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 Stat Oddity: Week 11

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Chiefs at Chargers: The Best Division Rivalry Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the club.

Cowboys at Vikings: Frauds, He Said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Browns at Bills: Was Nick Chubb Wearing Snow Boots?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bengals at Steelers: So Much for Week 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jets at Patriots: You Had One Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lions at Giants: Felt Like Preseason Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears at Falcons: Cordarrelle Runs into the Record Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commanders at Texans: Powerbomb in Houston

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

Rams at Saints: This Turkey Is Cooked

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 10

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Vikings at Bills: The Day the MVP Went Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chargers at 49ers: The Never Above .500 Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seahawks at Buccaneers: Absolutely No Nazi Jokes Here

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

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

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

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

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

Jaguars at Chiefs: Low Drama Dissection

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

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

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

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

The rich really do get richer.

Colts at Raiders: Raiders Do Look Horrible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colts are lucky McDaniels bailed on them in 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday was encouraging again.

Browns at Dolphins: The Synchronized Dolphin Show

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

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

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

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

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

Lions at Bears: Just Need a Field Goal, Fields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texans at Giants: Still Can’t Stop the Run

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

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

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

Cardinals at Rams: Early Toilet Bowl

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 9

Not to start on a huge rant, but I think when I pull myself away from spending the better part of three hours watching the Steelers fiddle their way to 15 points and actually watch all the other teams on RedZone all afternoon, I just see a lot of piss-poor football this season.

The quarterback play again looked lousy on Sunday with Tua Tagovailoa, the Play-Action Prom King, the only quarterback to hit 300 yards until Patrick Mahomes did it at night. But more than that, I couldn’t get over how many bad fumbles there were. Plays where a player just lost the ball himself in the open field. Bobbled snaps. Fumbles that were then fumbled right back by the defense on the same play. Then don’t even get me started on the plays that are rushed and the quarterback and receiver aren’t on the same page. How is that still happening so frequently in November?

Insert the clip of Vince Lombardi’s “What the hell’s going on out there?”

Really, what the hell is going on this season? The Bills lost to the Jets after leading 14-3. Minnesota is 7-1 after coming back from 10 down in the fourth quarter. Aaron Rodgers threw THREE interceptions in Detroit and lost 15-9 to the worst defense in football. The Rams-Bucs go from 34-24 and 30-27 games last year to a 16-13 stinker that makes me think we should just cancel the NFC playoffs and let the Eagles face the winner of a best-of-three between the Chiefs and Bills.

I just said a week or two ago that this 2022 season needs to be something more than the Bills-Chiefs winner against the Eagles in the Super Bowl. After this weekend, it looks like it might be something more than that, but whatever it is, it’s going to be pretty damn strange.

But once again, it comes down to close games. We had nine comeback opportunities out of 12 this week with six teams on bye. How are the Vikings (7-1) and Jets (6-3) posting such good records? They are a combined 11-0 in close games and 7-0 in 4QC/GWD opportunities.

When does their luck run out? They’ll actually meet in about a month in Week 13. Who knows what trajectory this season will be on by then. That’s also the day Deshaun Watson will be back. Hide the women and children, things are about to get dangerous as fan bases who haven’t enjoyed success in a long time, if ever, are going to be chiming in loudly now that the gap between the top and bottom has shrunk some.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Titans at Chiefs: These Teams Really Are “Just Different”

Despite the Titans being 14-point underdogs with rookie quarterback Malik Willis, Sunday night turned out to be the day’s best game, complete with one of Patrick Mahomes’ best game-tying drives and an overtime finish.

These teams are so stylistically different on offense that it proved to make for a compelling game between 5-2 teams with some history. We know the Chiefs had their worst loss of the Mahomes era last year, a 27-3 rout that is still the only game of Mahomes’ career where he never had a lead. He led 9-0 in this one before the Titans scored the next 17 points.

Some of the ingredients were there again for this to be a one-sided game in favor of the Titans, namely an attacking defense and Derrick Henry rushing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. But with Willis taking over for Ryan Tannehill, the Titans just lacked that extra punch on offense that could have put the finishing touches on this one with one more scoring drive. The Titans had five completions, and none went to a wide receiver.

The Titans also had one first down on their final 10 possessions. Yikes.

But Tennessee’s offensive shortcomings were matched by a defense that put on one of the best efforts anyone has against Mahomes in Kansas City. They really made him work for this one with 78 dropbacks after the running game bombed badly with 13 carries for 14 yards.

Mahomes was sacked four times, hit eight more times, and there was a seven-drive span where the Chiefs failed to score a point, tying the 19-13 game against the 2019 Colts for the longest scoreless streak in a Mahomes start. Of course, Harrison Butker didn’t help with a missed field goal during that run, but the Chiefs were really challenged by the Titans.

The Titans took their 17-9 lead into the final 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, but that was when Mahomes put together one of the best drives of his career starting from his own 7. The drive ultimately succeeded because of Mahomes’ legs. His 20-yard scramble on a third-and-17 was a game changer. His 14-yard touchdown scramble on third-and-9 was another great run as several of his best runs have now come against the Titans in his career. He went for the hat trick on the two-point conversion, taking it in himself again.

But between the big runs on the drive, Mahomes found success when he stopped trying to force the ball to the well-covered Travis Kelce and got his other receivers involved with quick passes. JuJu Smith-Schuster especially had a big night.

With the game tied, the Titans would go three-and-out and never get another first down the rest of the game. You could see how little respect the Chiefs gave to Willis and the Tennessee offense, along with some respect for their own offense. But if Tannehill was playing in this game, I cannot imagine Andy Reid goes for a fourth-and-1 at his own 45 in a 17-17 game or a fourth-and-1 at the Tennessee 13 on the first drive of overtime.

The Chiefs converted both of those plays, but they were still stopped in regulation, and after winning the coin toss in overtime and setting up that first down at the Tennessee 11, they were stopped cold again on three passes. Butker, who also missed an extra point earlier, pulled his head out of his ass and made the 28-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead.

Almost predictably, the Chiefs would force the Titans to go four-and-out with Willis making some bad plays by holding the ball too long. He really didn’t have any open receivers, but he needed to throw the ball away. Once that first long sack set up third-and-21, you knew the Titans were in trouble. After another sack set up fourth-and-26, Willis threw incomplete on a short pass to end the game.

It was a wild one, and if these teams were to see each other again with Tannehill or if Willis gets better as a passer and remains the starter, then you could see the Titans being one of the few teams who could go into Arrowhead and win. They have been a nuisance over the years for Reid’s teams.

But the quarterback mismatch was just too much for the Titans to overcome in the end. Mahomes ended up throwing for 446 yards on 68 passes and rushing for 63 yards and a touchdown.

The Chiefs are 6-2, but I think we are going to see more tough games like this one and the comeback against the Raiders, which were two of the most dramatic island games this season. This offense has looked as good as ever in games against the Cardinals, Buccaneers, and 49ers, but we have also seen the offense held to 20 points or fewer in four games now. There seems to be no middle ground as that 30-29 win over the Raiders is the only game where the offense scored between 21-40 points.

I guess this is what life without Tyreek Hill looks like this year. You just hope that when the off game comes in the playoffs, the defense is able to do enough to keep the game winnable and they can grind another close one out. Sunday night was the first time in the last 13 games the Chiefs did not allow 20 points. Of course, Malik Willis won’t be there every week.

But the rematch with Justin Herbert and the Chargers in Los Angeles in two weeks is looking like a big one again. It’s even bigger if the Chargers can upset the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday night.

Rams at Buccaneers: Surprised They Didn’t Blow It Like This in January Too

The battle of two teams who have seen better days ended in a manner you should have expected. The Rams tried their darndest to blow the NFC divisional round matchup even after taking a 27-3 lead, but Cooper Kupp saved his biggest play for the end of the game.

He may have saved his biggest mistake for the end of this one, but the whole final sequence was classic, conservative Sean McVay. For 58 minutes, we were stuck watching two bad offenses that rank 31st and 32nd in rushing try to throw the ball with quarterbacks who are having the worst seasons of their career at throwing touchdowns.

If Matthew Stafford isn’t lining up a shot play for Kupp this year, he’s almost worthless. Tom Brady has taken a liking to skipping balls off the ground as so many of his throws are low and well short of the sticks this year.

After Kupp’s early touchdown gave the Rams their only offensive life and a 7-3 lead in this one, Brady was given 11 more drives in a row where he just needed a touchdown to tie or take the lead. Eleven. Do you think the quarterback who has thrown for 100,000 yards in his career including the playoffs could get one touchdown drive on 11 opportunities?

But the Rams, led by a few great plays by Aaron Donald, kept him out of the end zone on the first 10 drives after the Kupp touchdown. But even when he threw incomplete on fourth and goal with 1:52 left, you knew it wasn’t over with the Bucs having two timeouts left.

If you have paid attention to Sean McVay’s career, you know he is super conservative in these moments. The thought used to be that he was afraid to let Jared Goff throw with the late lead, but he has Stafford now and we still see this stuff.

On the second play of the drive, after a run for no gain, Kupp got another carry. Instead of trying to plow forward for the first down, which he absolutely had a shot at with the way he runs with the ball, Kupp did a big slide to stay in bounds and keep the clock running after a 5-yard gain.

What the hell was that? Even if you get knocked out of bounds, go for the 10 yards and end this thing. The game is over with a first down. That was a big mistake, but McVay made it worse with the predictable run for a yard on third-and-5. All that money to Stafford and Kupp, and you call a run to Darrell Henderson with a chance to win the game. For shame, man.

So, the stage was set. Brady had 44 seconds and no timeouts to drive 60 yards for the win. He got almost half of it right away with a pass to tight end Cade Otton, a 28-yard gain after the Bucs had zero 20-yard plays in the first 59 minutes.

Okay, but the Rams would be more aggressive with the ball getting closer to the end zone, right?

Wrong. The Rams went prevent and didn’t even bother guarding the sidelines. Brady could go 25 yards in three plays that took 12 seconds with how open the receivers were at the sideline.

With the ball at the 7 now, the next piece of the puzzle was Mike Evans doing his usual acting job to sell a defensive pass interference that officials almost always buy. Brady threw a terrible, hurried pass that no one could have caught, but because there was a little contact with the defender, and because of how good Evans is at selling these, they got the ball at the 1-yard line. Otton finished the drive with the walk-in touchdown on a play-action pass, the first touchdown by a Tampa tight end since Rob Gronkowski retired. The Rams then fumbled a lateral play to end the game.

On a day where multiple NFL games had questionable endings in regards to DPI being called or not with any consistency, go figure it was Brady and Evans to get the call on the worst throw of the three.

The reputation of the quarterback, receiver, and defender involved in a pass play should not have any influence on whether or not the play is pass interference. But watch enough NFL games and it is hard to deny there isn’t some influence there.

  • I cannot imagine Brady and Evans not getting that DPI call on the Chase Claypool play that Justin Fields threw to no avail to end the game.
  • I doubt Jets corner Sauce Gardner gets away with what he did on Gabe Davis if he was an undrafted scrub playing in his first game instead of an emerging rookie star who was drafted No. 4 overall.
  • If the pass Brady threw to Evans was thrown by Malik Willis to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, you’ll die holding your breath waiting for the same flag to come out.

Star treatment aside, this loss was on McVay more than anything. He had a chance to bury Tampa Bay at 3-6, but he’s the one sitting at 3-5 because he doesn’t play to win like he should.

Bills at Jets: Oh Great, Now You’ve Encouraged Them

The Buffalo Bills have received plenty of praise all season. They have been the favorites to win it all this year since the preseason. They were my preseason Super Bowl pick. Josh Allen has been leading the MVP race all year.

But ever since they won the Game of the Year in Kansas City in Week 6 and had their bye, it is starting to look like the Bills are listening to too much of the praise before they’ve actually achieved anything different this season.

They beat the Chiefs 38-20 in Arrowhead last year with Allen getting MVP praise. What happened a few weeks later? It was one year ago today (11/7) they lost 9-6 in Jacksonville as a huge favorite with Allen playing such a terrible game that it effectively destroyed his 2021 MVP campaign.

Allen wasn’t Jacksonville terrible on Sunday, but the truth is he has thrown four interceptions since he’s thrown his last touchdown pass. They have been pretty bad, 2018-19 type Josh Allen picks too. He did rush for two early touchdowns against the Jets to build a 14-3 lead, but the Bills managed just one field goal the rest of the way.

