NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Divisional Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

One team did this:

The other did this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was the point of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Chiefs: Quick, Break the Henne Emergency Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants at Eagles: Giant Ass Kicking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL 2022 Divisional Round Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some articles I did this week:

NFL Divisional Round Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Chiefs 30, Jaguars 23

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

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

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

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

Final: Eagles 24, Giants 17

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (-5.5)

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

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

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

Final: Bills 27, Bengals 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Cowboys 26, 49ers 23

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

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

Enjoy the games.

NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Wild Card Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Cowboys at Buccaneers: Not with a Bang But a Whimper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFC North Race Changed on Lamar Jackson’s Health

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

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

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

Leading Up To the Historic Fumble

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens Flopped After the Fumble

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

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

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

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

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

Burrow the Babyface LOAT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Bengals play on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins at Bills: Buffalo Marathon Ends with Legitimate Scare

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Turnovers, Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing It Out (Barely)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging the 27-0 Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Turning Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second-Half Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this is just their year.

NFL 2022 Wild Card Predictions

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

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

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

Some articles I did this week:

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

Preview: Seahawks-49ers

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

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

Final: 49ers 27, Seahawks 19

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)

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

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

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

Final: Jaguars 27, Chargers 24

Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills (-13.5)

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

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

Final: Bills 34, Dolphins 13

New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings (-3)

Giants-Vikings

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

Final: Vikings 30, Giants 27

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals (-8.5)

Ravens-Bengals

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

Final: Bengals 24, Ravens 16

Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5)

Upset: Bucs over Cowboys

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

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

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

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

Yeah, save the popcorn for Monday night.

Final: Buccaneers 23, Cowboys 20

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titans at Jaguars: Fumbling Away the AFC South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just protect the ball, guys.

Rams at Seahawks: Playoff-Bound Geno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens at Bengals: The Settled AFC North

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

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

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

Patriots at Bills: New England Never Stood a Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiefs at Raiders: Quick Work

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

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

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

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

Giants at Eagles: No. 1 But Not Dominant

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

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

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

Cowboys at Commanders: Howell Bad Was Dallas?

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals at 49ers: Ready to Break the Glass Ceiling

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Falcons: Stats Over Winning, Eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikings at Bears: No. 1 Pick Belongs to Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of this week’s articles:

I plan on having a bunch more during the playoffs.

NFL Week 18 Predictions

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 17 Predictions: AFC Game of the Year Pt. 2 Edition

I was going to call this the “David Blough Edition” as we are at that point of the season where teams are just trotting out any quarterback they can to finish off the season.

But there is a legitimately massive game on Monday night between the Bills and Bengals. I’m looking forward to that one more than Sunday combined.

Some of this week’s articles:

NFL Week 17 Predictions

The Cowboys keep turning that ball over, but it was enough to get the cover in the final Thursday game of the season.

Putting together some of my favorite talking points from the articles above, here’s a parlay for the week:

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 16

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

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

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

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

Embrace the mediocrity?

This season in Stat Oddity:

Eagles at Cowboys: NFC Game of the Year Actually Delivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Dolphins: Tua Tanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants at Vikings: Crown the Close Game Kings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks at Chiefs: Whole Lotta Nothing Going On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commanders at 49ers: Another Purdy Good Win

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

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

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

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

The 49ers continue to roll with eight straight wins.

Raiders at Steelers: This One’s for Franco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bills at Bears: Beating Chicago at Its Own Game

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

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

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

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

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

Texans at Titans: The AFC South Has No Bottom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions at Panthers: Running Back to Norms

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

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

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

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

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

But a sweep there would be glorious.

Saints at Browns: Dome Team Beats Predator in Deep Freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broncos at Rams: Nathaniel Hackett Swansong?

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 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 10

My expectations were for a pivotal Sunday in the NFL, and the games did not disappoint. We saw two overtime games that should be significant, including one of the all-time craziest fourth quarters in NFL history in Buffalo.

There were five teams that blew a double-digit lead this week. That’s the most since Week 5 of the 2020 season also had five, but these were games with crowds. No pandemic football.

