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 Week 9 Predictions: The Fake NFC Championship Game Edition

Three weeks ago, we had a clear-cut Game of the Year in the AFC between the Bills and Chiefs. They are still the two best teams in the league in my view, and the Eagles are the best in the NFC. All three are favored by double digits this weekend and we already watched the Eagles slip by Houston 29-17 on Thursday.

But what is the Game of the Year this regular season in the NFC? It wasn’t Packers-Buccaneers when both are 3-5 to start November. It was looking like it could be Week 12 Packers at Eagles on SNF, but not if the Packers are still playing like they have the last month.

Tomorrow had another option with Rams-Buccaneers, which I thought could have been an NFC Championship Game preview after it was the most pivotal matchup in last year’s playoffs to determine the Super Bowl winner. The Rams improved to 3-0 against Tom Brady in Tampa in a wild one that had no business being that close.

But both teams come into this one with a losing record, and either the Bucs will be 3-6 or the Rams will be 3-5 after it’s over.

Since I’m not a believer in the Vikings or Giants as legit Super Bowl contenders, that really just leaves Philadelphia at Dallas on Christmas Eve as the potential Game of the Year in the NFC. That would assume both keep winning and maybe the Eagles slip up once or twice so that Dallas has a chance to tie them or take the division lead with a win. That’s also assuming Dak Prescott is going to play like he did last year and keep this offense scoring to go along with the improved defense.

That might be the one to circle, but tomorrow, we’re going to see if the Rams or Bucs take an early TKO. But who are we kidding? Even if the Bucs lose to fall to 3-6, that division is still up for grabs.

Some of my articles this week:

NFL Week 9 Predictions

My trusty pick of the Eagles winning the second quarter/first half did not pay off on Thursday, but they did win the game at least.

It doesn’t look like many games with the big bye (six teams). Weird.

Definitely a RedZone afternoon for me. Glad to get a week off from watching the Steelers. Only two games in the late window is bad, but I’d probably be focusing on Rams-Bucs anyway. It’s just not as exciting a matchup as it could have been, but we’ll see what happens.

My SNF pick is also tough to make when I don’t know if Ryan Tannehill is playing. If he plays, I think the Titans cover. If it’s Malik Willis, I’m taking Chiefs ATS. They’ll eat him alive if he tries to throw in this offense that misses A.J. Brown a lot. We don’t even talk about that one too much because the Titans have found other ways to win, but this is a game he will definitely be missed.

I’ll be mad if Chargers-Falcons doesn’t have a crazy 4Q finish.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

49ers at Rams: The Silence of the Rams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Bills: Child’s Play

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers at Eagles: Drag Matt Canada to Hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants at Seahawks: Paranormal Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imagine an NFL game with:

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals at Vikings: We Need to Talk About Kyler

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

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

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

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

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

Commanders at Colts: Misery, It Follows Indy

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

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

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

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

Dolphins at Lions: The Vanishing of the Detroit Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears at Cowboys: The Texas Run Defense Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

Patriots at Jets: Return of the Living Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raiders at Saints: I Know Who Killed My Parlays

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

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

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

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

I guess this one was on the house from Vegas.

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 5

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Ravens: Winner Gets a Set of Steak Knives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It gets worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cowboys at Rams: Coming Down the Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 2

We still have a pretty good doubleheader to go on Monday night for Week 2, but this has already been one of the wildest weeks in NFL history. Sure, you probably hear that about 21 times a season, but this time it really does check out.

There was a 21-point comeback in the fourth quarter by the Dolphins in Baltimore, making the Ravens the first team in NFL history to score 38 points with zero turnovers at home and lose in regulation.

There was a 13-point comeback in Cleveland completely manufactured by the Jets (!) after the two-minute warning.

There was a 16-point comeback in Las Vegas with Arizona pulling off the rare 8+8 to force overtime where it won a defensive fumble return for a touchdown. Oh yeah, the Cardinals were also down 20-0 at halftime, becoming the 15th team in NFL history to win after being shut out by at least 20 points at halftime.

The world may have ended if the Atlanta Falcons completed their comeback from a 28-3 deficit against the Rams, but Marcus Mariota was intercepted in the end zone while trailing 31-25 with 1:07 left.

