NFL Stat Oddity: Week 12

For as good as the Thanksgiving slate was, the Sunday schedule in Week 12 was never going to be strong enough to top it. But who could have imagined the Buccaneers (5-6), Rams (3-8), and Packers (4-8) would fall so far in the NFC?

  • Instead of getting a rematch of 54-51, or the great shootout Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford had in 2019, we got the Chiefs (hopefully) burning bad plays in the red zone as they toyed with the Bryce Perkins-led Rams.
  • If Jacoby Brissett never starts another game in Cleveland, good on him for ending it with a big comeback and overtime win against Tampa Bay, a team that is clearly not “back.”
  • Did we see the end of the Aaron Rodgers era in Green Bay on Sunday night? Injuries and a 4-8 record make it hard to justify putting him on the field again this season.

Since the 1970 merger, just 21.0% of NFL teams with 12+ wins have declined to a losing record the following season.

Now, the terrible NFC South may still save Tampa’s ass from a losing record this year, but if not, we’ll see history made as three 12-win teams in one conference will have declined to a losing record for the first time.

It would be only the third time it happened to three teams in the whole league in the same year.

1998 to 1999: Broncos (John Elway retired and Terrell Davis injured after four games), Falcons (Jamal Anderson injured after two games), and 49ers (Steve Young injured early).

2015 to 2016: Panthers, Bengals, and Cardinals – three teams who greatly overachieved in what became the peak of the Rivera/Newton, Lewis/Dalton, and Arians/Palmer eras.

So, there is something to watch for. As for Week 12, we had nine games with a comeback opportunity but three of them were on Thursday. I imagine Monday night (Steelers-Colts) will be a 10th, but we’ll see.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Packers at Eagles: All Things Must Pass

This is not the time for me to write the eulogy to Aaron Rodgers’ career, but there is a non-zero chance last night was the last time we see him play for Green Bay. When you start mixing a broken thumb with an oblique injury and a 4-8 record for a quarterback who turns 39 this Friday, you might be talking about the end of the road.

Rodgers left the game late in the third quarter in obvious pain and did not return. Jordan Love played well in his quarter of action, but it was too little too late after a wild start to this one in Philadelphia. Green Bay’s first five drives ended in three touchdowns and two interceptions.

But first, I’ll compliment the Eagles for scoring a season-high 40 points and showing some of that dynamic, explosive talent they’ll need if they are going to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and win it all.

Jalen Hurts became the first quarterback ever to rush and pass for at least 125 yards in a half. He finished with 157 yards on the ground, so two of the best rushing quarterback performances ever have come against Rodgers’ defense in games where his Packers scored at least 30 and the opponent scored at least 40. You remember 2012 Colin Kaepernick in the playoffs, right?

That kind of fits a nice bow on the Rodgers’ era in Green Bay, even if Love was the one wrapping this game up after entering to a 37-23 deficit. Philadelphia finished with 363 rushing yards.

What more can you say right now? The Packers are 1-7 in their last eight games. They have not won a game in regulation since beating Tampa Bay, another team on the downslide, 14-12 in Week 3.

No matter if Rodgers returns or if the Love era starts next week, this team is going to go through a rough period. We are seeing it in New Orleans after Drew Brees and Sean Payton departed. We are seeing it in Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger. We’ve seen it in Denver after Peyton Manning retired.

How long that rough period lasts is up to Matt LaFleur and getting this Love to Christian Watson connection going so that it could one day look something like Rodgers to Davante Adams did. Maybe it never will, but that’s just life in the NFL. All good things come to an end, and Green Bay fans were more fortunate than most to enjoy a Rodgers era right after Brett Favre took his last snap with the team in the 2007 season.

All things must pass.

Bengals at Titans: Take Away the Sacks and Turnovers, and Tennessee Still Loses

This game really floored me, because on the surface, Cincinnati’s 20-16 win was not unlike its 19-16 win in the playoffs last year. Except the two games really could not be more different, and I don’t just mean because neither Ja’Marr Chase (hip) nor A.J. Brown (foolish trade by Titans) were there for these offenses.

Cincinnati’s whole Super Bowl run was really a case study on mitigating sacks with interceptions. The Bengals took nine sacks in Tennessee, but they still won because Ryan Tannehill threw three costly interceptions.

But on Sunday, each quarterback took one sack, and there were zero turnovers in the game. Oh, Derrick Henry coughed up the ball on a 69-yard catch and run, but he was lucky that Treylon Burks was there for the recovery and that unique “other” offensive touchdown. What a way to score your first NFL touchdown.

But the stunning part is that this game was essentially the No. 1 run defense (Titans) against a bottom-ranked run defense missing its best back (Joe Mixon), and the Titans had King Henry. And yet, Samaje Perine outrushed Henry 58-38 in yards.

I never saw that coming. But the backs were big for the Bengals, especially in the receiving game as Perine usually is productive for this team on the road when they seek a big win. For 1.5 quarters, this was your typical matchup of a physical defense shutting down a one-dimensional passing offense. But one little throw to Perine that he took 32 yards changed everything in the second quarter, and it led to the Bengals’ first touchdown to tie the game at 10 before halftime.

That last half of the second quarter was a really pivotal sequence, because the Bengals got that touchdown, and the Titans botched a 35-yard field goal with their new kicker.

Points were hard to come by, but Joe Burrow got a great catch from Trenton Irwin to convert a third-and-12 with the game tied at 13 in the fourth quarter. One play later, Tee Higgins caught a 27-yard touchdown.

The Titans looked like they could answer, but a long drive stalled out and they settled for a 38-yard field goal with 6:07 left. A few more completions to Higgins and timely runs led the Bengals to another field goal, which was going to leave Tannehill about two minutes left for a game-tying touchdown opportunity.

But the Titans took a horrible penalty on the field goal for unnecessary roughness against the long snapper. It’s the right call by the rule, but it’s just such an unnecessary, foolish play by Tennessee. With the Titans out of timeouts and the automatic first down, the game was over. The long snapper took one win away from the Bengals in Week 1 against Pittsburgh, but it came through to seal one here.

Plenty of season left, but with both teams at 7-4, you can see a scenario where this is the No. 5/No. 4 or No. 6/No. 3 wild card matchup. That would not be a good thing for the Titans based on these last two matchups.

Ravens at Jaguars: The Streak Is Over

Thanks a lot, Ravens. Your historic ability to gain two-score leads and still lose the game has led to the end of one of my favorite streaks to point out.

The Jaguars had lost 41 games in a row when allowing more than 20 points, but that streak is no more after the 28-27 win that is the signature moment of Trevor Lawrence’s young career.

Time will tell if it’s the turning point for him, or if it’s just a case of getting bailed out against a team that has been blowing games like this throughout the season. But the Ravens were again culpable on multiple sides of the ball. It was the first time all season they did not lead by double digits, but they still led 19-10 in the fourth quarter. I also thought at the moment there was an argument for going for two to make it 20-10, but oh well.

The defense could have nipped things in the bud with a fourth-and-8 stop at 8:44, but they didn’t as Zay Jones caught a 27-yard pass. The special teams had a 6-yard kick return after Jacksonville’s touchdown cut it to 19-17, and then Gus Edwards coughed up the ball on the first snap from scrimmage. The Jaguars couldn’t get a first down but still took the lead on a field goal.

To his credit, Lamar Jackson made the big throw to DeSean Jackson for a 62-yard gain that set up a touchdown and two-point conversion for a 27-20 lead with 2:02 left. That should have been enough as 21 is the magic number to beat Jacksonville, but not on this Sunday.

Right after the two-minute warning, things easily could have ended after Calais Campbell strip-sacked Lawrence, but the offense was able to recover the ball. The Jags overcame a third-and-21 situation from that, another fourth down thanks to Marvin Jones, then another big play (29 yards) by Zay Jones to set up first-and-goal at the 10.

Lawrence went back to Marvin Jones in the end zone, and the ruling on the field was a touchdown. The review said call stands, not confirmed. Honestly, I did not see it as a touchdown. It looked like even if Jones’ shin got down in bounds, it happened simultaneously with his leg touching out of bounds, so it should have been incomplete with 14 seconds left to bring up second down. That was a huge gift.

The Jaguars decided to go for two, which isn’t that surprising under Doug Pederson. With such little time left and Jacksonville’s underdog, nothing to really play for status, I think it was a perfect call. Lawrence threw a great ball to Jones, and the Jaguars led 28-27.

Teams are now 14-of-29 when trying the go-ahead two-point conversion in the final 2:00 since 1994. Sunday was the first time we witnessed two successes in the same day.

But the short kickoff nearly backfired for Jacksonville as Lamar got the ball at his own 39 with 10 seconds left and two timeouts. We know Justin Tucker can hit from 66 yards with the help of a crossbar bounce, so the Ravens really just needed a solid 15-yard gain to give him a shot. I thought Jackson hesitated too long to get the ball to a slower tight end, who went for getting out of bounds instead of having the team use their timeout after he went down. It gained 12 yards, but something better could have been done there.

Still, Tucker would get a chance to further cement his GOAT status. He already has the record at 66, now he could hit from 67 yards and deliver another epic win. So often we see these really long attempts get blocked or they are nowhere even close. But Tucker was actually straight on with his kick. It just didn’t have enough to get over the crossbar and fell short. A few more yards would have done the trick for Baltimore.

But this Baltimore team just seems destined to keep coming up short.

Buccaneers at Browns: We’re Only Going to Score 17 Points?

I had a hard time picking this week’s upset special, because I couldn’t use any Thanksgiving game or Monday night’s Steelers-Colts game, and I was already doing a preview on Bengals-Titans. I sure as hell wasn’t picking the Saints, Rams, or Texans to beat the 49ers, Chiefs, or Dolphins.

I landed on Bucs-Browns, because I knew this Tampa team is still a fraud trying to make the playoffs solely because of the division it plays in, and the Browns are better than their record, and Jacoby Brissett would want to show out in his final start before Predator is back on the field next week.

In the end, it all worked out, but it sure didn’t look like we’d get to this point.

Not when Amari Cooper flat out dropped a fourth-and-9 ball while the Browns trailed 17-10 in the fourth quarter.

Not when Brissett needed to go 95 yards and only got 18 yards there after taking a third-down sack with under three minutes left.

But as has been the case many times in his career, Tom Brady stunk in the four-minute offense and couldn’t close the game. His incompletion on a second down saved the Browns time, and then Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney combined for a third-down sack to force another three-and-out.

Brissett only had to drive 46 yards for the tie after the punt, but he had help this time. Nick Chubb still has not been held under 80 rushing yards in the same season three weeks in a row since the first three games of his career when he was a backup. He made up for last week’s career-worst game with 116 yards and a touchdown in this one. But his 28-yard run after the two-minute warning got the team believing.

However, it was soon fourth-and-10. Brissett threw to the back middle of the end zone for David Njoku, and the tight end cemented his late bloomer year with a one-handed catch for a brilliant touchdown with 32 seconds left.

On a day where multiple teams were going for two in this spot, I can’t say I disagreed with the extra point. Not when you’re playing the LOAT and he can just chuck up some awful pass to Mike Evans and get 30 yards on a defensive pass interference penalty.

But with this game, we further saw the impact of the coaching deterioration around Brady. The downgrade from Bill Belichick to Bruce Arians showed up the last two years, and this year’s downgrade to Todd Bowles has been even more glaring.

Tampa Bay had all three timeouts and 32 seconds. That’s an eternity in today’s NFL to set up a field goal. But the Bucs took their time after a 1-yard completion and ended up with a 26-yard completion to Julio Jones out to midfield with only 8 seconds left. Terrible clock management. Surprisingly, Brady’s Hail Mary attempt was not caught, which is about the only lucky style of win he has never pulled off in his career.

In overtime, it looked like Tampa was going to get points on the first drive, but an illegal hands to the face call set up a third-and-14. Brady threw incomplete after pressure from Garrett again. After the Browns went three-and-out, you again expected the game-winning field goal from Tampa, but Garrett was on one Sunday and sacked Brady on another third down.

At this point, a tie comes to mind, but Amari Cooper was wide open on a blown coverage for a 45-yard gain to the 3-yard line. Two plays later, Chubb was in the end zone for the 23-17 win with 19 seconds left.

If this is it for Brissett, he did a better job than I expected he would in Cleveland. He is No. 7 in QBR (61.2) through Week 12. So, you can understand the appeal of Deshaun Watson in this already very functional offense if he can get back to the player he was and give the team a bigger edge in these close games that were not Brissett’s specialty, Sunday withstanding.

Of course, everything about the contract just feels gross, but this is what the Browns signed up for. It could be a spectacle in Houston next week, assuming anyone cares to show up to watch the worst team in the league host the NFL’s version of Bill Cosby.

Raiders at Seahawks: Josh Jacobs Is Reaching Henry/Chubb Territory

Josh Jacobs was one of those first-round running backs who really had no business going in the first round. Guys like Tony Pollard, Miles Sanders, and David Montgomery were sitting there in rounds 2-4 of the same 2019 draft.

But I must admit, Jacobs is taking off in Josh McDaniels’ offense, which is good news since it wiped out any effectiveness Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow had with Derek Carr. Jacobs is getting into that Nick Chubb/Derrick Henry territory with the season he’s having.

Jacobs put the team on his back again and amassed 303 yards from scrimmage in Seattle, including an 86-yard game-winning touchdown run in overtime. Jacobs rushed for 229 yards, the third time this season he set his career high in rushing in a game. He previously had 144 yards against Denver and 154 yards against Kansas City.

Remember when Seattle’s run defense looked like trash when the team was 2-3? Well, we are back to that point. The Munich game against Tampa Bay was a huge red flag things weren’t right again, and now the Raiders and Jacobs may have just damaged Seattle’s playoff chances. The Seattle running game was also MIA for the second game in a row.

Seattle’s offense was largely a dud down the stretch, scoring once on the final five drives, and going three-and-out in overtime before Jacobs’ big run. I hate giving credit to Carr for a handoff game-winning drive, but he earned his stripes this week with the 75-yard touchdown drive to force overtime. He even did it without a single penalty on the Seahawks this time.

The Raiders could be so much better than their 4-7 record, but those blown 17-point leads are going to haunt them. The Seahawks are now the No. 8 seed in the NFC, and they are 1-3 at game-winning drive opportunities.

This one will sting the most.

Rams at Chiefs: Red Zone Practice?

God damn, that Vegas is too good. Even with the Rams starting an unknown commodity in quarterback Bryce Perkins, they still were all over the spread (fluctuated between 15.5 to 16.5 before kickoff) in a 26-10 final, and they were right in the ballpark on Perkins’ rushing yards (44 yards on an over/under of 42.5).

But Perkins only passed for 100 yards, so maybe the passing game still had too high of expectations without Cooper Kupp or Allen Robinson available.

But this was sort of a game because of how bad the Chiefs were in the red zone. The “Chiefs are so creative in the red zone” announcer line is becoming the new “Antonio Gates played basketball” or “Ryan Fitzpatrick went to Harvard” line for Kansas City games.

Yes, we know they do some tricky stuff down there. But I swear before playoff time I want to check their home-road splits on red zone performance since 2018, because it sure feels like they try way too much cutesy shit at home and it doesn’t work out enough.

The Chiefs were 1-for-6 at scoring touchdowns in the red zone in this game, which was the only thing keeping the spread alive and the Rams within 10 points in the fourth quarter. Patrick Mahomes became the fourth quarterback ever to pass for over 320 yards in six straight games, but he threw a no-look pass that was intercepted in the end zone for his biggest blunder of the day.

But the Rams turned it over two plays later, and the Chiefs made that count for another field goal. They did the same thing on Perkins’ second pick to get to 26-10 and a cover after the Rams couldn’t get far on their final drive. The Rams couldn’t connect on a play longer than 16 yards.

The Chiefs have been great in the red zone this season, but Sunday was a disaster there. Let’s hope they learned some things about plays that don’t work when they take on the Bengals next week.

Chargers at Cardinals: Two-or-Die Take Two

This felt like a high-scoring, close game where the studs would show up, and it was exactly that. DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, James Conner, and Austin Ekeler all scored touchdowns.

But after the Cardinals took a 24-17 lead three plays into the fourth quarter, both defenses were taking control of the game. We saw six punts in a row, and it felt like Arizona had a great chance to win after sacking Justin Herbert and forcing a punt with 2:19 left.

Four-minute offense is the best way to close out a game, yet we see it butchered so often in this league. No one is asking for another score. Just get a first down or two to end the game. I’ll give Arizona credit for calling a pass on second down, but Kyler Murray took a bad sack and that all but derailed the drive.

Herbert had nearly a full two minutes, and he only needed to drive 38 yards after a good punt return and penalty on the Cardinals. Ekeler is incredible in space, and he made the most of those little catches on the drive to eventually break the plane and score with 15 seconds left.

Like Jacksonville earlier in the day against Baltimore, the Chargers went for two and the lead and likely win. I agreed with both calls on this day. The Chargers ran an excellent play with Allen drawing the defenders and leaving Gerald Everett wide open on the slant for the 25-24 lead.

The Cardinals were in a tough spot, but I’m not sure what Murray thought he was throwing on the last play, which fell incomplete at midfield. It was his first game all season with Marquise Brown and Hopkins together, and he still didn’t throw for 200 yards.