In total, nine of the 13 games featured a comeback opportunity. If certain teams fall apart or go on a run from here, we are going to look back at this Week 10 as a crucial week to crafting this season’s narrative.

One thing I’m positive of: the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion will continue. The 2022 Rams are 3-6 and you can send them fishing. Given I had them still capturing the No. 1 seed this year despite not repeating, that is going to go down as one of my worst final record predictions.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Vikings at Bills: The Day the MVP Went Away

Instead of trying to take in everything that happened in one of the most chaotic fourth quarters in NFL history, I think we have to start with the big picture of what this game has done to the 2022 season’s narrative.

Maybe I didn’t believe it myself, but last week I said this game could dramatically change the shape of this season.

The races in both conferences: Buffalo has gone from the No. 1 seed to the No. 6 seed just like that. Meanwhile, the Vikings are 8-1 and running away with the NFC North.

The Super Bowl odds: Buffalo has been the favorite all year long, but you might see that change for the first time here with the Eagles and Chiefs starting to look like more attractive options.

The MVP award: Yeah, I think Josh Allen just destroyed his chances there. Six interceptions since the Kansas City win. Three straight games with multiple picks. One of the closest blunders to Joe Pisarcik.

Now our expectations for how we view the Vikings and Bills might change.

At least, my Buffalo views are souring after these last 10 quarters. They seem to be doing the same thing as last year where they peaked with the win in Kansas City, seemed to think that was the Super Bowl, and now they’re struggling in games they shouldn’t be. The elbow injury wasn’t enough to stop Allen from playing, and I’m not ready to accept that as an excuse when it was the egregious decision making and not the physical aspect of Allen’s game that blew this one.

But have my views changed on the Vikings, now 8-1, being a legit contender and vastly improved team this year? Um, no. Not really.

As I have said in past weeks, I still am seeing largely the same Minnesota team we always get, but things keep happening for them in close games, and not always by their own actions. The Vikings are now 7-0 in close games, including a 5-0 record at 4QC opportunities. This is unreal stuff from a team with a quarterback we never see this from.

If you think I’m going to let one of the silliest fourth quarters of all time change my mind on this team, then you’re crazy. For almost three quarters, this was textbook Minnesota in a big game, just like the Eagles loss in Week 2. The Vikings were down 27-10, the defense was getting shredded, and Kirk Cousins had multiple interceptions.

We’ve seen this story before. But this time, Dalvin Cook immediately broke an 81-yard touchdown run, the longest of his career. That was huge.

But okay, the Bills kept driving after that and were ready to go back up 17 points. I loved going for the fourth-and-2. Get it back up to 17, three scores, and don’t go for the 13-point lead and open yourself up to losing by a point. But Allen, as he has been doing since the second half against Green Bay, did not deliver. He panicked under pressure, and since it was fourth down, he had to do something, so he tossed a pick to Patrick Peterson in the end zone. Bad play and bad call only needing two yards and not the full seven for a touchdown.

But then the Vikings had to survive two fourth-down conversions just to keep the game going with another touchdown drive. They did it, and C.J. Ham scored a 3-yard touchdown run. But the Vikings missed the extra point to keep it a 27-23 game, because they are the same Vikings.

Granted, terrible three-and-out by the Bills that barely took any time off. But here is where the game was ultimately decided. The Vikings needed a go-ahead touchdown drive, and in the typical Cousins fashion, it was not going well. He took two sacks, including one by Von Miller to set up fourth-and-18. That’s a game-winning situation for a championship-aspiring defense. Period.

But instead of stopping them there, the Bills try to intercept Cousins’ miracle heave to Justin Jefferson, and the defensive back actually helps Jefferson secure the unbelievable catch for a 32-yard gain to extend the game. That should have been the game. Score some big points for the “knock it down” crowd, because by putting those two hands in there to go along with Jefferson’s one, it helped Jefferson get more grip on the ball and come down with it. Huge mistake.