The week started goofy with the Chiefs kicking a game-tying field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, then winning on a pick-six against the Chargers because tight end Gerald Everett got tired, the team left him out there anyway, and they got properly burned for it.

It also was the saddest day in the history of the AFC North with all four teams losing for the eighth time since 2002. So, while it has happened more often than all but one division, it is hard to imagine any group of losses were more heartbreaking than the ones on Sunday. Here is the total of 0-4 weeks for each division since 2002:

  • NFC West (10)
  • AFC North (8)
  • NFC East (6)
  • AFC South (5)
  • NFC North (5)
  • NFC South (3)
  • AFC West (2)
  • AFC East (0)

With two games to go, we have already had 10 close games this week. Let’s look at some of them as well as quicker views of the embarrassing blowouts (Colts?)

This season in Stat Oddity:

Dolphins at Ravens: Game of the Week (Month? Year?)

Did we witness the creation of a new power in the AFC, or will this game just be a fun footnote on the way to a Chiefs vs. Bills playoff rematch? A lot of weeks to go before that, but this fourth quarter was bananas.

After Lamar Jackson’s 79-yard touchdown run gave the Ravens a 35-14 lead going into the fourth quarter, this game reminded me of when Baltimore blew out the Chargers 34-6 last year. That really threw some cold water on the hype for the 4-1 Chargers under rookie coach Brandon Staley.

New Miami coach Mike McDaniel was not getting that hype just yet after one win over New England where the offense scored 13 points, but there were some high expectations for this year. I picked him for Coach of the Year. After this game, I think the bandwagon is about to grow, especially with Buffalo coming next week.

You win a game with Tua Tagovailoa throwing 50 times for 469 yards and six touchdowns in Baltimore? I know the defense is not anywhere close to what it used to be in Baltimore, but 469/6? Tua? Him?

But when Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill embarrass the defense with over 170 yards and two touchdowns each, that’s the scary potential of this offense. It was enough to spoil a special day by Lamar, who became the first quarterback in NFL history to have multiple games with 300 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in his career (318/119). He did not take a sack and the Ravens had no turnovers.

He did get stopped on four consecutive plays while the Dolphins were quickly making their comeback, but he rebounded to lead a go-ahead field goal drive with 2:18 left. That’s an eternity given the way Miami was hitting chunk plays. Sure enough, Tua delivered to Waddle again for a 7-yard touchdown to take a 42-38 lead with 14 seconds left.

Jackson’s Hail Mary came up short to end it. By my count, this is the 10th fourth-quarter comeback win from a deficit of 21+ points in NFL history. The last was when the Eagles did it to the Giants in 2010, winning 38-31 on DeSean Jackson’s punt return touchdown.

Tagovailoa joins the odd company of Neil Lomax and Wade Wilson as the only three quarterbacks to cap off a 21+ point 4QC with a game-winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. Troy Aikman threw one for Dallas in overtime against the 1999 Redskins in Week 1.

So, it doesn’t necessarily mean Tua is going to turn into Joe Montana, but this is really encouraging stuff from the quarterback position. One could say the kind of game that a Dan Marino fan would appreciate. Quick, someone come up with a good nickname for Waddle & Hill.

But when I said Hill is worth a couple wins to the Chiefs because of his rare talent, this is exactly the kind of game I’m talking about. This comeback probably does not take place with any other wide receiver. Now do the Chiefs still have that ability to pull out a tough game? We’ll see. They didn’t look great against the Chargers on Thursday. But if the Dolphins can keep this up and start games better, this is going to set up a very intriguing race in the AFC that goes beyond just the Bills and Chiefs.

God knows we need it with the way the Broncos, Colts, Bengals, and Raiders are shitting the bed so far this season.

Jets at Browns: Only in Cleveland

The Jets were my upset special this week, but even I was shocked to find out that they had won this game given the 30-17 deficit so late. I saw the Jets recover an onside kick, but I was still lost in the ending to Dolphins-Ravens and didn’t find out what Cleveland did until several minutes after the game ended.

It was a colossal choke that took all three phases of the team, but it’s also such a Cleveland thing to do. Since 2001, just three NFL teams have lost a game while leading by more than 10 points and the other team getting the ball back in the final three minutes.

