are no strangers to coming back from 10-point deficits early.

Of the eight drives Mahomes played against what is supposed to be a top-tier defense, he threw for 423 yards, led six touchdown drives, one missed field goal from 39 yards before halftime, and that early pick off a deflection. Incredible stuff from this offense that nearly got three 100-yard receivers as Travis Kelce was just two yards shy of joining JuJu Smith-Schuster (124) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (111). 

The Chiefs finally hit on that deep ball to MVS for 57 yards, and it could not have come in a more critical moment than in the fourth quarter on a third-and-11 after the 49ers had cut the lead to 28-23. That led to another touchdown and 35-23 lead on Mecole Hardman’s third touchdown of the game on a jet sweep. Four snaps later, you could see Garoppolo in immediate trouble with edge pressure from Frank Clark, resulting in a sack and safety in the end zone. JuJu scored another touchdown to make it 44-23, blowout city. The Chiefs were 6-of-7 on third down with Mahomes, including four of their five biggest gains in the game (57, 45, 34, and 27 yards).

Let’s just say Garoppolo did not show up around the end zones. Not only did he have the safety, but he had a brutal red-zone pick earlier in the game when the 49ers were down 14-13 late in the second quarter. The Chiefs had one interception on defense all season and left this game with two more.

When the Chiefs play like they did against Arizona, Tampa Bay, and this game, which were all on the road, they look like the best team in the NFL. Certainly the best offense, and not one you’d ever think to bring up Tyreek Hill’s absence for. This is why if they have to travel to Buffalo for an AFC Championship Game, you can trust that they’ll be competitive and give themselves a good chance to win.

Since losing 27-3 to the Titans last year to start 3-4, the Chiefs have had a fourth-quarter lead or tie in 20 straight games. Now they get to enjoy the bye week and get ready for some Tennessee revenge on SNF at home in Week 9.

The 49ers (3-4) are going to have better days with McCaffrey fitting into the offense well after he learns the complete playbook, and the defense won’t see another quarterback or offense this good the rest of the regular season.

Buccaneers at Panthers: Does Tom Brady Suck Enough to Retire Yet?

In 2014, Tom Brady infamously said “When I suck, I’ll retire.” Well, he didn’t do that after the 2019 season where he finished 4-5 down the stretch and threw a pick-six in the playoffs on his final pass with the Patriots. He came back for more with Tampa Bay, and enough things went his way to win a seventh Super Bowl immediately.

But instead of retiring in the perfect spot on top with nothing else to prove, he had to come back for more in 2021. Getting shut out 9-0 to Taysom Hill and the Saints in prime time ended his MVP bid, and the Rams ended his repeat dream in the divisional round game that would have been a fitting end to his career.

But retirement lasted just 40 days so that he can come back to a team with downgrades at coach, tight end, offensive line, and healthy receivers. But hey, who doesn’t want to piss off their family so they can pad the passing totals into unreachable territory for a 3-4 team that’s fading fast?

Good thing the NFC South and the NFC in general are this bad, but this has to be the lowest point of Brady’s 23-year career. He is 3-4 for the first time since 2002, his first full season as a Week 1 starter for New England. But in the last two weeks, Brady has lost as a 9.5-point favorite in Pittsburgh to a rookie quarterback and Mitch Trubisky, and now he’s lost as a 13.5-point favorite to a Carolina team that wasn’t expected to win more than a game or two after firing the head coach and trading away star running back Christian McCaffrey.

Brady had two other losses (2012 Arizona and 2019 Miami) as a favorite of 13.5+, but at least those games were competitive late. This was a 21-3 embarrassment unlike anything we have seen in Brady’s career.

Tampa Bay had zero turnovers, zero missed field goals, and they only had four penalties for 30 yards. So, it wasn’t even some fluky upset where they kept coughing up the ball, or got railroaded by officials, or the kicker went insane and kept missing. None of that. Tampa Bay was forced to punt six times on the first eight drives, and it was stopped twice on fourth down in the game.

However, the third play of the game seemed to set the tone for the day to follow. Brady had Mike Evans wide open for a 64-yard touchdown, but the veteran inexplicably dropped the ball. The drive ended in a punt, which would become common the rest of the way.

Watching that play on RedZone, I was shocked but also just figured they were going to destroy this team if receivers like Evans are getting that open. However, it was seriously the best touchdown opportunity the Bucs had all game long. Carolina just kept stopping them cold as Brady’s low passes and throws short of the sticks just failed to keep any drives going. Leonard Fournette was also stopped on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, Carolina backup P.J. Walker made confident throws and did not get greedy in turning the ball over on risky plays. He led three touchdown drives to give the Panthers a stunning 21-3 upset.

The Buccaneers are the first team since the 2009 Steelers to lose consecutive games outright as a favorite of at least 9.5 points. They are the only team on record (since 1978) to do it without turning the ball over in either game.

In fact, this is the second time in Brady’s career he lost a game by at least 18 points despite zero turnovers. He also lost 34-10 to the Titans in 2018.

Last week was a different kind of crazy in Pittsburgh, but this was just downright embarrassing against arguably the worst team in the NFL.

We knew there were signs before the season started that things would not be as good as they were in 2020-21. We knew in Week 1 that not everything was okay. But who would have guessed that after Brady and Aaron Rodgers met in a weird 14-12 game in Week 3 that the last month would play out the way it has for both?

We are witnessing the lowest points of their careers at the same time.

Packers at Commanders: When the Cat Starts Missing the Litter Box…

I thought Washington (+4.5) had a decent shot in this with the way the Packers have been slumping and the fact that Taylor Heinicke led the offense to 430 yards in a matchup last year, the team’s second-most yards in a game in the last five seasons. Green Bay won that one 24-10 because Heinicke just could not finish in the red zone at all.

But after seeing Heinicke start this game so inaccurately and throwing a pick-six to fall behind 14-3, it was absolutely shocking to see him outplay and beat Aaron Rodgers in the end. Once Heinicke settled down, he started making plays and used his legs to keep many plays alive. Terry McLaurin also put in a spirited effort with 73 yards and a touchdown.

Washington led 20-14 in the fourth quarter and the defense was able to stop Rodgers on a fourth-and-1 pass that should have been caught by Romeo Doubs, but it was right at the marker, and he couldn’t come up with it. Washington added a field goal for a 23-14 lead, then Rodgers answered with a touchdown on a drive aided by multiple penalties.

Heinicke almost ran the clock out on the Packers, but Rodgers got it back for one more chance in a 23-21 game with 23 seconds left. One big pass to Sammy Watkins for 28 yards and a spike seemed to set up another Hail Mary finish. At least, that probably would have been the smartest play for Rodgers. Instead, from 54 yards out the Packers seemed to believe they could pull off a series of laterals to score. It was very amusing and lasted longer than most attempts, but oddly enough it was Rodgers’ lateral to a lineman along the sideline that went awry, and the game ended. It wouldn’t have counted either way as the Packers were penalized for an illegal blindside block earlier on the play.

The Packers finished 0-for-6 on third down, their first game without a conversion since Brett Favre led the Packers into Denver in a 31-10 loss in 1999.

This is a lot of bad firsts for Rodgers and coach Matt LaFleur as of late:

  • Between January’s 13-10 playoff loss and Week 1’s 23-7 loss, that was the first time in Rodgers’ career where he did not throw a touchdown pass in consecutive starts.
  • Rodgers beat Tampa Bay 14-12, the first time in his career he won a game where he scored fewer than 20 points and was shut out in the second half.
  • Rodgers threw his second career pick-six at home against the Patriots, a game they had to win in overtime against the 9.5-point underdog and their third-string rookie quarterback.
  • Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU as a favorite of at least 6 points before losing in back-to-back weeks to the Giants (+8) and Jets (+7.5).
  • The 27-10 loss to the Jets is the worst regular-season home loss that Rodgers started and finished in his career.
  • Now you have Sunday’s game as the first in 234 starts where the Packers failed to convert a third down under Rodgers.
  • The Packers are 3-4 after seven games for the first time in the Rodgers era (they were 3-3-1 in 2018).
  • Rodgers has also not passed for over 260 yards in nine straight starts, the longest streak of his career.

What a great time for the Packers (3-4) to be on Sunday Night Football against rested Buffalo next week. But you can see why this would easily be the low point of Rodgers’ career.

Steelers at Dolphins: Maybe Don’t Draft a QB with “Pick” In His Name?

After he lost to the Jets, I said Kenny Pickett had about the most encouraging three-interception debut a quarterback could have in the NFL.

After he lost 38-3 in Buffalo, I said Picket had about the most encouraging 35-point blowout loss in his first start that a quarterback could have.

After Pickett became the 28th quarterback since the 1970 merger to throw at least seven interceptions in his first four NFL games, I’m not so sure how encouraged I still am about him.

Pickett is the first quarterback since Ryan Leaf (1998) to throw at least seven interceptions and fewer than three touchdown passes in his first four NFL games. Yikes.

I could brush off literally all three picks against the Jets since they involved tipped balls and a Hail Mary. Even the bad throw in Buffalo was him being desperate down multiple touchdowns late in the half. Then the first pick on Sunday night was a play where Chase Claypool just fell.

But those last two picks in the fourth quarter of a winnable 16-10 game? Ugly stuff from the rookie to waste a good defensive effort over the last three quarters after it looked like the Steelers were going to get blown out on the road again. In fact, this is only the third NFL game in the last five seasons (2018-22) with no points scored after halftime.

I don’t want to make it sound like Pickett was 100% at fault for the loss. Things could have been much different if the defense did not drop three or four of the gift-wrapped interceptions Tua Tagovailoa threw their way. I guess someone has to keep up the lucky QB in the AFC East reputation.

In a frustrating second half for both sides, Pickett continued to get chances in a 16-10 game, thanks in large part to a bad sequence of play calls by Miami coach Mike McDaniel when he probably should have kicked a field goal to go up 19-10 in the third quarter.

But it seemed like Pickett was going to be able to put together a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. But the Steelers were did in by an illegal shift and holding penalty to bring up third-and-16 at the Miami 30. Pickett thought he had something, but the Dolphins just jumped the route and had a big pick.

Getting the ball back with 2:31 left, Pickett had his second shot at hero. After a great fourth-down strike to his tight end Pat Freiermuth for 21 yards, it again seemed like he was going to pull this off. But after bypassing a chance to run for good yardage in the final 25 seconds, Pickett let rip a horrible decision to no Steeler receiver in sight for a game-ending interception at the goal line with 18 seconds left.

These are growing pains many rookies go through. Peyton Manning (1998) is famously on that list of quarterbacks with a lot of picks in their first four games as he actually threw 11 interceptions in his first four games. But if Pickett continues to have the turnovers while only leading the Steelers to about 12 points per four quarters of action, then I think it’s safe to say he’s going to end up more like Ryan Leaf than Peyton Manning in the NFL. At least Manning was breaking the rookie records for passing yards and touchdowns when he threw the 28 interceptions in 1998. He also showed a clear improvement in his final 10 games compared to the first six.

Things are not going to get any easier for Pickett with a trip to 6-0 Philadelphia next week. Meanwhile, the Dolphins remain a curious team after getting blanked in the second half and having some questionable clock management and decision making. It is still an incredible outlier that the Dolphins scored 28 points in the fourth quarter of the comeback win over Baltimore when they have failed to score more than 21 points in any of their other six full games.

The quarterback injuries can only work so far as an excuse for McDaniel. With the way Tua took on some contact for several hits on Sunday night, it may not be long before we are talking about injury again at that position.

Giants at Jaguars: The Best Game on Sunday?

Who could have imagined a game between two of the NFL’s worst franchises in recent years would be the best-played game in Week 7? I am not saying it is up there with Bills-Chiefs from last week, but this is the kind of game you should want to see more often.

Both teams moved the ball very well with each finishing with 27 first downs and just above 430 yards. In fact, it’s criminal the over 43.5 points did not hit in this 23-17 game as it’s only the 34th game in NFL history where both teams had 27 first downs and 430-plus yards of offense. It is the first time one of these games ended with fewer than 52 points.

But the game only had one sack and one turnover. There were three fourth-down stops. A few less penalties (21) would be nice, especially if we can ease up on the roughing the passer, but each side got a generous one.

Once it was going to be a tight game in the fourth quarter, you should have known the Jaguars were in trouble. The Giants used to be the terrible fourth-quarter team, but not this year under Brian Daboll. The Jaguars are historically terrible in any game where they don’t lead wire-to-wire and allow more than 20 points.

With the Jaguars leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, I can’t knock Doug Pederson’s decision to go for it. But Trevor Lawrence was stopped on a badly executed quarterback sneak. Sure enough, the Giants took that stop as another opportunity for the offense to go on its fifth game-winning drive of 2022.

The Giants showed Lawrence how the QB sneak is done as they used it on the go-ahead touchdown run with 5:31 left. I can’t believe this is a real stat, but Daniel Jones is the first quarterback in NFL history to lead five game-winning drives in the first seven games of the season. There were 16 other quarterbacks to do it four times, but never 5-of-7 before this run.

With quarterback play down around the league and Jones using his legs so well – he rushed for 107 yards and the winning touchdown in this one – he is now up to No. 6 in QBR (62.6) in 2022. For real.

After the Jaguars went three-and-out, the Giants could have run out the clock, but Saquon Barkley accidentally went out of bounds to save the Jaguars some time, which was almost costly after the Giants tacked on a field goal to take a 23-17 lead.

But Lawrence had 64 seconds left to do something great. He marched the Jaguars down to the New York 17 where he fired a pass to Christian Kirk near the goal line, but the Giants showed great tackling to prevent him from reaching out for the end zone as time expired. The Jaguars were inches away from their biggest win in quite some time.

Instead, the Jaguars have now lost 39 games in a row when allowing more than 20 points. Lawrence is 1-19 when the Jaguars allow more than 11 points in a game. Lawrence is also 1-10 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities and 2-11 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Before this season, Jones was the guy at the bottom of those lists with his 3-14 (.176) record at GWD opportunities. Now he is 5-1 this year, doing it in historic fashion. So, that leaves hope for Lawrence to turn it around, but this was another winnable game where he came up, quite literally, short.

Colts at Titans: AFC South Supremacy

The Colts have not won the AFC South since 2014 and it is looking like that streak will continue for another year after a fifth-straight loss to the Titans. This loss may be the worst yet because it’s not like the Tennessee offense was anything special with four field goals. The Titans finally scored their first fourth-quarter points of 2022, but they were just two field goals.

It looked like Matt Ryan and the offense figured something out last week with the quick passing game against the Jaguars. But even with their best runner (Jonathan Taylor) and receiving back (Nyheim Hines) returning to action, the offense fared worse than it did against the Titans a few weeks ago.

Ryan was panicking again at the thought of getting hit in the pocket, so he tried to throw a hot route that was intercepted for a touchdown in the first half. His second pick was also the result of trying to not get hit. Even after getting a gift fumble from Ryan Tannehill at midfield in the fourth quarter of a 16-7 game, the best the Colts could do was drive 24 yards for a field goal.

After the Titans matched it to make it 19-10, Michael Pittman fumbled a pass that was close to being incomplete and the Titans ran out the clock with their closer, Derrick Henry, who had 128 yards on the ground.

The Colts are going to be in ninth or 10th place in the AFC going into Week 8, but there is zero reason to trust this team right now.

Lions at Cowboys: Oh, So the Lions Can’t Score Anymore?

This game is one of those great examples of why you just cannot use the final score to judge the closeness of a game. Anyone betting Detroit +6.5 had to be sick on this one as it was the right side for 57 minutes. The Lions were either tied, in the lead, or trailed by no more than 4 points for the first 57 minutes of this turnover-plagued mess of a 24-6 loss as apparently Detroit is done playing historic shootouts after four games.

It did not help that top receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown left after one catch in the first half. But Jared Goff finished with four turnovers (two picks, two fumbles). Still, the costliest turnover of them all may have belonged to running back Jamaal Williams, who coughed the ball up on a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter with the Lions down 10-6.

Goff was intercepted on the next drive and the Cowboys turned that into another Ezekiel Elliott touchdown and 17-6 lead. Goff then lost another fumble on a strip-sack and the Cowboys turned that into the final touchdown with Dak Prescott getting his first of the season through the air in his return game.

The Lions have gone from leading the NFL in scoring through four games to six points in their last eight quarters. I guess that’s not that surprising with the injuries and Goff being Goff, but I really thought the Lions could be better than a 1-5 team that only beats Carson Wentz.

As for Dallas, let’s give Prescott some time to catch up. This wasn’t pretty by any means, but if he finds his 2021 groove to go with this defense, then Dallas may have something here.  

Browns at Ravens: When Both Teams Want to Choke

What do you do with two teams who can’t seem to hold on to leads and close games out? The Browns had blown a league-high three leads in the fourth quarter while the Ravens have already blown three double-digit leads after halftime.

This could have been another as not even a 23-13 deficit in the fourth quarter seemed to matter to the Browns, who got one of Jacoby Brissett’s best games this season. The offense cut the lead to 23-20, then the defense forced Justice Hill to fumble just outside the red zone with 3:12 left.

Was it going to happen again? Unfortunately, Brissett is maybe the worst option this side of Trevor Lawrence to finish off a comeback like this. He did seem to have a go-ahead touchdown pass, but Amari Cooper, another suspect player in clutch moments, was penalized for offensive pass interference to wipe out a 34-yard score. That also made the field goal 10 yards longer, and a brutal false start made it 5 yards further than that.

Rookie kicker Cade York continues to be put in difficult situations to kick critical field goals for this team. He made the game winner in Carolina in Week 1, but his 60-yard field goal was blocked by the Ravens here. I felt that the play ended several seconds before the two-minute warning, only to see the clock tick down to 1:59, costing the Browns a clock stoppage. The Ravens are up there with the Eagles for games where the home cooking on the clock operator has stood out to me over the years. However, it is possible the TV angle made this look worse as it didn’t show the ball bouncing around or when the play was finally dead. Still, it looked fishy to me as the players they showed weren’t reacting like the play was still live.

In the end, the Browns used their last remaining timeout to force a three-and-out and get the ball back with 16 seconds. The last play went down as a fumble by Donovan Peoples-Jones. The Ravens escaped with the win despite Lamar Jackson completing nine passes (none to Mark Andrews).

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is 1-11 when the Browns allow at least 23 points since 2021. His only win in that time is against Matt Rhule’s Panthers, and we know Rhule was horrible in that split.

If the Browns can’t beat the Bengals at home to avoid being 2-6 at the bye with trips to Miami and Buffalo to follow, then this team can probably forget about being relevant by the time Deshaun Watson is eligible to return. My bold prediction of Houston having a better record than Cleveland for that Week 13 meeting may not be far off after all.

Hurry-Up Finish

Finally, so I can get to bed at a reasonable time, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 7.

Falcons at Bengals: This was one I’m happy about since I let good numbers change my gut feeling and it worked out. When I sat down the other day to write a little pick for this game, I was ready to go with the Falcons (+6.5) to move to 7-0 ATS. But after seeing how little pass pressure and sacks they had generated, and the terrible 2022 numbers for corner AJ Terrell, and knowing the way Joe Burrow lights it up at home, I changed my pick to the Bengals to win by a touchdown or better.

Sure enough, Burrow passed for 196 yards in the first quarter alone. He had 344 yards at halftime, and this could have been in Norm Van Brocklin (554) territory if the Falcons were equipped to put up a fight. But there was only one touchdown in the second half as the Bengals won 35-17. Burrow finished at 481 yards but that start to the game was some 2004 Colts type of stuff. Lethal.