But even after the miracle catch, the Vikings blow it. Jefferson is short of the plane to bring up a fourth-and-1. Cook drops a possible touchdown on a play where Buffalo was offside that would have counted as a touchdown if he scored. I actually agreed with the quarterback sneak by Cousins, but you have to do the Drew Brees one where you stick the ball out to break the plane, then pull it back. Cousins just didn’t get any push and he was down short of the end zone with 49 seconds left.

Once again, that should be the ballgame. Now, the Bills shouldn’t take an intentional safety in a 4-point game, because then you can lose on a last-second field goal. They just need to push the pile forward a little and get some breathing room. Game f’n over. Vikings only had one timeout left.

Instead, we get the worst play by any offense with a lead in the last minute since Joe Pisarcik and the Miracle at Meadowlands. Somehow, Allen and his center botch the exchange and he fumbles the ball, shits down his legs, and fumbles the MVP for good this year. The Vikings recover for a touchdown and lead 30-27 with 41 seconds left.

Just inexcusable. To Allen’s credit, he does a great job coming back with a drive without any timeouts to force overtime with a game-tying field goal. However, that probably shouldn’t have happened the way it did. Gabriel Davis got out of bounds with a 20-yard catch, but I think he dropped that ball and it was incomplete. The Bills did a good job of getting to the line quickly and running the next play, but it’s outrageous the booth did not buzz down to review that crucial call. If the Vikings lost this game, they would have a legit beef there for sure.

But the Bills moved it 69 yards and tied the game for overtime, concluding one of the wildest fourth quarters in NFL history. These teams are known for a few wild ones, but I’d have to put this right up there with Bills-Chiefs last year (42-36), Vikings vs. Ravens in 2013 in the snow, 2003 Colts vs. Buccaneers in Tampa, and 2000 Jets vs. Dolphins on MNF. This is high on the list for sure.

We get to overtime and the Vikings receive. They overcome a strip-sack that could have killed them in their own end, then a bad throw gets bailed out with a DPI flag on second-and-22. The Bills do a good goal-line stand from the 2, forcing Minnesota into a field goal and 33-30 lead.

So, with 3:35 left, Allen can totally redeem himself here. But we know the Bills are a bit shaky in these situations, which is why I’ve compared Allen to 1990s Brett Favre multiple times. Two wild and crazy front-runners who are a mixed bag in these moments, and they come through far less than the average fan probably imagines.

Bad elbow or not, Allen had no problem scrambling for 38 yards on two plays to quickly get into scoring range. But after getting to the Minnesota 20, I’m not sure what he saw, but he threw a bad looking pick to Peterson again and the game was over. Peterson will come away from this one with a good highlight reel to lead his Hall of Fame montage.

The Bills blew a 17-point lead at home with a fumbled snap on a sneak the lowlight of a game they had no business blowing. They just blew a 14-3 lead in New York last week. They lost in Miami despite gaining nearly 300 more yards than the Dolphins.

This team is its own worst enemy, and I don’t know if Allen misses offensive coordinator Brian Daboll reining him in a bit. Maybe Ken Dorsey, the 2022 OC, is too soft on him and is letting him get away with reckless play the last three weeks. But something is just off here.

So, I am souring a bit on Buffalo and starting to wonder if Patrick Mahomes will ever have to play a road playoff game. The entire AFC East would be in the playoffs if they started today, and the Bills would only be the No. 6 seed. Insane change of events.

But am I on board with Cousins and Jefferson being the Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp of 2022 and believe they’re going to win a bunch of playoff games by three points and vanquish Tom Brady and the Eagles in January to get to the Super Bowl?

No, I don’t buy it. Not when you needed all of this to happen to get a win over a good team.

But are the Bills front-runners who you shouldn’t trust in the clutch? Oh indeed. Are the Vikings enjoying this 8-1 start after years of seeing games go the other way? For sure.

I’ll leave it at that for now, but this is one that will definitely be remembered for a long time. Glad to have experienced it live on TV.