Herbert found a way to get it done after taking four sacks and leading the team in rushing with 38 yards. It is his 10th fourth-quarter comeback win, which joins Russell Wilson (10) and Derek Carr (12) as the only quarterbacks with at least 10 of those in their first three seasons.

Bears at Jets: Pour One Out for Zach Wilson?

There was something very amusing about watching Mike White and Trevor Siemian have a passing duel in the rain that you just suspect Justin Fields and Zach Wilson wouldn’t have matched.

But Siemian, after 116 yards in an impressive first quarter, disappointed the rest of the game while White put on another show with 315 yards and three touchdowns in an easy 31-10 win.

It’s pretty amazing that the Jets drafted Wilson with the No. 2 pick in 2021, they have four games with a quarterback going over 300 yards and three touchdowns ever since, but none of them were with Wilson at quarterback.

Two belong to Mike White, the first Jets quarterback to do this twice since Ken O’Brien. Josh Johnson had one last year and Joe Flacco did it this year.

The Wilson era may not be done in New York, but it is impossible to ignore that the best performances at that position since Robert Saleh took over as coach have come with the backup quarterbacks.

Maybe White gets exposed the next two weeks when they play the Vikings and Bills on the road, but it is hard to see how he doesn’t deserve to keep starting after what he has shown and how little Wilson has done for this offense.

Hurry-Up Finish

Another busy week ahead, so here are the final four games.

Broncos at Panthers: The Lowest Point Yet for Russell Wilson

Can it get much lower than this for Russell Wilson? Sure, it was another low-scoring game that hit the under (36.5) despite it being one of the lowest unders in any NFL game played before December in the last decade.

But at least in the first 10 Denver games this season, it was always a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Wilson always had a chance to pull it out late. The best he could do on the road against a 3-8 Carolina team starting Sam Darnold was a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter.

Denver’s only field goal drive in the game started at the Carolina 27, traveled 18 yards, and Wilson did not have a dropback on it. Even the lone touchdown drive came after a roughing the passer penalty negated an incompletion on fourth-and-18.

The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team since 2002 to fail to score 17 points nine times in their first 11 games. Look at the quarterback class Wilson is involved with here:

  • 2004 Redskins (QB Mark Brunell)
  • 2008 Rams (QB Marc Bulger)
  • 2009 Raiders (QB JaMarcus Russell)
  • 2011 Jaguars (QB Blaine Gabbert)
  • 2011 Rams (QB Sam Bradford)
  • 2022 Broncos (QB Russell Wilson)

Even Jimmy Clausen and the 2010 Panthers aren’t on this list anymore (8-of-11 games). This is pathetic.

Texans at Dolphins: Poor Bryce Young

If the Texans thought starting Kyle Allen would give the offense a boost, they were wrong. Turnovers contributed to Miami taking a 30-0 lead into halftime.

Now I’m usually all for pulling your key starters in a blowout but taking Tua Tagovailoa out with a 30-6 lead with 3:18 left in the third quarter was pretty bold by Mike McDaniel. At least go another drive and aim for the four-score lead in the fourth quarter before you take out Tua, Tyreek Hill, and Jaylen Waddle at the very least.

At the same time, I kind of like the disrespect it showed to Houston, because this is one shitty team that had no real hope of making up 24 points. However, rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson fumbled a snap, and the Texans were in the end zone after starting at midfield.

Before you knew it, the Texans were only down 30-15 and had the ball with 7:12 left. Fortunately, the defense closed it out with another big sack and interception of Allen on the next two drives, preserving the 14-point cover for the win.

Miami’s offense finished with 23 points while only hitting one 30-yard play, allowing five sacks, and they could not get the running game going (26 carries for 66 yards) against what has been a laughingstock run defense all year long. We’ll need to see better play against the 49ers next week.

As for Houston, at least they probably can’t blow getting the No. 1 pick. But please do not let this coaching staff anywhere near Alabama quarterback Bryce Young or which ever signal caller they pick.

Falcons at Commanders: Oh, Now You Pass?

Even when the Buccaneers blow a game in Cleveland, the Falcons fail to capitalize. This was a very winnable game with the Falcons down 19-13, but they had first-and-goal at the 2 with 1:10 left.

For a team that wants to run the ball as much as possible, how do you not go to Cordarrelle Patterson here? Maybe even four times if necessary. Instead, the Falcons tried to run in Marcus Mariota, and he lost 2 yards, but at least it burned the final timeout for Washington.

So, with 63 seconds left, why on earth would you try to throw for a touchdown to take a 20-19 lead with a whole minute left when a field goal beats you? The Commanders were out of timeouts. The second down was the perfect spot to run the ball and take that clock down under 30 seconds.

But they tried to pass, and Mariota was intercepted on a tipped ball. Disaster. Atlanta still had all three timeouts, so it wasn’t over, but they managed to botch that too by running into the punter, which gave Washington a first down and ended the game. Pretty lousy time to have your second penalty of the game.

But an even worse time to go to Mariota on back-to-back plays on first and second down with goal-to-go.

Saints at 49ers: Sean Payton and Drew Brees Would Never…

The last time the Saints were shut out was the 2001 season finale, a 38-0 loss to the 49ers. Well, the 49ers got them again with a 13-0 shutout that didn’t really feel like the final score.

Hard to imagine many 13-0 games where each team only had nine possessions. The Saints are just the 14th team since the 1970 merger to get shut out in a game with a maximum of two turnovers and four punts from their side.

But the two fumbles by Alvin Kamara were crucial. The one on the opening drive set up a short field for a field goal by the 49ers, and the late one at the 1-yard line was a crazy play with him trying so hard to score and not securing the ball. It was nearly the third offensive fumble recovery for a touchdown of the day, but the 49ers got the ball instead.

Nick Bosa secured the shutout with a ridiculously timed jump for a sack of Andy Dalton on a fourth-and-goal from the 4. The 49ers were able to run out the final 6:18 on the clock to get the cover (-8.5) and the 13-0 win. Interestingly enough, Jordan Mason, who had five career carries coming into the day, got the final four carries for the 49ers to pick up the last two first downs.

Does that mean Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell are injured again? We’ll see. Big test coming next week against Miami.

Next Week

  • Good news: It looks #greatonpaper
  • We’ll see if Bill Belichick can control the weather again for Buffalo this Thursday night.
  • Lock the doors, hide your wife, hide your daughters, it’s Deshaun Watson Week in Houston.
  • Can Mike White be the one to end Minnesota’s close-game winning streak?
  • Biggest Washington-Giants game in many years.
  • Can Derrick Henry get an upset going in Philly?
  • 49ers-Dolphins is an outstanding matchup of offense vs. defense
  • Chiefs-Bengals is a premiere matchup, especially if Ja’Marr Chase returns

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 11

Week 11 showed the value of flex scheduling in the NFL as the fifth round of Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert on Sunday night salvaged a day of bad football where we didn’t even learn that much:

  • The Patriots still own the Jets even if neither belongs anywhere near the postseason.
  • The Eagles and Bills can still win without bringing their A game, especially if they get to play the Browns and Colts.
  • The Broncos, Panthers, and Texans still can’t score points, and the Bears can’t score them when you need them on the last drive.
  • Kirk Cousins and the Vikings didn’t waste any time to make my claims that they are frauds look valid, losing 40-3 to Dallas.
  • Mahomes is still in his own tier of quarterbacks and the MVP race is likely over.

At least it was cool to see a kick return touchdown and a punt return touchdown of great significance in the same time slot.

We had seven games with a comeback opportunity, though the Jets-Patriots game was so bad that it technically didn’t qualify as one in the sense that neither offense had the ball in the fourth quarter while trailing.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Chargers: The Best Division Rivalry Going

It really does not matter that the Chiefs are 4-1 in these Patrick Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert showdowns. Every game had a lead change in the fourth quarter or overtime, and no division rivalry since 2020 has been more exciting to watch than when these two go at it.

I thought the Week 15 matchup on a Thursday night was the best game of the 2021 regular season. Travis Kelce ended that one 34-28 in overtime. Kelce was at it again on Sunday night with three touchdowns, including the game winner with 31 seconds left in one of this year’s best games. The Chiefs in prime time have been must-see TV this year, and with the way Mahomes has played in these high-profile games, it is hard to see anyone else winning the MVP award now.

This one may have sealed it up as he excelled despite not having top wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman. Kadarius Toney was supposed to be his new toy and he left this game with zero catches and another hamstring injury (story of his career).

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was a huge disappointment with one 18-yard catch, but at least he picked the first play of the game-winning drive to have an impact. After a back-and-forth final quarter with the teams exchanging fumbles, it really didn’t seem like the Chiefs were going to pull it off this time after Herbert threw a touchdown to Josh Palmer with 1:46 left to take a 27-23 lead. Herbert converted a third-and-18 on the drive to Keenan Allen, who made up for his fumble with his best game of an injury-ravaged season.

But it felt like the depleted wide receiver corps was going to catch up to Mahomes in this spot. Kelce is great, but why wouldn’t the Chargers just double him and force these receivers like MVS and rookie Skyy Moore to step up? Remember, it was Moore who Mahomes tried throwing to against Buffalo on the game-ending interception in Week 6.

But Moore seized this opportunity and played his best game with five catches for 63 yards, and he didn’t fumble a punt.

Mahomes also used his legs well as he often does against the Chargers. He had two scrambles for 22 yards on the final drive. After his 16-yard run, he found Kelce left in single coverage again and the Hall of Famer strutted his way 17 yards for the go-ahead touchdown to take a 30-27 lead. The best duo in the game did it again to the Chargers.

There was enough time for the Chargers to answer with three timeouts, but Herbert seemed to draw inspiration from Mahomes’ runs on the GWD. But when he tried to run himself on a weird, almost QB draw look, the Chiefs read it well and pounced on him for a 5-yard loss that went down as a sack.

On the next play, Herbert just tried to force a throw and it was tipped and intercepted on the deflection to end the game. The Tony Romo is strong in this one as Herbert suffers another fourth-quarter interception in prime time in a game where he did do his job earlier.

But Mahomes just does a better job than anyone at the position. A lot of decent quarterbacks can lead one big touchdown drive, especially if given multiple attempts, but how often do you see someone do it multiple times after his defense squanders the lead?

This is already the fourth comeback win in Mahomes’ career where he had to lead multiple go-ahead touchdown drives in the fourth quarter or overtime (2019 Lions, 2020 Raiders, 2021 Bills in playoffs, and Sunday night in LA). Four times.

Do you know how many of Tom Brady’s 52 fourth-quarter comeback wins saw him lead multiple go-ahead touchdown drives? Try one, and it was against Mahomes in the 2018 AFC Championship Game after Mahomes twice put the Chiefs ahead in the fourth before losing 37-31 after the overtime coin flip.

That could have been a fifth time for Mahomes, and this doesn’t include last year’s OT win against the Chargers were Mahomes led two game-tying touchdown drives plus a game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.

Even when the Chargers pressure him better than most, Mahomes always seems to find Kelce or an open receiver on third downs. The Chargers stopped Mahomes from scoring on four drives: one was the Jerick McKinnon fumble, and another was the end of the first half (14-second drive).

The Chargers (5-5) are in a tough spot for the playoffs and likely just lost the division again to the Chiefs (8-2), who should win it for a seventh year in a row, just the third team to do so. But once again, this Los Angeles team is so close to doing something great. The Chargers led in the fourth quarter in both games against the Chiefs this year. If they could ever find a way to stay healthy and hang on, then these standings could look very different right now if the Chargers were 7-3 and the Chiefs were 6-4.

But until the Chargers figure out how to close these games, they are going to play second fiddle to Mahomes and Kelce.

Join the club.

Cowboys at Vikings: Frauds, He Said

I spent a decent part of my week preparing why I think the 2022 Vikings are frauds, how Kirk Cousins was statistically having his worst season, and why I liked Dallas to end this streak of close wins. Minnesota could have been the first team in NFL history to win eight straight games by 1-to-8 points.

Well, the Vikings are still perfect in close games this year because they just got their asses handed to them 40-3 at home by Dallas.

This game was over before halftime with the Vikings faceplanting worse than usual against a top opponent. This was one of the top beatdowns of the season:

  • The Vikings had one play gain more than 15 yards (17-yard run by Dalvin Cook with 5 yards tacked on for defensive holding).
  • Dallas RB Tony Pollard was untouched on touchdown catches of 30 and 68 yards.
  • The Cowboys threw four incomplete passes (26-of-30) and allowed zero sacks.
  • Ezekiel Elliott only had 15 carries for 42 yards in his return game, but he still scored two touchdowns.
  • Kirk Cousins was sacked seven times as the offensive line was overwhelmed by Dallas’ tough front.
  • Cousins didn’t throw a pick, but he lost an early fumble and finished with 105 yards passing (not excluding the 49 lost on sacks).
  • Third downs: Dallas was 12-of-17 and Minnesota was 1-of-11.
  • Cowboys led 23-3 at halftime and won 40-3 with both teams pulling starters early.

If it wasn’t for the Buffalo meltdown last week, the Vikings would have ugly double-digit losses to the Eagles and Cowboys, and a bad loss to Buffalo where they were down 17 points. Otherwise, they would be 7-0 with a handful of close wins over some pretty weak teams they had to come back against in the fourth quarter.

In other words, a Minnesota season you could understand instead of the one we have where the Vikings are now 8-2 with a minus-2 scoring differential thanks to this game.

Yes, this is historic. The 2022 Vikings are the first 8-2 team with a negative scoring differential. There were a handful of 7-3 teams to do so, including the 2020 Browns who were 7-3 with a minus-23 differential.

We get to see this Minnesota team again on Thursday night against a Bill Belichick defense that just held the Jets to a field goal in 60 minutes. Sounds fun.

But watch out for these Cowboys. Using Pollard more can open up that offense in ways we’re not used to, maybe they’ll sign Odell Beckham soon enough to go with CeeDee Lamb, and that defense can get after it. The only thing missing is our trust that Mike McCarthy won’t screw it up in the playoffs. From the team that brought us the quarterback draw with no timeouts against the 49ers, that is still a big dilemma to have.

But what a performance on Sunday to make me not have to eat crow with my turkey and stuffing this week after putting down the Vikings.

Eagles at Colts: The Stench of Frank Reich Was Strong in This One

This game was supposed to be Frank Reich taking on his former assistant and Eagles coach Nick Sirianni, but it turned out to be interim coach Jeff Saturday nearly pulling off a 2-0 start and handing the Eagles a losing streak.

Alas, it ended up being the kind of disappointing loss that fits in so well with the rest of the Reich era in Indy. The Colts blew a 13-3 lead in the fourth quarter, the kicker let them down again, the defense let them down late, and the offense couldn’t answer when all that was needed was a field goal. One that probably would have missed anyway, but at least the chance was there.

The Colts could have taken a 16-3 lead into the fourth quarter, but Chase McLaughlin was wide right on a 50-yard field goal with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Eagles had lost 43 games in a row when trailing by double digits to start the fourth quarter. The last win was in 2010 against the Giants in the DeSean Jackson punt return touchdown game. The Eagles had two wins (2012 Buccaneers and 2020 Giants) since then when trailing by double digits at any point in the fourth quarter, but this stat is based on the start of the fourth.

After the front-running Eagles finally scored a touchdown, Jonathan Taylor and A.J. Brown inexplicably traded fumbles. The Colts drove to the Philadelphia 5, but the overpaid offensive line again faltered, and Matt Ryan took a third-down sack, forcing another field goal attempt and 16-10 lead.

With 4:37 left, Jalen Hurts used his arm and legs to put together arguably the most significant drive of his career to this point. He finished it off with a scramble right up the middle for a 7-yard touchdown run with 1:20 left for a 17-16 lead.

Ryan only needed a field goal to win, and he has been solid with game-winning drives this season. But the drive stalled quickly with Brandon Graham forcing a big sack (no flag this week after the Taylor Heinicke cheapie on Monday night), and Ryan checked down on fourth-and-21 to end the game. Christ, Matt.

The Eagles escaped to move to 9-1, but they are looking might ordinary these days. I really would have liked to see Saturday pull out the win if only to continue tearing down the mythos and dumb conventional wisdom for how coaches are hired in this league. If someone with almost no experience can beat the team with the best record in the league, then what does that tell you about the job? Stop gatekeeping it from people who know the game but maybe aren’t in the right good old boy network.

Browns at Bills: Was Nick Chubb Wearing Snow Boots?

The Browns and Bills avoided a major blizzard with over 75 inches of snow by having the game moved to the comfy dome in Detroit. But if you thought the Bills would light it up indoors with Josh Allen trying to clean up his recent mistakes, you would have been wrong. The Bills actually approached this game as if it was a snow game as the usually limited running game piled up 86 yards each from Devin Singletary and rookie James Cook.

Those 172 yards almost matched what Allen (197) passed for in the game. Meanwhile, the Bills flexed their muscles on defense by holding Nick Chubb to 14 carries for 19 yards. Chubb had never been held to under 2.0 yards per carry on more than three carries in his career until Sunday.

But it was a mixed bag for the defense as a hole as Jacoby Brissett passed for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Sure, two touchdowns came after the Bills led 28-10, but they still required a shaky onside kick recovery in the final minute to end the game at 31-23. The Bills were also fortunate to recover a fumbled snap and block a 34-yard field goal in the third quarter.

The lack of passing had Stefon Diggs frustrated on the sideline, but he did manage to catch a short touchdown. Allen finished without an interception after a three-game streak with multiple picks.