The Jets were not stellar on offense, but they also did enough damage to make the Bills look less than impressive as they try to finish No. 1 on defense. Zach Wilson avoided throwing any interceptions, and he hooked up with rookie wideout Garrett Wilson eight times for 92 yards.

But the difference in the rushing games was significant. The Jets gave Wilson 150 yards of ground support compared to 48 yards for Allen, who barely broke 200 yards passing again as no one but Stefon Diggs (93 yards) really stepped up at receiver.

Allen did not have a successful fourth quarter after the Bills tied the game at 17. The Jets helped Wilson out by going to the ground game exclusively on their game-winning drive until Wilson converted a third down before the two-minute warning. That led to the Bills burning through all three timeouts before the Jets kicked the go-ahead field goal to take a 20-17 lead with 1:43 left.

Still, that’s plenty of time to set up a field goal in this league. But I’ve had my reservations about the Bills being a front-running team. The game-winning drive in Kansas City was great, but the fact is Allen is only 9-16 (.360) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities in his career.

It looked like Allen was going to overcome an instant holding penalty and first-and-20 situation, but a strip-sack nearly ended his drive after three snaps. The Bills recovered but faced third-and-21. Allen was too low for Diggs, who did very little after halftime, and on fourth down, he threw up a prayer in a really solid spot to Gabe Davis, but he was in coverage with rookie corner Sauce Gardner. There was a lot of contact and Gardner did very little to look back for the ball, but there was no flag.

Ideally, you don’t want to see a team put in instant field goal range at the end of the game with a DPI flag like that. It should be something egregious. My issue with the whole process here is that it seems like officials are already applying star treatment to Gardner, a rookie, as if he was prime Darrelle Revis or Richard Sherman. This isn’t the first time he’s gotten away with some aggressive grabbing at the end of the game to no call by the official. Why wouldn’t he keep doing it if they’re not going to call it?

Buffalo (6-2) is still holding onto the No. 1 spot in the AFC, but the Jets are right there at 6-3 and Buffalo is now 0-2 in division games after losing to Miami earlier. I still think this team’s worst enemy is itself. Right now, the Bills are looking like a team that thought its shit didn’t stink this year. After these last five quarters going back to the Green Bay game not ending as well as it could have, hopefully they realize they still have a long way to go this season.

Week 6 didn’t guarantee a thing other than holding the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chiefs.

Packers at Lions: Some Shitty Throws, For Sure

Aaron Rodgers was 18-3 against the Lions in games he actually played to completion. The Detroit defense made him look bad in a 19-7 loss in 2014. Mason Crosby had some kicks he’d like to have back in losses in 2015 and 2018 as Rodgers did what he could on tough days for the Packers.

But Sunday? This was something different. Rodgers was facing perhaps the most inept Detroit defense since the days of the 0-16 team in 2008, but he still found a way to throw three interceptions deep in scoring range and lost a 15-9 game to Jared Goff and a 1-6 team.

Jesus Christ.

The interceptions were stunning as this is a quarterback who throws two or four picks for an entire season most of the time since 2018. He just threw three in one game against a team he owns that had two picks all season coming in. A Detroit defense that allowed at least 24 points to everyone, but the Packers got nine largely because of those interceptions.

Was it all Rodgers’ fault? No, Romeo Doubs was carted off and Aaron Jones, not that they seemed to want to use him anyway on Sunday, did not finish the game either. The skill player injuries continue to mount. There were also some bad drops.

But after thinking Matt LaFleur was such a good coach for Rodgers and better than Mike McCarthy, I’m just not seeing it after what is now a five-game losing streak. The team is getting worse instead of better. Maybe that’s the injuries and lack of talent, but why after running all over Buffalo did the Packers not try something similar in this game? Rodgers trying to pad the touchdown pass total with those short, quick throws into tight windows was ludicrous. Give the ball to Aaron Jones, the guy with 40 touchdowns in 2019-21.

A fade to Sammy Watkins is the best play call you have? Really?

But once the Packers got the ball to the Detroit 17 in a 15-9 game in the final minute, you still thought Rodgers had it in him to pull it out. Not so much because of his personal history, but also because you just expect the Lions as a franchise to lose this game to Green Bay. Like Brady, Rodgers could play like shit for 59 minutes but get all the credit if he delivers on the last drive.

Of course, you still have to deliver, and he didn’t do it this time. Why is he wasting two downs with lazy throws that landed well out of bounds to Allen Lazard? Why is he going for the end zone on third down when he still has time to pick up the first and get inside the 10? What the hell was that fourth-down play to Watkins supposed to be? He wasn’t even looking for that ball.

Four straight incompletions ended the game, and the Lions pulled it off. Next, Rodgers will get to host Dallas, another team he’s owned for his career. But the days of expecting Rodgers and the Packers to do the things they used to do seem to be over.

It’s gotten so bad that you might not even be able to trust the Packers at home in a night game against the Bears anymore. You know, their Week 2 game that’s the only win they have by more than three points in their last 11 games going back to last season.

Vikings at Commanders: We Need to Talk About Kirk

Not that the world would be any saner with a Taylor Heinicke-driven win streak, but we need to talk about Kirk Cousins, because Mr. .500 is having one interesting season.

No one knows how to stay within a game of .500 like Cousins, but at 7-1 now, he is either threatening to blow that narrative out of the water this year, or the Vikings are about to have one of the most epic second-half meltdowns.

For the first time in his career, Cousins has led four fourth-quarter comeback wins in a season, and he still has at least nine games to go. This was the second time he’s rallied from 10 points down in the fourth this year, doing it against Detroit too.

These are the games Minnesota used to mostly lose, which is why in a normal year, the Vikings would be 3-5, 4-4, or 5-3 right now. But they’re getting things to go their way and their only loss was against the 8-0 Eagles.

When I say things are going Minnesota’s way, I mean after falling behind 17-7 in the fourth quarter, Cousins looks like he gets picked three plays into the next drive. Typical Cousins. He’ll finish with 300 yards and multiple touchdowns, but only after he throws a couple bad picks. But this time there was a defensive pass interference flag to negate it. Then Cousins hits a bomb to Justin Jefferson that leads to a field goal, and Heinicke is the one getting intercepted to set up a 12-yard field that Cousins turns into a nice touchdown catch by Dalvin Cook to tie the game.

Washington goes three-and-out, Minnesota drives methodically, but it looked like the go-ahead field goal would come with nearly two full minutes left for Heinicke to answer. But the Commanders are penalized on the field goal for a silly unnecessary roughness foul, so the game-winning field goal left Heinicke just 12 seconds to answer, which he understandably couldn’t.

Ho-hum, the Vikings are 7-1 with a 20-17 win that won’t move the numbers for them after the run game was stuffed (56 yards) and Cousins was barely over 50% complete. New tight end T.J. Hockenson showed out well in his first game after the trade from Detroit with nine catches on nine targets for 70 yards.

But despite the record and all the close wins, Cousins (50.1) is only 19th in QBR, which would be his lowest ranking and lowest QBR in his career.

I’d say that plane ride is about to be the peak of Minnesota’s season, but with Buffalo up next, what if next Sunday is the day everything changes? If Cousins outplays Josh Allen in an upset win, that could mark the first time all year the Bills are not on the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl, Allen is not leading the MVP race anymore, and Cousins just may be moving his name near the top of that list on an 8-1 team.

You like that?

I don’t think I do, but if Kevin O’Connell is going to give Cousins the Stafford makeover like he did with the 2021 Rams to win a Super Bowl and send Tom Brady into retirement along the way, then sign me up for all the craziness to come.

Seahawks at Cardinals: Baseball Season Is Over, Is Kyler Checked Out?

With the World Series in the books and a new Call of Duty game out, is it time for Kyler Murray to mentally check out of this season?

If you didn’t get the references, this is about the way Murray’s Arizona teams under Kliff Kingsbury tend to implode in November and December, and that the quarterback’s study time is impacted as he apparently has a thing for gaming.

But this is going to make for an awkward in-season Hard Knocks if the Cardinals keep losing after a bad start to the season. This game was fairly lopsided with the Seahawks converting 10-of-15 on third down and outgaining Arizona 421-262. I’m not even sure why the Cardinals were a slight favorite. Home-field advantage? Murray and Kliff have one of the worst home records since 2019.

But even with DK Metcalf held in check like usual against Arizona, he still caught a touchdown, Geno Smith didn’t implode, and Kenneth Walker rushed for 109 yards and two more touchdowns.

The Cardinals were down 17-14 to start the fourth quarter with the ball, but Murray took a third-down sack, one of five sacks on the day as he had problems getting the ball out late in the game. Seattle answered both Arizona drives in the fourth quarter with Walker touchdowns, and it’s yet another double-digit win for Pete Carroll’s team.

These really are the bizarro Seahawks, but it’s clicking right now with a 6-3 record and four straight wins. If this team can beat Tampa before the bye, it is not impossible for the Seahawks to be 10-3 going into the rematch with San Francisco in Week 15. Short of the Eagles going 17-0, I think you’d have to give Carroll the Coach of the Year award if this team wins 10+ games.

Chargers at Falcons: About What You’d Expect

We have already seen the Chargers in the Justin Herbert era play the Falcons twice, and see if you can spot the similarities:

  • 2020: Chargers win 20-17 after 43-yard field goal is good on a drive that started with 31 seconds left after an Atlanta turnover.
  • 2022: Chargers win 20-17 after 37-yard field goal is good on a drive that started with 34 seconds left after an Atlanta turnover.

Yeah, they went there again. It was another tough start for the Chargers, who were without wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, but they still had Austin Ekeler for a couple touchdowns to offset the pair scored by Cordarrelle Patterson, who made his return for Atlanta.

Still, the game was lower scoring than expected with a comedy of errors in the second half as you might expect in a game between the Chargers and Falcons. Khalil Mack flat out stole the ball from rookie Drake London in the third quarter when London was about to set up first-and-goal.

In the fourth quarter, Atlanta kicker Younghoe Koo missed a 50-yard field goal that would have given the Falcons a 20-14 lead and could have led to a much different outcome. But the Chargers tied the game with a field goal from Cameron Dicker the Kicker (real name), Atlanta went three-and-out, and Herbert seemed to have another game-winning drive brewing.

Then we were treated to a play that you could only get in a Chargers-Falcons game as both teams tried to choke as hard as they could with the game on the line.

With 46 seconds left at the Atlanta 22, Ekeler was just trying to run for a first down. He fumbled, the Falcons scooped it up and started to return it, then they fumbled it right back to the Chargers, starting a new drive with 34 seconds left. Herbert needed just one 22-yard pass to Josh Palmer to set up Dicker the Kicker from 37 yards out as time expired for the 20-17 win.

CBS had an interesting graphic that the 2022 Chargers are the third team in NFL history to trail by double digits after the first quarter of four straight games. The others were the 1962 Broncos and 1988 Buccaneers, two teams you don’t want to be associated with. But the shocking part is the Chargers are now 3-1 in these games, so they are finding their footing and holding onto most leads this year. Still, it doesn’t really feel like a 5-3 team, but we’ll see what can happen when the wide receivers return.

But after 28-3 and now blowing the last two winnable head-to-head meetings with the Chargers, I have to say the Falcons outclass the Chargers when it comes to choking and losing games in incredible fashion that you definitely should have won. So, if losing was the goal here to determine the real winner between these two, then Atlanta came through beautifully on Sunday.

Dolphins at Bears: Some Offensive Appreciation Here in 2022

I’d like to point out this was the most fun in a Dolphins-Bears game since Erik Kramer led a 15-point comeback in the fourth quarter for a 36-33 upset of Dan Marino’s Dolphins in 1997.

I’m not kidding either. There is something to be said that these teams are hopefully turning the corner on offense and will be watchable again, or in Chicago’s case, for the first time since television was invented.

The Dolphins are finally starting to stack big scoring games, and they even got Tyreek Hill his first touchdown since the Baltimore comeback to go along with his prolific yardage output this season. One thing I did notice is that it seemed like every single Tua pass attempt came off play-action. It’s something he uses around 30%, a league-high rate, and it certainly helps to have the speediest WR duo in the league. I can see the system QB arguments to come going forward, but whatever.

It was also a game that could have easily slipped away from Miami after the Bears pulled to within 35-32 with over 11 minutes left. No one scored the rest of the way, though there were chances.

Justin Fields had himself a prolific day with 178 rushing yards, the second most by a quarterback in NFL history and a new record for a regular-season game. Michael Vick had 173 yards back in the day.