Cowboys at Packers: He’s Still Aaron Rodgers, He’s Still Mike McCarthy

There is no team during the Aaron Rodgers era that the Packers have ripped the heart out of worse than the Cowboys. Not only were there the dramatic playoff wins in 2014 and 2016, but you had a late game-winning drive in a 2017 game, a turnover fest won in 2019, a 23-point comeback led by Matt Flynn in 2013, and now this game that can save Green Bay’s season and make a lot of people lose faith in Dallas being any different this year.

I really thought Rodgers would let hubris get the best of him and he would throw like crazy with Mike McCarthy coming back to town for his first game at Lambeau with favored Dallas, the better team on both sides of the ball.

But the Packers basically broke the glass casing around Rodgers in the second half and let him be the Dallas killer he is, and McCarthy stood there and took it on the chin as McCarthy-coached teams do in these situations.

Meanwhile, Dak Prescott has now thrown three touchdown passes in three different losses to the Packers, though this one was not his finest work. Dak had 113 yards on 25 passes at halftime with two bad picks.

The shocker was Rodgers throwing six passes in the first half and handing off 18 times for 83 yards. It makes some sense. The backs are better than your receiving corps (allegedly). The Cowboys have a strong pass rush. I can see it making sense.

But it didn’t look like it was going to work with CeeDee Lamb destroying the secondary and helping Dallas to a 28-14 lead going into the fourth quarter.

But Rodgers scrambled on a third down for a conversion and that seemed to get him going. He faced a fourth-and-7 in Dallas territory and threw his best pass of the day to rookie Christian Watson for a 39-yard touchdown. That was the game changer. Rodgers showed a ton of trust in a rookie he has barely got to play with due to injury or him making mistakes that would make a veteran distrust him.

The Cowboys ended up going scoreless on their last four drives. Rodgers tied the game with his third touchdown pass of the game to Watson with 2:29 left.

The game went to overtime and I wasn’t really feeling it when Dallas wanted the ball first, but I understand why you make that call in Green Bay. A holding penalty really put Dallas in a bind and set up a fourth-and-3 situation at the Green Bay 35.

I must say I liked the decision to go for it. The field goal doesn’t end the game. It’s not even a guarantee to be made as Brett Maher is no Justin Tucker. A miss there would be awful in giving Rodgers the ball at his 43. I liked going for it, but the Cowboys just didn’t execute the play and Dak was nearly sacked before throwing up a miracle that wasn’t answered.

The Cowboys were about to blow a 14-point fourth-quarter lead for only the second time in team history. You may recall the first coming against Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez’s Jets in 2011 on Sunday Night Football.

This was probably worse since it can motivate Green Bay to go on a run instead of being left for dead with a sixth-straight loss. All Rodgers needed was one vintage throw to Allen Lazard for a 36-yard gain and that had the Packers in range. Mason Crosby was good from 28 yards on the field goal and the Packers pulled it out, 31-28.

We’ll see how big this one can be as Green Bay (4-6) gets an important head-to-head tie-breaker over Dallas (6-3) now. We’ll see if Watson builds on this three touchdown performance. Rodgers only threw 20 passes in the game. He’s only had two games in his career that he played into the fourth quarter with fewer pass attempts than he had on Sunday. But the backs delivered with 203 rushing yards.

In some ways, it was unlike any Rodgers game we’ve seen before, and yet because it was him sticking it to Dallas and McCarthy taking a bad loss, it was still very familiar football theater.

Chargers at 49ers: The Never Above .500 Club

Justin Herbert (0-4) and Kyle Shanahan (0-5) are now a combined 0-9 in games where they have a chance to go above .500 in their career records in the NFL for the first time.

With the Chiefs up next for the Chargers, it could be a few more weeks before Herbert gets there. But the Chargers put on a decent effort for most of the game while being outmatched and shorthanded.

Now that Shanahan is 48-48 with a trip to Arizona next, maybe he’ll finally get above .500 in the next game. Or the team will lose it after some inexplicable calls.

But that defense was nasty after halftime. The Chargers didn’t have a play longer than 12 yards after halftime. On five second-half possessions, the Chargers punted three times, turned the ball over on downs, and Herbert threw an interception on the first play of the final drive in the last minute.