Atlanta finished with 13 pass attempts, becoming the 11th team since the merger to throw fewer than 14 passes despite trailing by double digits at halftime and losing by at least 17 points. It’s like they’re playing a different sport.

Jets at Broncos: A pyrrhic victory for the 5-2 Jets. They outlasted Denver’s backup quarterback Brett Rypien, 16-9, but lost emerging star rookie running back Breece Hall for the season with a torn ACL. Hall barely played in the game before the injury happened, but he still managed a 62-yard touchdown run. The Jets had no other touchdowns in the game, and the offense only had four other players that gained more than 8 yards. This is a tough injury for an offense that has little kick to it, and the defense isn’t going to feast on backup quarterbacks forever. Don’t trust the Jets as anything more than fool’s gold at this point. And don’t trust the Denver Broncos for a damn thing but a low-scoring game.

Texans at Raiders: Nothing says excitement like two 1-win teams coming out of the bye. But the Houston run defense is the gift that keeps giving as Josh Jacobs hit them up for 143 yards and three touchdowns. The 38-20 final covers up that this was close throughout with the Texans leading 20-17 going into the fourth quarter. But Jacobs scored twice in the quarter to give the Raiders a 31-20 lead, then the defense intercepted Davis Mills, who was having a solid offensive day before that, for a pick-six to make it 38-20.

The late pick-six denied Jacobs the chance to set his career high in rushing for the third week in a row. He had 144 yards against the Broncos, 154 yards against the Chiefs, and now 143 against Houston. The only player to ever rush for at least 143 yards in four consecutive games was Earl Campbell back in 1980 for the Oilers.

Fun fact: Out of Derek Carr’s 31 game-winning drives, this is the one with the largest margin of victory (18) and only the third with a MOV larger than 8 points. The Raiders are the 22nd team in NFL history, and the first since 2014 Steelers vs. Bengals, to win a game by at least 18 points after entering the fourth quarter trailing.

Seahawks at Chargers: I cannot believe these two franchises played a game that was never closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter. Seattle went up 17-0 in the first quarter and the Chargers continue to struggle and rack up injuries as Mike Williams and J.C. Jackson went down in this one. Keenan Allen was limited in his return with just two catches for 11 yards.

Geno Smith outplayed Justin Herbert, and Kenneth Walker stole the show with 168 yards and two touchdown runs. He is showing exactly why I ended up picking him for the Offensive Rookie of the Year winner in August with the expectations Rashaad Penny would get hurt and he’d take over the run-heavy offense Pete Carroll wants. So far, so good.

Next week: Either the Seahawks are going to be 5-3 or the Giants are going to be 7-1 after they meet next week in the schedule’s top game between winning teams if you can believe that. The only other potential game between winning teams is Jets vs. Patriots. What a season, and no, I don’t say that to be complimentary.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 6

Week 6 was a great one in the NFL because Sunday felt like a throwback to what I view as the game’s golden era:

  • An epic, hyped game lives up to the hype and ends 24-20
  • Tom Brady vs. Mike Tomlin’s defense
  • The Giants pull off another upset and are improbably a good team
  • The Colts threw the hell out of the ball to sneak past the Jaguars in the fourth quarter
  • An NFC East showdown on SNF that actually matters this year
  • Even Tony Romo was good today and I watched a great college football game on Saturday (Alabama-Tennessee)

You could have written this list for some random Sunday in October in 2007, and I have to say I enjoyed it from start to finish. If the 2007 connection doesn’t click yet, just read below about the top game, because Bills-Chiefs lived up to the hype.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: Game of the Year (and Buffalo) Delivers

I ended last week’s column with saying this game was going to be hyped almost to the level of 2007 Patriots-Colts when both were undefeated going into Week 9. These teams were 4-1, and Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes is still not up to the drawing power of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady, but it might be getting there after a fantastic game that now gives Buffalo the inside track to home-field advantage after a 24-20 win.

24-20 sound familiar? That was the winning margin for the Patriots in that 2007 game, which featured a fourth-quarter comeback led by Brady and Randy Moss. In this game, Allen and Stefon Diggs (148 yards) really put in the work after Diggs had just 7 yards in the 42-36 playoff classic. But No. 1 wide receivers have toasted the Chiefs every week since Mike Williams in Week 2.

It may not have been the smoothest game for both teams, but this is what a great, lower-scoring game looks like between two of the best teams in the league in a game that means so much. You want to see a good mixture of offense and defense, and we got exactly that.

You still had plenty of offensive highlights. Both quarterbacks manipulated the defenses well with their legs while throwing 40 passes with 329 yards for Allen and 338 for Mahomes. Five different players caught a touchdown, including the first with the Chiefs for JuJu Smith-Schuster and the first of 2022 for tight end Dawson Knox on the game winner with 1:04 left.

Special teams showed up with Harrison Butker hitting a 62-yard field goal to end the half after the Bills left Mahomes 16 seconds, which we know is a few seconds too many. Butker was wide left on a 51-yard field goal to start the third quarter, however.

Then there were the defenses. According to CBS, this was the first NFL game since 2001 where both offenses started the game with a red-zone turnover. Allen and the Bills got too cute with a late pitch on an option run that went backwards and was recovered for a fumble, an unforced error. Mahomes got too greedy on a third-and-goal and forced an interception in the end zone.

Allen failed on a couple of big fourth downs, including one from midfield in a 17-17 game early in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, bad officiating threatened to mess up the finish to this one. The Chiefs had a big play to Travis Kelce wiped out on a horrendous offensive pass interference call, leading to only a field goal and a 20-17 lead.

Buffalo had lost its last 12 games when trailing in the fourth quarter. The last fourth-quarter comeback win was against the Rams in Week 3 of the 2020 season. With that in mind, Allen took a third-down sack by Chris Jones to quickly end his first response drive, but it was also clear as day that Jones tripped him. No call for tripping, however. Why even have the rule in the book if you’re not going to call one that obvious? It would have given the Bills an automatic first down too, so it was a huge no-call from the refs.

Fortunately, Von Miller had his offense’s back. This was exactly the game and moment they acquired him for. Miller sacked Mahomes on a third-and-6 to force a three-and-out, Miller’s second sack in the game. Miller and the defense did its part. Now it was up to Allen with 5:31 left to lead the signature game-winning drive of his young career.

He had to sneak for a first down to avoid it from being a four-and-out, but he got the job done. Diggs couldn’t be guarded with three more catches for 34 yards. Allen’s legs moved the ball to the 14 where the Bills were in a tough spot, because you know you want the touchdown but you don’t want to leave Mahomes much time.

The good news is unlike in the 42-36 game, the Bills would be up by four points here assuming the extra point is good, so Mahomes would need a touchdown this time. Still, when Allen threw a 14-yard touchdown to Knox (great throw) with 1:04 left, it felt like too much time for Mahomes with two timeouts.

But two snaps into the drive, the Bills worried Mahomes enough into double clutching and Taron Johnson added to his little collection of huge plays with a game-ending pick of Mahomes with 51 seconds left.

Buffalo pulled it out and really checked off a lot of boxes in the process. Allen delivered the big game-winning drive, Diggs dominated Kansas City’s secondary, the Buffalo defense emphatically stopped Mahomes at the end, Von Miller was a force, and even the running game (Devin Singletary had 85 yards) showed up early to make sure Allen wasn’t doing this alone.

It is a fantastic win for Buffalo, and it fits into what I have been saying all offseason and leading into this game. For this to be Buffalo’s year, it had to win this game and take the inside track to home-field advantage so that any possible rematch is in Buffalo in January. Mahomes has never played a true road playoff game.

If we are keeping things in perspective, this win guarantees nothing for Buffalo. Last season in Week 5, the Bills won 38-20 in more dominant fashion in Kansas City than they did in this game. That dropped the Chiefs to 2-3 and the Bills moved to 4-1. Yet, look what happened the rest of the season. The Bills finished 11-6 and Kansas City was 12-5, leading to the Chiefs hosting the Bills in the divisional round. That cannot happen again if Buffalo wants to win it all. The Bills need to let this fuel them towards greater things because this game is hardly the end goal.

But this is the kind of game we will talk about for years as we do with 2007 Patriots-Colts and 2017 Patriots-Steelers. Of course, the NFC East (2007 Giants and 2017 Eagles) still improbably won the Super Bowls in those years, but that’s just how the NFL goes sometimes.

I still think these are the two most trustworthy contenders in the league and would love to see an AFC Championship Game rematch in Buffalo this time.

Buccaneers at Steelers: One Wedding and a Funeral

If Sunday was the last time the Steelers ever have to face Tom Brady, then they ended things on a high note in a 20-18 upset.

Pittsburgh is the first double-digit underdog to win outright this NFL season. Tampa Bay was a 10-point favorite because half of the Pittsburgh starting defense was out, including the top three corners, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and some guy named T.J. Watt. Even with some of those players available, the Steelers lost 38-3 in Buffalo last week, allowing a career-high 424 yards to Josh Allen.

Now here comes Brady, the long-time nemesis who has picked apart far better defenses in Pittsburgh over the years. It made sense why Pittsburgh was such a big underdog at home, even if Tampa Bay hasn’t looked right all year. There’s also the fact that rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett was facing a defense that had yet to allow more than 15 points to non-Kansas City opponents.

But color me shocked that Pittsburgh had 4:38 left in a 20-18 game with Brady and denied him from getting the ball cause Mitch Trubisky and Chase Claypool turned into vintage Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward.

It was that kind of weird afternoon. Pickett started and threw his first touchdown pass to Najee Harris on a well-designed opening drive that seemed to be scripted, because he did very little afterwards and seemed to fall into the usual trappings of this offense with too many passes short of the sticks. Then he banged his head off the ground in the third quarter and had to leave for the concussion protocol.

Still, Pittsburgh led wire-to-wire thanks to one of the most inspired performances by a Mike Tomlin-coached defense:

  • I did not believe the Steelers were for real on defense, not even after an opening-drive three-and-out where they pressured Brady on third down.
  • Not after repeatedly stopping him in the red zone and holding Tampa Bay to field goals.
  • Not after stuffing Leonard Fournette at the 1-yard line.
  • Not after misplaying the end of half and allowing a 54-yard field goal.
  • Not after stuffing Fournette again on a third-and-1 to start the fourth quarter.

But when they stuffed Brady on the quarterback sneak, his go-to play that works over 90% of the time, I started to believe something with the Steelers up 20-12 halfway through the fourth quarter.

Where was this defense against Brady in years where Pittsburgh was a real contender? It did help that he chose Sunday to play like crap, skipping balls off the ground left and right in an attempt to kill earthworms while bitching his teammates out on the sidelines. Did going to Bob Kraft’s wedding on Friday night piss him off that much? He looked miserable once again and played like it to boot. If the large group of pigeons on the field in the second half were there in the first half when Brady was so off, he may have pulled a Randy Johnson and killed some with his throws into the dirt.

Of course, Tampa moved on from the failed sneak on third-and-1, converted two more fourth downs on that drive, and still got the touchdown with 4:38 left. No one’s going to talk about Brady missing a Saturday walkthrough with the team when the win was still right in front of him.

But Brady’s pass failed on the two-point conversion and the Steelers led 20-18. That’s when I switched to thinking the offense was going to lose this game now by being too conservative. Run-run-incomplete. Run-run-sack. Give Brady plenty of time to dink and dunk for a field goal and 21-20 win. The defense did what it could today. Steelers about to be 1-5 for the first time since 1988.

But Trubisky seemed to have something to prove in the fourth quarter, as did wide receiver Chase Claypool. Trubisky and Claypool hooked up on a touchdown earlier in the quarter, but Pittsburgh seemed like it was going to fall into the run-run-punt strategy. They even nearly turned the ball over inside their 25 due to a bad snap that Trubisky fortunately got on. But on a third-and-15, Trubisky found Claypool for 17 yards. Three plays later on a third-and-11, Trubisky found Claypool for 26 yards. It was Trubisky’s fourth third-down conversion of the quarter with all but one of them needing at least 11 yards to convert.

Where the hell did that come from? It was the best game for Claypool in a calendar year, if not longer. Trubisky’s legs took care of the third and final first down to run out the clock. Trubisky somehow proved to be the best quarterback in this game.

Underdog is always a role that seems to suit the Steelers well, but this was completely unexpected. While I would still bet on Tampa Bay (3-3) in a heartbeat in a playoff game against the likes of the Vikings and Giants, this team has taken a big step back this year after multiple retirements and a downgrade at coach and offensive line. Brady and the offensive line aren’t as good, the receivers aren’t as loaded, and the defense can be had.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh (2-4) is only a game back in the division, and the only blowout loss was in Buffalo last week. I still would start Pickett if he clears the concussion protocol in time for next week in Miami in prime time, but Trubisky definitely earned his paycheck on Sunday.

If the only thing that comes of Trubisky’s Pittsburgh tenure is that he came off the bench to outplay Tom Brady, then it was worth every penny to sign him.

Ravens at Giants: So Much for Close-Game Regression (Both Ways)

Despite a historic number of injuries, the 2021 Ravens lost five games by a combined eight points as part of a six-game losing streak to close the season. Things were supposed to be better on the health front, a new defensive coordinator, and the returns of Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley, Marcus Peters, and J.K. Dobbins.

But while there have been some more injuries, this season is starting to turn out more frustrating than last year when the team did start 8-3 before that losing streak. At least that team didn’t blow their third double-digit lead after halftime by mid-October.

Meanwhile, the Giants (5-1) making all these fourth-quarter comebacks is crazy to see after the way this team has played since winning Super Bowl XLVI:

Giants when trailing by 7+ points in fourth quarter

  • 2012-2021 combined: 3-78 (.037)
  • Thru Week 6, 2022: 3-1 (.750)

If we limited it to wins in regulation, the count would be 3-to-1 for six games of this season compared to the last 10 seasons combined.

So, do we just give Brian Daboll the Coach of the Year award now, or what? It is not sustainable for winning, but Daboll is getting a 4-1 record in game-winning drives out of a quarterback, Daniel Jones, who came into 2022 with a career record of 3-14 (.176) in those games.

The defense (and Lamar Jackson) helped a great deal in this one, but the 20-10 comeback in the fourth quarter started with a 75-yard touchdown drive. The Ravens had a lot of time to burn but were halfway through it until disaster struck. Jackson got on a loose ball and made a bad play terrible by forcing an interception. The Giants only needed to travel 13 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and 24-20 lead with 1:43 left.

Jackson had plenty of time to answer, but rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, the No. 5 pick in the draft, picked a great time to get his first career sack.

Thibodeaux knocked the ball from Jackson two plays into the drive and the Giants were able to recover and run out the clock for another stunning win. The Baltimore defense could have done a few little things better, but the Giants didn’t even have a 20-yard play in the whole game.

Like the Buffalo loss, this blown lead was more on the offense than the defense. Can’t turn the ball over like that in the fourth quarter of a close game. Jackson is quickly playing himself out of any MVP conversation with these finishes.

Cowboys at Eagles: Second Quarter Does the Trick Again for 6-0 Eagles

I was about to sneak this game into the bottom section, but I figured Sunday Night Football always shows up somewhere near the top of the page. This game just did not have high expectations for me as I expected the Eagles to do exactly what they did: jump out to a big lead in the second quarter and hang on for the cover. It would have been a lot more interesting if this was Dak Prescott’s return game from surgery, but the timing was just off for that.

At the very least, we saw the inevitable result of when Cooper Rush plays a legit defense and a team that can take Dallas out of its comfort zone. He was brutal on the night with three picks before finding somewhat of a rhythm late, though Dallas had success running the ball too to crawl back from a 20-0 deficit to make it 20-17 in the fourth quarter.

I do think there is something troubling about the way the Eagles can be so good offensively in the second quarter and barely score in the other three quarters. That’s just setting them up for playoff disappointment, but they have time to work at it. Still, they led 20-3 after a scoreless first, and were outscored 14-6 after halftime.

But the touchdown drive in the fourth after Dallas cut it to 20-17 was great to see. The Eagles can grind games away with their rushing attack, and Jalen Hurts is just about unstoppable on those sneaks.

Still, I think Cris Collinsworth was much more enamored with this Philadelphia team than I am so far. The Cardinals were arguably more interesting at 7-0 last year. The 2019 49ers were 8-0. The 2018 Rams were 8-0 before losing in New Orleans (huge matchup), who moved to 7-1 at the time.

The NFC has had some teams really flash for a year before fizzling out quickly. The 2017 Eagles were one of them that actually came through for a championship. This is the best Philadelphia team since that one, and it has a chance to be better, but I guess I’m just looking for something a little more than “dominates second quarter, finishes in the 20-to-29 points range.”

And yeah, I’m sure they will drop 30+ on the Steelers in two weeks. Road games are where the Steelers get blown out.

Bengals at Saints: Good Homecoming for Burrow and Chase

Starting to sound like a broken record, but good job by the Saints to fight hard in a losing effort despite missing their quarterback, top three wide receivers, and best corner. They pushed the Bengals and led most of the game, but some poor tackling on Ja’Marr Chase gave the Bengals the win:

True story: that right there was the only play on the first game-winning touchdown drive of Joe Burrow’s NFL career. Andy Dalton still had a chance to lead a game-winning touchdown drive, but a huge sack led to an incompletion on fourth-and-17 to end the game.

The Bengals are at their best when Chase and Burrow are playing this way, but you still have to wonder how the Bengals (3-3) will fare after the Week 10 bye when they hopefully will be playing some real quarterbacks and not a bunch of backups or injury replacements.

As for the Saints (2-4), they join the Giants as the only teams to play six close games so far this season. Much better results for the Giants in those games.

Jets at Packers: We Can’t Play This Game Anymore, But Can We…

Regression is coming harder than a Peter North video for these Packers.

We knew they were going to miss Davante Adams and not win 13 games again, but these last few weeks have been rough.

I have Aaron Rodgers (last two weeks), Carson Wentz (2021 Colts), Jimmy Garoppolo (2020 49ers), and Alex Smith (2017 Chiefs) as the last four quarterbacks to lose consecutive starts as a favorite of at least 7.5 points. Sounds about right with the other three, but what exactly is going on here in Green Bay?

This is the second time in Rodgers’ career at home that he played in a game where neither team had 280 yards of offense (both finished at 278), and the first was January’s 10-3 playoff loss to the 49ers.

Before these last two losses to the Jets (7.5-point underdogs) and Giants (8-point underdogs), Green Bay was a 9.5-point favorite at home to the Patriots and had to force overtime to win that one. I think three times is enough to say the Packers shouldn’t be -7.5 against anyone these days.

The Jets just bullied Green Bay with four sacks and shutting down Aaron Jones (9 carries for 19 yards). It’s not like the offense was lighting it up. Zach Wilson passed for 110 yards. New York blew the game open in the middle of the third quarter by sacking Rodgers on third down at midfield to force a punt, which was blocked and returned for a touchdown to take a 17-3 lead. Apparently, that’s still a problem for the special teams in Green Bay.

The Jets had their only other touchdown drive to answer a Rodgers touchdown with Breece Hall ripping off a 34-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter. The Packers then shot themselves in the foot with a holding penalty and delay of game penalty, leading to Rodgers throwing an incompletion on fourth-and-14. The Jets put together a long field goal drive to take a 27-10 lead with 2:34 left, which meant Jordan Love time.