By finishing with 252 rushing yards as a team, the Bears are the fourth team in NFL history (read: since 1940) to rush for at least 230 yards in four consecutive games. The only other teams to do that are the 1949 Eagles, 1951 49ers, and 1976 Steelers.

But given two cracks at a game-tying field goal, the offense stalled. However, the last drive was not entirely the offense’s fault. There was no flag here on Miami for defensive pass interference. This was a third-and-10 play with 1:35 left.

Tom Brady and Mike Evans get that flag. I guess Fields and new receiver Chase Claypool don’t have that luxury yet. Fields threw incomplete on fourth down on the next play to end the game.

Fields finished with a 95.4 QBR, the highest by any quarterback in Week 9, and easily the highest by any quarterback in a loss in the last two seasons. The Bears may not be winning most of these recent games, but it is an encouraging sign to see Fields moving the offense and putting points on the board even if it is happening in an unconventional way.

Raiders at Jaguars: McDaniels the Next One-and-Done?

Josh McDaniels must not have received the memo that the Jaguars have lost 40 straight games when allowing more than 20 points. Not 20 points exactly. More than 20 points. So, maybe the Raiders should have tried scoring on any of their five second-half drives.

By blowing a 17-0 lead, the 2022 Raiders join the 2003 Falcons and 2020 Chargers on a fitting list of teams to blow three leads of at least 17 points in the same season. No one else has done that, and both of those teams fired their head coach that year.

Blowing a 17-0 lead to Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City is one thing but blowing a 20-0 lead to Arizona and now a 17-0 lead in Jacksonville is a fire-worthy offense in my book.

Trevor Lawrence had one of the best passing games of his career (25-of-31 for 235 yards), and Travis Etienne went over 100 yards and scored two more touchdowns on the ground. It was still on brand that Lawrence’s second fourth-quarter comeback saw him hand off to Etienne for a 5-yard touchdown on the first play of the quarter, but there was a significant multi-score comeback leading up to that point that he was a big part of, so props to him for finally delivering one.

Once again, the Raiders had a great half and a terrible half. They never seem to put it together for a full game. Davante Adams was absolutely unstoppable in the first half, catching all nine targets for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But in the second half? Very stoppable. He caught 1-of-8 balls for no yards and had some concentration drops.

Derek Carr’s success rate was 1-for-11 to end the game as he got four different drives to try to answer Jacksonville’s lead with a touchdown. Couldn’t get it done again, so the Raiders are 2-6.

This franchise is no stranger to firing coaches after one season. With nine games left to set the record for blown 17-point leads in a season, McDaniels may be back in New England soon.

Hurry-Up Finish

The clock change is probably going to kick my ass after sleeping four hours last night, so let’s finish this up with the two blowouts on Sunday.

The 30th-ranked run offense cranked out 241 yards on the ground with Mixon scoring five touchdowns (one receiving), a franchise record.

Panthers at Bengals: Have a Day, Joe Mixon

It was a spectacular performance that just goes to show you that playing division opponents can produce weird results like last week for these teams and playing out of conference foes you don’t match up well with could be harmful.

This was an early knockout with the Bengals up 35-0 at halftime before winning 42-21 after Baker Mayfield had to relieve starting quarterback P.J. Walker, who finished with a 0.0 passer rating on 10 passes, the first 0.0 game since Cincinnati’s Brandon Allen had one against Baltimore in the 2020 finale. Earlier that season, Ryan Finley also had a 0.0 game for the Bengals against Washington, so the last three instances have involved Zac Taylor’s Bengals. But he was on the right side of this one.

Colts at Patriots: Throwback to the Old Days Best Forgotten

Remember when this was the rivalry in the NFL? Good times. Sunday’s game was like a throwback to the early 90s when the Colts and Patriots were two of the worst offenses in the NFL. At least the Colts still won 6-0 in New England in 1992.

This was a 26-3 massacre despite the fact that the Patriots only finished with 203 yards of offense. Still beats the 121 yards the Colts had as Sam Ehlinger took nine sacks. Isn’t the younger, mobile quarterback supposed to escape those and make things happen? This was quite arguably the saddest offensive performance of the Frank Reich era, and he once lost 6-0 in Jacksonville with Andrew Luck.

The Colts were 0-of-14 on third down. Since 1991, only the 2012 Cardinals (0-for-15 vs. Jets) and 2009 Buccaneers (0-for-14 vs. Jets) equaled or did worse than that in a game.

Can anyone explain to me why the Colts said Matt Ryan’s benching for Ehlinger was a move for the rest of the season? Is this team just tanking? It’s the only logical explanation.

Meanwhile, as if there was any doubt who the GOAT is and who the LOAT is, Bill Belichick’s Patriots are 5-4 with injuries at all the skill positions and not much to brag about even when they are healthy. That is pretty good, and yet he is dead last in his division as the AFC East has morphed into a juggernaut apparently.

Maybe he should have left for the NFC South too if he wanted a shot at the playoffs in his twilight years.

Next week: Germany game? Guess I’ll have to get up in time to see Pete Carroll blow another fourth quarter to Brady. Save us, Geno. Some very interesting AFC-NFC games with Bills-Vikings and Chargers-49ers on SNF. Even Browns-Dolphins could be the most exciting matchup between those teams since the days of Dan Marino and Bernie Kosar.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 6

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Steelers: One Wedding and a Funeral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants when trailing by 7+ points in fourth quarter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bengals at Saints: Good Homecoming for Burrow and Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Game of the Year Edition

Week 6 brings the start of byes and the two biggest games on the schedule to this point. Bills at Chiefs should be the biggest game of the regular season period with everything on the line in that epic matchup. But Cowboys at Eagles is a surprisingly big one in the NFC on Sunday night. It’s just a shame this won’t be Dak Prescott’s return game as that would add more intrigue to it. I expect the Eagles to move to 6-0, and if they get past this one, they may not lose until after Thanksgiving.

Articles this week:

But clearly I’m all about talking Bills-Chiefs this week.

Game of the Year: Bills at Chiefs (+2.5)

I want to draw attention to the nearly 3,000-word QB-centered preview I did for this game already, the first of two previews I wrote about it (see above link too). I covered the first four meetings between Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes as well as what can happen this time around.

That piece covers a lot of my feelings about this game and budding rivalry, which should be drawing comparisons to the 1990s 49ers-Cowboys and 2000s Colts-Patriots. But for it to step up to that level, the Bills have to be the better team this year. That means winning this game to give themselves the best shot at hosting a rematch in January instead of going to Arrowhead for the third year in a row.

Not only is homefield advantage at stake here, but the leader in the MVP race is going to get a big boost from this outcome, assuming both QBs won’t be as stellar as they were in January’s playoff decision. Someone should create a gap in this game, and my pick for that is Allen going up against the lesser defense. That should be the main reason why the Bills are favored by 2.5 points, the first time Mahomes is a home underdog in the NFL.

But if Mahomes pulls this game out, I think you have to never bet against this guy as an underdog again. He has 28 touchdown passes in eight games as an underdog (6-2 SU, 7-0-1 ATS). I just think this is the game where not having Tyreek Hill is going to stand out, and if the Bills can keep up the attacking style the Raiders had in the first half on both sides of the ball on Monday night when they led 17-0 and 20-10, then they should win this game. I knew before Monday night that I was picking Buffalo in this one, but that emotional Kansas City comeback, fueled largely by a terrible roughing the passer penalty, actually strengthens my pick of Buffalo in this game. I just don’t think the Chiefs have as much margin for error anymore on offense, and the defense is not up to championship caliber like what the Bills have.

Not Sure Allen-Mahomes Can Be Manning-Brady

Something I wanted to touch on that I didn’t write about in either preview was the comparison of Allen and Mahomes to Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady. These quarterbacks are playing better than anyone else right now, and after meeting in the playoffs the last two years and being the two favorites to win it all (plus MVP) as we head into Week 6, that is why this is possibly the No. 1 rivalry in the NFL today.

But I have a lot of issues with calling Allen-Mahomes the new Manning-Brady.

The first huge problem: which one is which?

Throughout NFL history, so many of the great quarterback rivalries were instances of a naturally gifted player who had to carry his team each year and another top-tier player who had more winning and championship success despite lesser statistics because he was on a better team with superior coaching/defense/ST and maybe just some better luck.

  • Sammy Baugh vs. Sid Luckman
  • Bobby Layne vs. Otto Graham
  • Johnny Unitas vs. Bart Starr
  • Ken Stabler/Roger Staubach vs. Terry Bradshaw
  • Dan Marino/John Elway vs. Joe Montana
  • Steve Young vs. Troy Aikman
  • Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady

In just about every case there, it is clear which QB is serving which role. But when it comes to Mahomes and Allen, that is not very clear at all.

One of the main hallmarks of a traditional QB rivalry is here with Mahomes having the better stats/weapons/honors and Allen having the better defense, but Mahomes also has the better coach, and he has the better record (reg. season and playoffs) and the only MVP and ring between the two of them.

That really throws this one for a loop, because Mahomes does not match up well with the traditional “rings” QB as he is so prolific as a passer. But in time, this could shake out to make more sense. Maybe Allen wins a couple of Super Bowls here, leapfrogging Mahomes in the ring count and matching him in MVPs. The slow start to Allen’s career (rare Year 3 breakout) certainly does him no favor in these comparisons.

Also, it’s only 2022. There is plenty of time for this to change. This would be like me writing in 2006-07 about comparing Manning and Brady to Marino and Montana. I absolutely could have done it then, and those comparisons are stronger than the ones presented here. But I also can say with confidence what kind of quarterbacks Manning and Brady ultimately turned out to be. We still have no idea if Allen will ever get to a Super Bowl or if Mahomes will win multiple rings/MVPs or not. They both should do great things, but they also are both starring at the same time, and that is going to lead to one limiting the other. Without those 13 seconds last year, Allen might already have a ring.

That’s why hyping this up as a chief NFL rivalry is fun, and why this game deserves hype similar to the levels of 2007 Patriots-Colts (or at least 2017 Patriots-Steelers). Games like this don’t come around often in the regular season. Let’s hope it’s a classic, but if I had to guess which Bills-Chiefs game from 2021 it will look more like, I’d say the 38-20 Buffalo win rather than the 42-36 playoff masterpiece.

Maybe I’ll be wrong about Buffalo, my preseason pick to win it all, but if I’m right about this being their 1994 49ers or 2006 Colts type of year for them to vanquish KC, then that means they are going to win this game.

Final: Bills 31, Chiefs 27

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I nailed my TNF pick (Washington) and I would have nailed my SGP but Carson Wentz is a bum who couldn’t throw for 100 yards.

Like half of Pittsburgh’s defense is out with injury tomorrow, so nice of Tom Brady to catch a break in Year 23. He really deserves one…

The Jaguars may sweep Indy, who is down both RBs again, but that loss to Houston last week really soured me on Trevor Lawrence and the offense. I think Matt Ryan is a threat to fumble every time he’s touched now, which is often behind this OL, but I’m still going to back the Colts this week.

I like the Dolphins to upset the Vikings, who can’t keep pulling off 4QCs every week behind Kirk Cousins. The world isn’t that warped yet. I also think the Ravens are in dangerous territory in NY against the blitzing Giants. It could look like that Miami loss last year where they just teed off on Jackson, so I hedged with NYG ATS/BAL ML.

I’ll change my ATS pick to Carolina if Cooper Kupp doesn’t play, but whatever. Carolina still stinks after going with a different HC (Steve Wilks) and QB (P.J Walker) this week.

Cooper Rush is a wild story and that Dallas defense is tough this year. I just think the Eagles are going to score too much in the first half to get the Cowboys out of their comfort zone. We’ll see.

And finally, I am crazy enough to trust Russell Wilson to play his best game in a Broncos uniform. I wasn’t crazy enough to pick them to win outright, but in a MNF game between Wilson and the Chargers, how the fvck can it not be super close at the end?

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 4

I said in this weekend’s predictions that we would get some crucial breaking points to this season with the games on tap. Sure enough, the games were very competitive again. In fact, with Monday Night Football still to come, we again had 12 games with a comeback opportunity after 12 last week, the second-highest total in the last seven seasons:

Technically, I should say a 4QC/GWD opportunity since the Bills-Ravens game was not a 4QC opportunity for either. More on that semantics mess shortly.

Speaking of Buffalo, Sunday seemed to reroute the course to a place many were expecting it to go: Buffalo vs. Kansas City, Round III in the AFC playoffs, and that huge matchup in Week 6 at Arrowhead is looming.