It wasn’t the kind of performance that would make anyone who jumped off the Buffalo bandwagon hop back on, but it was a relatively low-stress win during a chaotic week for the area with the snow and the awful loss the Bills had a week ago to Minnesota.

Now we’ll see them right back in Detroit on Thursday for the early Thanksgiving game. Weird how that turned out, but you can also probably expect a better challenge from the Lions than what the Browns had here despite the final score.

Bengals at Steelers: So Much for Week 1

This rematch was like night and day from Week 1. Both offenses looked good this time, though the Bengals sustained their performance for the full game behind a big road performance from Joe Burrow (355 yards and four touchdowns) while the Steelers basically fell apart in the second half after their best 30 minutes of offense in a long time.

Nothing sums it up better than this: Pittsburgh trailed 27-23 on two fourth quarter drives that made it inside the Cincinnati 40, and the offense ended up punting on both possessions.

Meanwhile, the defense did create a few picks, including a great one by T.J. Watt, but the offense just didn’t make them count after putting up 20 points before halftime. Burrow, who was only sacked twice after seven times in the opener, also had too easy of a time throwing three touchdowns to backup running back Samaje Perine.

Kenny Pickett finished another game without an interception, but I’d like to see something better than two first downs on the first seven possessions out of halftime. That’s where the game was lost.

I had the stat last week about how Andy Dalton never scored more than 21 points in 17 starts (16 with Cincinnati) against Pittsburgh. The defense can still handle Dalton as last week showed, but someone of Burrow’s talent is a different story. If not for a blocked extra point or missed 29-yard field goal in overtime in Week 1, Burrow would have four straight wins over the Steelers with at least 23 points scored in each game. He already has as many wins as Dalton, who is 3-14 against Pittsburgh.

But the 37-30 final was not lost on me in Bengals-Steelers lore as it made me think of the time Ben Roethlisberger lost a 38-31 game at home to Carson Palmer and the 2005 Bengals, the last time it really felt like the Bengals had an unstoppable offense that could do real damage to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. That was also the first time Roethlisberger led the Steelers to 30 points and lost.

This was the first time Pickett led his team to 30 points, and he can join a nice list of quarterbacks like Dan Marino and Peyton Manning to lose their first start when they score 30 points (regardless of venue). But that last touchdown had a smell of garbage time to it, or maybe it was just the fluke catch by Olszewski to put the ball at the 1-yard line after a defender tipped it.

Such is life with a young, unproven quarterback. The first half had me as encouraged as I’ve been all season with Pickett. The second half had me wondering what this team will do with a high draft pick.

But it was a big win for the Bengals (6-4), who need all the wins they can get with the games they have left.

Jets at Patriots: You Had One Job

I cannot believe I am saying this, but the Patriots deserved this win, and they did not cheat to get it. That was not a block in the back on the game-winning punt return touchdown with five seconds left. He contacted the Jets player at his shoulder. Clean play, and the latest game-winning punt return in a fourth quarter since Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson did it with no time left against the Giants in 2010.

New England’s 14th-straight win over the Jets was the hardest-earned yet, but it was deserving with the Patriots holding the Jets to 2 yards of offense after halftime. The Patriots never found the end zone on offense either in this 3-3 deadlock, but they should have had two more field goals if not for a bad wind day that caused havoc on the kicks.

Despite taking six sacks, Mac Jones was 23-of-27 for 246 yards. You know, actual NFL quarterback stuff.

But Zach Wilson? The fact that he escaped with zero interceptions on the stat sheet is a flat out travesty as the Patriots flat out dropped multiple picks.

Wilson’s success rate was 1-for-15 in the second half. If we include a play negated by penalty, then he was 2-for-16. His best play of the second half was taking a sack on third-and-10 that was negated for a defensive holding penalty for an automatic first down. The 5 yards gained on that penalty were more than the 2 yards the Jets gained on offense after halftime.

But that drive would end after Wilson threw a swing pass on third-and-1 that lost 2 yards and set up the Jets for fourth-and-3 deep in their own end. They had no choice but to punt and likely go to overtime where this shitshow had 3-3 tie written all over it.

This game needed a return touchdown to avoid a tie, but you expected it to come from the defense after one of these quarterbacks made a mistake. Instead, it came from New England’s special teams as Marcus Jones was able to go 84 yards for the first punt return touchdown in the 2022 NFL season with five seconds left. Incredible. Jones was third in the league in punt return average (13.4) coming into the week and you can move him up to at least No. 2 after this one.

The Jets were pathetic in every sense of the word on offense, and Wilson was a huge part of the problem despite the zero interceptions in the box score.

But if you thought there would be any accountability on his part, even a standard “I have to be better” response, you weren’t getting it from Wilson after the game:

He said “no” as quickly and decisively as if someone asked me if I wanted mushrooms on my burger. This makes Pittsburgh’s loss to the Jets and Wilson look a lot worse than it did the day it happened. They really let this little prick score two touchdowns on them in the fourth quarter at home.

I really hope we don’t see either one of these teams in the playoffs. Give us a Joe Burrow vs. Justin Herbert game any day over this.

Lions at Giants: Felt Like Preseason Expectations

The preseason odds show the Giants being slightly more favored to do something this year than the Lions, but it sure felt like more people were on the Lions going into this season. Maybe it was Dan Campbell’s quotes and Hard Knocks, but the Giants mostly just had that easy schedule going for them and the hope that Brian Daboll could do something with Daniel Jones.

Well, on Sunday he got the first 300-yard game out of Jones this year, but it came because Saquon Barkley was shut down (15 carries for 22 yards) and the Giants were trailing for the last 35 minutes.

Jones doubled his season interception count from two to for and the Lions were able to win 31-18 after Jamaal Williams scored three more touchdowns.

It wasn’t a flashy Lions performance. It was just good trench play with rookie Aidan Hutchinson intercepting Jones in the second quarter to start the ball rolling Detroit’s way. Jared Goff avoided the big mistakes Jones didn’t, and Barkley just had nothing going on the ground for his worst game of the season.

This is much more in line with the team we envisioned Campbell would have in Detroit this year. Not the team that was No. 1 on offense, No. 32 on defense after four or five games. Detroit has won three in a row with more of the defensive approach expected.

The Giants are still okay at 7-3, but you can see how things could spiral out of control here with the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, an improved Washington team twice, the Eagles twice, and the Vikings in Minnesota.

Actually, if Jones doesn’t resume his winning ways against Washington, there is a real chance this team could miss the playoffs in exchange for Washington making it. That’s how bad it hurts to lose this Detroit game, since that was the kind of “winnable” game that had the Giants feasting on a 7-2 start.

Bears at Falcons: Cordarrelle Runs into the Record Book

Without Khalil Herbert available, Chicago’s historic rushing streak did come to an end with only 160 yards after a record five straight games of 230-plus yards on the ground.

But by losing 27-24 in Atlanta, the team did make some more history. The 2022 Bears are the first team in NFL history to lose four straight games when rushing for at least 160 yards. The Bears are also the fourth team in NFL history to lose at least four straight games when scoring at least 24 points. The 2011-12 Saints hold the record with a five-game losing streak.

It happened in what has become a familiar fashion this year. The Bears had another double-digit lead, but that was short-lived after Cordarrelle Patterson returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown, his ninth, setting a new record and breaking a tie with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington.

The Bears were down 24-17 to start the fourth quarter, but that left plenty of time for a time-consuming drive that took up over half the quarter to tie the game at 24 with David Montgomery’s touchdown run.

The Falcons had their own long drive on the ground with Patterson making the key conversion on a fourth down. That led to a 53-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo, and he did not disappoint this time with 1:47 left.

So once again, Fields was in the two-minute drill and only needed a field goal with nearly a full two minutes and three timeouts. Tons of time. But where most teams would throw the ball against a bad defense, the Bears started the drive with two designed runs. Fields gained 5 yards and took two big hits and looked injured.

On third-and-5, he was late and high on a short throw that was tipped and intercepted to effectively end the game. Now there are reports he had a shoulder injury after running 18 times for 85 yards in the game.

The Bears are 3-8 and heading nowhere with a quarterback who is now 1-8 at fourth-quarter comebacks and 2-8 at all game-winning drive opportunities. The second win was against Houston this year when Davis Mills threw a pick in a tied game and Fields just had to take two knees to set up a 30-yard field goal. Even he couldn’t screw that one up.

Fantasy nerds are eating this offense up because of the rushing points, but how is any of this sustainable when it isn’t winning games, Fields isn’t developing as a passer, he isn’t closing games out since he isn’t passing when they need to, and it doesn’t appear he can stay healthy on this rushing workload?

And nice trade for Chase Claypool. He has 32 yards in three games.

After this game, I’m out on the Chicago passing game the rest of the season.

Hurry-Up Finish

Busy week ahead, so here are the final four games.

Raiders at Broncos: The Most Predictable One-Score Game of Week 11

If you knew these teams this year, then you knew this would be another one-score, low-scoring game. Some great kicking helped things get to overtime tied at 16, but it could have ended in regulation if the Raiders scored a touchdown from the Denver 7.

But the Raiders won the coin toss, and Derek Carr only needed two throws to beat the Broncos with a 35-yard touchdown to Davante Adams. Nice route, but I have no idea what the coverage was trying to accomplish against one of the best receivers in the game.

Carr passed for over 300 yards in Denver for the fourth season in a row, picking up the win for the third straight year to complete a sweep of the embarrassing Broncos. For all the talk about firing Josh McDaniels during the season, this sweep just might be the final nail for Nathaniel Hackett in Denver. They can let this thing play out for 17 games, but he looks completely out of his element.

Panthers at Ravens: To Think They Were Favored by a Baker’s Dozen

I really liked Panthers +13, but a game that barely broke 13 total points? What the hell? This was the second game this season that was tied 3-3 after the third quarter. The Buccaneers-Saints also did it.

There were a few surprise interceptions from big men to keep the score down in this one. Lamar Jackson had one early and Baker Mayfield had one late. Jackson ended up squeezing a game-winning drive out of this one on a 37-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

Two plays later, the Panthers fumbled on a reception and Jackson turned that short field into a touchdown run and 13-3 lead, which stood this time. No blown lead for Baltimore, and it did extend the streak to holding a double-digit lead in all 10 games this season.

But if this is how the Ravens are going to play at home after a bye with Mark Andrews back as a 13-point favorite against Carolina, then there are going to be some challenges ahead despite the appearance of the league’s easiest remaining schedule.

Commanders at Texans: Powerbomb in Houston

The only two things you need to know from this game are that Houston was outgained 246-5 in yards in the first half, and Dameon Pierce got powerbombed:

Rams at Saints: This Turkey Is Cooked

After losing Cooper Kupp (ankle) last week, the Rams lost Matthew Stafford during the game to the concussion protocol, and then were shredded by Andy Dalton in a 27-20 loss to the Saints to fall to 3-7.

The Rams might as well call it a year and rest Kupp and Stafford. Do not sacrifice their long-term health for a lost cause.

We get into the territory of deciding if the 2022 Rams are having the worst title defense in the Super Bowl era. The main competition would be the 1987 Giants, who started 0-5 during a strike season with replacement games and finished 6-9. The 1999 Broncos finished 6-10 but they also saw John Elway retire and Terrell Davis get hurt, so they get more of a pass with far lower expectations coming into the year than these Rams had. The 1982 49ers finished 3-6 in another strike season, so when it comes to non-strike seasons, the 2022 Rams may fit the bill for worst title defense of all time.

Next week: It’s Turkey Week and the first game (Bills-Lions) could actually be the best of the trio on Thursday. Could even be one of the best all week if the Lions play like they have been lately. Sunday’s schedule is so bad that Bengals-Titans is the only game between two teams with a winning record. We also get stuck watching the Packers in prime time again in Philadelphia. Which version of each team shows up? Who knows, but it’s no longer a marquee matchup in the NFC this season.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

While Week 5 in the NFL did produce two huge blowout wins, it was another fairly competitive week with 10 comeback opportunities and a season-high eight game-winning drives, including one in all three island games.

The teams favored by at least seven points were just 1-4 ATS and two even lost outright. Last year’s Super Bowl teams, the Rams and Bengals, are both just 2-3. Only the Eagles (5-0) remain undefeated after playing their closest game of the season against an Arizona team that was 2021’s last undefeated team.

And yet, it may all just be leading to what 2021 should have led to: Chiefs vs. Bills being the real Super Bowl. Last year, it was the instant classic in the divisional round, but the Chiefs blew it in the AFC Championship Game, setting up that first Super Bowl without a top-three seed. Now the Chiefs and Bills are the talk of the league again as they get ready for their Week 6 showdown in Kansas City that could determine everything from the MVP to home-field advantage to the Super Bowl champion.

But before we get way ahead of things, there were a lot of close finishes, mind-numbing plays, and questionable calls on Sunday to go over.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Ravens: Winner Gets a Set of Steak Knives

Before this season is over, the Bengals and Ravens will have their say on which AFC team is represented in the Super Bowl. It was just hard watching them on Sunday night and not thinking that they are a tier below what we are soon going to see when the Bills and Chiefs meet again next week.

As far as 19-17 games in prime time go, this was one of the best ones with a good balance of offense, defense, and special teams with two great kickers. But there were also some egregious misses by both Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow. Jackson had a terrible pick when the Ravens were up 10-0, then he missed one of the easiest deep balls in the Next Gen Stats era on a fourth down. Burrow had an awful third quarter with a pick and one of the ugliest shovel passes on a fourth-and-goal that you’ll ever see.

Also, for the second week in a row I found myself disagreeing strongly with John Harbaugh’s fourth-quarter decision making. I thought last week he should have kicked the late field goal for the lead over Buffalo when Lamar’s fourth-down pass was intercepted. This time, Harbaugh looked like he was going for a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 3 with a 13-10 lead and 9:46 left, but he took a delay of game and kicked the field goal to go up 16-10.

I don’t like that move. Go for the conversion and try to get the 20-10 lead that is so valuable in this game. You leave some hope in a 16-10 game, not to mention you incentivize them to treat this drive as touchdown or bust.

The Bengals did a good job of chipping away on the drive, with Burrow eventually sneaking into the end zone himself with 1:58 left. Evan McPherson’s go-ahead extra point was just over the right crossbar, leaving no margin for error on that judgment of make or miss. Now if he could have done that against the Steelers in Week 1, the Bengals would be in better shape.

But in a 17-16 game, Jackson had nearly a full two minutes to set up Justin Tucker for the win. When he can use his legs to pick up a quick 19 yards, it’s almost too hard to stop him from doing just that. Eventually, Tucker came on to drill the 43-yard field goal at the buzzer, straight down the middle as if it was ever in doubt. The Ravens (3-2) take the lead over the Bengals (2-3) and the rest of the AFC North going into Week 6.

For all the hype about Burrow’s 941 yards passing last season against the Ravens, he finished this game with 217 yards, including one pass play of 20-plus yards. Ja’Marr Chase only had 50 yards on 12 targets. Tee Higgins had an ankle injury and barely played, receiving zero targets as he continues to deal with injuries almost weekly this season.

Both of these teams would comfortably win the AFC South if that was the division they called home this year. They should continue to battle for the AFC North as they are better than Pittsburgh and Cleveland right now. But are they on the same tier as Buffalo and Kansas City? I’m just not seeing it yet.

Steelers at Bills: Pickett’s First Start Is Biggest Pittsburgh Blowout Since 1989

Before I get into Kenny Pickett’s first start, I just want to say that the Bills played a great game in handing the Steelers their first 35-point loss since losing the 1989 opener to Cleveland by a 51-0 score. Right from the third play of the game when Josh Allen went over the top of the defense for a 98-yard touchdown to Gabe Davis, you knew the Steelers were in trouble.

Allen had not broken 5.6 yards per attempt in his first three starts against Pittsburgh, but with all the confidence in the world and no T.J. Watt to worry about, Allen shredded this defense for career highs in passing yards (424), YPA (13.7), and he threw four touchdowns while rushing for 42 yards. He even had 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone as Buffalo led 31-3.

Was it a perfect performance or even the most dominant the Bills have looked this season? No (Tennessee), there were some mistakes on special teams on a windy day, and Allen was intercepted by Levi Wallace in the end zone on a nice-looking grab by the defender. The Bills also fumbled at the 1-yard line while leading 31-3. But it was the kind of dominant performance that makes you think the Bills are going to be favored the rest of the way this season unless things drastically change.

As for the Steelers, we know they were a 14-point underdog for the first time since the 1970 merger, but this is the latest loss in a recent troubling string of road losses where they have been blown out, often before the fourth quarter:

  • Week 4 at Packers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 27-17)
  • Week 11 at Chargers: Trailed 27-10 after 3Q (L 41-37)
  • Week 12 at Bengals: Trailed 41-3 in 4Q (L 41-10)
  • Week 14 at Vikings: Trailed 29-0 in 3Q (L 36-28)
  • Week 16 at Chiefs: Trailed 36-3 in 4Q (L 36-10)
  • Wild Card at Chiefs: Trailed 42-14 in 4Q (L 42-21)
  • Week 5 at Bills: Trailed 38-3 in 4Q (L 38-3)

It gets worse.

  • From 1990 to 2010, the Steelers had three games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • From 2011 to 2020, the Steelers had five games where they trailed by 28+ points.
  • The Steelers have trailed by 28+ points in five of their last 13 games.