The 17-point home loss ties the worst of Rodgers’ career in a game he finished, matching the 37-20 margin in the 2011 Giants’ upset of the Packers in the NFC divisional round. That means you just witnessed Rodgers’ worst regular-season home loss of his career. Rodgers’ 16.9 QBR was the lowest of any quarterback in Week 6.

Have the last few weeks been the lowest point of Rodgers’ NFL career? You could make that argument given the expectations that were still there, even if the Giants and Jets look improved. Green Bay just looks that more on the decline.

49ers at Falcons: Still No Winning Record for Kyle Shanahan

Coming into Sunday, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was 46-46 including playoff games. He was looking to get his career record above .500 for the first time in the NFL, so of course, the Falcons shut that shit down with the quickness.

I should have known something was sneaky about the way the spread kept moving towards Atlanta, but the smaller it got, the more I figured the 49ers would be safe. You know, because it’s Atlanta. Even if you don’t deserve the win, they are usually willing to give you one on a silver platter in the fourth quarter. Plus, that San Francisco defense has been so good, but when you take away Nick Bosa, Jimmie Ward, Arik Armstead (then some more), it becomes a problem.

Still, it was one of the surprises of the day to see the 49ers allow their first two touchdown passes since Week 1. Marcus Mariota finished 13-of-14 for 129 yards after hitting his first 13 passes.

  • By my count, the Falcons are the first team in NFL history to finish a game 13-of-14 passing.
  • Falcons are the first team since the 1983 Seahawks to throw one incompletion with fewer than 15 pass attempts in a game.
  • Falcons are the 11th team in NFL history to have one incomplete pass on at least 14 pass attempts.

Atlanta didn’t shred the run defense (40 carries for 168 yards with Mariota rushing for an efficient 50), but it paced the offense well enough that the lack of passing didn’t matter for them to get three touchdown drives.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco offense did not have a 15-yard gain until more than 53 minutes into the game. Jeff Wilson lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown to put the 49ers in an early 14-0 hole. They tied the game quickly but mismanaged the drives to end the first half and start the second, and that’s when Atlanta punched them again for a 28-14 lead. The 49ers never responded, and Shanahan will have to wait at least a few more games to get over .500. With the Chiefs up next, maybe wait until November for this to come up again.

But I think it’d be funny and fitting if he never gets there despite approaching 100 games in the league.

Hurry-Up Finish

Finally, so I can get to bed at a not grotesque time, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 6.

Jaguars at Colts: Matt Ryan still has something in the tank. Down his top two running backs and facing the team that blanked him 24-0 in Week 2, Ryan threw 58 passes without taking a sack. That’s something that has only been done 13 other times in NFL history. Ryan had one game in his career where he took zero sacks on even 48-plus attempts. He also had the 14th game in NFL history with 42 pass completions, getting familiar with his new receiving corps.

But what I really liked here was the ending and the way the Colts didn’t settle for a 50-yard field goal to win the game after some major kicking issues the last two years. It looked like they were going to do just that after Ryan took a 4-yard loss and just handed off for a 1-yard gain to bring up a third-and-13. Really, Frank Reich? But Ryan stood tall in the pocket, took the hit, and still got a deep throw away to rookie Alec Pierce, Midwest Cooper Kupp, for a 32-yard touchdown with 17 seconds left to take a 34-27 lead. The Jags didn’t have enough time to answer.

If the Colts are actually going to block, play with a fast tempo, and put up points like this? Might still pull this division out after all. Ryan moves into sole possession of fifth place with his 37th fourth-quarter comeback win.

Patriots at Browns: Guess who wasn’t at Robert Kraft’s wedding on Friday night cause he had a game to win this weekend? Sure, it’s the Lions and Browns, but the Patriots have won their last two games by 23-plus points each, shutting out the Lions’ top-ranked scoring offense and containing Nick Chubb better than anyone has this year. They also are doing it with rookie Bailey Zappe, who threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. Zach Wilson and Justin Fields have yet to throw for 300 yards in the NFL. Coaching matters.

Seriously, imagine Tom Brady telling Bill Belichick that they need to ditch the team to attend Kraft’s oddly-timed wedding less than 48 hours before a road game.

Vikings at Dolphins: Miami is not making things easy on the NFL this year with these quarterback injuries. A thumb injury knocked Skylar Thompson out of this game, leading to one of the least expected 300-yard passing games ever from Teddy Bridgewater, who was in the concussion protocol. He was not starting this game because he apparently lacked preparation time by being in the protocol. Okay. He did well enough to get Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill heavily involved as the duo both went over 120 yards again. But it only led to 16 points as Bridgewater threw two picks and the Vikings racked up six sacks.

Minnesota had a strange game as Kirk Cousins only passed for 175 yards and took three sacks. The running game produced almost nothing until Dalvin Cook exploded for a 53-yard touchdown run to put the Vikings up 24-10 with 3:15 left, basically clinching the game. That drive was set up by Harrison Smith forcing Waddle to fumble in scoring territory while the Dolphins were driving in a 16-10 game. That’s the second week in a row the Vikings forced a wideout to fumble late in a game.

That is one way to get to 5-1, but man, I am not sure this team is a contender this year. But that probably says more about the NFC in general than just Minnesota.

Cardinals at Seahawks: Christ, this was supposed to be a shootout or at least a running back showcase. Seattle rookie Kenneth Walker did well with a touchdown and nearly 100 yards, but somehow Kyler Murray turned 222 passing yards and 100 rushing yards into an opening-drive field goal and zero offensive points on the last 10 drives. He also took six sacks. It’s about time we admit that Kliff Kingsbury is just Matt Rhule with better talent around him. Underachievers all the same.

Panthers at Rams: This game stayed competitive for about as long as Matthew Stafford felt like keeping Carolina in it. He added another pick-six bringing his career total to 29, tying Dan Marino and only trailing Brett Favre (32) now. Carolina’s offense managed just one field goal as new starter P.J. Walker had 60 yards passing despite playing into the final five minutes of the game. Again, the Rams are going to be okay against the cupcakes, but it is hard to see them winning in Tampa Bay, Kansas City, or Green Bay later this year. The schedule also has the 49ers next, Sean McVay’s kryptonite.

Next week: We go from the best week of the season to one of the worst (on paper) I’ve ever seen. Maybe Chiefs-49ers will still be interesting. Maybe Terry Bradshaw and Dan Marino will play quarterback in Pittsburgh-Miami if these teams can’t keep their quarterbacks in the game.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 3

I questioned on Saturday how a week with no games with a point spread of 7+ would go, especially this early in the season when we are trying to figure out what these teams really are.

As it turns out, this was only the fourth NFL week (regular season) since 2001 where no game had a spread larger than 6.5 points. We’ll see what Monday night brings with Cowboys-Giants, but so far, the four games with spreads of 1-2 points were all decided by 1-4 points. #VegasKnew

One of the most incredible stats so far is that the rookie head coaches are 9-1 this season at 4QC/GWD opportunities:

The only loss was when Nathaniel Hackett lost his mind and tried to do a 64-yard field goal in Seattle.

Some Week 3 games had a fake close finish this week (PIT-CLE on TNF, NO-CAR), but in the end, there have been 11 games with a comeback opportunity. If we get a 12th on MNF, that will be the most in any week since the 2016 season started with 13 close games.

But after seeing the Bills and Chiefs lose in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter, the Chargers lose at home by four touchdowns to the Jaguars, a 14-12 Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady game, and the unholy clusterfvck that was 49ers vs. Broncos on Sunday night, “Any Given Sunday” is still very much in effect.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Dolphins: Miami’s Rope-a-Dope

Before I piss off the Miami fans, I want to remind everyone that I picked Miami to make the playoffs and Mike McDaniel to win Coach of the Year. This game helps with both of those, but I think by Week 15 when the rematch is played on a December afternoon in Buffalo, this game is going to look like the New England 14-10 extreme winds game on Monday night last year.

The Bills dominated this game and only have themselves to blame for losing it. They literally melted in the Miami heat and wore themselves out while outgaining the Dolphins 497-212 in yards, 31-15 in first downs, and holding the ball for 40:20.

Yes, Josh Allen had some notable screwups in this one. He lost the ball on a strip-sack that led to a 6-yard touchdown drive for Miami. He had to do a fake spike before halftime after bobbling another snap, potentially costing the team another three points. He didn’t come through again on three straight plays from inside the 2-yard line after the two-minute warning. His final drive, with 85 seconds to get the winning field goal set up, was not the stuff of legends and does not help his MVP case as he couldn’t get the spike off to beat the buzzer.

But while Allen had a ridiculous 75 dropbacks, I am not sure how Tua Tagovailoa returned to the game after banging his head off the ground in the second quarter and looking wobbly. Instead of expecting the Bills to feast on Teddy Bridgewater, Tua was soon back in the game and ended up leading a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter keyed by big catches that Jaylen Waddle made (45 and 32 yards) that I doubt Bridgewater would have completed, even if the Bills were badly shorthanded in the secondary in this game.

But back to Allen, he had help in blowing this game. In the third quarter, the Bills had one full possession and Gabriel Davis dropped a sure touchdown on it. Almost a Lee Evans-Sterling Moore type of play if you know what I mean (2011 AFC Championship Game). The Bills had to settle for a field goal and 17-14 lead after a 9:22 drive.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Bills settled for another field goal and missed it from 38 yards out. What the hell? Miami took the lead, then it was another march of over eight minutes where the Bills came up empty at the goal line. Even after Miami’s butt-punt inside the end zone produced a safety and 21-19 score, Allen still couldn’t deliver the final game-winning drive.

Since 1970, teams with an edge of 275+ yards are 300-13-1 (.957), so come on, Buffalo. The last team to outgain an opponent by 275+ yards and lose was the 2020 Rams in Miami, Tua’s first start when Jared Goff imploded with turnovers. Those articles I wrote during the playoffs asking if Joe Burrow was the new Brady, did I have the wrong 2020 draft quarterback in mind?

But going back to last season, the Bills are now 1-7 in close games. Allen has not had a fourth-quarter comeback since the third game of the 2020 season against the Rams, a game where the refs bailed him out with a penalty to wipe out a fourth-down incompletion.

This team may have a big front-runner problem. I would still pick Buffalo in a rematch in a heartbeat, but they are going to have to win a game late at some point this year if they are going to win a Super Bowl or even get to one.

Chiefs at Colts: That Horseshoe Voodoo

Some franchises just seem snake-bitten against certain teams. Over the last 30 years, the Chiefs are 4-14 against the Colts, including a 1-4 record in playoff games. From Lin Elliott’s missed field goals in the 1995 playoffs to the no-punts playoff loss in Arrowhead in 2003 to the blown 28-point lead in 2013 AFC Wild Card to that weird 19-13 game in 2019, it’s just one heartbreak after another for the Chiefs.

But most of those games did not happen in the Patrick Mahomes era, and he even won his first playoff game – feels like a shock now – at home against the Colts in 2018, Andrew Luck’s final game.

But Mahomes and the Chiefs are 0-2 against the Colts ever since, and Sunday’s 20-17 loss ranks right up there with the 19-13 loss that was such a one-of-a-kind in Mahomes’ career.

We have 20-17 as a nice cousin to 19-13:

  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to an opponent that scored fewer than 26 points (45-2 record).
  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to a team with under 340 yards of offense (28-2 record) as the Colts had just 259 yards on Sunday.
  • 19-13 was the first time in 24 starts that Mahomes did not lead the Chiefs to at least 26 points.
  • 19-13 is the only game in Mahomes’ first 50 starts where the Chiefs did not score at least 22 points.
  • Pending on 2022 results, 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career to a team with fewer than eight wins (2019 Colts finished 7-9).
  • 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career when a team blitzes him at least 12 times (12-1 record). [Note: waiting for 20-17 data.]
  • Mahomes is 28-2 SU as a favorite of more than 7 points and 19-13 was the first loss.

How did this one happen? Special teams played a huge part in a variety of ways, making you wonder if the team should have bit the bullet and cut someone to add another kicker while Harrison Butker is injured.

  • First, rookie Skyy Moore muffed a punt that led to an easy 4-yard touchdown drive for the Colts.
  • A punt pinned Mahomes to his 1-yard line for Drive No. 2.
  • The Chiefs missed an extra point on their first touchdown.
  • Leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs tried a terrible fake field goal instead of trying a 42-yard kick.
  • Matt Ammendola missed a 34-yard field goal wide left with 8:38 left that would have had the game tied if the Colts still got the touchdown.

That was a brutal performance, but the offense also was not that great for the second week in a row as the Chargers and Colts have held this offense to 37 points.  Apparently, not every defense is as clueless as Arizona.

The defense had five sacks of Matt Ryan and made some good plays, but there was a fourth-and-1 sneak at the Indy 33 that could have been game-deciding if the Chiefs stopped Ryan. They didn’t. Worse, a sack to bring up fourth-and-14 with 5:08 left should have changed things dramatically, but Chris Jones was penalized for apparently saying some naughty words after the play, leading to an automatic first down. Ridiculous.

The Colts took a whopping 8:14 to drive for the winning touchdown with Ryan cashing in again to rookie Jelani Woods with 24 seconds left to take a 20-17 lead.

We know Mahomes doesn’t need a ton of time to get into field goal range, but what exactly is that without Butker and with a kicker who can’t make an extra point or kick from 34 yards out? After a 24-yard completion from Mahomes, who struggled to break 250 yards passing, he had 0:08 left at the Indy 46. Something quick over the middle for 10-15 yards and getting down to use a timeout would work well with Butker, but again, the kick was going to be a nightmare in this situation. But we never got to see one as Mahomes forced a pass that was intercepted, and the game was over. The Colts did it again to the Chiefs.

This game is exactly why I said it’d be so interesting if the Chiefs had to play the Colts in the 2020 or 2021 playoffs. They did this without their best defender (Shaquille Leonard) active, but Michael Pittman’s return was a huge boost to Ryan’s confidence despite the pressure he faced.

If we ignore Weeks 1-2, this game is exactly why I felt the Colts would be better without Wentz this year, and why I had the Chiefs taking a step back to 10-7. Time will tell if this was just some more Horseshoe Voodoo when these teams meet up, but if there’s a playoff rematch, I don’t blame any Kansas City fans having dread over the outcome.

The muffed punt to start the game was just the first sign of what was to come. The Chiefs have some issues to take care of in this post-Tyreek Hill era, and a trip to Tampa Bay (allowing 9.0 points per game) is unlikely to make things better.

The good news is the rest of the AFC West looks terrible right now.

Packers at Buccaneers: Okay, Boomers

Tom Brady had the 50th failed 4QC of his career on Sunday, and yet I felt nothing from this 14-12 odyssey that could be the final time he and Aaron Rodgers match up in the NFL.

Is it because this didn’t feel like the real version of the Buccaneers with Mike Evans suspended and Chris Godwin (hamstring) out? Sure, we can talk about Julio Jones being out for Tampa and Sammy Watkins being out for Green Bay, but that’s like talking about the sun coming up and going back down. It’s just assumed at this point.

But there’s the rub. The Packers are not going to get that much better talent-wise than what they had here, and they still got the 14-12 win despite not scoring on their final nine drives. Aaron Jones had another huge fumble in a game against Tampa when the Packers could have gone up 21-3.

But Tampa should get better soon with Evans coming back and Godwin probably in a couple more weeks. The Buccaneers didn’t run well at all in this game (35 yards for Leonard Fournette) and Brady was sacked three times. But he threw for 271 yards with Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman each losing fumbles.

The Tampa Bay defense is allowing 9.0 points per game this season to lead the NFL, but the offense is averaging one offensive touchdown per game. This defense gave the offense plenty of chances to win this, as did the Green Bay offense with a bad second half.

Brady had four drives in a 14-6 game and finally cashed in the last one for a touchdown. But just when you thought Fournette was going to run in the two-point conversion to force overtime, the Buccaneers were hit with a delay of game. They barely avoided one on the touchdown too. How do teams keep screwing this up this season?

Pushed 5 yards back, Brady’s pass was deflected and incomplete in the end zone. The Packers recovered the onside kick, and it was over at 14-12.

It’s a fun win for Green Bay, but would you trust this team in a playoff rematch with the Bucs having better receivers? No way I would.

49ers at Broncos: 11-10, Rockies Edge Out the Giants

Do I need to say much about the second 11-10 game in NFL history? You probably saw this mess on Sunday night. Along the way to those 21 points, we had a 55-yard field goal, a safety after Jimmy Garoppolo pulled a Dan Orlovsky and stepped out of bounds, and a 51-yard field goal on a drive without any first downs.

That set up the 10-5 score in the fourth quarter, which set the stage for Russell Wilson to have one good drive where the old magic showed up and the Broncos actually ran in a touchdown. But even with an 11-10 deficit, Garoppolo should be able to get a game-winning field goal, right? It’s the other bums that lose every close game for Kyle Shanahan.

Well, on a night where the crowd was again booing Denver’s boo-worthy offense, the 49ers weren’t much better. Without a great drive at the end, you could even say they were worse given the talent involved.

Garoppolo threw a terrible interception with 2:06 left. I have no idea what he saw there. But then Nathaniel Hackett put some gutless touches on the win. He called three straight runs and punted the ball back with 1:42 left in a 1-point game. Do you not understand that the 49ers had four clock stoppages? Did you forget why this team traded so much to get Wilson? That wasn’t Drew Lock out there, even if some Wilson’s accuracy looked like Lock’s on Sunday night.

That was pathetic and it should have lost Denver the game. But the 49ers had coach’s back with another sack and Jeff Wilson fumbled a catch to end it 11-10. The 49ers were 1-for-10 on third down.

The Broncos are 2-1 yet feel like an 0-3 team that has yet to score more than 16 points. On Sunday night, the Broncos went three-and-out nine times, the most ever for a Wilson start.

Since 1970, NFL teams with at least 10 punts and no more than 11 points are 16-162-4.

Can we unplug the 2022 Broncos and plug them back in? I don’t know what this team is doing, but I know I don’t like watching it, and they will be on TNF in Week 5 too against the Colts.

Ravens at Patriots: Lamar’s Season?

If not for one disastrous quarter against Miami, the Ravens would be the talk of the NFL going into their showdown with Buffalo next week. Maybe they still should be, and Lamar Jackson should be the new odds-on MVP favorite after another stellar game with 325 total yards and five total touchdowns in what was a surprisingly wild, high-scoring 37-26 win in New England.

Jackson rushed for over 100 yards again while throwing for four scores. It looked like the defense was going to blow another fourth-quarter lead (31-20) too after some spirited plays from a mobile Mac Jones, but Marlon Humphrey came through with a huge pick in the end zone in a 31-26 game.

Next, Nelson Agholor fumbled on a catch inside the Baltimore 40 as the Patriots were sloppy with four giveaways. Jackson turned that into a 73-yard touchdown drive that basically put the game away.

Jones then suffered some sort of leg injury on his third pick, which looked painful as he hobbled off the field. We’ll see what his status is but early reports seem to suggest sprain more than torn knee ligaments. So, hopefully his season won’t be over after the 2021 draft class already lost Trey Lance.

Jackson putting the Ravens on his back against a Buffalo defense that is suddenly vulnerable with injuries should make for an exciting Week 4. He is playing better now than when he won MVP in 2019.

Raiders at Titans: 0-3 Bowl

Going into Sunday, we expected someone to come out of this game 0-3, but just a few weeks ago, who would have imagined the Raiders would be the only 0-3 team in the NFL?