Did we get much clarity on the MVP race? Not really, because annoying rain made the games in Baltimore and Philly sloppy for Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Jalen Hurts.

But we learned that Bailey Zappe is a real NFL player, Geno Smith might get an NFL MVP vote before Russell Wilson, the Mitch Trubisky era should be dead in Pittsburgh, and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs run it up on Tom Brady’s ass (in prime time too) like no other.

Now if only the Chiefs could have done this in the playoffs a couple times, then they’d be a dynasty instead of me asking if there’s still an elite team in the league. But let’s just enjoy the ride, and any Sunday is a nice one when you hit +13118.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Ravens: Most Valuable Pick of the Season

When I picked the Bills to win it all before the season, I pointed out that the schedule was going to make them so battle tested for the playoffs. Just the early lineup is incredible with Kansas City and Green Bay to come soon before the bye. But at Baltimore was a big test too, because we know the Ravens are usually tough to beat in that building with John Harbaugh and Lamar Jackson.

I also wanted to see how the Bills would react in a close game. They had lost the last 12 games they trailed in the fourth quarter of, and their last 20 regular-season wins were all by 10-plus points, tying the NFL record set by the 1941-42 Chicago Bears.

Well, one of those streaks was snapped on Sunday, and the Bills can thank Harbaugh and Jackson for that.

Blame it on the weather if you want, but the wet conditions were not as bad as 49ers-Bears in Week 1. The weather was not helpful, but the top two MVP candidates were also not doing their teams many favors on Sunday. Josh Allen was wide of the mark three snaps into the game and his interception set up a 4-yard touchdown drive for Jackson.

After Buffalo’s running backs put the ball on the ground and got stopped on a third-and-1, the Ravens were up 20-3 in the second quarter. We may have been looking at a blowout as the only comeback of more than 10 points in the Sean McDermott era was a 16-point comeback against the 2019 Jets on opening day.

But the front-running team ran into the team that blew a 21-point lead to the Dolphins in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. Baltimore mismanaged a pass-happy three-and-out late in the first half, and the Bills were able to put together a touchdown drive to make it 20-10. Something doable.

Third quarter started the same way with a false start and three failed passing plays by the Ravens, who were getting the running backs going early in the game for a change this year. Allen scrambles keyed a field goal drive, and then he tied the game up his next chance with his legs on an 11-yard run.

The Bills didn’t have starting safety Jordan Poyer in the Miami loss. They already lost Micah Hyde for the season too at safety. Poyer was back on Sunday and made his presence felt by running up to catch an interception by Jackson on a ball tipped at the line on the first play of the fourth quarter.

But after the Bills went three-and-out, Jackson looked like he was going to shake off a rough passing day with a 95-yard touchdown drive. However, he and J.K. Dobbins were stopped short of the end zone to bring up fourth-and-goal at the Buffalo 2 with 4:09 left.

There is at least an argument for going for it in this spot, but given you haven’t scored all half, and the weather stinks, and your kicking unit is superb, I think you kick the field goal there. Make the front-running team that hasn’t come from behind to win in the fourth quarter in over two years put together a drive. The Bills are so overconfident at times that it wouldn’t surprise me if they would try a fourth-and-goal in a 23-20 game if it was within reason. And they might not get it like in Miami or against Tennessee last year.

I did not like the decision, but then again, I disagreed with most of Harbaugh’s close-game decisions last year when the Ravens kept blowing all these games. Sure enough, Jackson tried to force a pass after pressure got to him and only Poyer was there in the end zone to catch it for a second interception.

Jackson went from second in MVP odds to tied with Jalen Hurts (+550) for third place behind Allen (+300) and Mahomes (+500). I can’t say it’s not justified this week. Blame the defense all you want for the Miami meltdown, but in this game, the Ravens were scoreless on their final five drives with two fourth-quarter picks by Jackson. He passed for just 144 yards, and star tight end Mark Andrews also did not help shed his “big game choker” label with two catches for 15 yards.

On the other side, Allen was able to put the game-winning drive together this week, only needing a field goal. I didn’t love the angle on the big roughing the passer penalty that put them in field goal range, but it looked like an excessive takedown after he released the ball.

Singletary had some key gains on Sunday, and he put the ball inside the 3. The Bills were able to make the 21-yard field goal with no time left to get the 23-20 win.

This is a rare game that was tied to start the fourth quarter, and the only other score was a game-winning field goal on the final snap. You see maybe one of these a season, but we already have two this year with Bears-Texans and this. That’s also why it’s just a game-winning drive for Buffalo and technically not a 4QC.

That will just have to come later for the team, but this was a very important comeback win. The Bills will have that confidence now that they can come back if a game starts ugly like this one sure did.

But for the Ravens, I am not sure where their psyche is after blowing two 17-point leads at home in a couple of weeks. This is a franchise that had three such blown leads in 1996-2021, and two of those were in the early days of the bad defenses (1996-97). The only other one was in 2004 against the Bengals, a game that showed us the potential for Carson Palmer and his receivers.

Speaking of the Bengals, that’s Baltimore’s next opponent on Sunday night. It’s another front-running team with the quarterback and firepower to destroy this defense. This season could really turn on its head for Baltimore by Week 5 when it should be 4-0 and the talk of the AFC. Instead, here we are.

It’s a Bills vs. Chiefs conference until proven otherwise.

Chiefs at Buccaneers: Old Man, Look at My Highlight

If only Super Bowl LV looked like this for Kansas City, but it was never going to happen with the rotated offensive line that night. The Chiefs really seemed to take this rematch personally and came out on fire with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff setting up a quick 7-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game.

The Chiefs led by double digits for the final 49:01. This is only the seventh time in Tom Brady’s career where he trailed by double digits at the end of all four quarters. The only time the game felt in doubt was in the second quarter when the Chiefs were stopped for the first time after running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire dropped a wide-open fourth-and-1 pass. But on the very next play, the Kansas City defense, which was not outstanding on the night, saved its best disguised blitz for Brady to force a fumble and set up a 20-yard touchdown drive for another short-field score and 28-10 lead.

The Buccaneers allowed more points in the first half (28) than they did in the first three games combined (27). The Chiefs really seemed to save up some A+ plays on offense for this matchup, and Patrick Mahomes may have thrown his most creative touchdown pass yet.

The game really did remind me of when the 2005 Colts went into New England on a Monday night and just walloped them 40-21. If we got the Chiefs this prepared and fired up for every game, this team could go undefeated. They didn’t punt until the final minute when they were up 41-31.

This is now the eighth time in Brady’s career where his team allowed 40 points, and half of those games have been against Andy Reid’s Chiefs (all in prime time in 2014, 2017, 2018, and 2022). It is only the sixth time a team scored at least 40 offensive points on a Brady team. But no one has ever scored more than 42 on him, and Mahomes threw away that chance with an ill-advised pick with just under five minutes left. But even at 41-24, this one was over early. The Buccaneers finished with 53 passes to six runs (3 yards).

The Chiefs are never not interesting under Reid and Mahomes. They looked as good as ever against Arizona and Tampa Bay, but not so hot against the Chargers and Colts in between. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers are not playing complimentary football and haven’t looked that good period this season. While the offense had its best game of 2022, the defense had its worst game in the last three years since Brady arrived.

This is the eighth time Brady has trailed by 17-plus points in a game with Tampa Bay since 2020. He had eight such games with New England in his final six seasons in 2014-19.

I thought the Bucs would split at home with Green Bay and the Chiefs, but they lost both games. I still would not panic unless Atlanta comes in there on Sunday and wins too. But something has looked off with this team all season.

Patriots at Packers: Green Bay Nearly Loses to Fallout’s Vault Boy

Bill Belichick’s Patriots pushing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers into overtime at Lambeau is a story you could have believed last week. If I said they’d get the fourth career pick-six of Rodgers before halftime, you might believe it less. If I said they’d start Brian Hoyer and lose 27-24 in overtime, you probably wouldn’t believe it. If I said they played most of the game with the Fallout Vault Boy turned Vault Man – someone named Bailey Zappe – you definitely would have said I was making up some Madden player.

But it all happened. If the Patriots had just a little more faith in Zappe, they may have pulled it off in overtime too after getting Rodgers to go three-and-out after the Packers won the coin toss and received. But even after getting the ball at their own 49, needing just a field goal to win, the Patriots ran twice, and Zappe threw incomplete on third-and-5 before a punt. He’d never see the ball again.

Rodgers started cooking with his wide receivers and set up a field goal as the final play. Mason Crosby was reliable from 31 yards out, and Matt LaFleur escaped breaking his 21-0 (now 22-0) mark as a favorite of at least six points.

Isn’t it something that the only game with a spread above 6.5 (Packers were -9.5) was the one game to go to overtime? Typical bizarro NFL.

For Rodgers, it is his 30th game-winning drive, becoming the 24th quarterback to have that many. It is also his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win, becoming the 35th quarterback to join that club. It is also notable that it took him 239 games to do it. Only former teammate Brett Favre (222) also needed over 200 games. Something about Green Bay…

But from a 3-19 4QC record to 20-45, that’s a respectable turnaround for Rodgers since the 2012 season. With the way the Packers are playing against injury-weakened teams, Rodgers may need more of these than any season before.

Jaguars at Eagles: Probably Not a Super Bowl Preview

Talking this up like it was some surprise Super Bowl preview, like the 1999 Rams playing the Titans on Halloween, was never meant to be taken seriously. It was just some early excitement for how these teams have started in 2022.

Even when the Jaguars took an early 14-0 lead, I saw no reason to panic about the Eagles. Jacksonville got a pick-six off a wildly tipped ball, then saved a second touchdown drive after recovering a fumble at the 3-yard line that was there for the taking.

The weather was not extreme, but the conditions were not helpful to offenses. The Eagles just happened to handle them better and converted three times on fourth down with Jalen Hurts being pretty unstoppable there. I did want to see how this team would react to an early deficit after cruising through games to start 3-0. They handled it well with A.J. Brown having another big game against a former division foe.

Trevor Lawrence handled the wet conditions about as well as the aliens in Signs would handle a dixie cup of water. He lost four fumbles, which apparently hasn’t happened in a long time, if ever by one player:

Even when Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson (RIP) set the NFL record with seven fumbles in a game in 1964, he appears to only have lost three out of seven. Going 4-for-4 is some cruel stuff, and the last one came in the final two minutes with the Jaguars trying to tie the game at 29 after getting it to 29-21.

But even that comeback opportunity was set up by a suspect decision from the Eagles to try a fourth-and-3 pass at the Jacksonville 21 at the two-minute warning. Apparently there was an injury situation to the kicker, which would be about the only good reason to not kick the 39-yard field goal and make this an 11-point game. Lawrence was always unlikely to drive for eight points, but it was still a gamble that could have gone wrong.

The Eagles are the last unbeaten team (4-0), and I am starting to wonder if 14-3 was not a crazy prediction as that was the number I had them at on my first run through the schedule for all 32 teams this year. There will be tougher tests ahead, but maybe not that many if things continue playing out as they have.

Jets at Steelers: Move, Mitch, Get Out the Way

This would be the typical Pittsburgh letdown loss at home to a bad opponent, but the fact is it’s not a letdown if you no longer have high expectations. The Jets and Steelers might as well be in the same tier, and had it not been for the Bengals twice failing to execute a short kick in Week 1, Pittsburgh would be the NFL’s only 0-4 team right now.

But while the Jets got their young quarterback, Zach Wilson, back in action today where he showed off some incredible athleticism, maybe Mike Tomlin had seen enough of Mitch Trubisky after another bad half with a couple really long field goals to show for it.

He made the only logical, inevitable move he could by starting the second half with rookie Kenny Pickett, and the only question is why didn’t he do it to start what was going to be the team’s most winnable game for many weeks?

The Steelers came out flat as ever and were down 10-0 to the Jets, but once Pickett entered a 10-6 game in the third quarter, you could see the offense looked like it got a shot in the arm. Sure, his first pass was technically intercepted, but it was an aggressive deep ball down the middle of the field, and Chase Claypool made a soft effort on it.

Sure, no one is going to get crazy about a quarterback sneak for a touchdown, but it’s nice to see the Steelers will let Pickett use that weapon in the playbook. But the 82-yard drive between the third and fourth quarters really showed why the Steelers had to make the move. Pickett looked decisive and he knew how to get George Pickens and Pat Freiermuth involved. He had some timing routes on intermediate throws to the sideline instead of just more go routes 30-plus yards down the field. He scrambled for a third-down conversion.