It’s not good when you can ask “what’s the worst half of Steelers football in the last 30 years?” and you are getting a handful of choices from just the last 11 months.

I could not help but watch Kenny Pickett’s first NFL start and think about how Ben Roethlisberger probably feels very content with retirement now with the way the Steelers are getting blown out these days.

Pickett alone cannot turn this around, which might be why head coach Mike Tomlin said he is open to changes of all kinds after this 38-3 loss. But I’m not sure how you fix something like this in-season when things are so fundamentally flawed here.

But as for Pickett, there were some positives despite the 38-3 final. While I did go to Pitt, I cannot say I feel any real attachment or need to defend Pickett. I wasn’t even excited about the pick on draft night because I know the top quarterback lasting on the board that long is a bad sign of the class itself. But maybe I’m just prepping to become an apologist for him, because this team has a lot of holes that shouldn’t all be blamed on the quarterback.

I said last week that Pickett’s debut was about as encouraging as it could have been for someone who threw three interceptions. I might say the same thing about his first start being the most encouraging for someone who scored three points.

Among 34 quarterbacks to throw for at least 300 yards in their first NFL start, Pickett is the only one to not score at least 13 points and the only one to lose by more than 26 points.

First, we know it was only three points because Chris Boswell missed two field goals on a windy day that he usually will make (33 and 45 yards). That’s why the Steelers became the 21st team in NFL history to throw 50 passes and score fewer than six points. It’s a rough thing to do, but it’s not the end of the world. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs did it last year against the Titans in a 27-3 loss.

Second, why were the Steelers even kicking field goals down 24-3 and 31-3? Tomlin never approached this game like he was a 14-point underdog starting a rookie quarterback on the road against the Super Bowl favorite. He acted like it was Big Ben trying to pull out an upset like he did in Week 1 last year thanks to a special teams bounce and some of that T.J. Watt greatness this defense is sorely missing. Tomlin mismanaged the moment by not appreciating the quality of opponent and his team’s predicament more.

Third, Pickett wasn’t bad by several measures. He was 34-of-52 for 327 yards, three sacks, a pick, and a 10-yard run. Pickett’s 56.7 QBR ranked 10th this week and was above average. The most egregious pass he threw early was the pick before halftime, but that was something he forced with 23 seconds left in a 31-3 game from his own 37. It didn’t lead to any points for Buffalo. It didn’t even matter.

Pickett’s receivers had a few costly drops too, including one off Diontae Johnson’s hands that was nearly intercepted. Johnson also could not hang onto a fourth-and-6 play in the third quarter that would have extended the drive in the red zone.

The points will come for this offense, but with the way the defense has handled good quarterbacks for the last year, the wins are not coming any time soon with Tom Brady and Jalen Hurts coming up.

The experience level of Pittsburgh’s quarterback cannot continue to overshadow the real problem of allowing an absurd number of points in so many big games in recent years. If only there was an obvious, common link between these losses that the team could put a finger on… But the standard is the standard.

Giants vs. Packers: Old-School Green Bay Loss, New-School Problems

Sunday began with a shocker in London when the Packers (-8) fell 27-22 to the Giants, who are now 4-1. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was 22-0 SU when favored by at least six points but make that 22-1 now after his offense scored zero points after halftime.

This was almost like some old-school Tom Coughlin-coached upset by the Giants against Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay. First, there was a sack that knocked the Packers out of field goal range late in the third quarter. Daniel Jones then used his arms and legs to put together a 15-play, 91-yard touchdown march to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter.

The Packers went three-and-out after three incompletions by Rodgers. Saquon Barkley continued his career season with a 41-yard catch and a 2-yard touchdown run to take a 27-20 lead with 6:08 left. Rookie coach Brian Daboll hasn’t really fixed Jones and the passing game, which has had a lot of injuries, but he is getting more timely plays from the young quarterback, and he absolutely has gotten Barkley on track to be the playmaker the Giants thought they were drafting years ago.

But just when you thought the Packers would tie the game with a touchdown like they did a week ago against the Patriots, that New York defense stepped up again. With two plays needing a yard from the New York 6, the Packers shunned their running backs and let Rodgers throw quick passes. The Giants pounced on both of them and knocked them down at the line. I think you have to feed Aaron Jones or A.J Dillon at least once there. Get the first down, then work the clock situation to get the touchdown and go to overtime or go for two and the win if you have a play you love.

But it was moot after some batted balls. Daboll miscalculated the clock as the Packers still had two timeouts to get the ball back. The Giants should have been running real offense instead of taking knees and an intentional safety, but they did that, giving Rodgers seven seconds to set up a Hail Mary, his specialty. But the best way to stop him on that is to not let him get the ball off. The Giants didn’t, forcing a fumble to end the game and seal the 27-22 upset win, Week 5’s shocker.

The 4-1 Giants are using a strategy much like the one that last carried them to the playoffs in 2016 (they lost to Green Bay in the wild card that year). Keep it close, close it out on defense. It is working for them, but with Dallas and Philadelphia in the same division, it is hard to see this lasting.

As for the Packers, there is still time to turn this around, but I am starting to think this identity-crisis offense without Davante Adams has the Packers less prepared than ever before to deal with the NFC playoff field. Could you imagine this team in January winning against the 49ers, Eagles, Buccaneers, or even Cowboys? Maybe they’d like a rematch with these Giants, but it wouldn’t be a slam dunk like it was in 2016.

I think a dream playoff road for Rodgers this year would be getting the Vikings in the wild card round in prime time (Kirk Cousins at night), hoping the Eagles choke in their first playoff game as the No. 1 seed, and then going to Dallas to take out the Cowboys in the building where Rodgers seems to have all his best playoff moments. That might be the path, but that’s assuming Green Bay gets that far.

Maybe it’s too early to be talking about this, but the last two weeks in nearly losing to Bailey Zappe and losing to the Giants in London, it has been an eye-opening experience on where the Packers are these days.

Eagles at Cardinals: Was Kyler’s Gatorade Spiked Too?

It took until Week 5 before the Eagles did not lead for the entire second half of a game. But the Cardinals are a better offense with Rondale Moore available, and Marquise Brown is starting to make an impact with Kyler Murray.

The Eagles were also not historically dominant in the second quarter this time, getting outscored 10-7 after starting the game with a 14-0 lead. Arizona (+5.5) kept it close as offensive holding penalties plagued the Eagles in the third quarter. After Arizona tied the game at 17 in the fourth, the Eagles turned to the running game with eight straight runs out the gate. Jalen Hurts is all but automatic on those sneaks with a yard to go. He had a couple of those conversions on a long drive that consumed nearly eight minutes, but the Eagles were unable to put the ball in the end zone, settling for a 23-yard field goal with 1:45 left.

Murray had plenty of time in a 20-17 game, but this is not a spot where you feel like you can trust him, coach Kliff Kingsbury, and certainly not new kicker Matt Ammendola, who was just jettisoned from the Chiefs after a bad game against the Colts.

Murray moved the offense into the fringes of field-goal range, but he spiked a ball on first down after a completion when he had plenty of time to call another play. He then scrambled for 9 yards, then quickly did a spike again to bring up fourth-and-1 with 22 seconds left. Did Murray not know that he started his slide early and was spotted short of a first down? Maybe, but he did not need to spike it with it being third down.

If you saw Ammendola with the Chiefs, you probably knew what was coming next. From 43 yards out, he was about as wide right as Mike Vanderjagt on a clutch playoff field goal. The Eagles escape this one with a 20-17 win and will have a big showdown with the Cowboys (4-1) next Sunday night.

Falcons at Buccaneers: Did the Roughing Flag Come with Another PPP Loan?

The sad state of the NFC South where a battle of 2-2 teams with a 10-point spread is a game for first place in Week 5. But the Falcons never had much of a chance without Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts, their two most proven skill players. Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay led 21-0 to start the fourth quarter.

But wouldn’t it have been something if the Falcons, trying to avoid going 0-11 against Tom Brady, erased a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to beat him and take over first place in the division?

The Tampa offense started stalling while the Atlanta offense found some success on the ground after the defense wore down. Just like that, it was a 21-15 game with 4:38 left after the Falcons wisely went for two.

It looked like Brady was going to stall again in the four-minute offense after Grady Jarrett sacked him on a third down with three minutes left. However, one of the worst roughing the passer penalties you’ll ever see was called to gift the Buccaneers a first down. True LOAT stuff and superstar rules right here:

That is literally just a sack. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t to the head/neck region, and he didn’t do the whole “body weight” nonsense that came up years ago. It’s just a sack, but maybe the ref felt sorry for a 45-year-old man going through a publicized divorce?

It took six dropbacks before Brady made a play on the drive, converting a third down to Mike Evans to end the game, never giving the Falcons the ball back with a one-score deficit.

So many fan bases will be happy once Brady retires for good, but if Atlanta fans want to lay claim to being sick of him the most, I cannot argue against them. He is still going to win this division and get a home playoff game. With the Rams fading, it may take a Philadelphia/San Francisco/Dallas to put an end to this team in the playoffs short of the Super Bowl.

Cowboys at Rams: Coming Down the Mountain

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this game, because it really does break down in simple terms.

The Rams (2-3) have been held to 9-or-10 points against the Bills, 49ers, and Cowboys in their losses. Those are three elite defenses this year, if not the three best. The Rams looked just fine offensively, albeit with Cam Akers sucking at the goal line, in wins over the Falcons and Cardinals, which are two lousy defenses. This offense is not built to excel against elite defenses anymore with the deficiencies along the offensive line (Andrew Whitworth’s retirement plus injuries), running back (see Akers sucking and being a lesser player than Darrell Henderson), and the fact that Cooper Kupp is about the only receiver worth a damn, especially in Matthew Stafford’s eyes. He takes five-to-seven sacks against these elite defenses as he can’t seem to find anyone open but Kupp. They miss that second threat like Robert Woods or Odell Beckham Jr. They don’t even have Van Jefferson this year and it shows up when they play a good defense. The “fvck them draft picks” team finally reached the top of the mountain last year, but this is not a surprising, rocky path for them to take coming back down it to join the rest of the pack in mediocrity.

As for the Cowboys (4-1), this was the first win for backup QB Cooper Rush where they really just babied him with the dominant defense and running game (30 carries for 164 yards). If Dak Prescott threw for 102 yards and lost 26 yards on three sacks, I’d say the Cowboys got smashed and he left the game injured. Rush has done a good job, but they’re not beating Philadelphia next week or for the division with this level of quarterback play. The challenge for Mike McCarthy is to make sure the defense and running game continue to play at this high level when Prescott returns. Don’t just “rally around the backup” and rest on your laurels “when #4 is back.” Play like a great damn team every week if you want to actually achieve something, like maybe your first NFC Championship Game appearance since the 1995 season.

Chargers at Browns: Boo-urns Brissett (and Brandon)

Not often do you see a running back shootout in the NFL, but Austin Ekeler and Nick Chubb put on a show in this 30-28 thriller. Both scored multiple touchdowns and Ekeler even outrushed Chubb, 173-134.

But Cleveland fans probably wish the running backs could have decided this game instead of the quarterback. I tried to warn people about Jacoby Brissett being terrible with the game on the line:

Sure, he can avoid mistakes for most of the game, but this is already his third time getting picked in the final minutes this season in close losses. The first two were desperation throws against the Jets and Falcons. This one was just foolishness in a 30-28 game with barely under three minutes left. It was third-and-7 at the Los Angeles 9, so Brissett had a go-ahead field goal in his back pocket. Instead, he scrambled and forced a throw and did not even see the defender (Alohi Gilman).

Brutal stuff. But the Chargers were not going to let this one go without some Chargering. The offense got one first down to make Cleveland burn all three timeouts but not the second to clinch the game. They faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:14 left.

Head coach Brandon Staley decided to go for it at midfield, and Justin Herbert’s pass was incomplete. The Browns had 70 seconds left at the Los Angeles 45, basically needing a few yards for a reasonable game-winning field goal attempt.

I hated the decision by Staley, who has not impressed me for quite a number of games now after his promising start last year.

  • If you are leading 31-28, then going for it is justifiable, if not preferable. Don’t fear the game-tying field goal or overtime. Trust you can convert a yard with a high-percentage play (QB sneak).
  • If you are facing a dangerous quarterback like Patrick Mahomes or a team with an incredible kicker like Justin Tucker who can make from 60+, then going for it is justifiable, if not the only real option.

But you are only up 30-28 and you are facing one of the worst quarterbacks on record at game-winning drives. His offense’s biggest threat is a running back (Chubb) who likely won’t see the field on this drive. Just punt it deep and make him drive a long field.

But the Chargers gave Cleveland a gift that should have bit them in the ass. Brissett even got the 10 yards and new set of downs you figured they needed, but a stuffed run of Kareem Hunt – see, not Chubb – really hurt Cleveland’s chances. Then Brissett threw incomplete twice and the rookie kicker, Cade York, had to make a 54-yard field goal to save the day. He beat the Panthers on a 58-yard field goal in Week 1, so this is doable. However, this time he missed, and the Browns lost another close one.

Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski is just 3-14 (.176) at 4QC/GWD opportunities. Only Carolina’s Matt Rhule (0-16) is worse among active coaches.

Hurry-Up Finish

Most weeks I am still wide awake when I say I need to get to bed, but I really am tired this week after barely sleeping last night. So, here are some quicker thoughts on the other games in Week 5:

Titans at Commanders: I will certainly mock Carson Wentz for throwing a game-ending interception, his third attempt from the 2-yard line in a 21-17 game’s closing seconds. But that really was a great defensive play by David Long. Almost like James Harrison in Super Bowl 43 without the crazy return touchdown.

The Titans (3-2) have won three in a row despite scoring zero points in the fourth quarter this season, the first team since the 2005 49ers (ALEX’s rookie year) to go scoreless in the fourth quarter through five games. These Titans are barely hanging on against the Raiders, Colts, and now Commanders, and they still might win the division. Speaking of which…

Texans at Jaguars: You can replace Doug Marrone with Urban Meyer or Doug Pederson, but apparently this sad sack of a franchise can’t beat the trash-heap version of the Houston Texans. That’s nine losses in a row to Houston, and this is probably the most disappointing yet cause the Jaguars were 7-point favorites and expected to run wild on Houston’s defense. It did not happen, and instead, No. 1 pick Travon Walker made a boneheaded play by throwing down Davis Mills in a 6-6 game in the fourth quarter on a third-and-20. That led to the game-winning touchdown, and Trevor Lawrence wasn’t able to answer again. He is now 1-8 at 4QC and 2-9 at all game-winning drive opportunities, the worst records among active starters.

Either we gassed up the Jaguars a bit too much after those wins over the Colts and Chargers, or the Texans inexplicably have their number. Either way, what a weird cat turd of a division race this is.

49ers at Panthers: That double-clutching pick-six Baker Mayfield threw may be the highlight/lowlight of his time in Carolina. The play we remember him for. His arm just doesn’t look strong enough for the NFL right now. It was surprising to see him throw for 215 yards in this matchup, but the 22-point loss was no surprise.

The biggest surprise is if I wake up and find that Matt Rhule isn’t gone already. It’s clearly not going to work in Carolina for him (or Baker). Just in case this is the last time, here are those updated Rhule numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-27 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-24 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-25 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-27 when not leading by double digits at halftime

As for the 49ers, nice win but they need to stop racking up the injuries. Nick Bosa was the latest star to go down. The 49ers were the only NFC West team to win on Sunday, moving to 3-2 while the rest of the division is 2-3. This defense and the yards after contact/catch from Deebo Samuel may be plenty enough to win the title.

Dolphins at Jets: The Jets were my upset pick this week, but even I was surprised to see them hang 40 points on Miami with Zach Wilson scoring another touchdown and rookie back Breece Hall gaining 197 yards from scrimmage. They did catch a break with Teddy Bridgewater leaving with a head injury after one pass and a grounding penalty for a safety. Third-string rookie Skylar Thompson was hardly a nightmare, but he did have a success rate of 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter when the Jets blew open a 19-17 lead into a 40-17 final.

Miami missed a 54-yard field goal that would have given the Dolphins the lead with 13:15 left, then Thompson fumbled on the next drive, leading to a 5-yard touchdown drive. That basically put this one away, and now the 3-2 Jets have the tiebreaker over the 3-2 Dolphins. Life comes at you fast.

Bears at Vikings: I don’t know if the Earth can handle all these 4QC/GWD by the Vikings:

This was the third in a row and maybe the most shocking since Minnesota completed its first 18 passes of the game and led 21-3. Letting Justin Fields lead a comeback to take a 22-21 lead can’t be good for Minnesota’s playoff prospects, but to Kirk Cousins’ credit, he led another game-winning drive and even snuck in the winning touchdown himself. Fields actually seemed up to the task of answering with a touchdown, but a great defensive play by Cameron Dantzler forced Ihmir Smith-Marsette, a Minnesota fifth-round pick in 2021 (double agent?), to fumble with 1:01 left.

I honestly don’t know if the 2022 Vikings (4-1) are all that good since they’ve largely shown us the same things they always did under Mike Zimmer: Win over Green Bay, close wins over the NFC bottom dwellers, and Cousins shit his pants on a Monday night in Philly. A trip to Buffalo in Week 10 will be the next big challenge for a team that could actually be 7-1 going into that one.