The Titans clearly took their embarrassing loss to Buffalo on Monday night to heart. Ryan Tannehill got Robert Woods (85 yards) involved, and not only did Derrick Henry look better on the ground, but he had five catches for 58 yards, easily one of the most productive receiving games of his career.

Tennessee led 24-10 at halftime, but this was a game I had lined up as a 4QC/GWD for Derek Carr. It didn’t seem like it would get there after Darren Waller, who had a terrible game, tipped a red-zone pass for a pick with 9:22 left. But the Raiders had the ball in a 24-16 game with 2:57 left. After Carr hit a deep ball to Mack Hollins to convert a fourth-and-15 at the two-minute warning, overtime was looking likely.

Carr even added to his legacy of getting bailed out of a fourth-down incompletion with a defensive holding penalty on the Titans to extend the game. You knew the touchdown was inevitable at that point, and Hollins caught that too as apparently Davante Adams isn’t allowed to hit 40 yards in this offense.

But when it came time for the game-tying two-point conversion with 1:14 left, Carr could not hook up with Waller in the end zone. The Titans recovered the onside kick and the game was over.

We knew the Raiders were a big regression candidate with their 4-0 overtime record and poor (-65) scoring differential to get to 10-7 last season. But the inability of head coach Josh McDaniels and Carr to figure out how to use the receivers in this offense has been stunning. Hollins, the leading receiver this season, had almost as many yards on Sunday as Adams has in three games combined. He had more Sunday than Waller in three games.

If the Raiders lose to the Broncos and Chiefs next to start 0-5, then this season is already cooked going into the Week 6 bye.

Lions at Vikings: I Like Dan Campbell But…

As someone who was on Lions +6/Vikings ML, it’s amusing that that was not the winning combo until the game’s last 45 seconds. Detroit blew leads of 14-0 in the first half and 24-14 in the fourth quarter to a team with Kirk Cousins getting 14 receiving yards out of Justin Jefferson. It doesn’t sound feasible, but then you remember it’s the Lions.

Detroit was just 3-of-16 on third down but made up for some of it by going 4-of-6 on fourth down as head coach Dan Campbell was aggressive again. I loved it when he bypassed a 48-yard field goal while leading 24-21 with 3:35 left, because a 6-point lead is not that helpful in that spot. Unfortunately, the running game was stuffed on fourth-and-1.

But the defense held, and soon Campbell was faced with another decision on fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 36 with 1:14 left. He decided to kick the 54-yard field goal, which was wide right. I think he should have gone for it to try ending the game with a first down. If you don’t get it, the Vikings will be down 24-21 and will have an incentive to only kick the field goal and go to overtime. Since it’s the Vikings, the game-tying field goal going in is far from a guarantee no matter what distance it is.

It’ s not like Detroit had Justin Tucker at kicker, so getting the three points was far from a given, and a miss put the Vikings at their own 44. Even if it was good, you are giving the Vikings over a minute to beat you with a touchdown. After going for it on fourth down so often in this game, I think Campbell made a mistake by not doing it once more.

Cousins only needed three throws to win the game. K.J. Osborn made a pair of 28-yard catches, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left. It took 25 seconds for the Vikings to score from midfield.

Jared Goff was in a tough spot and his Hail Mary was intercepted short of the end zone to end the game. I would say that is the toughest loss of Campbell’s career since this team would have felt great at 2-1 with Seattle up next and having made some history with a streak of 18 quarters scoring a touchdown. It is the second-longest streak since 1925. Who would have imagined the Goff-led Lions would be on that kind of list with the 1942 Packers (19 quarters)?

But instead, it’s the Vikings who are 2-1. Winning division games is something you can trust them to do. Anything else? Meh.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 3:

Eagles at Commanders: Do you think those Philadelphia defenders like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham were ready for this one? They sacked Carson Wentz a career-high nine times, including three dropbacks in a row in the game’s first five minutes. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns, a stat line Wentz has yet to achieve in his NFL career. The Eagles cruised to a 24-8 win with DeVonta Smith (8/169/1) and A.J. Brown (5/85/1) quickly turning into one of the most dangerous duos in the game. Isn’t it great to make the right move at quarterback, Eagles fans?

Side note: I swear the Eagles just had the two greatest offensive games back-to-back in which a team only scored 24 points and didn’t score in the second half. They scored all 24 of their points on Monday against the Vikings in the first half and all 24 points against Washington came in the second quarter. I don’t think the lack of second-half scoring is something to get worried about yet, but it has been an interesting two games with Hurts lighting it up and improving his MVP odds.

Bengals at Jets: This was one of the few games where I was really dialed in on how everything would play out. Joe Flacco threw the ball a ton, but no busted coverage meant no big plays and the Jets only scored 12 points. Joe Burrow didn’t have a dominant pass rusher to deal with, so he had his best game of the season (only two sacks) and took advantage of poor coverage for a long touchdown to Tyler Boyd. Bengals finally get a win this season but will have tough game with Miami on Thursday night.

Texans at Bears: So much for that under 40 points. The Texans cannot stop the run (281 yards), which is a good thing since the Bears still only threw 17 passes and took five sacks. But we may have seen another 20-20 tie for this Houston team if Davis Mills didn’t have a pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Roquan Smith with 1:05 left. That set up a cheap game-winning drive that consisted of a 1-yard run and two kneeldowns by Justin Fields before a 30-yard field goal at the buzzer. It’s the kind of finish Lovie Smith would be proud of… if he was still on the other side.

Falcons at Seahawks: Can you believe the Falcons and the Browns are the only teams to score at least 26 points in all three games this season? I liked the Falcons in this one because of the way they have been competing and scoring this season, and the Seahawks are still too hard to trust for me. But this was one of the closest games of the week with a fourth quarter that featured more unauthorized drones flying over the stadium than points. But in the end, Geno Smith reminded us why he’s 3-14 (.176) at 4QC opportunities with a sack and interception in Atlanta territory. The Falcons finally closed a game.

Saints at Panthers: I knew Carolina wasn’t going to go 0-17, so a home game with the Saints after Jameis Winston imploded last week felt like an appropriate spot to give Matt Rhule his first win. It was also typical Rhule in that the Panthers led wire-to-wire thanks to scooping up an early Alvin Kamara fumble for a touchdown, and they only allowed 14 points. The Jameis turnovers came later, and he technically had a failed 4QC/GWD, but it was in just about the most impossible situation you can have: down 8, no timeouts, 18 seconds left at your own 1. Just time for another desperation pick.  

Rams at Cardinals: For the second week in a row, the Rams could have smoked a team in the fourth quarter, but Cam Akers fumbled at the 1-yard line in a 20-9 game. That spoiled what could have been a game with 27 points on eight drives. But the Rams are not the Raiders, and Kyler Murray’s long marches in the fourth only led to a field goal and 20-12 loss despite him throwing 58 passes.

On the bright side, the Cardinals held Cooper Kupp to 44 receiving yards on six targets and four catches. Since 2021, Kupp has had at least 90 yards in every game except for three, but all three have been against Arizona. This is the first time Kupp has been under 60 yards since 2020. He finishes with a 25-game streak of 60-plus receiving yards, which did edge out Antonio Brown (24) for a new record. He’ll just have to start another streak next week, but maybe these Cardinals are doing something right with him. Just ignore the tape of the 20-yard touchdown run he had on Sunday that looked too easy.

Jaguars at Chargers: I picked the Jaguars to win just because Justin Herbert seemed to be trending downward to play. I loved Jacksonville at +6.5 when the line went back up to that, but truthfully, I probably would have picked the Chargers to win on Saturday had that been the line when I posted my Week 3 picks. Still, it was shocking to see the way Jacksonville rolled this team in that building.

Most of the damage was done in the second and third quarters. I do not think Herbert’s ribs were physically limiting him too much, and he sure doesn’t play defense where Trevor Lawrence and company did what they wanted. Kudos to Doug Pederson for getting great early results out of an offense with Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Evan Engram at tight end. I really did not think it would work, but for three games it has, and this team realistically could win the AFC South this year. Might even be upgrading to say they should win it in a few weeks if things keep up.

As for Chargers coach Brandon Staley, has a coach’s stock ever dropped so fast? His answer to keeping Herbert in a 38-10 game in the final five minutes was absurd. This team seems destined to waste one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

Next week: Bills-Ravens is a huge one, Dolphins-Bengals might be good on Thursday night, and of course I’ve already done a preview for Chiefs-Bucs before writing this. Even Jaguars-Eagles looks like a game to watch, which might be the best way to sum up September in this NFL season.

This season has to give us something more than Bills-Chiefs III meets Brady in the Super Bowl.

NFL Stat Oddity: Championship Sunday

Two rematches. Two painfully familiar postseason outcomes for the teams on the losing side.

For the first time in 56 seasons of the Super Bowl era, we will have a Super Bowl without a team that seeded higher than fourth. The Rams and Bengals were both No. 4 seeds that spent very little time – if any in Cincinnati’s case – in the spotlight as the teams to beat this year.

But now they are all that’s left after erasing double-digit deficits in the second half. For Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid, this is becoming old hat.

Of the five blown leads of 18-plus points in the NFL playoffs since 2013, Reid’s Chiefs have lost three of them and were the winning team in a fourth game against Houston (down 24-0 in 2019). The only other such game was of course Super Bowl LI, where as offensive coordinator of the Falcons, Shanahan infamously called doomed passes with a big lead in the fourth quarter. It has started a string of three postseasons where Shanahan’s teams have been bounced after leading by double digits in the fourth quarter and never scoring again.

This sets up a Super Bowl between two quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall by the Lions and Bengals (11 years apart). It may be the last outcome I wanted to see out of the four possibilities, but if this is what the post-Tom Brady NFL is going to look like, I’m sure I will learn to love it.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Chiefs: Whoops, They Did It Again

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves, it was the age of adjustment, it was the age of sloppiness, it was the season of defensive regression, it was the season of tipped giveaways, it was 13 seconds to restore hope, and it’s now another winter of despair for this failed attempt at a dynasty.

Even Charles Dickens knew he had to write different beginnings and endings to his books no matter how successful they were in the past. The Kansas City Chiefs continue to tease us with many wonderful things, but only one time (2019) did things end on a positive note.

If it wasn’t for Jet Chip Wasp on third-and-15 in Super Bowl LIV, we would be calling the Chiefs the biggest underachievers and disappointment in the NFL in the last decade.

They still might be even with that play.

As the favorite in the final four this year, the Chiefs just had to hold onto a 21-3 lead to become the fourth team to go to three straight Super Bowls. Instead, they became the fourth team in NFL playoff history to blow an 18-point lead at home and the first to do it in a championship game. In the process, the Bengals are the first team in NFL history to beat an opponent twice in the same season after trailing by double digits at halftime. The 18-point blown lead is the largest of the Patrick Mahomes era, and the Bengals own a tie for the second largest at 14 points in Week 17.

Why does this keep happening under Andy Reid? It’s his third playoff loss in nine seasons where the Chiefs led by at least 18 points. Since 2013, Reid has coached the Chiefs to a league-high nine different win streaks of at least five games, including an eight-game streak this season that again had people believing this was the team to beat.

But look at how things have gone for Kansas City under Reid:

  • 2013: 9-0 start built up by playing backup quarterbacks, but swept by Peyton Manning’s Broncos to lose division, and blew a 38-10 lead in the wild card round in Indianapolis.
  • 2014: thought to have ended the Patriots’ dynasty and also beat the Seahawks, the NFC’s Super Bowl team that year, but finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
  • 2015: took another suspicious 11-game winning streak into New England and took what felt like 11 minutes to score one late touchdown in a 27-20 loss in the divisional round.
  • 2016: came back to beat the Chargers, outdueled Drew Brees and Andrew Luck, scored 30 on Denver’s defense, beat MVP Matt Ryan on a pick-two, and still lost the first playoff game at home to six Pittsburgh field goals.
  • 2017: 5-0 start with a great win on opening night in New England but finished 10-6 and blew a 21-3 halftime lead at home to Marcus Mariota and the Titans in the Forward Progress Game in the wild card round.
  • 2018: Mahomes is the MVP, but lost 43-40 in New England, 54-51 to the Rams, and still ended up as the No. 1 seed thanks to a Miami miracle against the Patriots. But lost 37-31 in overtime at home to those Patriots after Dee Ford lined up offsides and negated a game-ending interception. Never touched the ball in overtime.
  • 2019: trailed by double digits in every playoff game before winning each game by double digits. Apparently, the right combo of opponents involves Bill O’Brien, Playoff Ryan Tannehill, and Playoff Jimmy Garoppolo. Still needed a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to win the Super Bowl.
  • 2020: the hottest team in the league, but also a record winning streak of seven games by fewer than seven points. Kept it up in playoffs but lost offensive tackles for the Super Bowl and failed to score a touchdown in rematch with Tampa Bay. Dominated 31-9 by a play-action offense and two-high safety defense.
  • 2021: ugly 3-4 start before the defense turned things around thanks to the schedule. Offense started clicking again late in year, but defense regressed to early struggles. Very fortunate to win coin toss and march for a touchdown against the Chargers and Bills; the latter being 13 seconds away from knocking the Chiefs out in the divisional round. Fell apart after 21-3 lead on Sunday.

Like I said, this team teases us with wonderful things, then they shit the bed when it matters most. The one time they didn’t blow it, they were fortunate to be playing Kyle Shanahan, but scroll down for more on his chokejobs.

A team with Alex Smith at quarterback being exposed as fool’s gold is one thing, but expectations have been much higher with Mahomes the last four years. For 10-plus quarters this postseason, it wasn’t hard to see why. He was putting together a case for the best postseason run ever by a quarterback. Then he had arguably the worst half of his career.

It really was a tale of two halves similar to what happened in Week 17 when the Chiefs scored four straight touchdowns, led by 14 points, then were held to a field goal in the second half before losing by a field goal on the final snap. But the Bengals hit up the Chiefs with big YAC plays that day and controlled the clock at the end. Mahomes wasn’t inept in the second half like he was in this one. It was a different game with a similar outcome.

Mahomes was close to perfect in this first half. He hit 13 of his first 14 passes and the Chiefs scored three straight touchdowns to take a 21-3 lead. If you wanted the easy, short throws, he took them. The running game looked good with the backs fighting hard for extra yards. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were heavily involved unlike they were in Week 17. It looked like an unstoppable offense while the Bengals looked unprepared for a big game.

But then a screen pass broke for the Bengals for a late 41-yard touchdown. The Chiefs were driving for another touchdown after getting a defensive pass interference flag, in a game where the refs really swallowed their whistles for both sides all day, that put the ball at the 1-yard line with 9 seconds left.

This is where the Chiefs basically lost the game. You get two quick throws into the end zone in that spot. The Chiefs should have had another timeout, but they wasted one early in the game before challenging a bad spot that should have been an easy first down for them. That didn’t help. But you have to know the clock situation and where the ball must go. One pass didn’t work, and it was risky to try another with five seconds. With the Chiefs getting the ball to start the third quarter, I would have been fine with a field goal and 24-10 lead.

Reid listened to Mahomes, and I’m not sure why everyone didn’t know the throw had to be quick and into the end zone. It was in the flat to Hill, and he danced around for no gain and the half ended. That pass never should have been thrown.

That failure really seemed to put the Chiefs in a funk. They were stopped on their first five drives in the second half, something you practically never see happen to this offense. They got away from the run. They got away from throwing to Kelce and Hill. Mahomes was not forcing deep throws, but his passes were just off and going to the wrong guys. A couple big sacks on third down in the fourth quarter also happened.

This was a mess of a half where the Bengals just hung in there with their game plan, even when it seemed nonsensical. Cincinnati continuously ran the ball on first down, setting up countless second-and-9 situations, which usually led to a short completion and tough third down situation. It made no sense why they did not attack more after throwing for more than 400 yards last time. Why not some play-action shots on first down? Ja’Marr Chase was held to 54 yards, a big drop of 212 yards from his 266-yard effort in Week 17. But Tee Higgins had 103 yards this time, even if his 44-yard grab, tied for the longest gain in the game, resulted in no points after the Bengals went right back to being conservative.

But after getting a field goal to make it 21-13, the Bengals got the first turnover in nearly six quarters of action between these teams this season. Mahomes tried to set up a short throw and threw it to a defensive lineman, who tipped it to himself for an interception at the Kansas City 27. The Bengals used that short field to drive for a game-tying touchdown (to Chase) and two-point conversion to end the third quarter.

You could see the tide turned when Joe Burrow threw an interception at midfield early in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs went three-and-out with Mahomes taking his second third-down sack in two minutes.

Why did it look like Mahomes was constantly running around in the second half to no avail? The Bengals changed things up and kept dropping eight defenders into coverage. According to Next Gen Stats, they did it a season-high 35% of the time, increasing it from 24% of passes in the first half to 45% in the second half. It was very effective.

Like with Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl, this will be all the rage as the new blueprint to stop the Chiefs going into 2022. They’ll just have to figure it out because they did not have the answers on Sunday.

While Mahomes was taking fourth-quarter sacks, Burrow was very close to throwing consecutive interceptions. On a simple throw away, he for some reason threw a pass right to a diving defender, who dropped the ball. He would have been in bounds for the pick, stopping Cincinnati’s go-ahead drive after two plays. But Burrow took that gift and made perhaps his best play of the game with a 7-yard scramble for a first down on third-and-6. Three plays later, he was just as good with an 11-yard run to convert a third-and-7. We usually don’t see Burrow avoid sacks like that, but he only went down once in this game and had multiple good scrambles.

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson continued his perfect postseason with a clutch 52-yard field goal to take a 24-21 lead with 6:04 left. CBS’ Tony Romo kept talking about Burrow never getting the ball back, and I thought he was insane. Does he not see how this offense has been playing this half? Does he not realize the Bengals have three clock stoppages left?

And yet, it worked out to where Romo could have been right. But playing cute with the clock actually ended up costing the Chiefs in the end. Mahomes calmed down and found open receivers to move into field goal range quickly, but the Chiefs really made things hard after the two-minute warning. Mahomes was scrambling for his life and going out of bounds to stop the clock multiple times for meager gains. It was getting ridiculous like this:

Remember when Mahomes ran for 497 yards before passing/getting sacked in the Super Bowl? It was the highest game in the last five seasons, only topping Mahomes’ 495 yards in the 40-32 loss to Vegas. I would love to see if he broke 500 yards in this game.

But the Chiefs still had a first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 5 with 1:30 left in a 24-21 game. I can understand wanting to try a run and force the Bengals to call their last timeout. I don’t understand how anyone could advocate for letting the Chiefs score. You only do that if they’re able to kick a game-winning field goal with no time left. This wasn’t that.

But this is something that pisses me off about today’s NFL. Why should the offense be penalized for doing its job and scoring a touchdown? “They left too much time” is such a bullshit cop-out to let a defense off the hook for not doing its job. Don’t give up a touchdown. I don’t care if they have 20 seconds or 120 seconds left, don’t give up a touchdown. Do your job. The offense just did.

This is why I would have preferred to see the ball in Mahomes’ hands instead of a run for 1 yard by Jerick McKinnon. I want to maximize my touchdown probability, especially in a 3-point game against an offense that is struggling to score touchdowns now.

But on second down, Mahomes again ran around too much before taking a 5-yard sack. Not good. The clock was down to 39 seconds, but the ball was now at the 9 on third down. This would take an amazing throw like Mahomes had to open the game with a touchdown to Hill, but you have to be careful about forcing it and getting a tipped pick. We’ve seen it so many times with the Chiefs this season, including in the red zone.