He looked pretty damn good, then he got a little greedy and was intercepted on a more dangerous throw that was again tipped with 3:34 left. The Jets, now down 20-17, got a fine drive out of Wilson, who showed a ton of escapability on the day. Maybe not the best decision maker yet, but he can really move around out there. It was another game where the Steelers dearly missed T.J. Watt.

Wilson was able to drive 65 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left, the staple to old home letdowns when the defense would blow it in the final seconds for a Roethlisberger-led team. Rookie back Breece Hall just reached over the end zone before fumbling for the score.

Pickett’s final pass was intercepted in the end zone on a Hail Mary in a 24-20 loss. He finished 10-of-13 for 120 yards with three picks, so all his passes were caught by someone even if they were two tipped picks and a Hail Mary pick. Frankly, it might be the most encouraging three-pick debut you’ve ever seen.

Pickens and Freiermuth had 187 of Pittsburgh’s 204 receiving yards. They’ll need to get Diontae Johnson more involved next time, but I actually have faith now that the offense will be better if they go forward with Pickett as the starter. I don’t know how you bench Trubisky and not have the move be permanent. You cannot be afraid to put Pickett in the game in Buffalo. He is a 24-year-old rookie. Let’s see how he stacks up against the favorite in the league on the road.

The bigger concern is that this defense is a waste without Watt available. With the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins, and Eagles coming up next, it is hard not to see the Steelers sitting at 2-6 or 1-7 going into the bye.

Are they the worst team in the league? Absolutely not. Can they still win about seven games if Pickett is named the starter, Watt returns after the bye, and that schedule lightens up a lot? Definitely. But they can’t put the clamps on Pickett and program him to be super conservative. The defense isn’t good enough to hold up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Jets.

The standard has changed in more ways than one.

Browns at Falcons: Thanks for Screwing Up My 26-Points Stat

One of my favorite facts for Week 4 was that Atlanta and Cleveland were the only two teams to score at least 26 points in every game this season. Of course, neither would get past 23 points in this game, but for the second week in a row, the Atlanta defense held at the end by intercepting a Jacoby Brissett pass in a three-point game.

Marcus Mariota only completed seven passes for 139 yards, and his running game hooked him up with 199 yards. The defense was also solid despite some decent totals for Nick Chubb. But twice in the first half, the Browns had the ball inside the 2-yard line and only came away with one field goal.

Mariota did not do much, but he at least hit a deep ball for 42 yards to set up the game-winning field goal with 2:28 left. Things went downhill quickly for Cleveland’s answer drive, and on a third-and-23, Brissett’s desperation pass was intercepted with 55 seconds left to end the game.

Honestly, I am pissed that Brissett/Kevin Stefanski are this bad at comebacks, and not just because I had Over 47.5 points. But a field goal to make it 23-23 and bring up overtime meant it would have taken one of these teams to score 26-plus points to get the win, which would have been poetic given their starts to the season. Oh well.

The Falcons are suddenly 2-2 just like Tampa Bay and will battle them for first place next week. I say bet the farm that Brady doesn’t lose a third in a row at home to a team of this caliber, but I know what the most amusing outcome of Week 5 would be.

Saints vs. Vikings: Double Doink

I almost feel better about the Saints after this loss than I do about the Vikings after the win, the second week in a row they had to escape at the end over a team they were favored to beat.

For not having Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, Andy Dalton did a solid job filling in for Jameis Winston in London. These teams were up and down the field for most of the second half, with the Saints even taking a 22-19 lead in the fourth quarter.

The officiating definitely bailed out Minnesota on a 41-yard defensive pass interference penalty to wipe out a third-and-8 incompletion. There was DPI, but Adam Thielen also should have been penalized for shoving a player by the face. That was a big break, which the Vikings turned into an easy little 3-yard touchdown run for Justin Jefferson, who was un-guardable again this week (147 yards).

In typica Vikings fashion, they missed the extra point to keep it a 25-22 game after a lot of people had Vikings -3.5 bets. The Saints were able to answer with a 60-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, who was then one-upped by Greg Joseph’s 47-yard field goal after the Vikings looked like they were going to screw themselves by settling for the long kick.

Dalton hit one deep ball to rookie Chris Olave, who then almost made a spectacular diving catch at the sideline to help make the field goal shorter. But he gave Lutz another chance to send it to overtime. Lutz had the distance from 61 yards, but he hit the left upright and the crossbar without getting the lucky bounce on either. Saints lost 28-25 and will be 1-3 with a slew of penalties, turnovers, and other sloppy play to blame.

But was it the kind of game that makes me think the Vikings will do just fine in a playoff setting against the Eagles or Rams or Packers or Buccaneers? Absolutely not.

Titans at Colts: Maybe Tennessee Is Still the Best AFC South Team?

The biggest beneficiary of Andrew Luck’s surprise retirement in 2019 has been Tennessee. After turning to Ryan Tannehill, the Titans have controlled the division, one that the Colts have not won since 2014. Matt Ryan was supposed to make a difference this year, but things have not gotten off to a good start.

In fact, the Colts have trailed by at least 17 points in every game except the upset win over the Chiefs, which is probably going to look stranger over time.

Like last week, pass protection was an issue with Ryan getting blown up and losing the ball on a sack on the first drive of the game. Like last week, the Titans quickly rang up 24 points on a team before hanging on for dear life in the second half.

Like he did in Houston in Week 1, Ryan used his arm to lead a comeback attempt since Jonathan Taylor (20 carries, 42 yards) and the running game has disappeared behind the miserable line performance this season. I mean, the guy should have stayed in Atlanta if this is how the Colts are going to play around him.

But after turning a 24-3 deficit into a manageable 24-17 game, the Colts were scoreless on their last three drives. Nearly a second strip-sack of Ryan knocked the Colts out of scoring range going into the fourth quarter, a quarter where they would hit completions of 34 and 44 yards and score zero points on the two drives. Taylor lost a fumble with 8:40 left and just shy of the red zone.

Then Ryan’s third sack of the day was a killer in no man’s land with the Colts facing third-and-13 at the Tennessee 25. Not only did Ryan lose eight yards to bring up fourth-and-21, but the clock was running to the two-minute warning, losing that fourth clock stoppage after new kicker Chase McLaughlin’s 51-yard field goal was wide left with 1:58 left.

The Colts needed a three-and-out to get the ball back, but Tannehill converted a third-and-4 with a short pass to end the game at 24-17. Are the Titans still the best team in the division? I don’t know, but the upcoming schedule (@WAS, IND, @HOU) certainly gives them a shot to start 5-2 with three key AFC South wins.

Broncos at Raiders: Running with the Devil

A game between Derek Carr and Russell Wilson sounds made for a 4QC/GWD, but this was really a day for the running backs. Melvin Gordon had another brutal fumble that was returned for a huge touchdown, Javonte Williams may have suffered a season ending knee injury, and Josh Jacobs put the Las Vegas offense on his back 175 yards from scrimmage (144 rushing) and two touchdowns in a 32-23 win.

Carr only passed for 188 yards, but he did his best Wilson impersonation by running five times for 42 yards (kneeldowns excluded) and some of the biggest first downs in the game, including a 20-yard scramble before halftime to set up a field goal and a 9-yard scramble on a third-and-6 in the fourth quarter after Denver cut the lead to 25-23. Carr is usually one of the least valuable rushing quarterbacks in the NFL, so this game was uncharacteristically huge for him.

The fumble by Gordon and the no-show third quarter by the offense really hurt Denver, which is now 2-2. But the Raiders were finally able to put together a winning formula this season. Just don’t expect it to be a repeatable one, especially against the Chiefs next Monday night.

Seahawks at Lions: Coach an Campbell Cause He Ain’t Got No ‘D’

I am not sure which fact here is most surprising:

  • A team coached by Dan Campbell with Jared Goff at quarterback is playing in historic shootouts, including Sunday’s 48-45 loss to the Seahawks with Geno Smith, and in a game where the Lions were without Amon-Ra St. Brown, D’Andre Swift, and D.J. Chark.
  • The 2022 Lions have 281 combined points in their first four games, setting an NFL record for a team’s first four games.
  • This was the 13th game in NFL history where both teams scored at least 45 points, but it is the first one to end 48-45.
  • Goff has been the quarterback in two of the last three games this high scoring (54-51 against Mahomes and the 2018 Chiefs is obviously the other one).
  • Seattle is the first team in NFL history to have a wire-to-wire win with no ties after 0-0 despite allowing more than 42 points.
  • The 2009 Cardinals beat the Packers 51-45 in overtime in the wild card playoffs in a game they never trailed, but it was tied 38-38 and 45-45 in the fourth quarter before going to overtime.
  • The previous record for points allowed in a wire-to-wire, no ties after 0-0 win is 42 points, done by the 1998 Cardinals at Washington and the 2017 Jaguars at Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Both games ended 45-42.
  • The Seahawks (48) scored more points in Detroit than they had thru Week 3 (47) and more than the Broncos had (43) going into Sunday.
  • Geno Smith’s completion percentage (77.3%) is the highest in NFL history through four games of a season (min. 125 passes).

Pretty bonkers. Seattle was so good at answering scores with scores, that the last time Detroit had the ball while down by 1-to-8 points was when it was 17-9 in the middle of the second quarter. Still, the Seahawks had to recover an onside kick at 1:06 and run for one more first down to finally put the Lions away.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 4:

Commanders at Cowboys: Choose your Ginger! You knew I was backing Cooper Rush, who is now 4-0 as a starter and ranked No. 4 in QBR (74.0). It’s really not a quarterback controversy in Dallas unless Dak Prescott comes back and starts playing as poorly as he did in Week 1. It was nice to see Michael Gallup back for the Cowboys, catching a touchdown and drawing 65 yards on two pass interference penalties.

But Wentz really struggled again despite only taking two sacks this time. You have to wonder how short that leash is if Ron Rivera senses he might not be making it to 2023 in Washington if this keeps up. Most of the league is keeping it close in the fourth quarter right now. The Commanders have not in the last two weeks in two division losses.

Bears at Giants: Daniel Jones left with an ankle injury, but before he left, he still finished with the highest QBR (92.3) at ESPN for Week 4. How did he do it?

Exactly as you imagined. He ran for two touchdowns, or two more than what the Bears had after settling for four sub-40 yard field goals. You knew this would be a low-scoring battle of teams who don’t legitimately look like the 3-1 record they would have after a win. But given the Jones injury and backup Tyrod Taylor leaving with a concussion, the Giants may have to travel overseas to face the Packers with Davis Webb at quarterback.

Chargers at Texans: Austin Ekeler went from scoring no touchdowns in three games to three scores on Sunday. Play every running back against the Houston defense until further notice. It’s a gold mine right now. But good on Justin Herbert and the Chargers for not blowing another 21-point lead. There was some serious Chargering going on once the special teams fumbled a kick return, and Houston, only down 27-21, was 16 yards away from the lead. But the defense held up, and the offense put it away with a 12-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that hinged on a fourth-down conversion at midfield to Ekeler. It was his day (finally).

Cardinals at Panthers: This game was such a mess that Arizona’s game-winning drive saw them face a third-and-goal from the Carolina 27 before kicking a 39-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead with 11:22 left. Then another Baker Mayfield pass was tipped by J.J. Watt for an interception and a 5-yard touchdown drive basically put the game out of reach because we know the Panthers aren’t coming back from 20-10. Not in the Matt Rhule era, which now boasts these numbers:

  • 0-16 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-26 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-23 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-26 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I did not think Mayfield would be worse to start the season than Sam Darnold was last year, but it has happened.

Next week: Colts-Broncos on TNF might be good just because the teams are on an even playing field of disappointment. Will Kenny Pickett really make his first start in Buffalo against the Super Bowl favorite? Tomlin has no reason to declare it early in the week, but it needs to happen. Might as well see how he stacks up to a contender, because we know the defense is getting shredded if the weather is half decent. Bengals-Ravens could be cool on SNF. Another AFC North breaking point.

2022 NFL Predictions

Last season I had a different process where I ended up writing an in-depth preview of all 32 teams over the span of a month. In past years, I would usually get assigned a handful of teams that I’d study the hell out of to write my essays, then I would whip together about 15,000 words here for my final predictions.

We’ll see if taking more time on each team is paying off, or if last year was just a fluke because I had way more accurate predictions than I did for 2013-20:

Twenty-eight teams within two games? I might never see that again. I’m willing to believe 2021 had some fluke to it given no AFC team won more than 12 games and we had the first Super Bowl ever without a top-three seed. The Rams and Bengals were only No. 4 seeds.