Seahawks at Saints: Sean Payton had to love the Taysom Hill three-hour love fest this game turned into. Hill rushed for 112 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning score from 60 yards out, threw a 22-yard touchdown pass, and recovered a fumble. The Seahawks had some explosive plays on offense again behind Geno Smith, but he took a badly-timed 14-yard sack on a third down, and the Saints were able to run out the clock in a 39-32 win.

Lions at Patriots: The Lions went from 281 combined points in four games, including last week’s 48-45 loss to Seattle, to getting blanked 29-0 by third-string rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe and the Patriots. Was this Matt Patricia’s revenge game? Amon-Ra St. Brown returned and had four catches for 18 yards. Tight end T.J. Hockenson went from 179 yards and two scores last week to one 6-yard catch in this game. This was some extreme regression, and arguably the biggest dud ever laid by a Dan Campbell team.

Next week: It’s not going to reach the hype of 2007 Patriots vs. Colts, but 2022 Bills at Chiefs is a huge one. Maybe the biggest game this regular season because getting home-field advantage is going to be very important for Buffalo to maintain its favorite status for the Super Bowl. I will be all over this matchup this week.

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Haves vs. Have Nots

It really feels like the NFL stacked this Week 2 schedule at the front (LAC/KC) and back (BUF/TEN, MIN/PHI) and forgot about Sunday.

Also, I have no idea why there is a doubleheader on Monday night in Week 2, and it’s not even a true doubleheader since the games will be going on simultaneously. But I wrote about how Justin Jefferson could follow Cooper Kupp’s lead last year to an Offensive Player of the Year award and maybe more if Kirk Cousins can pull off a Matthew Stafford.

But I really do think the Sunday schedule is lacking tomorrow. Part of that isn’t really the NFL’s fault as Bengals-Cowboys could have been a fun game based on last year, but we didn’t know the Cowboys would be this injured already, especially Dak Prescott again. But check the picks below as I think Cooper Rush can surprise some people.

The weird thing about this week is that five games already have a team favored by 9.5 points, or another way of saying favored to win by double digits.

That is a lot for Week 2, because the spreads usually grow later in the season once we see these teams separate from one another. For example, there were five Week 2 games in 2019-21 combined (three seasons) where a team was favored by double digits. We’re possibly matching that this week depending on where the lines close.

This hasn’t happened in a while. The 2007 and 2006 seasons both had five Week 2 games with a 9.5+ point spread. It usually happens once or twice a season since. If this holds, then 2022 will tie 2006 and 2007 for the most Week 2 games on record of having a spread this big.

In Week 1, we observed a lot of unusually high underdogs at home (5.5+ points) for an opener.

So, what is going on with this season from a betting perspective? Is it a case of the haves vs. have nots?

Maybe some of it is the preseason predictions still carrying too much weight, and teams like Denver and San Francisco may not be as good as we thought they’d be with new quarterbacks. At the same time, maybe teams expected to be among the very worst like Seattle and Atlanta may actually be halfway decent.

We know Week 2 can always be the toughest week of the season to predict because you’re trying to wrap your head around what was real and what was an outlier in the first game. But something I’m looking at for this week’s slate is division familiarity and motivation, and how those factors can change sharply from last week. Here are some examples:

Are the Rams really going to be that bad this year, or were they just playing the Super Bowl favorites from Buffalo who haven’t punted in four of their last six games now? Something tells me the Falcons won’t look that good this week as they did last week when they blew a 16-point lead to division rival New Orleans. Guess what happened last year? A bad Atlanta team blew an 18-point 4Q lead (in less time even than last week) to the Saints, but Matt Ryan got the ball back with enough time to get a FG and avoid the blown lead. I’m not worried about the Rams yet.

Speaking of Ryan, after that slow start in Houston, another division team that usually plays Indy close outside of 2021, I think he has a chance to do big things this week. Sure, the Colts have shit the bed in Jacksonville every year since 2015, but I think he’ll be okay in this game. Still, it’s not one I’d be betting good money on for ML or spread.

Meanwhile, is Houston going to look that decent in Denver? Are the Broncos really this badly coached, or was it just a tough debut in a loud place to play with everyone fired up to beat Russell Wilson? At the same time, will the Seahawks play that well in San Francisco? Oh, that is one I can believe. The 49ers haven’t beat Seattle by 10+ points since the 2011 opener. Kyle Shanahan without Jimmy Garoppolo should not be trusted. The evidence keeps growing by the week. That’s another game I’d avoid ML bets.

NFL Week 2 Predictions

Justin Herbert seriously went from a painful looking injury that prevented him from running for an easy first down on a third down to throwing the pass of the night on fourth-and-1. It led to a touchdown and late cover for the Chargers, who I picked to lose 28-21 on the night. At least the under hit.

I picked the Jets for an upset at first, but I think I’ll just stick with the cover. It seems like every year the Jets are a team I keep betting ATS early, thinking they can’t be this bad, but time and time again, they prove me wrong. They are this bad. But we’ll see against Cleveland.

I think Tom Brady gets his first regular-season win over the Saints with Tampa, but I’d be lying if I said I felt confident about it. Saints look as unpredictable as last year.

This might be the Steelers-Patriots game with the least impact on the AFC since they met in 1991 during bad seasons. Not used to this not being a big game, but I expect low scoring and close. Just can’t imagine Trubisky avoids the big turnovers again this week. The Patriots haven’t been getting takeaways, but all those recent games with 0s in that column were against the Bills and Dolphins. The AFC East has absolutely caught up to them (Jets aside). They won’t be able to beat the Steelers the way they used to, but Mac Jones can dink and dunk to a high completion percentage at least. No T.J. Watt was the deciding factor for me. This is the kind of game he could win on his own with splash plays.

Dolphins-Ravens is potentially the best game on Sunday. We’ll see if the Ravens can protect Lamar Jackson this time. Miami roughed him up good on Thursday night last year. I like Tyreek Hill to score his first touchdown of the season.

I am giving the Cowboys a shot at covering against the Bengals. Maybe Cooper Rush can put on his best Mike White impression. The difference is Rush has a start and 300-yard game and win under his belt over Minnesota last year. Cowboys were beyond bad on offense last week, but maybe Micah Parsons can harass Joe Burrow into more turnovers and sacks. The defense has to get the job done for Dallas now.

On Monday, I think the Bills get some revenge on Tennessee for losses the last two years, but I’m not ready to count out the Titans from keeping it close.

Vikings-Eagles really might be the game of the week as Chargers-Chiefs didn’t quite deliver on expectations. If both of these teams are going to win 10+ games and win division titles, it will be interesting to see how they perform Monday as those are the opponents that both have been losing to for years. The Eagles are 1-15 against playoff teams since drafting Jalen Hurts. The Vikings usually never beat a good team not named the Packers. Looking forward to this one and I think I may end up watching more of it than the Buffalo game.

Why I have to choose at all between two games on a Monday in Week 2? Damned if I knew…

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 1

Ain’t that a kick in the head?

The first Sunday of the 2022 NFL season delivered on the drama, even if it unexpectedly came from the low-scoring early slate. But that fabled “Witching Hour” as RedZone’s Scott Hanson calls the 3:00-4:00 ET window extended well past that time with nearly two AFC games ending in 20-20 ties.

Yep, kickers were on their bullshit again, but only certain ones. You can’t trash the whole position on Sunday as kickers helped win games for Cleveland, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh. But they also did their part to dramatically not win games for Cincinnati, Tennessee, Indianapolis, and to some extent Atlanta. There also was some near Chargering going on in LA, but more on that later.

All I know is it’s good to be back talking about the oddities of the NFL.

Upsets and Unusual Suspects Winning Close Games

We’ll see what final number the lines close at, but Week 1 could have as many as seven games where the home team was an underdog of at least 5.5 points. The previous high was four games in 1978. You knew some upsets would happen, and so far, the 49ers lost in Chicago, and the Colts (-7.5) only got a tie in Houston. On the flip side, the Bengals and Titans lost at home as favorites of at least 5.5 points.

This week has had eight games with a comeback opportunity, which is almost average heading into MNF. But something that really stood out to me was that a lot of the quarterbacks and coaches known for losing close games came out winners on Sunday.

Of the five blown leads in the fourth quarter this week, four were against Carson Wentz, Jacoby Brissett, Jameis Winston, and Daniel Jones. See the bottom cluster here if you want to be surprised by that list. Brissett’s came against Mayfield’s team, which is probably fitting.

Meanwhile, rookie head coaches Matt Eberflus (Bears) and Brian Daboll (Giants) had big double-digit comeback wins with their teams in the first games of their careers. That means they’ve had a winning record in the NFL before Kyle Shanahan ever has. But take note of who is on the bottom here:

Eight of the nine coaches with a win percentage under 32% in 4QC/GWD opportunities were at it in close ones on Sunday. They finished a respectable 3-4-1. Let’s see how they did it.

Steelers at Bengals: When Pyrrhic Meets Pathetic

Where do I even start? I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a game go from:

  • ~95% Steelers win (after fourth-down stop at 1:51) to
  • ~99% Bengals win (after Ja’Marr Chase TD at 0:02) to
  • ~50/50 for either team to win (start of OT) to
  • ~99% Bengals win again (before 29-yard field goal attempt) to
  • ~70% Steelers win (before Boswell’s 55-yd FG hits upright) to
  • ~80% Bengals win (before sack knocks Cincy out of field goal range) to
  • ~90% ending in tie to
  • ~75% Steelers win (before Boswell’s 53-yd FG at 0:05) to
  • ~100% Steelers win (after he made it at 0:00)

Joe Burrow had maybe the wildest example of a Week 1 Super Bowl hangover game of all time. Four turnovers in the first half, finished with four interceptions, a pick-six, seven sacks, and two fumbles (one lost). Truly a sight to behold for the 21st century of NFL quarterback play.

And he probably should have won this game because the Steelers ran their same chickenshit offense they’ve been running since 2020. For 2.5 quarters, the Steelers basically had one trick play to their tight end as their only offensive credit. The immediately-stopped runs and immediately-tackled short throws were all still there. Mitch Trubisky couldn’t get the wide receivers involved.

Once the Bengals pulled to within 17-14, we had to see more of a real offensive approach from the Steelers. Not just relying on a pick-six, short field, and that one awesome trick play to Pat Freiermuth. Predictably, this meant a quarterback wearing #10, running for his life, and making inaccurate incompletions. My Kordell Stewart PTSD was triggered.

Meanwhile, CBS’ Charles Davis, who is usually solid, was calling the game. He said he’d rather have the quarterback who starts 17/42, but goes 6-of-6 on the last drive to win the game, then said Burrow is proven in the fourth quarter. For one, the quarterback who starts 17/42 is likely going 6/6 on a drive when he’s down 21 points in garbage time.

And Burrow is not proven in the fourth quarter. In fact, he’s now 2-10 (.167) at 4QC opportunities, the worst record among active starters. He’s thrown big picks against the Bears, Packers, Jets, and now Steelers in those spots the last two years. This is what happens when you conflate an AFC Championship Game comeback, where the Bengals never trailed in the fourth quarter, with success late in games of coming back to win.

Not even Burrow’s fifth pick or a fourth-and-goal at the 2 stop with 1:51 left could ice this one for Pittsburgh. Without Ben Roethlisberger, not only does the team miss his two-minute offense, but they miss his four-minute offense to ice games. The Steelers lost a timeout after an injured run by Najee Harris, then Trubisky threw a dangerous incompletion to stop the clock again, botching the situation.

Burrow had almost 90 seconds to drive 60 yards for the win. He did his part with Chase making a 6-yard touchdown catch with two seconds left. It looks like the Steelers blew another 14-point lead to the Bengals, one of the only teams to get them in that spot since the Bill Cowher era.

But with a shakeup at long snapper, the timing of the extra point was off, and Minkah Fitzpatrick came in for a huge blocked kick to send the game into overtime. Unbelievable.

Even when the Bengals had a 29-yard field goal attempt in overtime to win the game, you didn’t think it could happen again. But the snap by Mitchell Wilcox, the emergency snapper, was high this time, and the kick was wide left. For a team that had made a 59-yard field goal in the first half that was as straight and awesome as any 59-yard kick I’ve ever seen, this game highlighted just how important the snap and hold are to the kicking process. This loss wasn’t kicker Evan McPherson’s fault.

Fully expecting a tie with 56 seconds to go when the Steelers got the ball back, I was surprised to see Trubisky step up with two big completions to Freiermuth to set up Boswell again. This time, Boswell was good from 53 yards to seal the unbelievable 23-20 win.

Few games in Week 1 will seemingly define a team’s season as much as this one could for both of these teams. And frankly, I don’t think either team should feel good after this. Burrow was terrible and full of mistakes, but he still had them in position to win. Tee Higgins going down with a concussion wasn’t good either. He’ll be back soon most likely.

But what about T.J. Watt and Najee Harris? Both left this game for Pittsburgh, and a torn pec is the fear with Watt. He’s so dominant when he is healthy, but that is becoming increasingly rare like his older brother post-2014. It would be a huge blow to lose someone capable of winning Defensive Player of the Year again.

The Steelers can’t live on takeaways like this. I know they somehow average 0.7 more takeaways per game (and rising) in games without Roethlisberger, but they were an extra point away from losing despite a 5-0 edge in turnovers.

Experiencing this game was insane. But in the end, I think it just makes me glad I picked Baltimore to win the AFC North this year.

Raiders at Chargers: McDaniels Not Starting 6-0 This Time

If this is the Derek Carr that’s going to show up in big AFC West games this season, then I am glad I picked them to finish last. Carr tied his career high with three interceptions and took five sacks, including a strip-sack by former Raider Khalil Mack with 1:52 left on a huge fourth down.

Carr was locked on so much to Davante Adams (10/17 for 141 yards, TD) that he seemed to forget Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow existed for the first three quarters. Josh McDaniels also did not show out well in this debut with a trick play that saw Adams get sacked by Joey Bosa. Save that cutesy stuff when you’re trying to win with the talent the Patriots had since their last Super Bowl win. The Raiders have a hell of a trio that you can create mismatches with, and Carr only seemed interested in getting the ball to Adams.

Meanwhile, Justin Herbert was razor sharp and played great, spreading the ball around to nine receivers with multiple receptions. But without much on the ground and too many drives stalling for field goals, this got into the danger zone for the Chargers late.

It did not help that the Chargers missed a 49-yard field goal not long after the Raiders made one from 55 yards. That led to a 24-19 game, and Carr was getting the ball back with 3:30 left.

If Carr could play like ass for 57 minutes, then hog all the glory for a penalty flag-aided game-winning drive after his team kept him in it, then McDaniels truly can make him his Brady.

But it was not to be this time. Last year, the Chargers blew numerous games just like this one. But this time, they had Mack on defense and he delivered in the big spot, getting to Carr on fourth down for the sack and loose ball.

Sony Michel ended up icing the game with a 3-yard run on a third-and-2. No blowing a 14-point lead at home, and the Chargers even covered the 3.5-point spread. Herbert finally seeing some of the defensive help he needed the last two years.

Now we will see how the Chargers fare in a huge road test on a short week in Kansas City. They won there last September in another wild game. The Week 15 rematch was my No. 1 game of the 2021 regular season. High expectations here.

Chiefs at Cardinals: I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes…

Do I bring back the weekly segment? The Chiefs came out on fire to start another season. No Tyreek Hill? No problem if Arizona is going to blitz so much when the smart move should have been to double Travis Kelce and drop 7-8 into coverage. They never even sacked Patrick Mahomes for all that trouble.

Kelce had 121 yards and the first of six touchdowns for the offense. Even with JuJu Smith-Schuster committing the obligatory Chiefs fumble, he looked good and useful in his debut with 79 yards.

On nine drives, Patrick Mahomes led six touchdowns, one field goal to close the first half, the aforementioned JuJu fumble, and just one punt forced by Arizona. He threw five touchdown passes, already doing so for the eighth time in his career, which only trails the big three you could guess.

I really thought Arizona would take this as an opportunity to show us something more after a bad finish to 2021 and an embarrassing offseason. But Kyler Murray was nothing special, and something called Greg Dortch kept getting all the targets. The offense isn’t whole with Rondale Moore injured and DeAndre Hopkins suspended, but that’s still no excuse to see Murray throw a pass away on a fourth down.

I’d say I already hate my Arizona playoff pick, but the whole NFC West looks pretty bad at the moment. Arizona just seems to have the worst coaching of all the teams.

As for the Chiefs, we already get one of the best games on the schedule with the Chargers coming to town this Thursday. Can’t wait for that one.

Buccaneers at Cowboys: Spare Us Anymore Sequels

On the plus side, we’ll probably never have to see Tom Brady play America’s Team again, especially not in prime-time setting. This was a great game to open the 2021 season, but it was easy to see this was going to be a rough one with Dallas losing Amari Cooper, Cedrick Wilson Jr., La’el Collins, Tyron Smith, James Washington, and Michael Gallup.

This was never going to be the same offense this year. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers were a bit different too without Rob Gronkowski and Ali Marpet, but they still have Mike Evans, who caught the game’s only touchdown, and Leonard Fournette, who rushed for 127 yards. Even Julio Jones showed up and made a spectacular 48-yard catch for the game’s only 25-yard play.

It figures, the Cowboys step up on defense and hold Brady to one touchdown while sacking him twice and limiting Tampa to numerous field goal attempts. And it did not matter one bit as the offense was as inept as we’ve seen in the Prescott era in the 19-3 loss.

