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 17

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panthers at Buccaneers: The Inevitable NFC South Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saints at Eagles: Agents of Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikings at Packers: The Worst 12-Win Team Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broncos at Chiefs: Too Close for Comfort Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conventional wisdom is dead.

Dolphins at Patriots: Oh, Teddy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Browns at Commanders: Does He Know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears at Lions: Detroit Stays Alive with Rout of Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 16

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

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

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

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

Embrace the mediocrity?

This season in Stat Oddity:

Eagles at Cowboys: NFC Game of the Year Actually Delivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Dolphins: Tua Tanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants at Vikings: Crown the Close Game Kings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks at Chiefs: Whole Lotta Nothing Going On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commanders at 49ers: Another Purdy Good Win

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

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

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

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

The 49ers continue to roll with eight straight wins.

Raiders at Steelers: This One’s for Franco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bills at Bears: Beating Chicago at Its Own Game

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

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

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

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

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

Texans at Titans: The AFC South Has No Bottom

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions at Panthers: Running Back to Norms

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

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

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

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

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

But a sweep there would be glorious.

Saints at Browns: Dome Team Beats Predator in Deep Freeze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broncos at Rams: Nathaniel Hackett Swansong?

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 13

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

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

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

It was a day with nine comeback opportunities in total.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Bengals: Three for Three by Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colts at Cowboys: 50 Burger on SNF?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titans at Eagles: Great Day for Philly

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

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

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

Commanders at Giants: Ties Are for Losers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chargers at Raiders: Vegas’ Two-Headed Monster Impresses

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

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

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

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

Broncos at Ravens: Déjà vu?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

Browns at Texans: Allen vs. Predator Is a Flop

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Bears: He Still Owns Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Lions: Back to Square One for Jags

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

49ers at Rams: The Silence of the Rams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Bills: Child’s Play

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers at Eagles: Drag Matt Canada to Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants at Seahawks: Paranormal Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine an NFL game with:

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals at Vikings: We Need to Talk About Kyler

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

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

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

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

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

Commanders at Colts: Misery, It Follows Indy

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

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

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

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

Dolphins at Lions: The Vanishing of the Detroit Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears at Cowboys: The Texas Run Defense Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots at Jets: Return of the Living Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raiders at Saints: I Know Who Killed My Parlays

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

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

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

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

I guess this one was on the house from Vegas.

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 1

Ain’t that a kick in the head?

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

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

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

Upsets and Unusual Suspects Winning Close Games

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers at Bengals: When Pyrrhic Meets Pathetic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiefs at Cardinals: I Fvcking Love Patrick Mahomes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Cowboys: Spare Us Anymore Sequels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colts at Texans: Just Missing the Rosencopter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saints at Falcons: On Brand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Browns at Panthers: Sour Revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, the AFC East has some teeth to it.

Giants at Titans: Daboll-Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagles at Lions: Behold, Nick Sirianni’s Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Commanders: New Name, New Identity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Did the NFL’s Close Playoff Games Go?

Losing is one thing, but when you don’t even make it competitive, it’s another thing.

That was Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray after his team’s embarrassing 34-11 playoff loss to the Rams on Monday night, concluding a not-so-competitive Super Wild Card weekend with four routs and two close finishes.

None of the six games saw a second-half lead change, let alone a fourth-quarter lead change. We have gone 19 straight playoff games without a fourth-quarter lead change. The last was Kansas City, thanks to a third-and-15 conversion, in Super Bowl LIV against the 49ers. The last second-half lead change was in the 2020 NFC divisional between the Saints and Buccaneers after Jared Cook fumbled at midfield in the third quarter with the Saints up 20-13.

But this past weekend and all last postseason have sucked a lot of the usual drama and breaking point moments we are accustomed to seeing out of the NFL playoffs. You want to know who wins these games ahead of time? Pick the team leading after the third quarter. Hell, pound the live moneyline for the team leading at halftime.