This makes it very easy for me to not predict a Super Bowl rematch like I did last year:

Still, I think I very well could have continued my tradition of getting one Super Bowl team right (Chiefs) but with the wrong outcome, had it not been for Patrick Mahomes playing the worst half of his career against the Bengals.

Unlike the last few years, I do not see the Chiefs as the center of the NFL story for this 2022 season. Don’t get me wrong, they are a major character again, but the AFC and particularly the AFC West is so deep that I think it’s hard to focus on any one team.

But I have figured out my narrative for this year’s predictions.

What I’m Watching for in 2022

Like last year, my team write-ups are much shorter here than in past years because I already did previews in the 2,000-4,000 word range for each team on BMR, which are linked below.

I always tend to write these hours before kickoff of the season opener on Thursday, and this year I am extra burned out from work to get to this day. I just want to shoot from the hip my final thoughts on these teams. All the structured analysis can be found in the BMR previews.

Having said that, this introduction is becoming the most important part of the preview because I like to share the things I’m looking for in the new season. We’ve had crazy quarterback movement and COVID causing empty stadiums to deal with the last couple years.

But this is the year of the No. 1 wide receiver experiments.

Historic Wide Receiver Movement

Imagine going back a year to September 2021 and listening to two football fans have this fanciful, Madden-logic conversation about the league.

Fan 1: Man, what if Derek Carr had Davante Adams instead of Henry Ruggs to throw to?

Fan 2: Still mid. Who does Aaron Rodgers get?

Fan 1: Just some non-first round picks. Let’s snatch Tyreek Hill away from Patrick Mahomes too and give him to Tua in Miami.

Fan 2: Sounds too bizarre. Can we take Gronk away from Brady for good?

Fan 1: Sure, they’ll probably both retire after this season. He still has Antonio Brown though…Speaking of Brown, what if A.J. went to Philadelphia with Jalen Hurts, and Hollywood went to Arizona to reunite with Kyler?

Fan 2: Why would they do that?

Fan 1: So the Jaguars can give Christian Kirk $80 million.

Fan 2: Bro… the fuck?

Fan 1: The Browns are going to get Deshaun Watson and Amari Cooper. And for good measure, we’re going to trade Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson to the AFC, bring back Geno Smith and Marcus Mariota as Week 1 starters, send Baker Mayfield to Carolina, and ship Carson Wentz back to the NFC East to the Washington Commanders.

Fan 2: Comman-co-co-come on, man, this shit is beyond silly.

Fan 1: Falcons taking the first wide receiver off the draft board after Calvin Ridley gets suspended the whole year for making a parlay on a game he ain’t even play in..

Fan 2: Now I know you’re just dreaming.

But this became reality, setting up an unusual number of QB-WR experiments with many players still in their prime. This will be very interesting to watch as it’s not like the Packers and Chiefs replaced Adams and Hill with a legitimate No. 1.

Adams and Hill also went to two of the best situations possible with two new head coaches, Josh McDaniels and Mike McDaniel (no relation), who should know how to use them.

The Dolphins and Raiders could be much improved this year, and it still may not show up in the win-loss record that much because of how insanely deep the AFC is, which leads me to the other big story going into Week 1.

The AFC Looks Insanely More Competitive Than the NFC (LOAT Warning)

The Buffalo Bills are the favorites to win it all this year, but any team that comes out of this AFC deserves a round of applause. This division could easily be 11 teams deep for contention with only seven playoff spots available. This is even discounting the Steelers and Browns because of their quarterback situations and ignoring the chance that a second-year quarterback (Trevor Lawrence, Davis Mills, Zach Wilson) could vastly improve.

A team like Cincinnati could go from the Super Bowl to 9-10 wins and no playoffs at this rate. It is going to be something to behold, and of course some teams will end up disappointing and injuries will take out a couple more. But if teams live up to what they look like on paper, this should be an incredible AFC race.

Who does this tight AFC race and the offseason talent shift benefit the most?

Tom Brady, of course. You would end your retirement after 40 days too if you saw this easy of a path open to the Super Bowl between the state of your conference and the Buccaneers’ schedule:

  • Week 1: A Dallas team that already lost Tyron Smith, had a million takeaways last year, beat up on the NFC East, and still hasn’t been to the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season.
  • Weeks 2 & 13: Sean Payton retired in New Orleans, the team that is 4-0 against Brady the last two regular seasons and the only real division competition. Payton was replaced by a coach who is 8-28.
  • Weeks 3-4: Packers and Chiefs trade away Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill while replacing them with slight upgrades to Joe Rogan and Jackson Mahomes. Tampa Bay hosts these teams in Weeks 3-4, and they also get to host the Ravens and Rams in Weeks 8-9 and the Bengals in Week 15.
  • Week 5 & 18: Matt Ryan left for Indy, leaving Marcus Mariota with a coach he already failed with in Tennessee.
  • Week 6: A Pittsburgh team with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger retired.
  • Weeks 7 & 17: A Carolina team that settled for Baker Mayfield, though Sam Darnold could be available for one of these games too.
  • Week 10: Russell Wilson left Seattle for Denver, leaving Geno Smith and Drew Lock in his place for a team that is unrecognizable.
  • Week 12: Guess which game is the final one of Deshaun Watson’s suspension in Cleveland? Yep, it’s TB.
  • Week 16: Once the World Series is over, Kyler Murray acts like football season is over. Guess which day Tampa plays in Arizona? Hint: Bah humbug.

What else is in the NFC?

  • A Minnesota team with Kirk Cousins that can’t stray too far from .500 or the world will rotate off its axis
  • Washington thinks Carson Wentz is “the one.”
  • Philadelphia should have a good season, but it was 0-7 against playoff teams last year, including 0-2 against the Bucs.
  • The Giants, co-owners with the Jets for the worst record in the NFL since 2017.
  • A San Francisco team that only seems to win when their quarterback is absurdly handsome. Would you even trust Kyle Shanahan with another 19-point 4Q lead against Brady? Or anyone in the playoffs?

At the very least, what keeps this interesting is that Tampa doesn’t look loaded up for 2022. Also, the biggest kryptonite is Sean McVay’s Rams, the defending champs and winners of three straight over Tampa. If Brady somehow avoids the Rams in the playoffs, then we could be talking about him winning every other Super Bowl since 2014. If he can’t get past the Rams, then he may be setting them up as the firs team to repeat since his Patriots in 2003-04.

Needless to say, I absolutely understand why Bills vs. Buccaneers is the preseason favorite pick for Super Bowl 57. But is it my pick? Let’s find out.

One last note: I predicted over/under on each team’s win total at BMR. What I predicted in those articles since late July may be different from my final W-L prediction in September after sitting down with the schedule grid Wednesday night to make these final predictions.

AFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Chargers (12-5)

BMR Preview: This division race being anything but incredible would be so disappointing. The Chargers missing the playoffs again would be the most disappointing of any team in the league.

But I think they are ready to take that next big step in Justin Herbert’s third season and Brandon Staley’s second. Last year, the Chargers were 9-8 despite losing three games to playoff teams on the final snap. Herbert led a game-tying or go-ahead drive in all three of those games. As a rookie, he was 7-9 but the team blew three leads of 17+ points in his first six starts.

The kid just needs a defense. He’s already the only quarterback in history to throw 30 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. He has the second-most yards thru 32 starts behind only Mahomes. Just find him some defense.

I wrote why I think Justin Herbert will win MVP this year.

I think Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson are going to help enough. Herbert takes his game to another level and gets the MVP on the strength of coming out on top of this insanely difficult division.

2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-7)

BMR Preview: The Chiefs are trying to become the third team in NFL history to win their division at least seven years in a row. That is a long stretch of dominance, but the competition has never been stronger in the AFC West than it is this year.

I also think there’s high probability this is the weakest team of the Mahomes era so far. Think Peyton Manning’s 2002 Colts when it was just him playing catch with Marvin Harrison (143 times). That was still good enough for 10 wins, and Mahomes is like that too as I expect he’ll still lead a top 5 offense here if Travis Kelce doesn’t get hurt.

But you can’t lose Tyreek Hill and replace him with JuJu Smith-Schuster/Skyy Moore/Marquez Valdes-Scantling and act like it’s the same offense. I said after the Buffalo playoff win that Hill has to have the best clutch play highlight reel of any player in the last five years. When Mahomes needed someone to save a game, Hill was that guy. Think of the fourth down against the Ravens in 2018, the long touchdowns against the Chargers in 2020 and 2021, the plays late in the Buffalo win, and of course, third-and-15 in the Super Bowl. You know, the only play that prevents the Chiefs from being the biggest disappointment in the NFL’s last decade. Hill has to be worth 1-2 wins a season for this team with that rare speed.

I don’t like losing Tyrann Mathieu on defense either as another player who could make the turnovers in big moments. The Chiefs just don’t look as scary anymore. The tipped-ball turnovers shouldn’t be so bad this year, but if you’re game-planning for this offense without Hill, how do you not double Kelce and drop 7-to-8 defenders into coverage and make Mahomes hold the ball like he did in the second half against Cincinnati’s three-man rush when he had the worst half of his career?

After the Super Bowl 55 loss, it was KC figuring out the two-man safety looks that team showed them in 2021. They eventually did that. I don’t think a three-man rush is a sustainable defensive strategy, but I think teams are going to try it. Just make sure Kelce gets doubled or you’re  missing the point of it all. Take away the best receiver on the field and make these new guys, who are mistake prone (MVS, I’m looking your way) beat you.

3. Denver Broncos (10-7)

BMR Preview: Finally, we can look forward to watching Denver games again. I think Russell Wilson is going to have a fine season and no quarterback is better equipped to handle a ridiculously loaded division.

But at the same time, the division is why I think he’ll have a harder time taking this team the distance than what Peyton Manning did when he arrived in Denver a decade ago. This should land somewhere between what Jake Plummer and Peyton did as a Denver reference. I think Wilson is downgrading at his top WR duo, but he’ll make Jerry Jeudy a better player. Tim Patrick was a big loss for this team you won’t hear a lot about this year, but he was the red-zone target and a good third receiver who would start on a lot of teams.

But you bring in Wilson to give a rookie coach like Nathaniel Hackett an instant reason to compete. We haven’t seen Wilson play in the preseason so it’s a mystery what this will look like, but I think it’s going to be a good offense

Funny enough, because of the division makeup, Denver could still have the worst offense and best defense in the AFC West this year. But I think this is going to end in 10 wins and Wilson will end Denver’s 13-game losing streak to the Chiefs. He outplayed Mahomes in their only meeting in 2018, and that’s exactly why you need this kind of quarterback if you are going to compete with Mahomes and Herbert the next decade.

4. Las Vegas Raiders (9-8)

BMR Preview: The Raiders were one of my four biggest misses last year (6-11 to 10-7), and I wanted to somehow fit the team into 10 wins again, which still might miss the playoffs because of these other AFC West teams.

In a normal year, you would look at the Raiders scoring differential (-65) last year and the fact they tied the record by going 4-0 in overtime games and predict regression. It was a fluke, they’ll play better but have a worse record in 2022. Simple.

But then they hired Josh McDaniels as head coach, and while I’m not a big fan, I can’t deny the body of work and that he gave Kyle Orton a glow-up in Denver in 2009. It lasted about six games for success, but this might be the best Raiders roster since the 2002 Super Bowl team when you add Davante Adams and Chandler Jones.

In the end, I only gave the Raiders nine wins, but it’s hard to expect your fourth-ranked team to do more than that in a division. But I will say this…

The season to win is now, Raiders fans. Derek Carr has everything he needs to have the best season of his career. Adams, Darren Waller, and Hunter Renfrow is the best receiving trio in the league, and if McDaniels can use Renfrow the way he used Wes Welker in 2007-12, you might even see him catch more balls than Davante this year. This offense could be incredible, but it’s only going to work if Carr elevates his game in Year 9, which was a peak year of play for Peyton Manning (2006), Drew Brees (2009), and Matt Ryan (2016). You know I don’t think Carr is on that level, but he needs to show us something more this year.

Take the AFC West now before the Chiefs find Mahomes another top-tier weapon, before Herbert ascends to God mode, and before Wilson and Hackett figure things out in Denver. This might be the best chance McDaniels gets in Vegas, so carpe diem.

NFC WEST

1. Los Angeles Rams (12-5)

BMR Preview: I keep having to say it every year, but we are in the longest drought in NFL history without a repeat champion (2003-04 Patriots the last). This was one of my first and favorite previews to write this season, because I get into how we’re going to learn if this team is still hungry for more, or if last year was the culmination of a five-year journey for Sean McVay and even longer for Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald.