Worse, Prescott left the game with a thumb injury that could keep him out 6-8 weeks. This suddenly looks like a team that could start 0-6. I knew things were going to be disappointing for Dallas, but this was far worse to watch. And it’s about to get bleaker.

Packers at Vikings: Green Bay Should Just Forfeit Week 1 Next Year

Remember when the Packers were blown out 38-3 in Week 1 last year against the Saints, and we just chalked it up to playing in Jacksonville unexpectedly, and joked that aging Aaron Rodgers does poorly in Florida? That game really did not matter in the end.

Well, they did something similarly lifeless in Minnesota on Sunday, and this time it may be a lingering issue. What better game to showcase how an elite wide receiver talent can help an offense? Justin Jefferson was arguably at his best with a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns. He did half that damage from the slot, half from outside the numbers, and he can challenge for the first 2,000-yard season if Kevin O’Connell is going to use him like Cooper Kupp last year.

It also will happen if defenses leave him all alone as no Packer was within 10 yards on Jefferson’s 64-yard grab. But the fact is Jefferson had two long gains in this game that gained 100 yards and a touchdown. Two plays. Meanwhile, the Packers struggled without Davante Adams, finishing with one 25-yard pass play: a meaningless 25-yard completion from backup Jordan Love to rookie Christian Watson, who dropped a would-be 75-yard touchdown on the first offensive snap of the day.

I know there’s some “if Watson catches that ball, it’s a different day” energy with that one, but the fact is second-round rookies are not expected to be stars in Week 1 for good reason. Maybe by the rematch Watson is a big factor, but the Packers did not have the answers in Week 1. Only running back A.J. Dillon (46 yards), who got stopped cold at the goal line on a fourth-down stand, broke 40 receiving yards for Green Bay.

We have gotten so used to Minnesota splitting with Green Bay that this was not a surprise, but 23-7? It was 34-31 last year and 28-22 in 2020. Kirk Cousins is now 5-4-1 against the Packers with Rodgers at quarterback. Maybe he’ll do his .500 thing and blow the rematch, but this just might be the first move in Minnesota taking the NFC North from Green Bay.

Colts at Texans: Just Missing the Rosencopter

Nothing says throwback to the late 00s like the Texans blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead to the Colts. How great would that storyline have been? On a day where his old team blows a 16-point lead at home in the fourth quarter, Matt Ryan leads 17-point rally in Indy debut.

And it all was set up to happen if kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was worth his roster spot. He missed the game-winning kick against the Ravens last season, and he contributed to a tie in this one after missing from 42 yards out in overtime with 1:57 left. The Texans basically wimped out and played for the tie, as new coach Lovie Smith confirmed.

But I will say, Blankenship and moreso head coach Frank Reich, who has had some brutal Week 1s, deserve some credit for the game getting this far. While I did not read any actual criticism on Twitter as I was too busy following Steelers-Bengals, I imagine some took offense to Reich kicking a field goal from the 4-yard line while the Colts were down 20-3 with 10:47 left.

There always seems to be this disconnect with crunching numbers to win the game vs. what NFL teams actually do in this spot and what makes logical sense. Teams down 17 are thinking about the tie before the win. If you are down 17 and crunched for time, a field goal is going to factor in at some point. After three straight incompletions by Ryan from the 4, you may as well get your high % three now or else the game is already over with 10:44 left since you’d need to manufacture three more scoring drives after getting the ball back.

Kick the field goal, extend the game, because teams in this league do crazy, dumb shit. Just two plays later, Davis Mills took a strip-sack and the Colts were 20 yards away from a touchdown. Shades of 2008.

It is definitely worrisome that it took the Colts that long to get their first touchdown against Houston on a short field, but Ryan delivered later with the game-tying drive. But I will also say Reich did his kicker no favors in overtime with a 3-yard loss on a Jonathan Taylor run and a 5-yard sack taken by Ryan. After a Taylor run on first down put the ball at the Houston 16, it is easy to say just kick the 34-yard field goal and end this. But there is a counter argument to burning more clock and leaving Houston less time if the kick is no good. I see that argument, but we’re talking about a 34-yard field goal. That should be 95% at least.

The Colts only coming away with a 20-20 tie is disappointing as many tougher games wait on the schedule. I knew that -7.5 spread was a trap in Week 1, and division games are often tough, but I would have liked to see something better out of a team I have winning 11 games this year.

49ers at Bears: Jimmy G Would Have At Least…

Is it too soon to point out that Kyle Shanahan is 8-29 when he starts a quarterback not named Jimmy Garoppolo? The one excuse I really don’t want to hear about this game is that George Kittle didn’t play. He didn’t play last year, and the 49ers shredded Chicago, which looks no better on defense going into this season.

Now, the wet conditions from the weather and the in-game injury to running back Elijah Mitchell are a bit different. That had an impact on the offense, but this is now three starts where Trey Lance just hasn’t efficiently led the team to many points. You have to have concerns here.

That proper balance between Deebo Samuel being a runner (8-52-1) and a receiver (2-of-8 for 14 yards) was totally off this week. Lance’s 13 runs only produced 54 yards. He was outplayed by Justin Fields, who had less to work with but threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.

I said Lance was the league’s big wild card this season, with getting benched for Garoppolo in October as his lowest limit. Keep playing like this and it might happen.

Saints at Falcons: On Brand

The very first Falcons game in the post-Matt Ryan era sees them blow a 16-point fourth-quarter lead at home to the hated Saints. You can’t make this stuff up, but that’s Atlanta and the art of losing.

Even if division games are tough, this was shaping up to be one of the wildest outcomes of the week. I had Atlanta finishing 3-14 this year. But this team was running wild (201 yards) on the New Orleans defense and Marcus Mariota was playing adequately with rookie WR Drake London his only dominant target on the day.

The Saints had minus-2 net passing yards at halftime. What has this team become? Maybe the second half will wake Dennis Allen and Jameis Winston up and remind them that they can still be an offense that throws for 250 yards a week.

A Mariota fumble late in the third quarter when the Falcons could have gone up three touchdowns was a big turning point, but even then the Falcons still led 26-10 with 12:41 left. Winston does not have many comebacks on his resume, but this will go down as the best I imagine. He thew two touchdowns to Michael Thomas (welcome back), but the game-tying two-point conversion failed with 3:38 left.

But the Falcons screwed up when they just needed 1 yard to ice the game. Mariota had trouble with the snap and nearly fumbled. The Falcons punted and Winston had 48 seconds to get a go-ahead field goal.

I needed to see the next sequence with my own eyes, because the play-by-play made no damn sense. After Jarvis Landry made a great catch (terrible DB play) for 40 yards, Winston got to the line and spiked the ball. But he was penalized for intentional grounding since the clock wasn’t running when he spiked it. Odd moment. Then after another completion brought up third-and-3 with the clock moving under 25 seconds, Winston hurried the offense to the line for another spike to bring up fourth down with 23 seconds left.

Sean Payton and Drew Brees would never fuck this up so badly. This incompetence will come back to bite this team, but Atlanta is just snakebitten as a franchise. Sure enough, Wil Lutz was good on the 51-yard field goal, but it left Mariota 19 seconds and three timeouts. We know what can be achieved in 13 seconds…

With the help of a 15-yard penalty by Marshon Lattimore tacked on to the end of a catch, the Falcons had a shot at 63-yard field goal with Younghoe Koo. It would have been one of the longest field goals of all time, so he knew he had to hit it low. But it was blocked and the Falcons add another classic choke to their collection.

But remember, last season the Falcons blew a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter to these Saints. Matt Ryan was still there to right the ship and get the offense down the field for a game-winning field goal. No such luck this year.

While it’s going to be a long season for Atlanta, I do not see much to get excited about with these Saints. This was a bad performance against what could be the worst team in the NFL.

Browns at Panthers: Sour Revenge

On one hand, you can say Baker Mayfield’s hyped revenge game against Cleveland was a failure. He lost, he threw a pick, took four sacks, and he had to recover four of his own fumbles (or at least that’s the early statistical credit).

On the other hand, you could say he led a spirited rally from a 20-7 deficit in the fourth quarter with a 7-yard touchdown run, a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson, and a go-ahead field goal drive with 1:13 left.

The Panthers just had to stop Jacoby Brissett from getting into field-goal range without a timeout in the last minute. Instead, they started the drive with a roughing the passer penalty, which ended up being Cleveland’s longest gain on the drive.

After the second-worst spike on a third down on Sunday afternoon, the best Cleveland could do was a 58-yard field goal attempt. But fourth-round rookie kicker Cade York, who was three years old the last time the Browns won an opener in 2004, delivered a memorable debut with a successful kick. The Panthers did not have enough time to answer in the 26-24 loss.

Matt Rhule’s Panthers are now 0-14 at 4QC/GWD opportunities and 1-24 when allowing 17 or more points in a game.

Patriots at Dolphins: Tua Is 4-0 vs. Belichick

Talk about a stat worth a literal LOL: Tua Tagovailoa just joined John Elway as the only quarterbacks to start 4-0 against Bill Belichick as a head coach. Elway beat the Browns four years in a row in 1991-94. Tua is the first quarterback to beat Belichick’s Patriots four games in a row at any time.

This may have been his best game of the four, which might not sound like much when the Miami offense scored 13 points. A strip-sack recovered for a touchdown early set the tone for this one, another meltdown by the Patriots in the Miami heat.

But that scoring number is a bit misleading. The Dolphins only had eight drives, and they spent their eighth one running out the final five minutes of their 20-7 wire-to-wire win. They reached the New England 11 on that last drive, so if they had finished it with a touchdown, that would be 20 points on eight drives, or 2.5 points per drive. That is a top 8-10 type of number for a season, which you’d be more than content with from this offense.

The Dolphins avoided any turnovers and five of their eight drives netted at least 45 yards. Tyreek Hill was heavily involved with eight catches for 94 yards, and Jaylen Waddle made his presence felt with a 42-yard touchdown. The run game never really took off, but it should come eventually.

Mike McDaniel’s debut won’t blow the doors off the NFL or even shock the way the Dolphins shocked New England with the Wildcat in 2008, but this was a solid win. And how can you not adore a coach who gets a 42-yard touchdown (Waddle play) against Belichick by going for it on a 4th-an-7 before halftime?

Finally, the AFC East has some teeth to it.

Giants at Titans: Daboll-Do

You might as well give Brian Daboll the Coach of the Year award right now if he’s going to unlock Daniel Jones (115.9 PR) and Saquon Barkley (168 rushing yards) in the NFL.

Jokes aside, this was a tough game to evaluate. On the one hand, the Giants were down 13-0 at halftime, something Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur, or Joe Judge could have done easily. But Barkley hit that 68-yard run on the first offensive snap out of halftime and the comeback was on. Jones took five sacks and had plenty of big mistakes, but he also completed 17-of-21 passes, scrambled for a game-deciding 4th down in the red zone, and threw the go-ahead passes for the touchdown and two-point conversion.

Remember, this was the quarterback who was 2-14 at 4QC opportunities before Sunday. And this one wouldn’t have been his fault (much) if they lost like they probably should have, because I did not love Daboll’s decision to go for two and the 21-20 lead.

This came with 1:06 left and the Titans having a timeout, or plenty of time to drive for the game-wining field goal that you just forced them into by converting. I like to see that clock under 20 seconds when you go for two and the late lead. Maybe 30 seconds if they are out of timeouts. Sixty-six seconds is a lot, and it should have been enough for Tennessee.

Ryan Tannehill avoided interceptions on the day and delivered a great pass to the 27 that put the team in field-goal range with 18 seconds left. But having to burn the final timeout was bad, and the decision to kneel and spike and lose a couple more yards was not great either.

Randy Bullock can make a 47-yard field goal, but no one is going to convince the guy for Adam Vinatieri or Justin Tucker. His kick was wide left, and the Titans lost by a single point at home.

Kicker has been a problem for this team under Mike Vrabel. But allowing the Giants to have two 65-yard plays in the same half is inexcusable. Good for Daboll to get the first win, but I’d bet against this being your strategy for wins going forward.

Eagles at Lions: Behold, Nick Sirianni’s Decision

Last season, Dan Campbell’s Lions were down 24 points in the final minutes of Week 1 against the 49ers before rallying to a 41-33 deficit. They were inside the 30 and two scoring plays away from overtime before losing. It was a wild, unexpected rally attempt against a clearly superior team.

On Sunday, the Lions did something similar against the Eagles after trailing 38-21 to start the fourth quarter. Jared Goff shook off a horrific start to lead a touchdown drive that pulled the team to within 38-35 with 3:51 left. This was a game again despite the brilliant 155-yard debut by A.J. Brown, but the Eagles executed their run game for a couple key first downs to ice the game.

We need to highlight the fourth-and-1 decision. The ball was at the Detroit 40 with 1:06 left in a 38-35 game. The Lions were out of timeouts, so a first down ices the game. But a stop, and Detroit is nearly at midfield in a 3-point game with a minute left. That’s a huge moment.

As far as I can tell, Philadelphia is just the second team since 1994 to go for a fourth down with its offense in the final 90 seconds, leading by 1-to-3 points, and with the ball no deeper than the opponent 40. This excludes any plays with seconds left where a team just threw the ball deep and out of bounds to run out the clock.

The Ravens did this last year against the Chiefs in a more dire situation. Baltimore was ahead 36-35 with 1:05 left at their own 43. But Lamar Jackson converted with a 2-yard run and the Ravens beat the Chiefs.

Like the Ravens, the Eagles kept the ball in Jalen Hurts’ hands, and he ran for a yard to end the game. You like to see the Eagles hold onto that big lead and not have it come down to this, but good call to wrap it up and start 1-0.

Between the Pistons and Lions, Detroit is getting very good at fielding underdog teams who can cover a spread but not win the game.

Jaguars at Commanders: New Name, New Identity?

I owe someone in this game an apology. I have ridiculed this player for years. I said he was not a legit franchise star or leader. He didn’t deserve his big contract. He’s just going to disappoint you in the end. Then all he did was ball out in Week 1, perhaps showing he is ready to step up to a higher tier.

So, Christian Kirk, I am sorry for not believing in you getting this big opportunity in Jacksonville. You had 117 yards and might be a legit No. 1 this year.

But in all seriousness, this was going to be an excellent game to showcase the full Carson Wentz experience. Two fourth-quarter interceptions turned a 14-12 lead into a 22-14 deficit for Washington. Just when you thought Wentz would further fall apart, he has one of the best fourth quarters of his career with two touchdown drives covering 168 yards.

Trevor Lawrence was intercepted with 1:10 left in a 28-22 loss. An improvement over where he was Week 1 last year, but still not good enough. The Jaguars have lost 36 straight games when allowing more than 20 points.

Maybe Wentz feels a little personal revenge was achieved against the Jaguars for sending him out of Indy, and for Doug Pederson preferring Nick Foles in his offense. Maybe this is the best he’ll play all year as Jacksonville, masters of the double-digit loss season, still looks like a work in progress.

But for at least one Sunday, I can’t say Wentz failed.

Ravens at Jets: The Flacco Revenge Game That Wasn’t

Why should Baker Mayfield and Russell Wilson have all the headlines for revenge games? Joe Flacco’s first game against Baltimore went about as expected. He rejoined this list for having the fewest passing yards (307) on exactly 37 completions in NFL history.

Baltimore led 24-3 late before a little garbage-time score to make it 24-9, but I’m more interested that Lamar Jackson spread the ball around to three different 50-yard receivers, and the Ravens only ran the ball 21 times for 63 yards, including six runs for 17 yards by Jackson. That’s not a typical Baltimore result, but you take the comfortable win any time you can get it after last year’s heartbreak.

NFL Stat Oddity: Super Bowl LVI

I certainly did not come into the 2021 NFL season expecting a Super Bowl between the Bengals and Rams. I had a Buccaneers-Chiefs rematch with the same outcome in the hopes that my uncanny ability to pick a Super Bowl team, but the wrong Super Bowl outcome would strike again. Either the Chiefs would win, or the Buccaneers would lose.

But the Bengals and Rams knocked those teams out on their way to this matchup, the first in Super Bowl history between No. 4 seeds. I still was able to live up to my half-right, ultimately-wrong Super Bowl outcome history by predicting the exact final score (23-20), but for the wrong winner. Got the spread right at least (Bengals +4), which concludes my most accurate season of predictions yet.

Super Bowl LVI will not go down as an all-time great Super Bowl, but it was a close, competitive game all the way through, and you can’t really argue with a game where so many of the best players on paper were the best players on the field. The Rams won largely on the strengths of their team (passing offense, pass rush) and the Bengals lost largely on their weaknesses (bad offensive line and red zone mediocrity). In other words, this game actually was decided by logical outcomes that can be easily explained, so that alone makes it a pretty fvcking good Super Bowl.

The officiating was a wash. There was a nice game-winning touchdown drive. The two best players in the game put the Rams over the top in the final 90 seconds to get this win. There were some interesting strategy decisions to question. The halftime show was good. Larry David had a pretty, pretty good commercial to make up for all the garbage we saw. Another championship was won in spite of the running game.