Excluding ties, the team leading at halftime has won 25 straight playoff games. The last loss was the 2019 Bills in Houston in the wild card round. Teams leading at halftime win 79.4% of all playoff games since the 1970 merger, so it’s not that surprising these teams usually win the game. But 25 in a row? We haven’t seen a streak like that in the Super Bowl era.

I did the research, and learned some annoying things along the way about how Excel treats times copied from Stathead, and I compiled a chronological database of all 589 playoff games in NFL history. If the Bengals-Titans game on Saturday afternoon does not deliver a fourth-quarter lead change (AKA comeback), this streak of 20 straight playoff games without one would tie the NFL record. We just surpassed an 18-game streak from 2004-06 as the second longest in NFL history.

A total of 129 of the 589 NFL playoff games have been won by a team trailing in the fourth quarter (21.9%).

Interestingly enough, the first two playoff games in NFL history both saw fourth-quarter comebacks. The Bears exchanged touchdowns with the Giants in a 23-21 finish in 1933, and the Giants paid them back a year later with a 27-0 fourth quarter run that turned a 13-3 deficit into a 30-13 win. Can you believe that record for points in a fourth quarter of a playoff game (27) still stands today? Something that was set in 1934 in the second playoff game ever.

But after those two thrillers to start the postseason, fans were treated to 20 straight playoff games without a fourth-quarter lead change, which spanned a time from 1935 to 1950. That means the pre-TV era where you’d have to listen to the game on the radio at best, or read about it in the newspaper the next day, and that’s if you weren’t worried about bigger things like World War II.

Finally, in 1950 things changed when a few AAFC teams integrated into the NFL and the Cleveland Browns were the best of the bunch. In their first season against the prolific Rams, the Browns played one of the best championship games ever, a 30-28 comeback win. The rest is history.

 But we are definitely in a drought for playoff excitement. I’ve already mentioned Super Bowl 54, famous for Kansas City’s “Wasp” call on third-and-15, and that Texans-Bills overtime game that started the 2019 postseason. Those are the only two fourth-quarter comebacks in the last three postseasons. That means 28 of the last 29 playoff games have not had a fourth-quarter lead change.

To find something comparable, you have to go back to a stretch in 1983-86 when 24 out of 25 playoff games did not have a 4QC. That’s as close as it gets, so we are really in uncharted territory.

While I am not a fan of it, I do not believe the expansion to a 14-team playoff field is causing this drought. I’ve said repeatedly since last year ended that the most competitive and best played playoff game by both teams was the inaugural No. 7 vs. No. 2 seed when the Colts and Bills opened the playoffs in Philip Rivers’ last game.

The 2021 Raiders had a minus-65 point differential and still came the closest to pulling out a clutch win this weekend. Yes, technically they would have gone to overtime with a touchdown and extra point, but going for two and the win was an option, and at least they threw near the goal line instead of having Derek Carr run without timeouts like some slapdick team this weekend.

If you like decisive wins, then these recent postseasons should keep you happy. But as a fan of drama, a connoisseur of comebacks, a bettor who hates what blowouts do to prop bets, I am not having a good time with the pandemic playoffs.

I’ll have previews on the divisional round games, my favorite week of the NFL year, on Thursday and Friday. Hopefully we’ll get some much needed drama from these games, because this is often a round where many teams that go on to win the Super Bowl experience a real breaking point during their run. It’s especially common for lower seeds who had to fight off a tougher road opponent coming off a bye in this round. I have highlighted 14 of those Super Bowl winners since 1978 when the 16-game season and expanded wild card playoff era began where the divisional round gave them a major test, if not their biggest on the way to a championship.