Does this give a new sense of confidence for Stafford now that he has a ring, or are we going to see that going 9-1 in close games and becoming the first team in history to win three straight playoff games by 3 points is a once in a career fever dream? I also think losing Von Miller and Andrew Whitworth hurts, and I don’t like Allen Robinson more than Robert Woods/Odell.

But ultimately, I see an easier division than what the Rams faced last year, and I still have them with 12 wins. Is it enough for the top seed and another Super Bowl run? That will likely be determined by how this team plays Tampa Bay. They have beat them all three times in the Brady era, and they will likely have to continue that mastery if they want to get to the Super Bowl again.

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-7)

BMR Preview: This is a tough one because Trey Lance is the wild card of this NFL season. I can see anything from getting benched in October for Jimmy Garoppolo (still there, still handsome) to winning Super Bowl MVP in February. His athletic skills are impressive and we know the vaunted Kyle Shanahan system can boost his passing numbers. It also doesn’t hurt that no one can tackle Deebo Samuel and George Kittle on the first try.

But then I remember the fact that Shanahan is 35-16 (.686) with Garoppolo as his quarterback and 8-28 (.222) with everyone else. It’s a stunning split, the kind you’d expect to see for a team starting one of the best quarterbacks of all time and going to trash as backups. But no one would dare characterize Garoppolo that way despite him having the highest YPA (8.4) of any quarterback born since WWII.

I found myself at the last minute trying to knock them down another win, but let’s just roll with it as Lance is truly a wild card.

3. Arizona Cardinals (10-7)

BMR Preview: Honestly, I didn’t check the tiebreaker between Arizona and San Francisco, so it’s possible these standings should be switched. But anyway, you are probably surprised I still have the Cardinals making the playoffs after going 4-7 down the stretch last year and making plenty of bad headlines surrounding Kyler Murray in the offseason.

But what if last year’s last unbeaten team (7-0) is still good, is still getting better, and what if it doesn’t have injuries to Murray, DeAndre Hopkins, and J.J. Watt again? Most importantly, what if Kyler bumps up his study time and has his best season yet with what should be a huge chip on his shoulder?

I know it’s a gamble and I should probably give this record to a more deserving team, but I oddly feel good about Arizona having some success this year after a taste of the playoffs in 2021.

Do I think they have a shot in the playoffs to make it three straight years of a team hosting the Super Bowl in their own building? Scroll to the bottom to find out.

4. Seattle Seahawks (5-12)

BMR Preview: Pete Carroll hasn’t won fewer than seven games in the NFL since he was a rookie coaching the 1994 Jets (6-10). But now he’s in his 70s and he’s coaching two Jets rejects in Geno Smith and Jamal Adams, so he might as well be back in Jersey.

Look, this is a rebuilding team with a terrible quarterback situation. They also have 10 games against the AFC West and NFC West where I basically just declared all seven teams are playoff caliber.

5-12 might be generous.

AFC EAST

1. Buffalo Bills (13-4)

BMR Preview: Not long after Buffalo’s 13-second meltdown in Kansas City, I thought this team would be my Super Bowl pick next year. It seems many agree as the Bills have consistently had the best odds for the Super Bowl and #1 seed all offseason.

This is what happens when you combine a super talented quarterback with a defense that should get Tre’Davious White back soon and added Von Miller to the pass rush. That is a Super Bowl formula.

The only real concern is the offense lost coordinator Brian Daboll, but great quarterbacks overcome those changes all the time. They get their OCs hired; bad quarterbacks get the OC fired.

With Allen, the regular season was not what it could have been after his dazzling 2020, but that playoff performance is why everyone is so high on this team. He led a perfect game in single-digit temps against Bill Belichick’s defense in a wild card game. The Bills scored seven touchdowns on seven possessions. Then we saw him put the team ahead with 13 seconds left in Kansas City, but we know what happened the rest of the way.

Still, 12 touchdowns in 16 drives in the playoffs. Insane stuff that could have put Allen on the path to having the best postseason ever, yet the Bills were bounced in the second round. It can’t happen again.

At least it can’t happen if Sean McDermott wants to win a Super Bowl in Buffalo with Allen. Remember my Five-Year Rule? No team has ever won its first championship by starting the same quarterback under the same head coach for more than five seasons.

This is Year 5 for Allen/McDermott. It also happens to be Year 5 for Lamar Jackson/John Harbaugh in Baltimore. Maybe we’ll get a playoff rematch from two years ago between these two.

2. Miami Dolphins (10-7)

BMR Preview: You know my usual talking points on the Dolphins. Boring, irrelevant, one of the Three Stooges, even when they have a winning record it means nothing, and some quip about still trying to replace Dan Marino.

Some of that may still be true, but that linked preview is probably the most optimistic thing I’ve ever written about this franchise. I’m all in on Mike McDaniel bringing the Shanahan system to South Beach with Tyreek Hill adding the speed to a receiving corps that couldn’t separate the last few years.

Am I believer in Tua Tagovailoa? Eh, not really. But we have seen this offense inflate the numbers of Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins, and Jimmy Garoppolo. Even some extent for Nick Mullens and that best Matt Ryan season ever in 2016 when Shanahan was in Atlanta. It just works, and the Dolphins are bringing talent with the scheme.

The Dolphins have had winning records in consecutive seasons but still missed the playoffs both times. That hasn’t happened since the Dolphins did it in 2002-03. Can it happen for a third year in a row? That would be the most Miami thing ever, but I think we are going to see better results from this team. If Tua can’t get the job done, then someone else will next year.

3. New England Patriots (9-8)

BMR Preview: Feels good to no longer just hand the Patriots 10+ wins and the division title. We know Buffalo surpassed them in 2020 once Josh Allen exploded, and now the Dolphins have won all three meetings started by Tua. It’s not like he was great in those games, but he avoided the big mistakes.

But the Patriots are looking rather ordinary in a stacked AFC. Bill Belichick turned 70 and he lost Josh McDaniels to the Raiders and hired back Joe Judge to share duties with Matt Patricia. That is discouraging for this team building on last year where Mac Jones was the best rookie quarterback.

That doesn’t mean he will remain that way for his class. I think they are going to miss McDaniels and there’s still not a great receiving corps here. The defense also lost pick magnet J.C. Jackson to the Chargers and we know defensive back is a position they have their problems evaluating.

I trust Belichick enough to get a winning record, but 8-9 wouldn’t surprise me either.

4. New York Jets (5-12)

BMR Preview: Is this team going to have any left tackles healthy for the season? I already had low expectations, and I think 5-12 is generous enough. Robert Saleh was supposed to be a defensive guru and the defense was arguably worse than the offense last year weighed for expectations. I also think it’s troubling that little known Mike White had the best game and moment of the season for the team instead of Zach Wilson last year.

Believe it or not, but when the Jets miss the playoffs for a 12th year in a row, that will set the new franchise record for longest playoff drought.

NFC EAST

1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-6)

BMR Preview: No one has won the NFC East in consecutive years since the Eagles did it in 2001-04. I think that streak continues, and the Eagles take it from Dallas this year. The addition of A.J. Brown should work out great, but the team will have to show more willingness to throw with Jalen Hurts this year.

The Eagles were also 0-7 against playoff teams last year. But with a favorable schedule in 2022, I think 11 wins and a home playoff game is in their future. Just be warned that come January, I’ll be here pointing out said schedule and asking if we can trust this team to do anything in the tournament.

2. Dallas Cowboys (9-8)

BMR Preview: The night I finished my Dallas preview and predicted under 10 wins, I saw the tweets about three hours later that Tyron Smith could miss months, if not the whole season with a serious injury. I wasn’t going to bother sending an email to change anything as I’m already down on Dallas this year. That just reinforces the pick for me.

Weakened the receiving corps and offensive line while the defense relied on way too many takeaways last year. If you look at Dan Quinn’s history, his defenses are almost always below average in turnovers except for 2013 (Seattle) and last year. Trevon Diggs gave up a lot of completions last year on his way to all those picks.

Of course, I think Dak Prescott is legit enough to have a winning record again, but I don’t see the team around him being good enough to get back to the playoffs. The Cowboys were 6-0 against the division and 6-6 out of it last year. They really beat up the 2021 NFC East, but I think the other three teams are improved while Dallas is taking steps backwards.

3. New York Giants (6-11)

BMR Preview: Brian Daboll was my favorite head coach hire in this year’s deep cycle. But I have to throw some cold water on any hopes that he’s going to turn 2022 Daniel Jones into 2020 Josh Allen. Jones throws some nice deep balls and can run, but he’s not the same caliber of quarterback. Kenny Golladay was also a mess last year, Saquon Barkley always disappoints, and it looks like Kadarius Toney might be earning a “candybone” nickname as he always gets hurt.

I wanted to give the Giants a seventh win because of how easy the schedule looks, but they became a go-to team when I was going through the schedule and trying to find wins for some of the worst teams in football.

Remember, the Giants are tied with the Jets for the worst record in the NFL since 2017. It is going to take some time for Daboll to fix this. I’d expect Jones to look his best in 2022, but it still won’t be enough to satisfy fans.

4. Washington Commanders (6-11)

BMR Preview: New name, same game. I dropped plenty of great Wentz diss tracks in this one, so check it out.

He’s not “the one” and Ron Rivera will find out the hard way as Doug Pederson and Frank Reich did.

AFC SOUTH

1. Indianapolis Colts (11-6)

BMR Preview: Can you believe the Colts haven’t won the AFC South since 2014? I like it to happen this year as Matt Ryan should be a welcome addition after Carson Wentz last year. This team does need to stop blowing leads though, and I don’t expect as many takeaways as they had last year. But I think you get much steadier quarterback play, and Ryan will have his best running game, offensive line, and defensive support in years. Ditto for coaching with Frank Reich having to adjust to a new starting quarterback in all five seasons.

I also expect the Colts to get back to beating Tennessee, which is why they should leap ahead to a division title. Looking forward to seeing this team play the Chiefs after that upset win 2019 was such an outlier for the Chiefs at the time.

The Colts might have the right stuff to go on their deepest playoff run since 2014 too, but I think expectations should be tempered There is not enough elite talent on this team at the right positions to win a Super Bowl this season.

2. Tennessee Titans (8-9)

BMR Preview: Frankly, I was jumping off the Tennessee bandwagon before the A.J. Brown trade on draft night, and before the news that Harold Landry tore his ACL, leaving the Titans without their leading receiver and best pass rusher. I also soured on Ryan Tannehill after his playoff implosion, spoiling a No. 1 seed that was earned with a record eight wins over teams with winning records.

Good luck repeating that success against a tough schedule in 2022. I know the Titans haven’t won fewer than nine games since 2015, and Mike Vrabel is one of the better coaches, but I just couldn’t find more than eight wins this year. I think they blew their golden opportunity last year with the top seed and everyone coming back healthy for the playoffs.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-11)

BMR Preview: I am interested more than most to get more data on Doug Pederson in games without Carson Wentz as his quarterback. I like this hire for the team, but man, I do not like paying Christian Kirk, Evan Engram, and Zay Jones as the supporting cast. The Jaguars are not doing Trevor Lawrence any favors. There’s no Ja’Marr Chase to the rescue here, so I do not see a second-year surge like you might bet on with a talented, young quarterback getting a Super Bowl-winning head coach.

Or even just a coach you can confidently say won’t be grinding on a college girl’s ass in a bar after your team loses another game.

Also, tough year to hold the No. 1 pick in the draft, but I really think they should have picked Aidan Hutchinson. We’ll see how this shakes out but I don’t expect much from Travon Walker, who can push Eric Fisher as the most anonymous No. 1 pick in the 21st century.

4. Houston Texans (5-12)

BMR Preview: The Texans are a good example of the difference in trying to judge a team’s over/under win total and then go through the schedule for everyone and actually hand out said wins and losses with it needing to add up to 272.

Just a day ago, I wrote that Texans over 4.5 was the best bet in the AFC South this year. Then when I went through the schedule last night, it was so hard to find them wins. But I eventually landed on 5-12 as I think Davis Mills will be better than his rookie year, which was surprisingly impressive in a way if you read the linked preview.

But promoting Lovie Smith after his defense was so bad last year? It’s the most uninspiring coaching hire in years. We’ll see if they keep him beyond this year.

NFC SOUTH

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-5)

BMR Preview: If you skipped the intro, you should read that too as I really highlighted there why Tampa Bay is the betting favorite in the NFC for a Super Bowl again. But I do think there is a good chance this is the weakest of the three Tom Brady teams in Tampa.