All in all, it was a good experience, and I want to share some final thoughts on the game and this 2021 season before finally pushing the start button on this offseason.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Sacks vs. Interceptions: 7-2 Wins for the Rams

If you read some of my Super Bowl previews, you know I was touting this as a matchup of sacks (Joe Burrow) vs. interceptions (Matthew Stafford), and the defense that would get the most splash plays should lead their team to a low-scoring win. I also said Cooper Kupp was inevitable and the best value bet for MVP, but I blew my parlay on that one because of one Nikola Jokic assist on Saturday. Bummer.

But the low scoring, defensive slugfest proved to be accurate. The Rams sacked Burrow seven times with six of those coming in bunches in the second half alone. Stafford was intercepted twice while the Bengals had no official turnovers, putting the Rams on a short list of just three teams that won the Super Bowl with a turnover differential of minus-2 or worse. The 1970 Colts (-3) beat the Cowboys and the 1979 Steelers (-2) beat the Rams.

Teams are now 30-3 in the Super Bowl when they are +2 or better in turnovers. But it makes perfect sense why the Rams were able to overcome this margin.

For starters, the Rams mitigated the impact of Stafford’s two picks. He did not have the big pick-six that he did four times in the regular season to hurt his team. He threw up a shot to the end zone on a third-and-14 at the Cincinnati 43 late in the second quarter. Could he have tried something safer to set up a field goal? Perhaps. Matt Gay is not exactly Justin Tucker when it comes to kickers. But I don’t hate him trying that shot with a 13-10 lead. It was one of the few times the Bengals tried their three-man rush they had success in Kansas City with, but it was feast or famine this time as Stafford had a couple touchdowns against it before the pick.

The Bengals also botched the moment with a taunting penalty after Vernon Hargreaves, a mega bust in this league, solidified his bust legacy by coming off the bench in street clothes to celebrate.

Instead of starting at the 20, the Bengals were at their own 10 and ended up punting after Leonard Floyd finally got to Burrow for the first sack of the night on a third down. The vaunted pass rush for the Rams was not doing anything worthwhile against this Cincinnati offensive line prior to that series.

When Stafford started the third quarter with an interception on a tipped ball, that’s when the game could have really fell apart for the Rams. They just allowed a 75-yard touchdown and the Bengals were leading 17-13. Stafford was a little off on the throw, but Ben Skowronek is the receiver who tipped it to turn it into an interception and give the Bengals the ball at the Los Angeles 31.

If the Rams allow a touchdown there and fall behind 24-13, this could go much differently. But again, this is when Aaron Donald and the pass rush came to life and saved the day. Donald pushed Burrow out of bounds on a scramble that went down as a sack. That seemed to fire him up and he finished the drive with a monster sack on third-and-3 at the LA 11. The Bengals had to settle for a 38-yard field goal and 20-13 lead.

Cincinnati never scored again and never got deeper than the Los Angeles 49 on the final five drives.

That Donald sack was massive to keep it a one-score game, and the Rams continued to take Burrow down from there with five more sacks. The Bengals tried to join the 2001 Jaguars and 2018 Texans as the only teams in NFL history to win multiple games when allowing seven sacks, and these would be two playoff games for the Bengals. But it was not to be this time.

While the Rams did not register an official takeaway, that ignores the way the Bengals started and ended this game with a failed pass play on fourth-and-1 at midfield. That basically evens up the turnover count at two a piece, and when you consider the plus-five advantage the Rams had in sacks, it makes sense why they ultimately won the game.

In both cases, the Bengals inexplicably tried to run backup running back Samaje Perine at Aaron Donald on third-and-1. I get why Perine was in there for the final drive as a receiving back, but is he really that much better at it than Joe Mixon? But if you’re going to run on third-and-1 early in the game, why not use Mixon? Why not go away from where Donald is? Both times it put the Bengals in a bind on fourth-and-1. The first time, Burrow did not see a wide open Tee Higgins, and his throw was deflected away and never had a chance. Just a bad play. On the last drive, the Bengals needed a quick hitter, but it was Donald coming dead-to-rights for that eighth sack, only to see Burrow still get the ball away. But the pass fell harmlessly incomplete with 39 seconds left, and the Rams were champions.

In the end, it was not a sack that ended the Bengals’ season, but it might as well have been with the way Donald got to Burrow on that play. But some better run choices or pass designs on third-and-1 could have helped the Bengals avoid those two fourth downs, which were really just two turnovers, stat sheet be damned.

Throwing two picks likely cost Stafford the glory of a Super Bowl MVP award, but they were done in a way that did not cost his team a championship. But it also helps that for the third playoff game in a row, he delivered the signature game-winning drive of his career.

Stafford and the Career Moment of a Signature Game-Winning Drive

The Rams are the first team in NFL history to win three straight playoff games by three points. If they didn’t, then the Bengals very well may have earned that distinction in overtime. That’s just how these teams were this postseason. All three Los Angeles wins required a game-winning drive with the winning points scored after the two-minute warning, but this was the first time it was a touchdown for Stafford and the Rams.

This feat is going to put the 2021 Rams in the conversation of the “luckiest” Super Bowl winners of all time, but I am not convinced they would rank that high on the list. What were their breaking points during this playoff run? They didn’t have a Red-Right 88 or Tuck Rule or Nick Harper getting tackled by Ben Roethlisberger or Rahim Moore-Jacoby Jones or Scott Norwood miss or Malcolm Butler interception at the 1 moment along the way.

Hell, the Rams aren’t luckier than the 2016 Patriots, who needed every break imaginable to come back from 28-3 against Atlanta. For that matter, these Rams almost repeated that failure with a blown 27-3 lead in Tampa Bay, but hopefully they have ended Tom Brady for good in the NFL. Stafford and Kupp beating Todd Bowles’ Cover-0 call on a great throw and catch was about talent beating stubbornness more than just random luck.

Speaking of luck, this whole postseason may have changed on the 49ers blocking a punt for a touchdown in Green Bay in the divisional round. Yes, the Green Bay special teams were historically awful, but that’s still a pretty fluky touchdown to score, no less a game-winning one. Without that, the Packers likely host these Rams, and that matchup has not been kind to McVay’s Rams, nor has Lambeau been good for Stafford’s career. Instead, the Rams got another crack at Jimmy Garoppolo and a 10-7 team that was the last to sneak into the NFC tournament on the strength of an overtime win in Los Angeles.

The 2021 Rams are the only Super Bowl winner to play teams with fewer than 11 wins in both the conference championship game and Super Bowl (minimum 16-game season).

Against the 49ers, Stafford did have an interception dropped in the fourth quarter while trailing 17-14 on what turned into a game-tying field goal. It wouldn’t have been the end of the season, but it could have been important. That was one of the scariest moments for the Rams this postseason, but they overcame every gut punch to win three straight nail-biters.

This Super Bowl was definitely a grind with Stafford receiving no help from the ground game. The Rams liked to run on first down, but it was not effective on any down. The three backs combined for 19 carries for 30 yards. Throw in a major knee injury to Odell Beckham Jr. in the second quarter after he looked poised for a huge game (52 yards and a touchdown), and Stafford must have felt like he was back in Detroit. Shaky line, no running game, one great receiver, and trying to win with randoms like Skowronek and tight end Brycen Hopkins, who I never even heard of before Sunday night. Hopkins had to play with Tyler Higbee inactive, so Stafford was down Beckham and Higbee for most of the game.

When Skowronek tipped that ball for an interception, it would have been easy for Stafford to start panicking and forcing things. But one of the sneakiest big plays of the game came on a third-and-8 following the pick and Cincinnati field goal that made it 20-13. The Rams were about to go three-and-out, but Stafford threw a great pass downfield to running back Darrell Henderson, which was something the Rams tried a few times in the game with their backs. He caught it for 15 yards, and the drive continued for a field goal. That could have been another game-changing moment if the Rams went three-and-out and put the Bengals in good field position.

But speaking of field position, you know this game was a defensive battle when these teams had six drives that started at their own 40 or better and only got one touchdown out of those drives. Four ended in no points.

One thing the Rams kept going to in this game was a quick snap in the hurry-up offense. It did not work well. In fact, Stafford rushed the first interception when he could have took it down to the two-minute warning and had a better play ready. It reminded me of the 2006 Colts trying to quick snap the Ravens in the divisional round. Peyton Manning said he saw Brady and the Patriots do this to the Jets the week before, and he wanted to try it. It did not work well either, but the Ravens lost that game because they scored six points.

The Rams looked lost on offense after the Beckham injury, which was tough to see after how well he’s been playing to get to this point. Stafford started losing his patience and throwing deep balls without success. Kupp was being covered better than usual. The Bengals really seemed to be in control, but the Cincinnati offense never added on to the lead.

If you give Stafford six chances at a clutch touchdown drive, he’s going to deliver at least once. When the Rams had to settle for a third-quarter field goal, that was because their little trick play, akin to the Philly Special, with Kupp throwing a pass to Stafford failed on a third-and-5. Even if the throw was good, it was setting Stafford up for a big hit at the sticks. Just a bad call that tried to match Cincinnati’s trick play earlier where Joe Mixon threw an impressive touchdown to Higgins.

Fortunately for Stafford, with 6:13 left, McVay finally put the game in his hands. Enough with the runs that kept stalling drives. The Rams were either going to win or lose on the quarterback they brought in and the few healthy receivers he had left. Fortunately, Kupp was still one of those healthy guys and he took the drive over to clinch his MVP award.

The whole thing could have gone south after four plays with the Rams facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 30. McVay went for it, and I was really concerned about a Stafford sneak because he’s looked terrible doing it this postseason. The line wasn’t getting any push either. But it was a good call to give the ball to Kupp in motion, who weaved his way for 7 yards. The Rams did not have a run longer than 8 yards on the night, but none were bigger than that play.

While I never heard of Hopkins before the night, he looked good, catching all four of his targets for 47 yards. He had two grabs for 15 yards on the game-winning drive, including the first 9 yards and a key third down conversion along the way. But Kupp took over with 46 yards on the drive.

One of the biggest plays of the game was a target to Kupp that was not complete. After the two-minute warning, the Rams were 8 yards away from the end zone, but it was already third down. Stafford threw incomplete for Kupp, which would have set up a big fourth-and-goal at the 8, but a flag was thrown for defensive holding. It felt like a make-up call to me for the offensive pass interference the referees didn’t call on Higgins’ 75-yard touchdown in the third quarter. If Skowronek or Hopkins is the target of this pass, I doubt it gets called. But with Kupp? I think it was a mixture of superstar treatment and a make-up call to give the Rams a first down. But again, the Bengals got a touchdown earlier they shouldn’t have had too, so I think the officiating, which was overall fine, was a wash in the end.

Kupp had a great catch for a touchdown negated by off-setting penalties. Eli Apple was called for DPI on a more obvious call that put the ball at the 1. You can certainly make an argument for letting them score to conserve time, even if it was a 20-16 game. A four-play stand at the 1 is tough. Stafford’s sneak failed, though that felt like it was on purpose to burn a Cincinnati timeout. Stafford threw for Kupp against Apple, and you know what happened there.

That was a 15-play, 79-yard drive. It is the 16th game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter or overtime of a Super Bowl. I think an argument could be made for this ranking in the top five for game-winning Super Bowl drives, but still behind Eli Manning’s 2007 march against the 18-0 Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes against Arizona, and Joe Montana against the 1988 Bengals. Maybe the other Eli drive (Mario Manningham catch) gets in there even though the touchdown was weak with Ahmad Bradshaw haphazardly breaking the plane. Maybe Nick Foles’ drive against the 2017 Patriots was better, though I don’t really remember anything outside of the Zach Ertz touchdown. This is somewhere around the top five for a Super Bowl.

Certainly, the biggest drive of Stafford’s career, which is crazy since I wrote the same thing about his game-winning drive in Tampa Bay, then again with the comeback over the 49ers, and now for sure the definitive 4QC/GWD of his career in the Super Bowl. What a three-week run.

With the win, Stafford now has 35 fourth-quarter comeback wins, which moves him into sixth all time with only select company ahead of him.

Suddenly, the quarterback who was 8-68 against teams with a winning record coming into 2021 almost doubled that total with seven such wins this season.

I still do not believe Stafford is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but his chances just shot up considerably. He likely has a better chance now than Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. He is 5 yards away from 50,000, is one of six quarterbacks with multiple 40-touchdown pass seasons, has the high number of 4QC/GWD, and he’s always been a prolific volume passer. He’s just rarely ever been that efficient or considered a top 10 quarterback in his career. But if this Super Bowl run sparks an excellent finish for him in Los Angeles with another deep playoff run (or more), then I think he’ll be a lock soon as he passes 60,000 yards and 400 touchdown passes.

Defense did a lot of the heavy lifting for Stafford this postseason, but he also had to carry the offense without much help at all from the running game. I always blew off that criticism about a lack of 100-yard rushers in Detroit. As if it would matter if his backs combined for 90 or 110 yards in any given game. He needed more help from his defense, especially against good teams, and that was something he got this year.

Can he do it in more than one year to show that this isn’t the one-off special where everything just fell into place for the Rams? We’ll see but hats off to Stafford for reshaping his narrative this season in a way few quarterbacks ever have. In his 13th season, Stafford joins John Elway (15th) as the only quarterbacks to win their first Super Bowl more than a dozen years into their career.

Cooper Kupp: Best Wide Receiver Season Ever?

Had Stafford threw his game-winning touchdown to someone like Hopkins, perhaps the quarterback would have been named Super Bowl MVP. But Kupp catching it to cap off his night with 99 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns solidified his MVP award.

Now the question is was it the best wide receiver season in NFL history?

When you include the postseason, Kupp absolutely has an argument. No receiver has ever had a season this prolific end with a championship.

By playing 21 games, he has an unfair advantage in compiling totals, but he still caught 22 more passes than anyone (178 total), and he shattered 2008 Larry Fitzgerald’s yardage record by 448 yards in only one extra game. Kupp (2,425 yards) has the only 2,000-yard receiving season in NFL history when you include the playoffs, and his 22 touchdown catches are tied with two Jerry Rice seasons (13 games in 1987 and 19 games in 1989) for the second most in history. Randy Moss had 24 touchdown catches in 19 games in 2007, but those two touchdowns aren’t worth more than the near 900-yard difference between the two. Moss had just two catches for 32 yards in the first two playoff games that year before catching a touchdown in the Super Bowl after Corey Webster fell.

Kupp also got a rare MVP vote for a wide receiver in the regular season and became the fourth player since the merger to win the receiving triple crown. Kupp caught at least five passes for 60 yards in all 21 games this season; the second-longest streak in NFL history. He had at least 90 yards in 19 of 21 games, another new standard established. Only 2008 Fitzgerald (seven) had more touchdown catches in a postseason than Kupp’s six this year.

When you add a game-winning touchdown catch and Super Bowl MVP to this remarkable, historic production and consistency, I think you can conclude that Kupp just had the best receiving season in NFL history.

Fvck that 1951 Elroy Hirsch noise. My guy wasn’t stat padding on a Friday afternoon against the New York Yanks.

Joe Burrow: Not the LOAT

Pregame tweet:

Admit it. For a brief moment in the second and third quarters, you saw a glimmer of Joe Burrow becoming the new LOAT (Luckiest of All Time) in the first game after Tom Brady retired.

But then the avalanche of sacks came, Burrow actually had to score more than 13 points of offense to beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, and he couldn’t even get into field goal range on the final drive to force overtime. That’s not very Brady-like.

You’re probably never going to be the LOAT, Joe.

But there was a Brady-esque script for Burrow to follow in this one. He didn’t start the game well, just like Brady in every first quarter in every New England Super Bowl. Then Ja’Marr Chase beat Jalen Ramsey with a 46-yard gain on a one-handed catch. Joe Mixon helped fix the Bengals’ red zone mediocrity by throwing a nice touchdown to Higgins. Beckham injured his knee on a fluky no-contact play, and that seemed to destroy Stafford’s confidence. Burrow willed his defense to two picks, including a tipped ball, and just like that he was at the Los Angeles 31 with a 17-13 lead, which only came after Higgins got away with a facemask on Ramsey for a 75-yard touchdown that shouldn’t have counted. It was the longest catch Ramsey’s allowed in his career and Burrow had little to do with it happening.

THIS WAS BRADY BULLSHIT ALL OVER AGAIN.

Twenty years later and lazy Hollywood was giving us a god damn repeat. But Aaron Donald took things into his own hands and sacked Burrow on that third down to bring up a field goal and keep the game at 20-13.

From there, Burrow couldn’t do a thing with five sacks to come. Tyler Boyd let him down with a bad drop on third down at midfield prior to the Rams’ game-winning drive.

But Burrow had his Montana/Brady moment aligned for him. He got the ball back with 1:25 and two timeouts, only needing a field goal for overtime. That’s plenty of time to get a touchdown even. Brady had 1:21 left against the 2001 Rams in a tied game. But with a 2-9 record in 4QC opportunities, these are not the moments where we’ve seen Burrow shine so far in his career. Sacks and interceptions in fact feel more likely than touchdowns.

He got the drive off to a good start with two completions for 26 yards, but a deep ball on second-and-1 was questionable. Another Perine run on third down was ridiculous, stopped by Donald and company for no gain and costing the Bengals a timeout. With fourth-and-1 at the Los Angeles 49, the Bengals decided to throw much like the opening drive of the game where Burrow was off target. This time he was lucky to even get rid of the ball without Donald taking him out for a game-ending sack.

Burrow finished with a 39.7 QBR as seven sacks will kill you in that stat. Burrow only showed off his scrambling ability, which QBR loves, once in the game. A lot of times, he had no lane to take off.