So, Mahomes had to be smart. He wasn’t. He took too long again, Sam Hubbard sacked him again, and this time there was a fumble that the Chiefs were lucky to recover, or the season would be over. What a near disaster, and yes, this would be a season-ending turnover that the QB got away with for those keeping count. It made the field goal 17 yards harder, but Harrison Butker did his job and nailed it from 44 yards to force overtime. Good on the kickers this week.

After the Chiefs won the coin toss, you had to think the football gods aren’t going to let them do this three times since Week 15. Based on what I saw in the second half, I knew this wasn’t going to end well.

But it went worse than expected. For starters, why is he throwing to Demarcus Robinson twice in overtime after Robinson had one target with zero catches all day? Robinson wasn’t looking for the second-down throw and it nearly ended up in a pick-six by Eli Apple. A Hasselbeck, if you will. But for some #BallDontLie, the third-and-10 throw was deep for Hill, the pass was in the right location for his hands, but the defender made a great play too on the ball, and it was tipped to Von Bell for an interception. The Bengals were already at their own 45 and the ending felt inevitable at that point.

It is fitting that this team’s season would end after a big blown lead and tipped interception. It’s what plagued them during the 3-4 start. The Bengals came back from 14 down three times in Week 17 too. It was going to catch up with them eventually. The Chiefs were simply too sloppy this season to deserve to go back to the Super Bowl.

Joe Mixon had some strong runs to put the Bengals in chip-shot range. McPherson wasn’t going to miss a 31-yard field goal. He didn’t, and the Bengals are off to their third Super Bowl with a 27-24 win, the biggest road win in franchise history. Zach Taylor has as many playoff wins this year as Mike Tomlin (two) and John Harbaugh (one) have combined since 2016. You might actually be able to pick him out of a lineup of generic white men now.

Everyone knows Burrow and Chase now after this breakout season, but it really has been clutch kicking and clutch defense with incredibly timely and pivotal takeaways that have keyed this run to the Super Bowl for the Bengals.

This is the third game in a row where the Bengals have intercepted a quarterback in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in a close game. This is something that has only happened 20 times in the playoffs since 2001, and the Bengals have done it three weeks in a row to Derek Carr (fourth-down pick at the goal line), Ryan Tannehill (third-down pick at midfield in a tied game), and now Mahomes in overtime to set up a game-winning drive.

The only other defenses to have two such plays in the same postseason are the 2007 Giants (Tony Romo and Brett Favre in back-to-back weeks) and 2010 Packers (Michael Vick in Philadelphia and Caleb Hanie two games later in Chicago).

Not even Tom Brady, the LOAT, has ever willed his defense to do this three times in his lengthy playoff career. Sure, he’s benefitted twice, including the most crucial interception in NFL history by Malcolm Butler, but you’d be hard pressed to find a team with big picks like this three weeks in a row.

Now the Bengals get their third chance to win their first Super Bowl. Maybe it’s the first of numerous chances for Burrow and company. Maybe it’s the best chance they ever see. Maybe it’s the start of the NFL’s next dynasty, and it happened on Kansas City’s field where the next dynasty was supposed to be.

We won’t know those things for some years, but as I hammered on this offseason, chances like Super Bowl 55 cannot be taken for granted. When you lose a game like that 31-9 instead of repeating, you never know if you’ll ever get back to the Super Bowl.

Ask Dan Marino and Don Shula.

Ask Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren.

Ask Kurt Warner and the Rams.

Ask Drew Brees and Sean Payton in New Orleans.

Ask the Steelers/Ben Roethlisberger and Packers/Aaron Rodgers after Super Bowl 45, which was 11 years ago.

Ask Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll in Seattle.

That little grace period in the AFC where Tom Brady had to move on from New England, Big Ben’s clock stopped ticking in Pittsburgh, Andrew Luck retired, Deshaun Watson ruined his career, Josh Allen had to improve dramatically, and Burrow was just a rookie? That time is over. The AFC has caught up to the Chiefs, and this is before we find out how high the ceiling is for Mac Jones and Trevor Lawrence, if Justin Herbert can get a defense in Los Angeles, and if Rodgers or Wilson want to join the conference.

You could be thrilled that the team is always competitive and will have a chance every year with Mahomes, and there is nothing wrong with that. But any dynasty talk? Kill that noise now. Scoffing at the thought of only winning two or three titles like you’re Jim Irsay? Have you seen the last nine seasons for the Chiefs? Did you ever watch a Kansas City playoff game from 1970-2010? Be happy with the one ring and hopeful there’s ever a second. The NFL is a con when it comes to making sure great quarterbacks walk away with Super Bowl titles.

We just watched a coach in his 23rd season get tripped up by two of his career bugaboos: managing the clock and neglecting the run even against a three-man rush. He lost to a coach who ran the ball 17 times on first-and-10 and roped-a-dope his way to a win. Like many of us, Reid has fallen in love with his superstar quarterback and expects him to be Superman at all times. Except the NFL playoffs are kryptonite to teams relying on the quarterback this much.

After halftime, the Chiefs got Clark Kent. Maybe on Earth-Two, Frank Clark gets a strip-sack on the most sacked QB in the NFL. But in our reality, the clips of Mahomes taking those sacks and throwing that pick in overtime are going to be played more than the brilliant ending last week against Buffalo.

Kick the field goal before halftime. Take the boring throwaway instead of the ridiculous sack. Not every situation requires a hero. Burrow just won two road playoff games by being pretty boring. Christ, he really might be the new Brady. Kansas City’s defense was not playing poorly enough to justify so much hero ball. Mahomes will learn this eventually, but he better hope it doesn’t happen after kickstarting a Cincinnati dynasty by playing one of the worst halves of his career.

I’ll end with an unmodified Dickens quote, because this must be what it feels like to love the Chiefs and not have them love you back.

I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.

49ers at Rams: Gut-Check Win for Stafford, McVay

Losing six games in a row to one rival is a big deal, but there is no better way to avenge it than with a playoff win that puts you in the Super Bowl. We had not really seen anything like it since the 2001-04 Colts lost all six games to the Patriots to kick off a rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Colts finally won a game in 2005, followed it up with another road win in 2006, but didn’t truly slay the dragon until they came back from a 21-3 deficit in the 2006 AFC Championship Game and went on to win the Super Bowl.

49ers-Rams is less of a big deal than that, and the Rams have folded time after time to the 49ers in a variety of ways. But no matchup was bigger than this one, and the Rams did not have Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham, and Von Miller for all six of those losses. Head coaches Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan come from similar backgrounds with time spent in Tampa Bay with Jon Gruden and time together in Washington under Kyle’s famous dad. This game was to decide which one would be making their second Super Bowl appearance in the last four seasons.

The Rams had a clear advantage at quarterback with Matthew Stafford, but that did not pay enough dividends in the first two upsets by the 49ers this year. On Sunday, it looked bleak through three quarters with the 49ers leading 17-7 and the Rams having one of those classic “finesse team getting bullied by the physical team in the playoffs” type of performances. Jimmy Garoppolo even threw for 200 yards before the fourth quarter of a playoff game for the first time in his career. Little was going right for the Rams, which is why the comeback was such a gut-check and hallmark victory for McVay and Stafford.

It was ugly early. Stafford threw a red-zone pick on a tipped ball on a third down where the 49ers actually covered Cooper Kupp tightly like they should have been doing as much as possible. Make the other players beat you, and the Rams lost tight end Tyler Higbee to injury early in this one. Kupp was a monster on third down the rest of the game, catching 11-of-14 targets for 142 yards and two touchdowns (both on third down). If the MVP award included the playoffs, Kupp would run away with it this season.

Deebo Samuel also had a hell of a year and showed again his incredible strength on a 44-yard touchdown on a screen that was all him. Ben Skowronek dropped a 38-yard touchdown on his only target of the game. Following that, Matt Gay missed a 54-yard field goal for the Rams before the 49ers made their kick to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room, a half that certainly favors San Francisco’s style of play.

If you know me well, you know I’m not a big fan of the “genius” label that gets attached to McVay and Shanahan. I think both are good coaches, but they are far from flawless, and their game management leaves a lot to be desired. This second half was a perfect example of their shortcomings, and they should be glad they were coaching against each other. Someone had to win.

First, the Rams tried a pass on a third-and-1 at the San Francisco 43 in the middle of the third quarter. If you know you’re going for it, as you should there, just run the ball. Run it twice if you have to. Instead, Stafford threw a pass away after not liking what he saw, and the Rams tried to sneak him on fourth down. His sneaks, even when they worked, have looked awful this postseason. He also seemed to be banged up during this game. Sure enough, he was short again and it wasn’t even that close on replay. But McVay wasted a challenge and precious timeout on the play.

The 49ers seemed to deliver a huge blow with a 58-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-7 lead. Jauan Jennings fought for extra yards on a key third-and-10 to convert it. I guess everyone in San Francisco is just amazing with YAC.

Skowronek drop aside, Garoppolo was pretty much outplaying Stafford, or at least playing up to his level in the game. Stafford was going to have to have the biggest fourth-quarter comeback of his career against a good opponent. Remember, Stafford was just 4-35 (.103) at game-winning drive opportunities against teams with a winning record.

Stafford was 0-28 in his career when trailing by double-digits to start the fourth quarter against teams with winning records. That included an 0-4 record this season with the Rams. But the Rams were already at the San Francisco 20 to start the fourth quarter after a great play call to the backup tight end popped for 20 yards. McVay had to burn his second timeout with 20 seconds left in the quarter to call it on first down, but the play was a great one.

On a third-and-1, Stafford was in empty and threw an 11-yard touchdown to Kupp with 13:30 left. Again, how do you not double team the best receiver on the field? Odell Beckham had a very good 100-yard game, but I’d sooner take my chances with him beating me than leaving the most dominant receiver in the game in single coverage.

The 49ers could have stopped the bleeding, but once again, they failed to score any points with the lead under Shanahan. I’d be very worried that he is just never going to understand when to go aggressive vs. conservative. If you’re leading by 16 points in the fourth quarter, you can be conservative. If you’re only up three points and you’re the underdog, you need to take some chances. He has failed both situations in his career.

The 49ers may have botched their season when they faced a third-and-2 at the LA 45 and called a run for fullback Kyle Juszczyk with big, injured tackle Trent Williams in motion. It’s a cutesy play that did not work. McVay even thought the 49ers fumbled the ball, so he wasted his third challenge and was out of timeouts with 10 minutes to go. But the real sin here was giving the ball to maybe your sixth-best ball carrier in this offense? No disrespect to Juszczyk. He’s one of the finest in a dying breed of a position, but I’m giving the ball to Deebo or George Kittle or Brandon Aiyuk or Elijah Mitchell or maybe Jennings again.

The vaunted rushing attack for Shanahan’s offense? It produced 19 carries for 46 yards without a run longer than 9 yards. It looks like the Rams learned from the regular season and made an adjustment.

Still, the 49ers could have overcome the bad play with a fourth-and-2 conversion. But from early in the play clock, it was evident that they were just trying to draw the Rams offsides and never intended to snap the ball before taking a delay of game and punting. What a shame. The 49ers had as many delay of game penalties in the fourth quarter (two) as they had in the entire 2021 regular season, which is something they also did in the Dallas wild card win.

By the way, if there are two areas where the NFL should make use of modern technology and improve the game, it would be a light/sound system for delay of game and better spotting of the ball. It’s absurd how many times teams are getting away with snapping the ball after the clock hits zero, and the spots are sometimes so bad you wonder if the game is being fixed. If this led to more delay of game penalties, then so be it. It shouldn’t take 40 seconds to get a play ready.

Anyways, that punt was cowardly. Stafford must have let some of the LOAT rub off on him last week after nearly starting the next drive with a terrible interception, but Jaquiski Tartt dropped the deep ball pick with 9:47 left. Not a game ender, but it mattered. Stafford found Beckham for 29 yards on the next play, the Rams’ longest play of the night, and the drive ended with a game-tying field goal with 6:49 left.

Stafford was under siege by the 49ers in Week 18. Things didn’t feel that bad in this game, but apparently, they were. Next Gen Stats had it as his highest-pressure rate in a game for Stafford this season.

But this was a great chance for the 49ers to take advantage of McVay’s terrible clock management and drive into game-winning field goal range with no time left. But it was a brutal three-and-out with Garoppolo throwing three incompletions and the 49ers struggling to even beat the play clock multiple times. Stafford found Kupp for another big 25-yard gain on a third down, and only a sack at the two-minute warning stalled the drive to a field goal attempt. Gay was good from 30 yards out with 1:46 left.

Garoppolo certainly overcame longer odds in Week 18, needing a touchdown in similar time. Just a field goal would be fine here, but my did we get the worst of him in this offense with the season on the line. After a wild throw and a checkdown lost 3 yards, it was quickly third-and-13. With Aaron Donald in chase, Garoppolo tried to avoid a sack and just threw a pass up that was eventually tipped to the Rams for a game-ending interception with 1:09 left. Just nine more seconds and it’d be on the list I posted above.

Incredibly, or maybe sadly, this is still in the running for Garoppolo’s best playoff start out of his six. You could say his two best games were the two he lost. But after the way this one ended, it will begin the Trey Lance era in San Francisco. The 49ers invested way too much in him to not go that route next season. Garoppolo will have to catch on somewhere else as this should end the five-season run for him and Shanahan together in San Francisco. There will be more pressure on Shanahan to get things right with Lance, since he’s been given a pass for Garoppolo’s durability and limitations. If the 49ers are still blowing winnable big games with Lance, then we know the problem all along starts at the coach.

Now McVay is the one who looks to cap off this five-year journey with the Rams with a Super Bowl win as a favorite against the Bengals. He would join an impressive list of coaches who also took that five-year journey to their first ring: Mike Holmgren (1992-96 Packers), Tony Dungy (2002-06 Colts), Mike McCarthy (2006-10 Packers), and John Harbaugh (2008-12 Ravens). Holmgren is the only one on that list who won it with his best team, and while the Rams had better stats and record in 2018, this team is in better position to win in two weeks than that team was.

Sometimes that’s what matters most. Just keep making the playoffs and hope things fall into place for three or four weeks. The Rams took an aggressive approach to build this team and they are where they wanted to be. The quarterback who was 8-68 against teams with winning records can notch a seventh such win this season in two weeks. Maybe even make himself a case for a gold jacket one day as he can join John Elway as the only quarterbacks to win their first championship more than a dozen seasons into their careers.

This is what the Lions drafted Stafford to do. This is what we’ve been told McVay can do for a team. Now together, McVay and Stafford can finish this thing off in their home stadium in Year 1.

Next two weeks: Well, go figure. We get what I said days ago was the least attractive option of the four.

Watching the 49ers play on Sunday, maybe it’s the second or third-best outcome after all. All I know is the Rams better score more than three points this time. The Bengals better figure out how to get in the end zone more often. A third dud Super Bowl in four years would be a letdown.

NFL 2021 AFC Championship Game Preview: Bengals at Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are 11-1 in their last 12 games, but they must avenge their Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals if they are to become the fourth team to get to a third-straight Super Bowl.

See my NFC Championship Game preview for 49ers-Rams here.

With both championship games being rematches for the fourth year in a row, here is some pertinent data for all conference championship game rematches since 1978.

  • Teams like the Chiefs who played on the road in the regular season are only 15-15 in that game, but they are 21-9 in the home championship game.
  • However, when that road loser switches venues back home, their title game record is only 8-7.
  • Green Bay lost at home last year to Tampa Bay. The Chiefs were swept by the 2018 Patriots, the only team to beat Patrick Mahomes twice in the same season. Kansas City was able to come back to beat the Titans a year later.
  • For division matchups, only the last meeting is used, so a team trying to complete the road sweep like San Francisco has to improve on a 1-4 record for teams in position to do that. Only the 1992 Bills were able to sweep the Dolphins on the road in the title game.

Kansas City turned around the worst home loss of Mahomes’ career against Buffalo with a thrilling 42-36 overtime win in an instant classic last week. What will the encore be?

Bengals at Chiefs (-7)

See my early preview for this game at BMR.

After a rough 3-4 start, the Chiefs are back to being a very difficult team to beat. But the Bengals will have some confidence after being the last to take this team down. Let’s update the losses chart in the Mahomes era (with some tweaks) that I introduced last postseason.

When you look at the five losses this season, running the ball and controlling the clock were less important against the 2021 Chiefs. The most important thing is still to score at least 27 points as Mahomes is 43-1 when a team doesn’t hit that number.

Cincinnati’s win was unique in that it was a passing explosion from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase (more on that below), but the Bengals had the fewest rushing yards (60) in a win over Mahomes. They are also only the third team to beat Mahomes without getting a takeaway as that Week 17 game had zero takeaways from both teams. If you look at the other four losses this year, the Chiefs always had multiple turnovers, including games with three or four.

The Chiefs also had one of their worst penalty games in Week 17, but the ref for this one is Bill Vinovich. While I’m certainly no Vinovich fan, his games this year had the fewest penalties and penalty yards. Part of what made the Bills-Chiefs game so sublime was that the teams combined for four penalties, so it would be nice to see another clean game.

Kansas City is definitely going to have to be careful with how grabby they get with these receivers. In Week 17, the Bengals overcame three third downs thanks to defensive pass interference calls. There were also two fourth-down stops in the final minute that would have given Mahomes the ball back had the defense not been called for penalties to negate both.

Seeing that Mahomes only needed 13 seconds to set up a field goal against Buffalo, you can see why the Bengals opted to go for that second fourth-and-1 at the 1-yard line in a tied game with 50 seconds left. As the chart shows, denying Mahomes the ball late in the game is the best chance to beat him. Only twice in his career (2018 Rams and 2021 Chargers) has he been unable to drive into field-goal range late in the game.

Will These Playoff Offenses Regress?

The Chiefs are red hot right now with 42 points in back-to-back playoff games, something only the 1990 Bills have ever done. Mahomes threw five touchdown passes in just over 11 minutes against the Steelers before Travis Kelce later threw a sixth on a trick play. Against Buffalo’s No. 1 defense, he led the Chiefs to eight scores on 11 drives, including five more touchdowns. Of the three non-scoring drives, one was a missed field goal and the other was a dropped ball on third down. That means the Chiefs have scored 11 touchdowns on 23 drives this postseason.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have three touchdowns on 20 drives this postseason. They have settled for eight field goals. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson is great and has long range, but we know settling for field goals, especially long ones, is a losing formula in Kansas City. The Bengals are going to have to be sharper, particularly in the red zone where they were mediocre this season. In fact, the Bengals were 16th in red zone touchdown rate and 16th in third down conversion rate. Drop down two sections for more on their offense.

As for the Chiefs keeping up this historic pace, how did those 1990 Bills fare in their third playoff game after the scoring explosion? They had one week instead of two to prepare for the Giants, a great defense, in the Super Bowl. They lost 20-19, but that is one of the most overrated defensive performances in NFL history. The Bills moved the ball great, but only had possession for 19:27 because of New York’s ball-control offense. The Bills only allowed one sack and had zero turnovers, and still gained 371 yards in under 20 minutes, but they were 1-of-7 on third down and Scott Norwood missed a game-winning field goal at the end. It was the night defensive coordinator Bill Belichick first sold his soul to the devil.

The Chiefs were the best third-down offense this season at 52.2%, and they have not disappointed in the playoffs. None of this should really come as a surprise after the Chiefs led the NFL in yards per drive, points per drive, and the fewest three-and-outs. As always, it comes back to turnovers with this team.