I still pound the table that the 49ers don’t really use Deebo Samuel the way they should, and you could argue his health may have limited his touches here after missing the last game. But in throwing Christian McCaffrey into the mix, I just think this offense has so many weapons that Shanahan gets confused on how to use them all. Elijah Mitchell returned at running back and got 18 carries for 89 yards to 14 carries for 38 yards from McCaffrey. Maybe that was the right call since the run looked better when Mitchell was given the ball, but that was a big trade to make for CMC.

This offense really needs to do more than 19 points and a fourth-quarter comeback in a game like this. The Chargers were outmatched and yet George Kittle got one catch, Samuel had two, and Brandon Aiyuk dropped a touchdown.

Every week it feels like there’s some excuse about a player returning from injury or someone learning the playbook or figuring out their role. I guess I just hold the talent involved to a higher standard and would like to see more from this team.

But at least they won. And they almost got one of the cheapest covers ever, but the Chargers are a tough team to beat by a big margin.

Seahawks at Buccaneers: Absolutely No Nazi Jokes Here

The NFL’s first game in Germany went from bad on paper in the preseason to decent on paper this week to not so great of an outcome. But it did at least produce a strong contender for funniest play of the year:

Tom Brady also threw a bad pick in the fourth quarter, but the Seahawks wasted the first half with terrible play on third down and no run game to speak of. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when the Seahawks trailed 21-3 that Geno Smith started to look like the quarterback he’s been this season. He would lead two quick touchdown drives to make it 21-16 with an incredible pass on a fourth down to Marquise Goodwin for a score.

But in getting a second chance to salt away the game, Brady and the Buccaneers easily picked up four first downs to run out the final 3:55 on the clock. Call it a fake close game. Kenneth Walker was held to 17 yards on 10 carries while the worst-ranked rushing offense in football piled up 164 yards. Seattle had run defense problems earlier this season but it looked like it was turning the corner when the Seahawks held down Austin Ekeler and Saquon Barkley in consecutive weeks.

Alas, Brady had his defense and running game working for him in Munich. Julio Jones and Chris Godwin also caught touchdowns and the line didn’t give up a sack. It was probably the most complete game the Buccaneers played all season, and yet it was a 21-16 game with four minutes left.

But Brady running a route was something I did not see coming.

Jaguars at Chiefs: Low Drama Dissection

Kansas City’s 27-17 win over Jacksonville was by far the least dramatic home game for the Chiefs this year. Their first four home games were all decided by 1-to-4 points with the Chiefs often trailing, but this was a wire-to-wire win over a team not ready for shootouts. Still, it was disappointing to see the Jags fail to establish their running game with Travis Etienne after the tear he was on the last month.

Patrick Mahomes threw another four touchdowns and will likely take a big step forward in the MVP odds unless Jalen Hurts does something ridiculous on Monday night.

But my biggest takeaway is how stupid were the Giants to not find a role for wide receiver Kadarius Toney? He never seemed like a first-round pick they needed, and two coaching staffs never found a proper role for his talent. His health has been a problem, but if he can stay on the field, the Chiefs are going to love this dude.

Getting an expanded look with JuJu Smith-Schuster going out with a concussion, Toney scored his first NFL touchdown and finished with 90 yards on six touches, including a 32-yard rush. No other defense will leave him as wide open as he was on the touchdown play, but this is another toy for Mahomes to play with.

The rich really do get richer.

Colts at Raiders: Raiders Do Look Horrible

I’m amused and annoyed with this one. I thought the comedy factor would have been maximized if the Colts pulled this off with Sam Ehlinger at quarterback to go along with Jeff Saturday, the only coach in the last 60 years with no previous experience coaching in college or the NFL.

But if you told me Matt Ryan was going to start this game, I would have said Colts +4.5 was a great pick and they probably even win this game. The Raiders have been that bad at holding leads, and Ryan’s already led a bunch of comebacks this year. He never should have been benched for Ehlinger.