  • 1980 Raiders at Browns: Red-Right 88 in Cleveland. Tom Flores is never sniffing the Hall of Fame if Brian Sipe didn’t foolishly throw a red-zone pick in a 14-12 game in bad weather.
  • 1987 Redskins at Bears: An obscure one, but Chicago’s Jim McMahon threw a red-zone interception down 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, a scoreless quarter that saw the Redskins pull off the upset.
  • 1997 Broncos at Chiefs: Steve Atwater tips away a fourth-down pass from Elvis Grbac at the goal line in Kansas City as the Broncos hang on for a 14-10 win over the No. 1 seed.
  • 2000 Ravens at Titans: Tied 10-10, the Ravens block Al Del Greco’s field goal and return it 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Ray Lewis also adds a pick-six off Steve McNair.
  • 2001 Patriots vs. Raiders: The Tuck Rule, followed by the greatest field goal in NFL history. Enough said.
  • 2003 Patriots vs. Titans: On a frigid night, the Patriots broke a tie with a 46-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. The Titans had a chance to answer late, but Drew Bennett dropped a fourth-and-12 pass from co-MVP Steve McNair in a 17-14 loss.
  • 2005 Steelers at Colts: One of the most dramatic fourth quarters in NFL history, the Steelers nearly blow a 21-3 lead in Indianapolis. Jerome Bettis’ late fumble could have been returned for a touchdown by Nick Harper, who was stabbed by his wife the previous night, but Ben Roethlisberger made the all-time tackle by an offensive player, and Mike Vanderjagt cemented his legacy as an all-time choker at kicker. The Steelers went on to become the first sixth seed to win a Super Bowl after going 3-0 on the road.
  • 2007 Giants at Cowboys: Tony Romo was intercepted at the end of a 21-17 upset by the Giants, who were swept by Dallas in the regular season.
  • 2012 Ravens at Broncos: Down 35-28 with 40 seconds left, Joe Flacco’s deep ball is misplayed by safety Rahim Moore and caught for a 70-yard touchdown by Jacoby Jones. The Ravens would go on to win in overtime.
  • 2014 Patriots vs. Ravens: New England trailed by 14 twice in the game but led 35-31 late when Joe Flacco forced a deep ball (in a situation he didn’t have to) and was intercepted, because He willed it.
  • 2015 Broncos vs. Steelers: Fitzgerald Toussaint, a third-string RB for Pittsburgh, fumbles in Denver territory with the Steelers up 13-12 in the fourth quarter. Not pressed for time or relying on a liquored-up kicker, Manning makes the Steelers pay for their RB fumble this time with a game-winning touchdown drive.
  • 2017 Eagles vs. Falcons: Up 15-10, the Eagles had to hang on with a red-zone stop against Matt Ryan’s offense at the end of the game. Final play: incomplete on fourth down from the 2-yard line. 
  • 2019 Chiefs vs. Texans: A drama-free second half believe it or not, but the Chiefs were down 24-0 to start their Super Bowl run before rallying for a 51-31 rout. We might never see one like that again.
  • 2020 Buccaneers at Saints: Really the turning point of the whole postseason a year ago, Jared Cook fumbled at midfield with the Saints up 20-13 in the third quarter. It was one of three turnovers the Buccaneers used to get touchdown drives that started inside the New Orleans 40 in the final game of Drew Brees’ career – his worst game in a Saints uniform.

Do we add something from this year’s slate? Maybe Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase pull off an upset or give the surprising No. 1 seed Titans a real scare before what would be a shocking Super Bowl appearance for either team. The 49ers could move to 4-0 in the playoffs against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Bills are looking for revenge from last year’s AFC Championship Game and have already handed Patrick Mahomes the worst home loss of his career (38-20) earlier this season. If any second-round matchup has ever had a “winner wins the Super Bowl” vibe to it, it’s this one.

That all sounds good on paper until the young Bengals get exposed on the road, the 49ers get rocked with Jimmy Garoppolo playing injured, Matthew Stafford turns into a pick machine in Tampa Bay, and someone wins by two touchdowns in Kansas City.

But we can still dream it will be great.