Chiefs: There Is No Repeatable Blueprint

I don’t care if it gets boring to say this every week, but there is no magical blueprint to stop the Chiefs. They are still their own worst enemy, and that comes largely in the form of turnovers, dropped passes, penalties, or the rare times Andy Reid forgets to put the ball in Mahomes’ hands. The turnovers especially have been killers this year, and so many were self-inflicted with tipped balls or just calling a stupid Wildcat play like the fumble touchdown against Pittsburgh. If you get the turnovers, recover the obligatory Chiefs fumble (didn’t happen last week), you give yourself a chance.

If Clyde Edwards-Helaire doesn’t have the first fumble of his career in field goal range in Baltimore, the Chiefs are winning that 36-35 game. If they don’t turn it over three times in a row to start the Chargers game, they probably win that one too. They would have given the Bills a better game the first time around without a tipped ball pick six and another ball batted at the line for a pick in the red zone.

As the Bengals showed in Tennessee last week with Ryan Tannehill’s pick parade, any game can be a win if you get enough takeaways. It doesn’t even matter if you give up nine sacks and score 19 points.

When the Buccaneers supposedly showed the blueprint to crush the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55, it was missing some context. For one, the Buccaneers were shredded by the Chiefs in Week 12, so they had a recent game tape to study and improve from. The Bengals have that advantage as well from Week 17.

Secondly, the Buccaneers had an extra week to prepare and dramatically altered their scheme to surprise the Chiefs. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is known for being an aggressive blitzer, but he called the lowest blitz rate in a game of his since 2015 and played two-high safety shells at his highest rate as well. Teams have emulated this often against Kansas City in 2021, but the Chiefs have adjusted. Last week, Buffalo used two-high safeties on 92% of plays, but Mahomes shredded it with 29-of-38 passing for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t attempt a single deep pass for the first time in his career as he took advantage of the short, easy plays. He also used his legs to great success and rushed for a career-high 69 yards. Last postseason, Mahomes had a toe injury and wasn’t as willing to run on it as we’ve seen he is willing to do in playoff games.

Finally, the Buccaneers caught a break with left tackle Eric Fisher injuring his Achilles in the game before the Super Bowl, throwing the already limited offensive line into flux. Mahomes was pressured a Super Bowl record number of times depending which source you want to use, and the Chiefs failed to make any special plays that night and did not score a touchdown. The Chiefs reinvested in the offensive line and have gotten better results. They’re also healthy now, and the toughest game this year may have been the Cincinnati one where left tackle Orlando Brown was inactive, his backup got hurt after six snaps, but the Chiefs still made it work. Brown is back now and the Bengals still did not sack Mahomes in Week 17.

So, the fabled Tampa blueprint is a mirage. You just have to trust Reid and Mahomes to figure things out.

But if I have a concern for this matchup, it would be that in Week 17, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill did not have a play longer than 17 yards. They had 13 touches for 66 yards and one touchdown as basically everyone else got involved with big plays that day.

It still led to four touchdowns in a row in the first half, but I’m not convinced the Chiefs can sustain their scoring if their two studs aren’t more involved. Both showed up big time against the Bills last week. But in that second half of Week 17, the Chiefs punted twice and settled for a field goal on their final drive before the Bengals ran out the final six minutes for the game-winning field goal.

Despite their turnovers and struggles, the Titans hit up the Bengals for three 40-yard plays last week. A.J. Brown had a monster receiving game. I’m confident the Chiefs will figure it out and get Hill and Kelce more involved this week.

Cincinnati Offense Vs. Kansas City’s Liability

The Chiefs started this season with arguably the worst defense in the league. Things turned around dramatically and they allowed the fewest points in Weeks 6-18, but as I laid out last week, the schedule had a lot to do with that.

After the way the Chiefs have performed on defense late in the season against the Chargers, Bengals, and Bills, it’s safe to say this defense is a liability again. If it doesn’t catch up with them this week against Ja’Marr Chase for a second time, then it could in the Super Bowl with Deebo Samuel or Cooper Kupp being the latest skill player to destroy them.

Hell, it was Buffalo’s Gabriel Davis who had 201 yards and a playoff-record four touchdown catches last week. He was 13 seconds away from ending Kansas City’s season, and the defense never had to get another stop after failing to do so multiple times in the quarter. Without coin flip wins in overtime against the Chargers (Week 15) and Bills, this Kansas City season could look very different right now. I’d be leery of this defense.

In Week 17, Chase had one of the greatest receiving games in NFL history. He caught 11-of-12 targets for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He added two first downs via pass interference flags on third downs. He caught a 30-yard pass on third-and-27 on the game-winning drive. He had two long touchdowns that were largely YAC and individual efforts from him. He was sensational and so was his rookie season. While not finding the end zone in the playoffs, he has still been very good and did a lot of damage on screens in Tennessee.

The good news for the Chiefs is that safety Tyrann Mathieu should be back after leaving the Bills game early with a concussion. I’m not going to pretend he stops all those Davis plays, but the Chiefs are better with him on the field than off. They’re also better when Daniel Sorensen doesn’t have to play much. Sunday saw Sorensen play 92% of the snaps, his highest in a game since Week 5 when he allowed two long completions to Buffalo and saw his role diminished afterwards. Sorensen was also beat for 86 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati. They cannot rely on him with the Bengals having a legitimate wide receiver trio.

Can Chase really dominate like that again? This will be the 20th time since 1970 that a receiver had at least 175 receiving yards against a defense he will face in the playoffs. The Chiefs just saw this a year ago with Tyreek Hill lighting up the Buccaneers for 269 yards and three touchdowns. But in the Super Bowl, Hill couldn’t pull in an early touchdown and finished with seven catches for 73 yards.

On average, these receivers declined by 142.9 receiving yards in the playoff rematch. Only Tim Brown and Michael Haynes were able to break 100 yards again, and touchdowns dropped from 31 to six.

The Chiefs have allowed eight 100-yard receivers this season. You would think after Davis last week and Chase last time, the Chiefs will make him the top priority this week. Short of a return touchdown, the Bengals will struggle to hit that 27-point minimum if Chase is held under 80 yards, which can be gleaned from the 11 times it happened this season.  

Kansas City’s defense has allowed four completions to gain more than 23 YAC this season. The first was a lateral play on 4th-and-31 to end the first half by Cleveland in Week 1, so that really shouldn’t count. The second was a little toss to Devontae Booker for the Giants for an extra 35 yards in the middle of the season. But the two longest YAC plays of the year were by Chase in Week 17 for touchdowns with 43 and 61 YAC. The Bengals had four YAC plays of 40-plus yards this season and you’re looking at half of them.

I’m not going to pretend that the Chiefs won’t allow any big plays this week, especially after what the defense did against Buffalo last week. But I don’t think crazy YAC is as repeatable as a great deep ball, and I don’t believe Burrow’s deep ball is as good as Josh Allen is capable of, such as that 75-yard rocket to Davis that kept the game from getting out of hand.

I also don’t think Burrow can escape all the sacks Allen did. Allen had 10 designed runs in that game, but his only scramble was a crucial fourth down late in the game. Burrow is not a statue by any means, but let’s face it. He took a league-high 51 sacks and was sacked nine times in Tennessee. He takes plenty of bad sacks and the Chiefs got him down four times in Week 17, which had a lot to do with the Bengals trailing 14-0, 21-7, and 28-14. Why did Burrow have to convert a third-and-27 on the game-winning drive? Because he took a sack that knocked them out of field goal range on first down. He’ll learn, they’ll improve the offensive line eventually, but for right now, Burrow is a liability to take bad sacks.

The Chiefs need to take advantage of that at home and I believe they will.

The Prediction

The low-hanging fruit would be to gush over this Cincinnati renaissance and crap on the Titans as the No. 1 seed, but I built the theme to my season predictions around finding a worthy contender for the Chiefs in the AFC. Maybe that proves to be the Bengals if they can become the second team to sweep Mahomes, but I still think Kansas City is the team to beat. The Chargers couldn’t beat them twice. The Bills couldn’t beat them twice. I don’t think the Bengals are better qualified to do it either this year.

Losing that game in Cincinnati with Burrow and Chase playing so well to fall to the No. 2 seed may ultimately prove to be a blessing for these Chiefs. It installed the Titans as the No.1 seed, which they promptly choked away, giving the Chiefs a record fourth-straight AFC title game at home against these Bengals, who they led by 14 points three times in Week 17. I really do believe the Chiefs would have had a harder time reversing 27-3 on the road in Tennessee this week.

I like the Chiefs to get a double-digit lead again and not blow it this time. Give me that 54-51 rematch in two weeks.

Final: Chiefs 34, Bengals 24

NFL 2021 NFC Championship Game Preview: 49ers at Rams

The NFC West was all the rage coming into this 2021 season, and sure enough, it delivered. While the Seahawks regressed and the 7-0 Cardinals imploded after being the NFL’s last unbeaten team, the 49ers and Rams are meeting in the NFC Championship Game after vanquishing Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, perhaps for good, in Green Bay and Tampa Bay.

The NFC West will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl for the sixth time in the last 10 seasons. San Francisco is looking for a three-game sweep after the team’s 17-point comeback in Los Angeles in Week 18 got them in the tournament in the first place. One more win is either going to put Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan in their second Super Bowl in the last four years with the hope of winning it all this time.

Is it going to be a rematch of Super Bowl 54 between the 49ers and Chiefs, a rematch of the 54-51 game in 2018 between the Rams and Chiefs should both home teams win, or could two road upsets produce the third 49ers-Bengals Super Bowl? I’m not sure the league and networks want any part of a Rams-Bengals Super Bowl this year.

The AFC will be decided first on Sunday afternoon with the Chiefs a strong favorite at home. This game looks more likely to produce an upset with the 49ers as a 3.5-point underdog. Both teams should enter it with confidence, but I feel there is more pressure on the Rams to overcome one of their toughest opponents and make this “all in” approach with their roster construction pay off with a Super Bowl.

See my full Bengals-Chiefs preview here (link to come).

How Hard Is It to Beat a Team Three Times?

On the surface, of course it is hard to beat a division foe three times in the same season, which would include a playoff meeting. But what happens when a team is already 2-0 heading into that playoff matchup? It didn’t work out for the Saints against Tampa Bay last year thanks to four turnovers, but the 49ers are also in an unusual position of being the road team this week.

Of the 23 times in the modern era where a team was going for the 3-0 sweep in the playoffs, this is only the fifth time that team is on the road. Those road teams are 2-2 in the playoffs with the 1999 Titans most famously handing Jacksonville all three of its losses that season. These teams in the conference championship round are 4-1, and the overall playoff record for the team going for the sweep is 14-8 (.636), so it happens more often than not.

But What If This Rivalry Is One Sided?

McVay and Shanahan, former colleagues in Washington, took over as the coaches of these teams in 2017. Shanahan is 7-3 against McVay and has won six straight despite generally having lesser teams and quarterbacks than the Rams. The 49ers have already upset the Rams, the closest thing to a super team this year, twice.

In Week 10 in mid-November, the 49ers were an aimless 3-5 team, but everything changed that night in a 31-10 upset. The offense only had two legitimate possessions in the first half, but they strung together 29 plays for 184 yards and two touchdowns on them. Matthew Stafford had a drop by Tyler Higbee that turned into a tipped pick-six to put the Rams in a big hole they never climbed out of. Deebo Samuel showed off his YAC ability on a 40-yard touchdown catch on a fourth down, but that was also the night where he started being used as a runner again. Samuel had six carries for 22 yards in Weeks 1-9 combined but had five runs for 36 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. He has continued to be that dual-threat for the team and iced their game-winning drive in Green Bay last week with a 9-yard run on third-and-7. He is an incredible weapon and hopefully he’ll be healthy after hobbling off the field Saturday night.

When these teams met again in Week 18 in Los Angeles, the crowd was very pro-49ers. The game was pro-Rams for a half though as the Rams led 17-0. But Jimmy Garoppolo led a key drive in the last 38 seconds to get a field goal on the board. There was that annoying stat going around for years that McVay was 45-0 when leading at halftime. It’s annoying because it implies that he’s never lost a game when leading in the second half. He has. Multiple times. This game would be the most stunning loss since the 49ers had to overcome some long odds.

Even after quickly tying the game, things stalled out and Garoppolo was intercepted in the red zone by Jalen Ramsey with half a quarter left. Cooper Kupp took over for the Rams and put them up 24-17. The 49ers went three-and-out with Garoppolo taking a sack that brought up fourth-and-18 at the two-minute warning. That was no man’s land, but Shanahan made the ultimately wise decision to punt the ball back and use his three timeouts. I still think most coaches punt there, but John Harbaugh and Brandon Staley likely go for it. They also likely fail, fall behind by 10 points, and the game is over.

But McVay did the 49ers a favor by sticking with three straight runs, including a cowardly run on third-and-7. Was this not the situation you brought Stafford in for? Wasn’t protecting Jared Goff from throwing a pick the excuse for past years of conservative play calls from McVay? The 49ers got the ball back at their own 12 with 1:27 left, but Garoppolo again got the job done with an 88-yard touchdown drive, one of the best all year in that situation.

In overtime, the 49ers settled for a field goal before Stafford forced a deep ball on first down for a game-ending interception. The 49ers would have been replaced by the Saints for the playoffs had they not come back to win this game.

Stafford was nearly unstoppable in this game until the pass rush got after him. The 49ers sacked him five times and pressured him 14 times for a pressure rate of 37.8%, easily the worst pass protection game of the season for the Rams.

That comeback paved the way for this rematch, but Shanahan has beaten McVay in a variety of ways the last three seasons. He’s come back on him a couple weeks ago, he’s shut down his offense in 20-7 (2019) and 31-10 wins, he won a 34-31 shootout in 2020, and he’s even had Nick Mullens lead a two-minute drill and game-winning drive for a field goal last season.

We see it all the time in sports where one team has another’s number, but if you’re ever going to slay that dragon, this is the stage to do it for the Rams. Peyton Manning’s Colts once had to get over the New England hump by coming back to beat them in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. However, that’s not a good comparison for these Rams, because the Colts already beat the Patriots earlier that season and they kicked their ass in New England the previous season.

You also couldn’t really bring up Steve Young getting “the monkey off his back” against Dallas in the 1994 NFC Championship Game, a revenge win after the Cowboys knocked the 49ers out the previous two seasons. But even that season in Week 11, the 49ers notched a win over Dallas. This is six losses in a row the Rams must overcome, but it’s not like Stafford, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr., the big additions this year, were on the team for all six games.

Still, it’s one handsome man on the other side who may be the x-factor in this game.

Jimmy Garoppolo: We Are Going to Start a Dialogue

Honestly, I love the way Jimmy Garoppolo breaks people’s minds.

Under any normal circumstances, would we be questioning if a quarterback who completes 67.7% of his passes with 8.36 yards per attempt and a 98.9 passer rating is helping his team win games?

Among quarterbacks with at least 1,400 career attempts, Garoppolo ranks second in completion percentage, second in yards per attempt, and fifth in passer rating. With those numbers, it should come as no surprise that Garoppolo is 37-15 (.712) as a starter in the NFL. He is one win away from being able to say that he’s taken his team to the Super Bowl in both seasons where he started more than six games, the modern equivalent of Kurt Warner’s strange career arc.

And yet, people still pass him off as the answer to what if Jared Goff was hot? It’s always Shanahan’s scheme that gets the credit. While it does create big plays with two of the best YAC players in the world (Samuel and George Kittle), someone is going to have to explain what happens to Shanahan’s wonderful scheme and those talented players when Garoppolo is not available, which happens often as he’s hurt a lot. He’s even ailing right now with a finger injury that seemed to spur general manager John Lynch to almost end his tenure by “accidentally” liking a negative tweet at Christmas Eve mass.

But Garoppolo returned for this playoff run. Garoppolo just finished his 50th start for Shanahan and has a 35-15 (.700) record. With any other quarterback, Shanahan is 8-28 (.222) as San Francisco’s head coach. That’s a Peyton Manning in Indy type of split. That’s not supposed to happen, especially to a “genius” coach.

But again, Garoppolo doesn’t get any credit for this. If it’s not Shanahan’s scheme, it’s credit to Nick Bosa and the defense, even though Garoppolo won a 48-46 game in New Orleans in 2019, which is why the 49ers had the No. 1 seed that year.

Yet, somehow “Dropback Jimmy” is a thing as if this guy does nothing but live on play-action passes.

Garoppolo play-action vs. no play-action splits via Pro Football Reference:

  • 2019 play-action: 68.8% completions, 11.5 YPA, 6 TD, 3 INT, 113.4 PR
  • 2019 no play-action: 69.2% completions, 7.2 YPA, 21 TD, 10 INT, 98.0 PR
  • 2021 play-action: 71.0% completions, 10.2 YPA, 4 TD, 2 INT, 108.6 PR
  • 2021 no play-action: 67.5% completions, 8.2 YPA, 16 TD, 10 INT, 95.8 PR

You’ll never see anyone point out that Buffalo’s Josh Allen dropped from 9.2 YPA to 5.9 YPA without play-action this season, something he used to a great advantage (as he should).

If Garoppolo was able to throw a better deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders in Super Bowl LIV against the Chiefs, the perception around him would be much different now. Of course, that’s assuming the defense would have held up against Patrick Mahomes, which looks unlikely these days. The 49ers likely lost their ring when they couldn’t stop Mahomes from finding Tyreek Hill on a third-and-15 in that game.

But Super Bowl LIV is one of the few moments in Garoppolo’s brief career where he did not deliver in crunch time. For a guy as ridiculed as he is, he tends to deliver in fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive opportunities.

Garoppolo has the second-best record (11-10) among active quarterbacks behind only Brady. Included in those 10 losses is this year’s 20-17 loss in Tennessee, the AFC’s No. 1 seed, when Garoppolo led a game-tying touchdown drive before the Titans drove for the winning field goal. It was the second time in three years Garoppolo lost a 20-17 game on the road against the AFC’s top seed as it also happened in Baltimore in 2019. Another loss was Garoppolo’s go-ahead touchdown drive against the Packers in Week 3 before Aaron Rodgers found Davante Adams to set up a game-winning field goal.

Garoppolo has been better than he’s given credit for. There are things you don’t like, such as the lack of durability. The decision making can be spotty as some of his interceptions look really bad. He looked like he was dying to throw a pick-six in Green Bay last week with some of those late floaters to the sideline. So, the eye test isn’t there like it is for an Allen or Mahomes or a Hall of Fame talent.

But I’ll be damned if a quarterback playing in a smart coach’s YAC-based system with a great defense is something no one cared about two decades ago when a QB named Tom Brady was celebrated for doing it.

Too bad Jimmy didn’t stick around long enough for Brady to teach him how to defend Mahomes on third down…

But if there’s something to really not like about Garoppolo, it is his playoff games where he turns into a poor man’s Bob Griese. In 2019, the 49ers beat the Vikings with Garoppolo throwing 19 times for 131 yards. They crushed the Packers with Garoppolo completing 6-of-8 passes for 77 yards. That’s like one drive for his Super Bowl counterpart, Mahomes. In the big game, Garoppolo didn’t hit 200 yards passing until the two-minute warning. Again, he missed his shot at lore with that deep throw to Sanders. Since 2018, Garoppolo is 17-1 when he gains a first down on at least 40% of his pass attempts. Super Bowl LIV was the only loss in that time. It somehow remains Garoppolo’s best playoff game while being the only loss. Five of those 18 games were against the Rams, by the way.

