NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Divisional Round

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

One team did this:

The other did this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell was the point of that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Chiefs: Quick, Break the Henne Emergency Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants at Eagles: Giant Ass Kicking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL 2022 Divisional Round Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some articles I did this week:

NFL Divisional Round Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Chiefs 30, Jaguars 23

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

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

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

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

Final: Eagles 24, Giants 17

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills (-5.5)

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

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

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

Final: Bills 27, Bengals 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final: Cowboys 26, 49ers 23

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

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

Enjoy the games.

NFL Stat Oddity: 2022 Wild Card Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Cowboys at Buccaneers: Not with a Bang But a Whimper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFC North Race Changed on Lamar Jackson’s Health

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

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

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

Leading Up To the Historic Fumble

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens Flopped After the Fumble

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

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

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

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

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

Burrow the Babyface LOAT?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, the Bengals play on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins at Bills: Buffalo Marathon Ends with Legitimate Scare

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Turnovers, Stupid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing It Out (Barely)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digging the 27-0 Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Turning Point

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Second-Half Comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this is just their year.

NFL 2022 Wild Card Predictions

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

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

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

Some articles I did this week:

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

Preview: Seahawks-49ers

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

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

Final: 49ers 27, Seahawks 19

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (+2.5)

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

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

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

Final: Jaguars 27, Chargers 24

Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills (-13.5)

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

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

Final: Bills 34, Dolphins 13

New York Giants vs. Minnesota Vikings (-3)

Giants-Vikings

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

Final: Vikings 30, Giants 27

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals (-8.5)

Ravens-Bengals

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

Final: Bengals 24, Ravens 16

Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+2.5)

Upset: Bucs over Cowboys

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

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

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

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

Yeah, save the popcorn for Monday night.

Final: Buccaneers 23, Cowboys 20

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titans at Jaguars: Fumbling Away the AFC South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just protect the ball, guys.

Rams at Seahawks: Playoff-Bound Geno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens at Bengals: The Settled AFC North

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

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

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

Patriots at Bills: New England Never Stood a Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiefs at Raiders: Quick Work

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

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

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

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

Giants at Eagles: No. 1 But Not Dominant

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

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

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

Cowboys at Commanders: Howell Bad Was Dallas?

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals at 49ers: Ready to Break the Glass Ceiling

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Falcons: Stats Over Winning, Eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikings at Bears: No. 1 Pick Belongs to Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL 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 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Packers at Eagles: All Things Must Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All things must pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens at Jaguars: The Streak Is Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one will sting the most.

Rams at Chiefs: Red Zone Practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chargers at Cardinals: Two-or-Die Take Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears at Jets: Pour One Out for Zach Wilson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

Broncos at Panthers: The Lowest Point Yet for Russell Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texans at Dolphins: Poor Bryce Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falcons at Commanders: Oh, Now You Pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 10

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Vikings at Bills: The Day the MVP Went Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chargers at 49ers: The Never Above .500 Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks at Buccaneers: Absolutely No Nazi Jokes Here

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Chiefs: Low Drama Dissection

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

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

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

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

The rich really do get richer.

Colts at Raiders: Raiders Do Look Horrible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colts are lucky McDaniels bailed on them in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday was encouraging again.

Browns at Dolphins: The Synchronized Dolphin Show

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

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

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

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

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

Lions at Bears: Just Need a Field Goal, Fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texans at Giants: Still Can’t Stop the Run

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

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

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

Cardinals at Rams: Early Toilet Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 6

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Steelers: One Wedding and a Funeral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants when trailing by 7+ points in fourth quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bengals at Saints: Good Homecoming for Burrow and Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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