Ali Marpet, Rob Gronkowski, and Bruce Arians retired. Chris Godwin is already back, but that first year off a torn ACL can be underwhelming. We know Antonio Brown’s crazy ass won’t be back in Tampa.

Throw in the 45-year-old quarterback who took a 40-day retirement and is in the tabloids because his wife is pissed about his return. I don’t know what’s true there or why he dipped on the team for 11 days in August, but I get the sense even Gisele is getting sick of him playing football.

Join the club.

But Brady’s won the Super Bowl every other year since 2014, and things could be setting up again for another one in 2022. If that’s what it takes to send him away for good, then so be it. I am just beyond ready to see an NFL without him, but I said even when he retired that I refuse to believe it until it’s Week 1 and he’s not there.

Same applies next year.

2. New Orleans Saints (8-9)

BMR Preview: This preview did a good job of covering just how bizarre the 2021 Saints were. Now we have to see this team without Sean Payton? I’m not sold on them having a winning record with Jameis Winston and Dennis Allen. In fact, Allen’s 8-28 (.222) record with Oakland makes him the coach with the worst winning percentage to get a second job in the Super Bowl era. This preview explains why that usually does not lead to a successful second shot.

Would I enjoy seeing Jameis send Brady into retirement with another sweep and actually win this division? Sure, but let’s be realistic about things. That’s never going to happen.

3. Carolina Panthers (7-10)

BMR Preview: Matt Rhule has yet to figure out how to win games when his team is down in the fourth quarter or allows more than 17 points. Enter Baker Mayfield, who had the same problem in 2021 with Cleveland. But I do like the return of Christian McCaffrey, and Baker is an upgrade over Sam Darnold, and he is going to at least get a 1-0 start by beating Cleveland in a legit revenge game.

But seven wins is the rosiest of predictions for this team.

4. Atlanta Falcons (3-14)

BMR Preview: Based on scoring differential, the Falcons went from the best 4-win team ever in 2020 to the worst 7-win team ever in 2021. A fitting way to end the Matt Ryan era. But I have the Falcons finishing with the worst record in football this year with Marcus Mariota taking over an offense with a coach (Arthur Smith) he failed to have success with in Tennessee in 2019. He was benched for Ryan Tannehill because he turned into a sack machine. Then you take away Calvin Ridley for the whole year for a stupid gambling punishment he doesn’t deserve, and it is hard to see this offense, which struggled more than ever under Ryan in 2021, doing much to improve.

The defense is still bad too. Maybe I’ll regret not going to five or six wins, but I’ll be shocked if the Falcons have a decent season this year.

AFC NORTH

1. Baltimore Ravens (12-5)

BMR Preview: My confidence in Baltimore to win 12 games last year despite a bunch of preseason injuries was not rewarded. But the fact that an 8-3 start turned into an 8-9 finish was shocking. The close wins at the beginning of the season turned into close losses late as the Ravens were losing by a single point to the Packers (top seed) and Rams (eventual champs) with their backup quarterback.

But this is why I keep saying the Ravens are (positive) regression darlings for 2022. Injuries and close games. Way too many of both last year, and Lamar Jackson is back and looking for that huge, second contract while working as his own agent.

The Five-Year Rule was referenced in the Buffalo section. No team has won its first championship by starting the same quarterback for the same coach for more than five years. This is technically the fifth year for Jackson and Harbaugh in Baltimore. Lamar didn’t start the opener in 2018, but he was the guy in the playoffs that season.

It took Harbaugh five seasons with Joe Flacco (2012) to get to that elusive Super Bowl, and he hasn’t been back to an AFC Championship Game since. The Ravens still bring that unique offensive attack with Jackson’s rushing ability and the defense should be much improved. I still like what this team has to offer and expect big things.

2. Cincinnati Bengals (9-8)

BMR Preview: This one was tough because I had the Bengals winning some really key matchups down the stretch of the schedule, but in the end, I only came up with a 9-8 record. The AFC is just too deep, and schedules aside, can you honestly say the Bengals stand out that much from the pack of the AFC West teams, Buffalo, Baltimore, Indy, or even New England?

Most people would have said it’d be crazy not to have the 2019 Rams or 2020 49ers in the playoffs or double-digit wins again after they lost the Super Bowl, but it happened to both. It happens to the Super Bowl loser frequently.

Plus, the Bengals were one of the rare Super Bowl teams to come out of nowhere, not having a winning season since 2015. We know Chase had a big impact on Joe Burrow’s breakout season, but is it sustainable when the conference is so loaded?

In 2021, the Bengals skipped many steps at once. I think they fall back this year.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-10)

BMR Preview: When you consider that the Steelers won eight games in 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger, and Matt Nagy won at least eight games multiple times with Mitch Trubisky in Chicago, then it is not at all crazy for Mike Tomlin to get eight wins (in 17 games) with Trubisky in Pittsburgh.

But in the end, the best thing I could do for the Steelers is have them sweep Cleveland, finishing ahead of the Browns in every season since 1990.

Whether it’s 7-10 or 8-9 to decide a perfectly set over/under by the bookies, I think this is the first losing season for Tomlin in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger at his worst is still better than Trubisky, who is 1-18 in his career when he’s trailing by more than a field goal in the fourth quarter.

The Steelers were 9-2-1 last year in close games, leading the league in 4QC (6) and GWD (7). Roethlisberger had as many game-winning drives in 2021 as Trubisky has his whole career. The close games are not going to go Pittsburgh’s way this year.

And the defense is still going to get blown at times out despite the efforts of T.J. Watt, who could break the sack record if he stays healthy for 17 games.

With Kenny Pickett on the bench, this is the first NFL season since 2007 where we won’t have a rookie quarterback starting in Week 1. If the Steelers get off to a really bad start, I could see Pickett starting after the bye in Week 10.

But I would not bet on him for Offensive Rookie of the Year. This offensive line is going to be badly exposed this year when the quarterback isn’t getting rid of the ball in record time.

4. Cleveland Browns (6-11)

BMR Preview: I guess we’ll find out what the price of shame is in 2023 for Cleveland, assuming Deshaun Watson can stay out of the DMs.

NFC NORTH

1. Green Bay Packers (10-7)

BMR Preview: It’s not that I think Davante Adams is worth three wins to the Packers. I just think this is the closest situation to 2015 for Aaron Rodgers, which is the season where he started 6-0 before falling apart after that Denver game and going into his weird odyssey before we saw the return of Peak Rodgers in 2020. But there won’t be a three-peat MVP for him, and the division is better this year.

2. Minnesota Vikings (10-7)

BMR Preview: I enjoyed writing this preview just because I got to take shots at Mike Zimmer’s nepotism and Kirk Cousins’ fondness of staying around .500. Granted, I am nervous about this pick for that latter reason, but I think Kevin O’Connell is going to be a good hire that will make proper use of the skill players here. The defense can’t be any worse than it was the last two years. Minnesota was high on the list of “losing teams who should have had a winning record” last year, but that’s what you’ve come to expect from a Cousins-led team. Silly me, I expect something more along the lines of 2019 when they won 10 games and a playoff game.

But with O’Connell coming from the Rams, don’t discount him looking at this as a last-chance season for Cousins akin to the Jared Goff situation when the Rams moved on to acquire Stafford. The league is kind of running out of proven quarterbacks to move for 2023, though if Mr. Rodgers wanted to follow in Brett Favre’s footsteps to the Purple Team next year…

3. Detroit Lions (6-11)

BMR Preview: The Lions could have easily won six games last season if long field goals went their way against the Ravens, Vikings, and Steelers. This team will compete hard under Dan Campbell, but it’s still hard to see them eating many W’s in 2022. Aidan Hutchinson falling into their laps with the No. 2 pick was pretty convenient though in a draft without quarterbacks. Now we’ll see if Jared Goff could show more or if they will just move on next season.

4. Chicago Bears (5-12)

BMR Preview: I ended up changing this win total three times before writing this as the final team of 2022, including a last-second flip with Detroit in the division. I’m just not sold on Matt Eberflus coming over from Indy, nor do I like the receivers, or losing Allen Robinson, Khalil Mack, and Akiem Hicks.

The cards are stacked against Justin Fields breaking out this year, but we’ll see what happens.

Ending on a personal note: It’s wild to think that when I was in 10th grade computer class, I shared a corner with a senior and the best athlete in our school, and 20 years later, he is the offensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. I wish Luke Getsy well, but I really wish I could go back in time and joke to him that his football future will involve trying to turn around the offense of an NFL team that had better quarterback play before 1950 than anything we’ve seen since.

PLAYOFFS

Truth be told, my first run through of the schedule had Cleveland at 4-12, Philadelphia at 14-3, and all four AFC West Teams with 10+ wins. Things didn’t finish that way, but we’ll see how it goes.

AFC

  • 1. Buffalo (13-4)
  • 2. LA Chargers (12-5)
  • 3. Baltimore (12-5)
  • 4. Indianapolis (11-6)
  • 5. Kansas City (10-7)
  • 6. Denver (10-7)
  • 7. Miami (10-7)

This looks exciting with five new playoff teams, no? The Chargers did come out on the winning end of two memorable playoff games with Miami in 1980 and 1994. Maybe they’ll do it again here. I’d pick Baltimore to win at home against Wilson’s Broncos. Chiefs at Colts brings back more playoff memories for sure. Lousy ones for KC fans, but I can see Mahomes winning there, and it’d be in the best interest to set up the Bills rematch people probably want most from this postseason.

Look, I get it. Bills-Chiefs could be the best rivalry going if they keep meeting in big games, and last year was unbelievable drama. But I have it in the second round here, and I think the Bills will love not seeing Tyreek in that one. Allen is also 3-0 in home playoff games and 0-3 on the road. Ravens at Chargers is a big one. It was 34-6 when they met last year. Feels like a close loss for the Chargers coming there at home. But a great year nonetheless.

Ravens at Bills for the AFC Championship Game. Rematch from two playoffs ago. Both Allen and Lamar trying to adhere to the Five-Year Rule and get the Super Bowl ring this year. I have Bills Super Bowl futures bets from right after Super Bowl 56 ended. They were the team I was all for, and I’m a little annoyed to see them enjoy the best odds all summer and going into Week 1. Teams like that do sometimes win it all as the 2018 and 2016 Patriots prove, but it is hard to be the favorite all year long in the cap era and deliver.

Either way, you’re getting your fifth-year QB narrative here. It’s either going to be Allen taking that next step or Lamar betting on himself, almost like Joe Flacco in 2012, and getting Harbaugh to another Super Bowl.

Since I have to make a pick, I’m going to stick with Buffalo, but you can see the hedge I have on Baltimore here. They both make so much sense to me, but Allen’s playoff highs are too hard to ignore while Jackson has struggled in January. Von was a great addition too.

NFC

  • 1. LA Rams (12-5)
  • 2. Tampa Bay (12-5)
  • 3. Philadelphia (11-6)
  • 4. Green Bay (10-7)
  • 5. Minnesota (10-7)
  • 6. San Francisco (10-7)
  • 7. Arizona (10-7)

Of course, I fought to get Arizona in the playoffs only to lose right away in Tampa Bay, another No. 2 seed after losing the tie-breaker to the Rams. I think the Eagles can beat the 49ers at home, and Rodgers would probably love seeing Minnesota in Green Bay in January.

Philly loses in Tampa Bay for the second year in a row. Packers at Rams is a good one in the second round we thought we’d see last year. I like the Rams at home. Then look at that: Buccaneers at Rams rematch in the NFC Championship Game. Like Bills-Chiefs, maybe this is just the best matchup anyway and the one fans want to see the most.

Brady is taking this one after Stafford has his worst playoff game ever.

SUPER BOWL LVII

Buffalo 45, Tampa Bay 17

We’re only going to score 17 points?

No reverse jinx this time. No Scott Norwood bullshit. Josh Allen cements his legacy by putting an end to New England’s run in the AFC East and Brady’s run in the NFL by dropping 45 points on the 45-year-old quarterback’s team.

Buffalo, you are finally Super Bowl champs. Enjoy it.

TL;DR version: I will stan any AFC quarterback, even if it’s Derek Carr, as long as they don’t let Brady win one more.

NFL Super Bowl LVI Preview: Rams vs. Bengals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Divisional Round

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: The Greatest Divisional Round Game Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make that 55-2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bengals at Titans: Ryan Tannehill’s Interception Sudoku

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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