This year in Dallas, Garoppolo was nothing special in building the lead the team almost blew thanks in part to a pick he threw. Then in Green Bay, he really capped off a sham of a 4-1 playoff start by leading his offense to six points, including a field goal drive that started at midfield after a long kick return by Samuel. Garoppolo completed two passes on the game-winning drive. Without that blocked punt return for a touchdown, I don’t see the 49ers winning that game.

But it’s another big opportunity this week for Garoppolo against a defense he usually does well against. Garoppolo is 6-0 against the Rams, completing 68.4% of his passes at 8.75 YPA. He led the clutch comeback in Week 18, and he might have to do something similar this time against a talented defense that has terrorized Kyler Murray and Brady this postseason. He may even have to do it shorthanded with Samuel, Kittle, and tackle Trent Williams limping off the field Saturday. All three will probably try to play, but none are likely to be at full strength.

We’ll see if this Shanahan coaching edge presents itself again. But if Playoff Jimmy shows up again? He better hope the Rams have some fumbles left in them, or that Brady taught him how to will them in the playoffs.

Stafford’s Time?

The NFC loves these flash in the pan teams where everything comes together for a Super Bowl run. Think 2015 Panthers, 2016 Falcons, 2017 Eagles, and the 2020 Buccaneers these Rams are modeling themselves after right down to getting to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. But these teams are a bit different in that they were just in the big game in 2018 and 2019, so someone is getting a second appearance in a short period of time.

But the odds favor the Rams after going all in with Stafford, Miller, and Beckham to go along with their established stars in Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Jalen Ramsey. While Ramsey did get beat for a long touchdown against Mike Evans on Sunday, the stars shined for the Rams in a real gut-check of a victory after blowing a 27-3 lead with four fumbles and a 47-yard field goal that came up short. A sub-50-yard kick coming up short in Florida. I still can’t believe that one, but that’s what happens when you face the LOAT.

Stafford is the first QB in NFL history to win a playoff game where his team had four turnovers where none of the giveaways were charged to him. They better hold onto the ball better this week, especially Cam Akers after his 2.0 yards per carry against Tampa’s stout defense. I see the 49ers allowing more runs this week, but the game is still going to come down to how well Stafford handles the pass rush from Bosa and company. They chewed up Dak Prescott and Aaron Rodgers this postseason. They chewed up Stafford and his line in Week 18, thought left tackle Andrew Whitworth could be back after missing Sunday’s game in Tampa Bay. That’s big.

How good has Stafford been this postseason? He joins 2003 Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to have back-to-back games with over 73% completions and 9.5 YPA. Hopefully he won’t implode in the title game like Manning did in New England that season. But Stafford has been doing great and the 49ers have a weakness in the secondary, which should be great news for Kupp, who had 118 and 122 yards receiving in the two meetings this year.

I’ve always compared Stafford to volume passers taken No. 1 in the draft like Drew Bledsoe and Eli Manning. If those guys can get to the Super Bowl, so can Stafford with a very good team around him. He’s unlikely to get a better chance than this one.

49ers: Road Warriors or End of the Road?

Before I make my prediction, I just want to touch on this grueling, historic schedule the 49ers are trying to get through to reach the Super Bowl. This is essentially their fourth-straight elimination game on the road when you consider they had to win in LA in Week 18 to make the playoffs. The five teams in NFL history that won three road playoff games before getting to the Super Bowl, including Tampa Bay last year, did not have to beat a playoff team on the road in the regular-season finale like the 49ers did. In fact, all five of those teams were at home to end the regular season, and only one played a playoff opponent in what was still a historic, helpful game.

  • 1985 Patriots: beat Bengals (7-9) at home before winning on the road against the Jets, Raiders, Dolphins, and losing Super Bowl vs. Bears.
  • 2005 Steelers: beat Lions (5-11) at home before winning on the road against the Bengals, Colts, Broncos, and winning Super Bowl vs. Seahawks.
  • 2007 Giants: lost to Patriots (16-0) at home in a game they didn’t need to win before winning on the road against the Buccaneers, Cowboys, Packers, and coming back to beat those undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.
  • 2010 Packers: beat Bears (11-5) at home before winning on the road against the Eagles, Falcons, Bears, and winning Super Bowl vs. Steelers.
  • 2020 Buccaneers: beat Falcons (4-12) at home before winning on the road against Washington, Saints, Packers, and winning Super Bowl (in home stadium) vs. Chiefs.

The 2021 49ers already have tied the NFL record for most road wins against a playoff team in a season (including playoff games) with five wins. In addition to the last three weeks, they’ve won in Philadelphia early (weak) and late in the season in Cincinnati (good). The only other teams to have five such wins in a season are the 2010 Packers (won Super Bowl), 1992 Bills (lost Super Bowl), and the 1982 Jets despite a nine-game strike season (lost AFC Championship Game).

By my count, the only other team since the 1970 merger to beat a playoff team in the final game of the regular season and then play three road playoff games was Tennessee in 2019. The Titans got to 9-7 with a Week 17 win over Houston, which rested Deshaun Watson, before pulling off upsets in New England and Baltimore. The Titans were up 10 points in Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game before losing 35-24.

To put it another way, the 2021 49ers can become the only team since at least 1978 to win four straight road games as an underdog of at least three points. Sure, most teams do not play four straight road games, let alone all against playoff teams, because of scheduling reasons, but this is why the 49ers are on the verge of history with this postseason run.

But of the 18 teams since the merger who were 2-0 on the road in the playoffs, they were 5-13 (.278) on the road in the Conference Championship Game.

The Prediction

McVay’s Rams have already burned me twice this season against the 49ers. I hate to pick them a third time, but I still think they’re the better team with the better quarterback and the defense has been really strong in the playoffs. Unless they want to be embarrassed again, I think the crowd will be more in favor of the home team this time, unlike Week 18. As long as Stafford avoids the turnovers like he has this postseason, the offense should be good. The 49ers will score more than six points this week, but it won’t be enough to get the road sweep and stop this loaded team from reaching the Super Bowl.

Final: Rams 27, 49ers 20

NFL Stat Oddity: Divisional Round

The last five rounds of the NFL playoffs had been historically low on drama, so you might say regression hit hard with the best divisional round weekend in history. All four games were decided by a walk-off score, a grand total of 15 points separating the teams, and three road underdogs won.

We were 13 seconds away from the first perfect road sweep in the divisional round. It was however the first time ever that both No. 1 seeds (Titans and Packers) lost on the same day. We could even have watched the last games in the Hall of Fame careers of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. That expected NFC Championship Game rematch between the two? Forget about it. We’re getting 49ers-Rams III.

Cincinnati’s halftime lead in Tennessee before winning 19-16 made it a 26-0 run for the team leading at halftime in the playoffs. But the 49ers-Packers ended that historic streak. A blocked punt return touchdown by the 49ers also helped lead to the first fourth-quarter lead change in the playoffs since Super Bowl LIV. We tied the all-time streak at 20 playoff games (set in 1935-50) without a fourth-quarter lead change, but that is thankfully over.

But even if last-second field goals in tied games were still not enough drama for you, the Bills and Chiefs made sure we got all the lead changes you could imagine. Try four after the two-minute warning alone, or one too many if you’re a Buffalo fan.  

We start with one of the absolute best playoff games ever played.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: The Greatest Divisional Round Game Ever

If the Chiefs go on to win the Super Bowl, we’ll be talking about this one on our deathbeds. Rarely does a heavyweight matchup like this one deliver, but this game blew away all expectations.

There were 31 points scored AFTER the two-minute warning. If that’s not the NFL record, then I don’t know what is. The 2013 Vikings-Ravens scored 36 points in the final 2:04, but only 28 came after the two-minute warning.

Even if it wasn’t a significant playoff game with an incredible ending, this was one of the best-played games ever. It is the first game in NFL history where both teams scored 30 points, had no turnovers, and combined for fewer than five penalties. You want clean, efficient play with two incredibly athletic quarterbacks? This was the game to watch.

Josh Allen led the Bills to five touchdowns on nine drives. You could say he’s slipping after going 7-for-7 a week ago, but he was great in this game. Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to five touchdowns, three field goals, one missed field goal, and two punts on their 11 drives.

You know you’re dealing with an incredible game when the biggest complaint is the overtime system not letting the other team answer on offense. No officiating controversy. No bogus play to decide it. Just one score after another.

Right from the start you could see this game was going to be special with the teams exchanging touchdowns in a fast-moving first quarter. Mahomes had the toe injury last postseason, so we did not see him run as effectively as he did in the previous postseason. He does seem to have some Colin Kaepernick in him where he “lets it all hang out” in these playoff games. In this game, Mahomes had 49 yards rushing on the first drive alone, scored a touchdown, and finished with a career-high 69 rushing yards to lead the Chiefs.

I said in my preview that the Bills had the No. 1 scoring defense and the Chiefs were No. 1 since Week 6, but both used weak schedules to boost those stats. Against top offenses, they were not reliable this year. Sure enough, the two offenses that were so efficient a week ago had their way with these defenses this night. But for anyone thinking a 42-36 shootout had no defense, that would gloss over all the incredible plays Allen and Mahomes made to avoid sacks. Each took two sacks, but the number would have been so much higher with lesser quarterbacks. Mahomes especially had better pocket movement and sack avoidance in this game than I’ve ever seen from him. Buffalo had to be sick at how often he got away, but tackling was an issue on other plays too, including a 25-yard touchdown run by Mecole Hardman that looked like it would gain a couple yards at best.

Before the 31-point bonanza at the end, this looked like a game where the Chiefs were going to be kicking themselves for a bad kicking night by Harrison Butker (missed a field goal before halftime and an extra point) and a terrible red-zone call in the fourth quarter. Up 23-21, the Chiefs had a chance to go up two scores, but decided to run an option play with Blake Bell pitching to Jerick McKinnon on third-and-1 for a 3-yard loss. WTF was that? Did they not learn from the Wildcat disaster a week ago? Don’t take the ball out of Mahomes’ hands. That’s way too cute on a pivotal play.

Down 26-21, the stage was set for Allen. I predicted he would lead the first game-winning drive with a touchdown for the Bills (0-5 at them in 2021) in this game. I didn’t think he’d almost use the final nine minutes to do it, but the Chiefs could not stop his runs as he had 68 yards on 11 carries. None were bigger than his 6-yard scramble on a fourth-and-4 with 2:48 left. It looked like the Chiefs had him dead to rights on the play, but he escaped a la Steve McNair and picked it up.

After a bad completion to Devin Singletary lost 7 yards when Allen should have thrown the ball at his feet, the Bills faced a 4th-and-13. Allen found Gabriel Davis wide open for 27 yards in the end zone. Davis was the target on Allen’s 75-yard rocket in the third quarter as well. Stefon Diggs had a shockingly quiet night (three catches for 7 yards), but he came through on the receiving end of a two-point conversion after Allen extended the play.

Down 29-26, you knew Mahomes would answer, but could you trust Butker on this night? Didn’t have to. The connection to Tyreek Hill struck playoff gold again over the middle and Hill turned on the jets for a 64-yard touchdown. But did he leave too much time? The Bills had 1:02 and all three timeouts, an eternity in this game. Davis continued to deliver and was the open target again on a 19-yard touchdown, his fourth of the game, a playoff record. The Chiefs were badly missing safety Tyrann Mathieu, who left early with a concussion.

The Butker misses and the cutesy play call were almost forgotten at this point, but I knew I’d be talking about them in recapping this loss for the Chiefs. It’d be the fourth blown fourth-quarter lead for the defense this year. But as long as you have 13 seconds, your timeouts, and Mahomes, you still have a chance in a 36-33 game.

This was going to be tough, but the Bills could not have played it any worse on three straight plays. First, why a touchback? Kick it short and make them burn a few seconds. Every second is crucial. Then the defense was way too soft as the Chiefs picked up 19 yards to Hill in five seconds before using the first timeout. Still difficult, but not impossible. Then the back-breaker: Kelce left way too open for a 25-yard gain right down the seam. Timeout at three seconds and Butker came on to deliver from 49 yards out. Overtime. That’s 44 yards in 10 seconds. That can’t happen.

There have been some miraculous touchdown drives in less time thanks to a Hail Mary or lateral-filled play. But I have the Chiefs as the only offense since 1981 to drive 40-plus yards for a field goal in the last 15 seconds to tie or win a game.

You hate to see it come down to a coin flip, but if ever there was a game where that was inevitable, it was this one. The Chiefs, like they did in Los Angeles against the Chargers in my regular season Game of the Year 2021, won the coin toss and took the ball right down the field for a touchdown. Mahomes threw a perfect ball to Kelce for an 8-yard touchdown to end it.

Since 2011, the team receiving first in overtime in the playoffs is 10-1 and seven games ended on a first-drive touchdown. Only the 2018 Saints lost to the Rams in a game any rational person would tell you had no business going to overtime. But this tells me the system is not working, and for years I have said we need a system that doesn’t have to be as corny as college, but it has to be better for the postseason than this. It’s a damn shame we didn’t get to see Allen answer after his second go-ahead touchdown pass to Davis after the two-minute warning. The Chiefs ended up with 11 drives to nine for the Bills in this game.

I guess the Bills just needed to be closer to perfect like they were a week ago, but at the same time, don’t blow it with 13 seconds or you leave yourself open to exactly this type of ending. But what a game these teams put on. Allen has earned a lot of respect from me with his playoff run, and really going back to that near-comeback attempt in Tampa Bay and his great game in New England. He is a legitimate stud, but Mahomes is still just better.

The best.

Is it the greatest divisional round game ever? Yes, and I don’t answer that as a prisoner of the moment. I hyped this game up as having massive potential for only being a second-round matchup. If I was going full wrestling writer here and creating a system to judge the best games, I would look at things like relevancy/importance, past history/rivalry, roster talent, quarterback performance, game script/drama/lead changes, highlight plays/visual imprints it left, and how it ended.

This one is going to score higher than anything using such criteria. It was a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game, so there was history and relevance. Both teams have major Super Bowl aspirations again, and after the three upsets preceding it, this arguably was this year’s Super Bowl. Then after the way the quarterbacks performed, the Gabriel Davis record-setting performance, the 31 points scored after the two-minute warning, the 13-second game-tying drive, a game with no turnovers and four penalties, a walk-off touchdown to a Hall of Fame tight end in overtime – the whole thing was just incredible football.

In the divisional round, you have a lot of games famous for one play or drive in particular:

  • The Immaculate Reception
  • The Sea of Hands
  • Ghost to the Post
  • Red-Right 88
  • Danny White to Drew Pearson in Atlanta (1980)
  • John Elway’s bomb against the 1991 Oilers.
  • The Tuck Rule (two plays, counting Adam Vinatieri’s field goal).
  • Fourth-and-26.
  • Brady having his fourth-down interception fumbled back to him in San Diego (2006).
  • San Diego backup QB Billy Volek’s game-winning drive in Indy (2007).
  • Antonio Brown’s coming out party on third-and-19 against the 2010 Ravens.
  • Alex Smith to Vernon Davis against the 2011 Saints.
  • Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones via Rahim Moore in Denver (2012).
  • Dez Caught It (2014)
  • Aaron Rodgers to Jeff Janis twice, but Larry Fitzgerald in OT (2015)
  • Rodgers to Jared Cook in Dallas (2016)
  • The Minneapolis Miracle to Stefon Diggs (2017)

A lot of great moments, and some were even great games before that moment. But I would still put this game ahead of them all, as well as any other overtime game like 1971 Chiefs-Dolphins (longest game but forgettable), 2003 Panthers-Rams (Steve Smith in double overtime), or a 2002 Steelers-Titans shootout involving Tommy Maddox (and kicker/actor Joe Nedney).

When you get to the cream of the crop in the divisional round, I think you’re talking about 2005 Steelers at Colts. It was the first time a No. 6 seed beat the No. 1 seed, and it was one of the most dramatic fourth quarters in playoff history with the Colts trying to rally from a 21-3 deficit. Jerome Bettis’ fumble, Nick Harper’s recovery, and Ben Roethlisberger’s tackle set up a crushing missed field goal by Mike Vanderjagt, creating a montage of “he missed it” quips from Bettis, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, and Peyton Manning. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that year. Harper being stabbed by his wife the night before the game just adds to the lore. But it loses points for not having any lead changes and coming down to that liquored-up kicker you knew would choke.

The other game that will usually come up in the best divisional round game talk is The Epic in Miami: 1981 Chargers at Dolphins. The favored Chargers led 24-0 before the Dolphins, led by backup QB Don Strock off the bench, rallied the team to a 24-24 tie. The teams exchanged touchdowns before the Dolphins even took a 38-31 lead, which was answered by Dan Fouts and his high-powered offense to tie the game at 38. Strock had his interception fumbled back to him, but Miami’s 43-yard field goal was tipped by tight end Kellen Winslow to end regulation. The Chargers could have ended things immediately, but missed a 27-yard field goal to start overtime. Oof. Several more drives took place, including Miami’s 34-yard field goal being blocked. The Chargers finally won 41-38 on a 29-yard field goal.

Great game (I’ve seen a full replay), certainly an epic, but I’m not putting any game that involves Don f’n Strock throwing for 403 yards off the bench and a bunch of failed field goals as the No. 1 game over what we just saw on Sunday.

So, there you have it. This was the best of the best. I can only hope we see these teams meet in the playoffs more. This was already the fourth Mahomes-Allen game in the last two seasons. John Elway and Dan Marino met three times in 16 seasons despite being drafted into the same conference in the same year. This could be the NFL’s next great rivalry with a signature game to boot already.

Of course, now it’s the Bengals’ turn to take on the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Chiefs do not have to make up that 27-3 loss in Tennessee. They get to stay home and make up that 34-31 loss in Cincinnati. Let’s just say I won’t be voting against Mahomes again any time soon.

Not even 13 seconds is good enough to put him away. But props to Buffalo for closing the gap from last season. Just have to make one more stride to get over the hump next year.

Rams at Buccaneers: Did Tom Brady’s Luck Finally Run Out?

If I was writing the script for Tom Brady’s final NFL game, it might look quite similar to what happened on Sunday. You know I would have him lose as a home favorite in an early round of the playoffs. You know I would have him commit multiple turnovers. But I would write in all sorts of absurd Brady Bullshit (Trademark 2003) to leave no doubt that he was the luckiest player to ever lace them up in this sport. The LOAT. The first unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of his career was a nice twist I didn’t see coming, but he kind of made himself a target for that this week.

But even after getting a mind-numbing number of breaks to go his way, he would still lose in the end. And that’s exactly what happened against the Rams, though my script would have been better for my blood pressure.

But there will not be a repeat champion, extending the longest drought without one in NFL history. As for Brady retiring? I’ll believe it when I see a Week 1 without him. I don’t think we’re lucky enough to be done with him, but the days have to be numbered.

I also have to do a bit of an apology to Matthew Stafford. I’ve been hard on him about the 8-68 record against winning teams, though I wanted that to go viral to motivate him this season. You also should know by now that my game predictions for Brady are reverse jinxes, which is why you see me pick his team to win every time. You have to read between the lines. When I say things like “The Rams have a lot of the right elements to deal with Tampa Bay,” but then you see me bring up Brady’s luck, that’s a pretty good sign I actually believe the Rams should win this game. They’re the better team.

While I was absolutely right that turnovers would be the story of this game, none of them were Stafford’s fault as I feared. Stafford was money on the road, saw the field very well, and made the biggest throws of the game to Cooper Kupp. He passed for 366 yards despite Cam Akers (24 carries for 48 yards) only averaging 2.0 yards per carry and wasting a lot of first downs.