As it turns out, Saturday’s first big move was to put Ryan back in the starting role, and he waited until warm-ups to do it. We’ll need more games to figure out if Saturday is just a genius for this job, or if he was fortunate to catch the Raiders with his better quarterback playing and a healthier version of Jonathan Taylor. Both players were key in the win, and the Raiders might as well just forfeit the rest of season if you’re going to let old Ryan run for 39 yards like this:

Right after that play, the Raiders got Michael Pittman to fumble, which could have been crucial with the Colts down 20-19 in the final six minutes. But in trying to return the loose ball, the Raiders never got possession and Pittman got back on top of it. On the next play, Ryan found Parris Campbell on a short throw that looked way too easy turning into a 35-yard touchdown with 5:07 left. The Colts only allowed one sack in the game.

Like most Vegas games this year, it came down to Derek Carr trying to lead a game-winning drive. Like every game but Houston, it didn’t work out. Carr’s fourth-and-7 pass to Davante Adams in the end zone was defended well by Stephon Gilmore, and no flag was thrown. Both players were fighting with each other, so it was a good no call.

It hasn’t been pretty, but in eight games for the Colts, Ryan has already led five fourth-quarter comebacks (one tie) and four game-winning drives. Ryan’s 38th fourth-quarter comeback win ties him with Drew Brees for the fourth most in NFL history. Ryan’s 46th game-winning drive moves him out of a tie with John Elway for the sixth most in NFL history.

I would not be surprised if I wake up Monday afternoon and see Josh McDaniels got the axe in Vegas. The Davis family is not afraid of bold coaching moves, though nine games would be one of the quickest pink slips ever handed out to an NFL coach.

But is it not justified? He couldn’t beat the guy who was calling this team horrible on Twitter two weeks ago as part of his ESPN studio job. I don’t know how many more games Saturday will win with Indy, but I bet the tightly-connected network of NFL coaches hates this guy and is actively rooting for him to fail. Why? It would make them look silly when they try boasting about their profession where you have to work 100 hours and sleep in your office just so you can punt on fourth-and-1 or call a trick play to throw the ball to your 45-year-old quarterback.

Saturday knows football. Winning football at that. The knowledge alone does not qualify him to be a coach but understanding the game and being a leader should get you most of the way there. Look at McDaniels and his lack of leadership everywhere he goes any time he isn’t holding onto Bill Belichick.

The Colts are lucky McDaniels bailed on them in 2018.

Saints at Steelers: T.J. Watt and Andy Dalton Return to Pittsburgh

If T.J. Watt plays, the Steelers are more than likely to win. If T.J. Watt is out, the Steelers are almost certain to lose.

It shouldn’t be that cut-and-dry for a defensive player in 2022, but it kind of is in Pittsburgh. At least, New Orleans was a perfect opponent for the Steelers to welcome back Watt to face out of a bye week. Andy Dalton is now 3-14 in starts against Pittsburgh, and all he could muster was 10 points of offense in this one after he was intercepted and stopped cold on a fourth-down quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter of a close game.

But this was hardly a Watt masterpiece even though he made his presence felt a few times. It was also a good 2022 and team debut by safety Damontae Kazee, who made the fourth-quarter pick of Dalton in a 13-10 game after Kenny Pickett technically led the first game-winning drive of his career.

As for Pickett, it’s his first legit win since he was knocked out of the Tampa Bay game in the third quarter. It’s his first legit game of not throwing an interception as he made smarter decisions with the ball. He did take six sacks and was limping as the protection was not too good this week, but the run blocking showed up.

The Steelers rushed for 217 yards and even Najee Harris (99 yards) looked good. The Steelers had four different players register a 20-yard run, something the team hasn’t done in decades (if ever).

They won’t all be as easy as this one, but the Steelers proved again any quarterback can look more comfortable if you give him a consistent running game and strong defense to let him know he doesn’t have to do everything drive after drive.

If Watt stays healthy, I still think the Steelers are going to land around seven wins after the 2-6 start. That Watt injury really cost them the potential for some close wins over the Patriots, Browns, Jets, and Dolphins. But this season was never about seriously competing for the playoffs. They just have to get Pickett comfortable and make sure he’s capable of being the guy going forward.

Sunday was encouraging again.