I think Burrow’s Super Bowl performance will go down as one of the toughest games to analyze for a quarterback. For someone who dropped back over 40 times, it just never felt like he was an integral part of the game, for better or worse.

His two huge completions against Ramsey for 121 yards were basically all about what the receiver did on those plays. While the line held up early, the seven sacks show how outmatched they were against that front as Burrow had little time to throw. The Boyd drop was awful by Boyd. The Mixon TD pass was awesome by Mixon. Burrow was kind of just “being there” while the game unfolded around him all night. There’s very little that I would credit him for, positive or negative, in this game.

That’s why he better hopes he gets back to another of these, or his legacy is going to be difficult to say the least. I do not think this performance will age well. Youth is on the side of Burrow and this offense, and the offensive line will almost surely be upgraded in the offseason. But we have to stop doing that thing where we pencil in someone for future Super Bowl performances.

Only one LOAT existed in this era. Youth didn’t bring Dan Marino back to the Super Bowl after losing in his second season. Russell Wilson hasn’t been back after his third season. The last 11 seasons for Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh (2011-21), Drew Brees in New Orleans (2010-20), and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay (2011-21) have produced zero Super Bowl appearances.

Every opportunity is precious and must be seized, because you never know if there will be another one.

Burrow will not be joining Brady as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to win four straight playoff games by fewer than eight points. Believe it or not, Stafford has a chance to do that the next time he starts a playoff game.

But even that future is uncertain.

Conclusion: Can the Rams Repeat?

I’ll make my first 2022 NFL prediction: I won’t be predicting a Rams-Bengals rematch in the Super Bowl.

Bold, I know. But the Bengals have that tough AFC to deal with, and frankly I don’t see anything Burrow did this year that Justin Herbert couldn’t do with the Chargers if they spend a little to upgrade the defense. Not to mention the Chiefs and Josh Allen in Buffalo, who people will be dying to see in a playoff rematch after that classic this year.

The Rams should have an easier shot of repeating in the NFC, but that’s all down the road to talk about. We have to see where Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and maybe Kyler Murray end up, and if Brady is really retired or not.

But I will say this felt like the culmination of a tough five-year journey for McVay and the Rams. They went all in and it paid off with a championship at the end. It’s not ending quite like the 2011-15 Broncos when Peyton Manning retired, but the Rams may not be at the top of their powers in 2022 like the Packers were in 1997 coming off their win. Imagine if Reggie White retired after that 1996 win.

While McVay said he’s not retiring, what if Donald does? That would be a huge loss for the defense as he’s clearly the best in the game and had an argument for Super Bowl MVP, about the only award he hasn’t won in his career. Andrew Whitworth should retire at left tackle, and obviously the line needs some work. That might be a serious knee injury for Beckham, and Robert Woods is coming off his own torn ACL. Stafford to Kupp will continue to be awesome, but that connection alone doesn’t win a ring.

But these Rams did prove that if you’re a winning team that keeps coming up short, you can get aggressive and add those final missing pieces with proven players instead of relying on the draft picks to be gold. This team was not built like Washington’s Dan Snyder throwing money at over-the-hill players. The Rams made some smart moves to help improve a team that had a winning record the last four years. I have a hard time finding fault with their strategy, especially when their two biggest studs, Donald and Kupp, carried the team late in the game to a win. Those were homegrown talents, and they finally had the help around them to pull this off.

People could have dismissed Tampa Bay winning last year as Brady being Brady. But when Stafford can leave Detroit after 12 years and instantly win a Super Bowl, nearly doubling his career wins against winning teams in one season? That’s a potential game changer in this league if you ask me. We’ll see if other teams follow suit.

To end on a personal note, I hope to accomplish some things this offseason that I did not do or do as well as I wanted to last year. I want to take a serious look at starting a Patreon (or something similar) where I can share stats/databases, write articles, and hopefully get into video work as I have many ideas there. Just need to get comfortable with editing and narrating. I want to add even more columns to my master game database, which is already around 290 columns. I want to study player prop bets deeper and get better at those. I want to get my diet back on track with more exercise after slacking off too much the last seven months. I am going to continue doing NBA picks for Bookmakers Review through the end of the season.

While I’ll be begging for some real football in the summer, these last few years have shown me just how much I love the offseason and being able to take a break from the game. The season is a grind, and at 285 games, this was the longest season ever. I’m still not thrilled with the 17th game and the seventh seeds in the playoffs, but they’re never going to shrink from that. It can only expand from here and we just have to get used to fans hyping up their shitty quarterback because he threw for 4,000 yards in a 9-8 season that got him a playoff berth.

Am I going to lose some interest and material if Roethlisberger and Brady are retired for good? Yeah, it’s tough seeing the players who you got to see from the beginning of their careers hang them up. I think we were blessed to have the quarterback stability we saw in the 2000s and 2010s. If Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t return for 2022, then there’s not a quarterback in the league who started a game before the 2008 season. I was doing my final semester of college then. Predicting a Justin Herbert or Lamar Jackson season just isn’t as easy as Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco were for me. We have a lot to still learn about the new blood in this league, and if Donald really does retire for the Rams, could that set off a trend towards much shorter careers as players are making more money and are concerned about CTE and wanting to be able to walk without pain in their thirties?

All I know for sure is that the offseason is so much sweeter when you do not despise the team who just won the Super Bowl.

So, congrats to the Rams, McVay, Stafford, Donald, Kupp, Beckham, Von, and happy retirement for Whitworth and Eric Weddle. You redeemed yourselves from 13-3 in LIII and from 8-68 against winning teams. You saved us from having to see Brady and Tampa Bay in another Super Bowl. And maybe, just maybe, you spared us from white sportswriters pontificating that Burrow is Tom Brady for the Kid Cudi generation.

Until next time.

NFL Super Bowl LVI Preview: Rams vs. Bengals

Coming into Game No. 285 of the longest season in NFL history, I am tired. The conference championship outcomes and multiple Tom Brady retirement announcements feel like eons ago. The groundhog has seen its shadow, it’s almost Valentine’s Day, and I’ve spent the week losing at least nine NBA parlays on one leg (usually one stat). I’m streaming an episode of Doom Patrol on my phone and have Pulp Fiction on TV in the other room for the millionth time as I try to compile this, relax, and start the countdown to kickoff on Sunday evening.

Cause despite it being mid-February, there is still one more NFL game to be played. I have already written 10,000 words on this game at Bookmakers Review, which I will link and recap below. But first, allow me to vent about the potential this game could have on the future of the league.

Super Bowl LVI: The End of One Era Begins Anew?

It is unusual for me to not have such a vested interest in a Super Bowl. There’s no obvious villain for me to root against (Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, John Elway, Jerry Jones). While I would love to see Aaron Donald (Pitt) and Cooper Kupp (incredible season) get a Super Bowl ring, there’s no significant rooting interest like I’ve had with the Steelers, Peyton Manning, and Patrick Mahomes.

Eighteen of the last 20 Super Bowls gave me a chance to root for Steelers/Manning/Mahomes or root against Brady and the Patriots. Let that sink in. With 2002 Raiders-Buccaneers, I hated both teams. Ditto for the 2000 Giants-Ravens bore that put me to sleep. You’d probably have to go back to 1991 Bills-Redskins to find the last time I was this disinterested in who wins the Super Bowl, and I wasn’t even watching the NFL at the time. I was coming home every day and watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. Cowabunga.

Of course, I say all this with a February 2022 mindset. For all we know, this could be a major butterfly effect game in NFL history. One that either kicks off a new dynasty in Cincinnati with Joe Burrow taking his crack at being the new LOAT, or a Los Angeles win could be the impetus for contending teams to start ditching draft picks and long-term success plans for the thrill of going all in by acquiring big-name free agents to “buy” a championship.

Just like the 2007-08 Boston Celtics weren’t the first super team in NBA history, the 2021 Rams aren’t the first attempt at a super team in the NFL. Hell, this is basically 2020 Tampa Bay on repeat, even including the part where they get to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Unlike these Rams, the Buccaneers had plenty of high draft picks they drafted, but it is true that all three players to score a touchdown in Super Bowl LV were brought in last year to help the key acquisition of Tom Brady (Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Leonard Fournette). These Rams do however have some drafted studs in Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp. But their attempt at going all in was based on bringing in Matthew Stafford, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr. The Beckham trade even happened a day before wide receiver Robert Woods tore his ACL in practice. Donald and Kupp withstanding, the Rams largely outsourced their roster. The Bengals are mostly home grown on offense and spent peanuts to revamp their defense, which is playing over its head right now to get to this point.

If you’re a team-building purist, you’re definitely going to favor the Bengals’ traditional approach to the Rams taking a team that’s been winning for four years, but needed a few upgrades to get over the hump and win it all. Maybe setting a path to go seven years without drafting a player with a first-round pick is never going to be the standard plan of the future, but if the Rams pull this off, don’t be surprised if quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson start to leverage their talent and force their way onto the next super team. If the 49ers didn’t spend so many resources to get Trey Lance, I would say Rodgers to San Francisco in 2022 was a mortal lock.

Those 2008 Celtics had a profound impact on the NBA, showing LeBron James that he needed to leave Cleveland and form his own super team in Miami if he wanted to win a ring. He did, and then he left for Cleveland to do the same thing with new players. But after coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Warriors, LeBron saw that two can play this game. Kevin Durant took his talents to Golden State, and this would have been an even stronger dynasty if not for injuries. Now everyone wants a “big three” in the NBA, and superstar team-ups are as common as ever.

But you can’t buy health. After a record number of All-Star players were injured in last season’s NBA playoffs, we got an unexpected Finals between the Suns and Bucks. In a way, this Rams-Bengals matchup feels a little similar to that in that it was so unexpected. With both teams finishing fourth in their conference, this is the first Super Bowl matchup ever without a top-three seed.

It may be the last we see too if the era of super teams is upon us. It also may be the end of an era where quarterbacks stay many years in one place, especially after seeing zero Super Bowl appearances in the last 11 seasons for Drew Brees in New Orleans (2010-20), Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh (2011-21), and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay (2011-21). When mainstream NFL media is still largely driven by telling quarterbacks their greatness is measured by their ring count, isn’t the next logical move for these quarterbacks to start leaving their teams for places that give them better opportunities to win championships?

While you’d love to pencil in Josh Allen as Buffalo’s quarterback for the next 10 years, what if things go sour with the loss of Brian Daboll? What if the next few Buffalo postseasons are also defined by games where the defense was destroyed or the Buffalo weather was so windy (a la the Patriots game on MNF) that Allen couldn’t get the job done? When Allen is still searching for that first Super Bowl appearance in his seventh or eighth season, wouldn’t a trade to a team with a few studs and maybe a roof on the stadium be an attractive option for him?

Even Mahomes is no lock to be a Chief for life. Within five years, Mahomes will almost surely experience the retirements of Andy Reid and Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill should lose a step in his early 30s. If he is still stuck on one ring by that time, is a Kansas City rebuild the best thing for him?

If Matthew Stafford, Mr. 8-68 Against Winning Teams Before 2021, can leave the Lions and instantly win a Super Bowl, why can’t any other top 12 quarterback do the same? It almost makes you want to root for the Bengals just to show that hitting draft picks and giving a coaching staff time to develop can still work. Now not many teams are going to get top five draft picks to land Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, but the Bengals kept the same head coach — the one I said you couldn’t pick out of a lineup of Costco cashiers — and the same two coordinators from 2019-20 when the team was 6-25-1. They didn’t hire a new Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick by accident. They beat the Chiefs by going to a three-man rush. Not exactly revolutionizing the game.

On the other hand, these Bengals are already confident as hell. A win could only empower them to get even cockier, and the thought of Cincinnati replacing New England as the most annoying fanbase on the internet isn’t something I’m looking forward to even if they deserve a run for enduring decades of bad football.

So, like I said, I don’t have a strong preference for who should win this game, but the long-term effects it has on the league remain to be seen. They could be huge. Remember, a Joe Flacco Super Bowl run made it to where you have to pay at least $1 million per start for your quarterback even if he isn’t that great. It’s more like $2 million per start now.

Of course, after Super Bowl 47, Flacco won one more playoff game and Colin Kaepernick was blackballed out of the league before Sean McVay’s contact list became the most sought after item in the NFL coach hiring process.

This league moves in fast and sometimes mysterious ways, but either way, we are entering a new era in the NFL.

I have done five companion pieces on BMR to preview this game in great detail already. My general theme has been that the Rams are the more talented team, have been the better team all year, and they should win this game in their home stadium as the Bengals are statistically one of the weakest teams to ever reach a Super Bowl. While both teams boast a No. 1 pick at QB and a superstar wide receiver having a historic year, the defenses causing havoc with pressure and turnovers in the playoffs is the main reason these teams are here. Which defense makes the big splash plays to win this one? Is an upset possible? Hell yes, and it wouldn’t even be the biggest upset of the Rams in the Super Bowl this century.

Why Rams Can Beat Bengals – “If football games are won in the trenches and defense wins championships, then this game should largely be decided by how Cincinnati’s offensive line handles the pass rush of the Rams. The Bengals were 5-3 to start the season, 5-3 in the second half of the season, rested starters in Week 18, and have won three one-score games in the postseason that came down to the final snap. No team in NFL history has won four playoff games by fewer than eight points, and the Rams’ only loss since December was in overtime after blowing a 17-point lead.” I also look at Cooper Kupp’s historic season and how Stafford has had a better season than Burrow.

Why Bengals Can Beat Rams – “If Burrow really is the next chosen one, in the first game since Brady’s official retirement no less, then the Bengals are going to get a pick-six off Stafford, and McPherson is going to break a tie with a 48-yard field goal on the final play to beat the Rams just like Brady and the Patriots did 20 years ago to start a dynasty. After all, it’s the Year of the Tiger and everything is a sequel or reboot these days.” The headline after this game very well could be that “sacks hurt less than interceptions” if Burrow is taking sacks and Stafford is throwing crucial picks.

Rams Offense vs. Bengals Defense – “Again, all five teams to beat the Rams this year did three things: scored more than 24 points, held Stafford’s offense under 300 net passing yards, and forced multiple turnovers.” Both of these teams were 1-5 when allowing more than 24 points this season. The Bengals had the No. 1 scoring defense (17.6 PPG) in road games this year and intercepted 3.58% of passes on the road compared to 1.58% at home. Cooper Kupp is going to dominate, but this really is the wild card matchup in this game. If the Bengals can get picks, they should win, and you know Stafford is always going to leave some opportunities out there.

Bengals Offense vs. Rams Defense – “The wild card in this game is what Cincinnati’s opportunistic defense can do against Matthew Stafford and the talented Los Angeles offense. But the biggest mismatch on paper that could easily dictate the outcome is the inadequate Cincinnati offensive line against the Rams’ defensive front, led by future Hall of Famer Aaron Donald.” If the Bengals can hold up, they are arguably the most talented offense the Rams have faced this year. But Burrow has to get rid of the ball quickly or this could get ugly.

Super Bowl Game Pick and Prediction – Cincinnati is 6-1 ATS as a road underdog this season and 6-0 ATS in the last six games Burrow started. In this piece I ask the most pressing question: which defense creates the splash plays to win what should be a close, lower-scoring game? Sacks or interceptions? No quarterbacks had more of them this year than these two. I also look at officiating notes on Ron Torbert, how the Rams had a league-low 4 DPI penalties in 20 games, some comparisons on DVOA for Super Bowl teams, and how Cincinnati’s third-quarter dominance could set up a game script of the Bengals coming back to win another close one.

The Prediction

The moment of truth. The first article I wrote was why the Rams could win, then I did why the Bengals could win. If you compare those reasons, I think it’s obvious that I think the Rams should win. But then I started digging more, and after seeing how the Bengals play their best defense in the third quarter and on the road, and how I know Stafford is a guy who could throw a couple picks in any game, I started feeling the Bengals more.

The last four teams favored by more than 3.5 points lost the Super Bowl outright. I think Rams -2.5 is a lot more attractive line for them than Rams -4, which likely means winning by 7+ if you don’t want a push. But look at these teams’ games this season. They’re rarely blowing anyone out, at least not anyone good. I really believe it’s going to be a close game, like 16 of the last 18 Super Bowls have been in the fourth quarter.

Can Donald and Von turn this game into a rout by blowing up that offensive line? Of course. Football has shown us that many times over. But as I wrote in an old Super Bowl preview about Mahomes and the Chiefs being different, I mentioned Joe Burrow (+Chase) and LSU were different too. I remember Burrow starting shaky in the national championship game against Clemson’s top-ranked defense. Then he destroyed them. I don’t think this is a game where he’s throwing for 450+, but I don’t think he has to either. He just has to avoid the game-changing turnovers and hope (or will if he is the new fvcking Brady) his defense forces Stafford into those.

I think the Bengals are going to win the turnover battle, Kupp is going to play the Ricky Proehl part and score a game-tying touchdown late, and Burrow is going to set Evan McPherson up for a 48-yard game-winning field goal that somehow takes seven seconds off the clock.

It’s Super Bowl 36 (STL-NE) all over again as Burrow joins Brady as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to win four straight playoff games (their first four too) by fewer than eight points.

Okay, I am starting to find my rooting interest after all…

Final: Bengals, 23 Rams 20 (MVP: Joe Burrow even though Mike Hilton will have a pick-six)

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 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.