Stafford was 0-53 in his career when his team allowed more than 24 points against a team with a winning record. Make that 1-53 after the biggest win of his career.

But my lord did the Rams make this tougher than it needed to be. You could see early on that the Rams, who had already won two in a row over Brady’s Bucs, were a tough matchup for this team. Neither team had their best tackle (Andrew Whitworth for Rams, Tristan Wirfs for Bucs), but the Rams’ superior pass-rushing talent took over while Stafford was better at delivering throws from different angles.

Brady was off early, missing his first four throws as the Rams built a 10-0 lead. Stafford found Kupp inexplicably open for a 70-yard touchdown on third-and-20 to take a 17-3 lead. The Buccaneers missed a 48-yard field goal on the drive where Brady was penalized for cursing at a ref, though it should be pointed out they eventually had a first down four yards beyond where that penalty was marked off. The drive just stalled out as was often the case for the Bucs, who finished 3-of-14 on third down, even worse than their bad week against the Eagles on third down. The Buccaneers were all-around sloppy in this game, kicking off out of bounds multiple times, and drawing multiple 15-yard flags.

LOAT MOMENT #1: But with the Rams up 20-3 at the two-minute warning, that’s when the LOAT kicked into gear, or perhaps when Brady sacrificed a newborn’s soul for one last pact with the devil. Brady just threw up a pass for Gronk that was intercepted and returned to the Tampa Bay 31 with 1:53 left. Now if someone like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers throws that pick in a big game, they’re falling behind 27-3 at the half. Maybe 24-3 at best. But what makes Brady the LOAT is he wills his defense to force Cam Akers to fumble at the 1-yard line after the ball just started coming out prior to Akers’ head being down on the ground.

What a break. As you might expect, the last team to lead a playoff game by 14+ points and lose a fumble before losing the game was Atlanta in Super Bowl 51. That was the big Hightower strip-sack of Matt Ryan with the Falcons up 28-12 on third-and-1. When Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth remind you that if anyone can lead this comeback, it’s Brady, they’re burying the lede that he isn’t even on the god damn field when these crucial plays are happening. But if Jimmy Garoppolo can lead a 17-point second-half comeback against these Rams in Week 18, Brady could too.

The Rams seemed to overcome this one. They used a sequence of a great punt, three-and-out on defense, and a big punt return to set up a 28-yard touchdown drive. Stafford’s QB sneak looked better this week and the Rams were in the end zone again. Brady had to settle for a field goal, and it was 27-6 late in the third quarter. Again, this is Super Bowl LI territory. Just make one more good drive and you win the game, which is exactly what Atlanta failed to do despite so many chances. After Tampa’s second kickoff out of bounds, things were looking good at the 40. However…

LOAT MOMENT #2: The reliable Kupp fumbled a short completion and Brady was at the 30. Here we go again.

According to Stathead, the Rams are the only team in the playoffs since at least 1994 to lose two fumbles from scrimmage in a game while leading by at least 14 points.

Four plays later on a fourth-and-9, there’s Brady suddenly with a wall of pass protection and a big cushion on Scotty Miller, who caught the ball for 16 yards. Again, learn from Atlanta. One good play ends the game. Three plays later, Leonard Fournette was in the end zone and it was 27-13 going into the fourth quarter.

The Rams used a whopping 31 seconds to go three-and-out. But just when you thought you knew where this one was headed, Von Miller said enough of this bullshit. He got to Brady for a strip sack and the Rams had the ball back at the Tampa 25. At worst, they’d kick a field goal and take a three-score lead again. Well, about that…

LOAT MOMENT #3: Stafford was not expecting the snap from center and the ball went over his head for a third fumble. The strip-sack actually helped Brady gain 25 yards in field position.

When I just told you the Rams are the only playoff team to fumble two times when leading by at least 14 points, you know damn well that means they’re the only team to do it three times since at least 1994. As far as regular-season games, you have to go back to 2002 Bills vs. Bengals to find the last team to cough it up three times with a 14+ point lead. But at least two of those Buffalo turnovers were in the final four minutes of the game with a 27-9 lead.

Surprisingly, Brady did not turn this one into points despite starting at the Los Angeles 45. He took a big sack from Leonard Floyd to bring up a fourth-and-14. Brady threw incomplete for Mike Evans, but Eric Weddle was there for a late hit that was unnecessary. That’s a 15-yard penalty, but the interesting part is that it’s a dead ball foul assessed after the change of possession as the hit came a split second after the ball hit the ground. Maybe something to look at for a rule change, but a rare case of things going against Brady. Though, let’s be real. A bad throw bailed out by a late hit would have just been LOAT MOMENT #4. Speaking of which…

LOAT MOMENT #4: Just when you think the Rams are going to put it out of reach at 17 points, kicker Matt Gay comes up short on a 47-yard field goal with 6:31.

Now a 47-yard field goal is not a lock, but who in the NFL comes up SHORT on a kick from that distance in a game played in Florida? Absurd effort from the kicker there to keep the Bucs alive. But again, Brady couldn’t respond. He didn’t see a wide-open Miller on a fourth-and-9 and threw incomplete with 4:26 left. The Bucs had to use their three timeouts to get a three-and-out and get the ball back with 3:56 left.

All the Los Angeles defense has to do is not give up a touchdown before the two-minute warning. Ideally, you stop them cold. But if you give up a touchdown after the 2MW, then it’s just a matter of recovering the onside kick to end it. Of course, Tampa probably recovers that with the way this one was going, but whatever. Just play defense.

LOAT MOOh wait, let’s give him one here. Knowing this clock situation, Brady took his shot deep and finally hit a good pass in the game, finding Evans in coverage with Jalen Ramsey for a 55-yard touchdown with 3:20 left. The Bucs trailed 27-20.

One first down can win the game with the Bucs out of timeouts. McVay shrunk in this situation against the 49ers in Week 18. He couldn’t do it again, could he? Passing on second-and-7 to end it certainly was an option, but they stuck with Akers. He looked to have a hole, but oh shit.

LOAT MOMENT #5: Akers fumbles at the LA 30 with 2:25 left. Brady is 30 yards away from the tie, his ninth playoff touchdown drive starting in opponent territory since 2020. This is only the third time during Brady’s NFL career that a player fumbled in the final 3:00 of a playoff game with a one-score lead. The other two involved the Steelers: they forced Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill to fumble in 2015 and Jerome Bettis lost his infamous one in Indy in 2005 before Ben Roethlisberger tackled Nick Harper.

Now the only question was if “no risk it, no biscuit” Bruce Arians would go for two if the Bucs get a touchdown. The Brady sneak on fourth-and-1 may have made that more likely, but with everyone expecting it, the Bucs went with a run to Fournette, who broke a tackle in the backfield and ran for a 9-yard touchdown with 42 seconds left. I think the extra point to tie the game at 27 was the right call with that much time left.

It’s probably a good thing I didn’t tweet about a pick-six coming next, but it sure felt like the Rams were going to blow this one. They’ve already coughed up four fumbles and you couldn’t trust the kicker. The ensuing drive got off to a rough start too with Stafford taking a sack. But that final timeout by McVay at 35 seconds bought the team time to compose itself before making some plays. Stafford found Kupp for 20 yards, then against the blitz-happiest defense in the league, Stafford went back to the most targeted receiver against the blitz in the NFL this season. Kupp ran right down the middle of the field and the ball was perfect for a 44-yard gain. The spike operation was smoothly done, and Gay was able to make the kick from 30 yards out to win the game.

I would have preferred a more humorous ending for Brady to lose, but this works for me. A signature game-winning drive for Stafford and a memorable throw to Kupp, the best wideout this year.

It seems crazy that the Rams still have to beat another nemesis next week to get to the Super Bowl, because this was some real slay the dragon shit in Tampa. They overcame four fumbles in the LOAT’s house, blew a 24-point lead, and still found a way to win. The Rams are the first team since the merger to have zero interceptions and lose four fumbles in a playoff game.

It took 13 years, but Stafford has a signature win. This Tampa team’s success last year was a model for what the Rams are doing this season. Now they are just two more wins away from getting it done, but neither game expects to be easy.

As for Tampa Bay, I’ll just let Antonio Brown have the final words:

49ers at Packers: Aaron Rodgers To Go Through with Super Bowl Boycott After All

Wait, was that it? Did we really just see the end of Aaron Rodgers’ run in Green Bay with a 13-10 home loss to the 49ers in the divisional round? He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to lose four playoff games to the same opponent, but none have been more shocking or disappointing than this one.

In fact, I think it’s the worst loss of Rodgers’ career.

The Packers were swept out of the playoffs by the 2012 49ers, 2013 49ers, 2014 Seahawks, 2015 Cardinals, 2016 Falcons, 2019 49ers, and 2020 Buccaneers. That means they were 0-2 against all those teams, opponents that were usually just better and they never found an answer for. This is the first time Green Bay didn’t get swept out of the playoffs since they lost 37-20 to the 2011 Giants in the divisional round. That was another team, like the 2021 49ers in Week 3, where they escaped with a road win on a last-second field goal. But come playoff time, they shit the bed. At least in 2011, the Packers could blame a slow start on resting Rodgers after the 15th game and having the bye. Those Giants also completed a second historic Super Bowl run that year, and I do not believe these 49ers are those Giants reincarnated. These 49ers needed a 17-point comeback in LA to make the tournament before holding on for dear life in Dallas last week.

Sure, the 2011, 2014, and 2020 Packers all looked more prepared to win a championship than this year’s version, a team that had key players injured on both sides, relied too much on Davante Adams, ranked 21st in points per drive allowed, and had a hard time putting teams away comfortably. Those three MVP seasons by Rodgers were better versions of him than what we saw this year, which will still likely net him a fourth MVP as it’s a regular-season award and the votes have been cast.

But what I’m most stunned by is the 13-10 final. Prior to Saturday night, Rodgers was 41-0 in starts he finished where the Packers allowed fewer than 14 points. The only loss by actual record in that situation was a 7-3 game he left early (concussion) against the 2010 Lions. But he was undefeated in games he finished. Keyword: was. You could also say Rodgers was 55-1 in games where the Packers allowed under 16 points with the only loss being the Fail Mary in Seattle (2012).

Make that 55-2.

Incredibly, the slow-starting Packers opened this game with a nice 69-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-0 lead. The defense, which was excellent, forced a three-and-out, collecting the first of four third-down sacks on the night. You couldn’t ask for a better start. But Marcedes Lewis fumbled in San Francisco territory on the second drive, and the Packers gained more than one first down on one of their last eight drives.

You don’t deserve to win when you only score 10 points. I inadvertently jinxed Rodgers big time when I pointed out he had by far the longest streak in playoff history (20 games) of leading his team to 20 points. But he only got halfway there this time, and it’s only the second playoff game where he did not throw a touchdown pass.

But this offensive dud has another major storyline. It was one I could see coming weeks ago.

The Packers had the worst special teams (in a variety of ways) this season, and while it was not a strength for the 49ers this season, sure enough it was a huge part of this upset loss. As predicted, here is that bullet-point list of special teams woes. I’m not even going to bother listing a few short punts and kickoffs that gave the 49ers good field position. We’ll just stick with the big ones.

  • Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal was blocked to end the first half, wasting a 75-yard catch by Aaron Jones and keeping the score at 7-0.
  • Deebo Samuel, who had another great game, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 45 yards to give the 49ers the ball at the 50. The drive ended with a field goal.
  • One for playoff lore: up 10-3 with 4:50 left, Green Bay’s punt was blocked deep in their own end, the ball took forever and a day to land on the ground, and the 49ers were there for the 6-yard touchdown return to tie the game.
  • San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould nailed a 45-yard field goal at the buzzer to win the game, 13-10.

That was a brutal special teams performance, but there is some solace in watching your weakness end your season. It hurts more when your strength lets you down, and that happened here too with the offense. Last season against the Buccaneers, it was the historically-great red zone offense that let down a couple times, including that famed sequence late that led to a field goal when the Packers were down eight points.

But this year? Things were all around sour after the opening drive. Lewis’ fumble was just a bad play by him, but it also speaks to the lack of a tight end after losing Robert Tonyan. The new running attack was stalled out when A.J. Dillon, who scored the touchdown, left with injury. Dillon and Jones combined for just 66 yards on 19 carries. Jones had 129 receiving yards to lead the team, but 75 of those yards were on that blown coverage before halftime. Rodgers only passed for 55 yards in the second half. A whopping 18 of his 20 completions went to Adams and Jones as only four Packers caught a ball.

Rodgers took five sacks against a defense that could barely touch him in Week 3. Nick Bosa was indeed a beast this time around. He probably dedicated the performance to Kyle Rittenhouse. The offensive line has not been as strong this year, and left tackle David Bakhtiari was not able to go again, but Rodgers took some really costly sacks in this one, a usual hallmark of a disappointing Green Bay loss.

The defense was not a scapegoat this time though. Garoppolo flirted with multiple picks, forced an awful one in the end zone on first down despite George Kittle being wide open, and his internal clock seemed to be frozen on this snowy, freezing night. But the 49ers also seemed to adjust better to the conditions than the Packers, which was weird. It was the 49ers hurting themselves more with drops, including a wide-open one by Kittle that would have been a big play. The 49ers hung in there, got the huge break on the blocked punt, and just waited for their chance as the Packers could not move the ball.

When Garoppolo just has to complete two quick passes for 26 yards to get a game-winning drive going, that’s going to be ideal for the 49ers. When you can just hand the ball to Samuel three times to get a first down that puts you in field-goal range, including a 9-yard run on third-and-7 where almost any other quarterback would have to make a huge throw, that’s stealing for the 49ers.

And they stole this victory away from Green Bay to end its season in one of the most painful ways possible. Rodgers was numb after the loss and that’s easy to understand. He has opened himself up to more criticism than ever before this season with the way he’s handled himself on podcasts and media interviews. I’m not going to pile on here. I’m just glad we don’t have to entertain the idea of him letting Brady get to a second Super Bowl in the NFC before he does. After this loss, I don’t think he will ever get back to the big game.

Matt LaFleur’s 2019-21 Packers are the first team in NFL history to win at least 13 games in three straight regular seasons. But they are also going to go down as the only team to win 39 games in a three-year span and not reach the Super Bowl.

Is this the end of an era of Hall of Fame quarterback play in Green Bay from 1992 through 2021? I don’t know what it’s like to watch an NFL where the Packers don’t have Favre or Rodgers. I got a little taste of it in 2013 and 2017 when he had his collarbone injuries, and yeah, the Packers weren’t relevant those weeks.

We’ll see what the future holds, but it’s crazy to think the 49ers are one win away from sending Jimmy Garoppolo to more Super Bowls than the Packers reached with Rodgers.

Bengals at Titans: Ryan Tannehill’s Interception Sudoku

I usually do not boil a playoff game down to one quarterback choking, but Ryan Tannehill choked this one away for the Titans, who fell to 0-3 in Tennessee in home playoff games as the No. 1 seed. They never scored more than 16 points in any of those games either. This comes on the heels of a 20-13 wild card loss to the Ravens last year in which Tannehill also had a late interception.

This time, Tannehill threw an interception on his first pass of the game, his first pass of the second half, and his last pass of the game. It’s like filling in an interception sudoku. He would have tried to add one in overtime if the game ever got there, and the fact that it didn’t is the most egregious part of this all.

Well, there’s also this fact: teams who score under 20 points and take nine sacks are 2-126-2 (.023) since 1960. The 1990 Seahawks had the first win against the Chiefs after Dave Krieg escaped Derrick Thomas’ final sack attempt. Now the Bengals have the first playoff win after Joe Burrow, who led the league in sacks taken this year (51), took nine sacks and still got the low-scoring road win. Tennessee’s pass rush was impressive at overwhelming the Bengals throughout the game, but it went to waste from an offensive performance that would make Jeff Fisher nod with approval.

The Titans waited basically all season to get their offense healthy for this playoff run. A.J. Brown was awesome with 142 yards and a one-handed touchdown catch. Julio Jones looked good with six grabs for 62 yards. Derrick Henry had screws in his foot, didn’t look quite ready for his 20-carry workload, but he scored a touchdown and had a few vintage runs. The Titans probably should have given D’Onta Foreman more touches as he had four carries for 66 yards, including a 45-yard run for the offense’s biggest play of the game.

But even after getting all his guys back, Tannehill did not go to them on the crucial play of the game. On a third-and-5 at his own 40 with 28 seconds left, Tannehill decided to force a pass at midfield to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. The result was a tipped interception, which set up the Bengals for their game-winning field goal with no time left after Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase for 19 yards. Evan McPherson has been an outstanding rookie kicker and he drilled a 52-yard field goal to win this game.

The last thing Tannehill could do was turn the ball over in bad field position. If he wanted to throw a bomb to Brown or Jones that was picked 40 yards downfield, that probably would get the game to overtime too. But with overtime in his back pocket, Tannehill got greedy and didn’t even pick a good option.

That was a killer, but so was the tipped pick after Foreman’s 45-yard run got the ball into the red zone. Mike Hilton made an incredible play on the ball, so it wasn’t all Tannehill’s fault, but he was not sharp in the game. The offensive line also did not get any push on a couple of key Henry runs, including a fourth-and-1 in a tied game with 7:16 left. Mike Vrabel is willing to chop his dick off for a Super Bowl ring, but he can’t get behind a quarterback sneak? Is he afraid he’ll have to actually go through with the castration if the Titans get a Super Bowl on his watch?

Watching Tannehill in the last three postseasons, where he averages 150.8 passing yards per game, I’m not sure Vrabel has to worry about any Super Bowl in the near future.

One thing blowing back on Vrabel from this game was his decision to go for a two-point conversion with the game tied at 6-6. It was early in the game (second quarter), the extra point puts Tennessee up 7-6, but I liked it just because there was a penalty that put the ball at the 1. I liked the call to give the ball to Henry, but he came up inches short and the game remained tied.

Would we have a 9-7 game at halftime if the Titans go for one? Probably. Would the Bengals go for two on their touchdown to start the third quarter to make it 17-7 instead of 16-7? Probably not. Do the Titans take a 17-16 lead late third quarter if they had gone for one? Good chance. But would Burrow still take a brutal sack that knocks the Bengals out of field goal range in the fourth quarter if he was down 17-16 instead of tied 16-16? Maybe, maybe not. The whole fourth quarter could play out much differently from there, so I’m not going to put the loss all on that one decision. There were more missed opportunities than that in the game. The Titans had three plays of 40-plus yards and turned those drives into just nine points.

It was the second year in a row that the Titans had an offensive letdown at home for a one-and-done postseason. Turn the ball over enough and you can lose to anyone in this league. If it’s true against the Texans in Week 11, it’s for sure true in the playoffs against Cincinnati.

After watching the Bills-Chiefs game on Sunday night, it’s still hard to believe the Titans beat both of those teams the way they did this year. It’s also hard to believe they could have done it again next week, or next year for that matter.

If Tannehill could learn anything from Burrow in this game, it may be that eating the ball is sometimes the smartest option. Don’t throw the game away.

Next week: Can we actually get a third Bengals-49ers Super Bowl? It’s the worst option available and would require two road upsets, but we’ll see. Personally, I want a rematch of 54-51 between the Rams and Chiefs. It’s the best matchup and provides the best storylines. Even 49ers-Chiefs isn’t so bad since it would be a rematch of Super Bowl LIV.