Browns at Dolphins: The Synchronized Dolphin Show

What to make of these teams now? The Browns quickly scored an opening-drive touchdown, then watched the Dolphins score the next 24 points in a game that never got close after halftime. It’s the Browns’ second blowout loss this season after the Patriots got them 38-15 earlier this year. They are 0-3 against the AFC East, but hey, at least they are catching Buffalo at a good time next week…

It was another big game for the Miami offense, but it was by far the most balanced effort yet. The running game that has been struggling finally clicked to the tune of 195 yards. Jeff Wilson had 119 yards after coming over from the 49ers in a trade.

The passing game wasn’t just Tyreek Hill (44 yards and a short touchdown) and/or Jaylen Waddle (66 yards) dominating. The Dolphins had five 30-yard receivers, including Trent Sherfield (63 yards), who caught his first touchdown before halftime on a great effort.

Just like that, the Dolphins are 7-3 going into the bye with Houston at home up next. This team could be 8-3 and sitting at No. 1 or No. 2 in the AFC in a couple weeks. I think it’s fine to be skeptical of them given the recent wins are against PIT/DET/CHI/CLE, but we’ll get a great sense of this team’s legitimacy when they play a six-game stretch after Houston of the 49ers, Chargers, Bills, Packers, Patriots, and Jets. Those first three are all on the road too.

But this offense is getting comfortable and expanded, and that could be a scary thing for the other AFC contenders.

Lions at Bears: Just Need a Field Goal, Fields

I must give the 2022 Bears credit. I’ve never been this interested to write about a 3-win Chicago team in November like I am with this team. They remain a 3-win team too, because despite these historic rushing numbers, this offense cannot set up a field goal when it matters most.

  • The 2022 Bears are the first team in NFL history to rush for at least 230 yards in five consecutive games.
  • Yet they are 1-4 in those games.
  • The 2022 Bears are the first team in NFL history to lose three consecutive games after scoring at least 29 points.
  • Justin Fields is the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 140 yards in consecutive games, following up 178 last week with 147 rushing yards against Detroit.
  • Yet in both games, he just needed to set up a game-winning field goal and could not move the offense.

When Matt Eberflus sent away for an elite Chicago running game, he forgot to order the great defense too. Those were the two staples of great Chicago years in the past. They could run the ball and play defense. This one only runs the ball, but it can’t even seem to do that when only a field goal is needed.

But don’t put too much blame on the defense for allowing a go-ahead touchdown drive with 2:21 left. The Bears shouldn’t have been in that position after leading 24-10 in the fourth quarter. But Fields threw a horrific pick-six to Jeff Okudah that tied the game at 24:

To his credit, Fields made up for that one with a 67-yard touchdown run, but the Bears missed the extra point and that left the door open for Jared Goff and the Lions in a 30-24 game. The Bears actually had another chance to add to the lead at midfield, but they went three-and-out.

Even after Goff’s drive, Fields had plenty of time to set up a game-winning field goal. But on a day where he only passed for 167 yards, he wasn’t decisive enough in the two-minute drill and he ended up taking two sacks, including one on fourth-and-8 to effectively end the game.

You can praise the incredible rushing of Fields, but you can’t overlook that it isn’t winning games, and all the running seems to be taking away from the development of the passing game.

This offense is not normal. The Bears have just lost three games in a row where they rushed for at least 240 yards and scored at least 29 points each week. No other NFL team since 1950 has more than two such losses to this day, let alone in a three-game period.

Since 1950, NFL teams rushing for at least 240 yards and scoring at least 29 points are 509-13. But the 2022 Bears are now 1-3 when they do it.

Here’s one more record: 2022 Bears join the 1965 49ers and 1966 Giants as the only three teams in NFL history to lose three straight games where they scored at least 25 points and rushed for at least 100 yards. Given we know the Bears were at 29+ points and 240+ rushing yards every week, this is the worst streak of the group.

The Chicago Bears being the NFL franchise with the worst losing streak in history when scoring more than 28 points and running the hell out of the ball is a plot twist few could have imagined. But here we are.

Hurry-Up Finish

I think the early Sunday morning games are done this season (thank God), but here’s to finishing up a great Sunday with three quickies.

Broncos at Titans: The Most Predictable One-Score Game of Week 10

You had to know this game would be decided by 1-to-8 points. Denver is the only team to play nine close games this year, and it’s not like Russell Wilson would have it any other way.

Denver’s offense continues to waste one of the best defenses in the league this year. After building a 10-0 lead, Russell Wilson led his offense to zero points on six second-half drives. Meanwhile, Ryan Tannehill shook off a slow start after missing the last two games and got it done through the air (255 yards and two touchdowns) on a day where Derrick Henry was held to 53 yards on 19 carries. The Titans scored the final 17 points and clinched the game with a tipped interception off Wilson thrown out of fourth-down desperation in the final minute. Wilson was also sacked six times.

Wilson is now 3-3 this season when the Broncos allow no more than 17 points. Wilson was 44-3 in Seattle before he suffered his third loss in such a game (71-9-1 overall).

Jerry Jeudy was injured early, so it was another big loss for the Broncos on offense this season. But the Broncos finished 4-of-17 on third down. If Tannehill can manufacture 17 points with Nick Westbrook-Ikhine going for 119 yards and two touchdowns, what’s Wilson’s excuse for 10 points?

Texans at Giants: Still Can’t Stop the Run

The Giants had a bye and the Texans had a few extra days after playing last Thursday, but that didn’t stop Saquon Barkley from a predictable stat line of 152 rushing yards and a touchdown in a 24-16 win that was never really in doubt.

Daniel Jones also had one of the most efficient passing games of his career with 13-of-17 for 197 yards and two touchdowns. It’s technically another one-possession win for the Giants due to Houston kicking two late field goals while down two scores, but the Giants led wire-to-wire for 3.5 quarters.

Is anyone going to be impressed by knocking off the 1-win Texans? Of course not. But at least the Giants avoided a giant letdown after the bye.

Cardinals at Rams: Early Toilet Bowl

This is the last game in the article but the first recap I’m writing as I want to flush down the biggest turd quickly. Only on Saturday night did I see some blurb that Matthew Stafford and Kyler Murray might be out for this game. I wasn’t even aware they had injuries this week as I do the meat of my injury article on Monday and Tuesday, and there was just nothing there. How does Stafford enter the concussion protocol on a Tuesday? Did he fall down steps or slip in the shower? That was weird.

It led to one of the early toilet bowls this season as the loser will certainly miss the playoffs after both made it last year. Sean McVay was 11-1 against the Cardinals, but there is no doubt Colt McCoy is a better backup quarterback than John Wolford.

Go right to the fourth quarter with the Rams trailing 17-10. Wolford air mails a high pass to Cooper Kupp, and the defensive back clips Kupp’s ankle on the way down, knocking him out of the game and potentially for much longer. I wouldn’t classify it as an intentionally dirty hit, but the poor throw helped lead to it. Kupp left the game with 3 catches for -1 yards, cementing Arizona’s legacy of being the only defense to have an answer for him in 2021-22. Four times they held him under 70 yards when no one else could. Just unfortunate as hell it came to an injury here. You don’t want to see a wide receiver having one of the all-time runs suffering an ankle injury.

But on the very next drive, McCoy converted a fourth-and-3 with a deep pass to Rondale Moore, who made a nice catch for 26 yards. Two plays later, James Conner was in the end zone again and the rout was on. Arizona eventually won 27-17.

The Rams are 3-6 and last place in the division. Stick a fork in them. We’ll have a new Super Bowl champion and a new NFC West champion this year.

Next week: I’ll probably have to pull the plug on my preseason pick of the Chargers winning the AFC West, but not before I give them one last chance in the rematch with the Chiefs on SNF.  Titans-Packers suddenly got interesting again this Thursday night. I hope the Eagles deliver on Monday night so we can talk about Matt Ryan and Jeff Saturday spoiling a 9-0 team’s season with a fourth-quarter comeback. The NFL coaching network is already so pissed with Saturday’s existence. This would be incredible stuff.