All three of those losses belong to Cleveland (click pic to enlarge).

You can’t blame just one person, so let’s blame a few. Let’s start with Kareem Hunt, who twice ran out of bounds to stop the clock when he should have been trying to slide down in bounds. The second time was the most egregious because there was a hole to slide down for the first down that would have ended the game. The Jets were out of timeouts and the clock would have went to the two-minute warning. Game over. But Hunt didn’t do what he needed to and the clock stopped at 2:02.

On the very next play, Nick Chubb decided to run for his third touchdown, and if the Jets really just “allowed” him to do it, then they are geniuses. This was the only hope they had left. This is something else I’ll bitch about once or twice a season, and the Browns proved with the worst-case scenario possible exactly why I’m right and you shouldn’t risk this.

By scoring with 1:55 left, Chubb extended the game instead of ending it. I still think what Hunt did was equally bad if not worse, and Chubb does not deserve the brunt of the criticism. But he had no business scoring that touchdown, which set up an extra point that was missed to keep it a 30-17 game. Another reason you don’t score the touchdown as now you’re open to losing by a point. So now the special teams are in on the mess to come.

Next, it was the defense’s turn. The last thing you could do was give up a quick one, and we know Joe Flacco has some experience at throwing up a bomb in these spots. He hadn’t been able to get big plays in eight quarters, but somehow with the game still alive he caught corner Denzel Ward looking in the backfield and corked a wide-open 66-yard touchdown bomb to Corey Davis on a drive that took 33 seconds. Inexcusable.

You know the onside kick was coming next, and that’s where many of these comebacks stall since they are so hard to get. But the Jets got this one and suddenly Flacco had 80 seconds from midfield to win this game. He did exactly that with a good drive and a 15-yard strike to rookie Garrett Wilson with 22 seconds left.

The Jets led 31-30 after the extra point. The Cleveland offense had such a nice day with Jacoby Brissett showing better precision, Amari Cooper getting his first 100-yard game and touchdown, and the running game putting up big numbers for the second week in a row. And none of it mattered because they got greedy and botched their previous drive that should have ended the game. Then the special teams and defense screwed up multiple plays. Finally, Brissett’s desperate pass while out of timeouts was intercepted to end the game.

What can you say about Flacco? He had himself a day with 307 yards and four touchdown passes, and in the process, he picked up his 20th fourth-quarter comeback win. He is the 34th quarterback to do so, and it’s taken him the second-most games (195) to get there ahead of only Brett Favre.

But I will say Flacco has been involved in three really incredible comebacks from the 2012 AFC divisional win in Denver to the 2013 explosive ending in the snow against Minnesota to this one.

The fact that the two most incredible wins of the Zach Wilson era were started by Mike White (Bengals’ comeback last year) and Flacco here are not encouraging signs for him. But we have to see him this season. We know this team isn’t going anywhere with Flacco.

This was the type of absurd comeback you see maybe once every decade in the NFL.

But only against Cleveland. That’s the key.

Cardinals at Raiders: 8 + 8 + Too Much Grit

After the Cardinals failed to show up for the first half and trailed 20-0, I had no expectations for the second half. I figured Josh McDaniels would run Josh Jacobs a lot and the team would just cruise to a win to get to 1-1.

But this was in some ways the most shocking comeback of the day because of how little trust we’ve had in Arizona, and how many plays they had to string together to pull this off. When Kyler Murray threw incomplete on a 4th-and-1 at the Raiders 11 with 12:31 left in a 23-7 game, I decided to take out the trash. This didn’t look competitive anymore.

But McDaniels’ play-calling has been so suspect through two games, and the next drive that saw Derek Carr throw three incompletions and burn nine seconds should be getting crucified here. Do coaches not understand how important it is to burn clock anymore? Sometimes, even that three runs and a punt drive that takes two minutes is more valuable than whatever that was by the Raiders.

Maybe it wasn’t 28-9, but 23-7 is hard because few teams ever pull off 8+8 in this league. At least one of those two-point conversions usually fail, so they end up needing three possessions.

But to Murray’s credit, he hung in there on the first touchdown drive and capped it off with a scramble for the two-point conversion that maybe only he could do right now. The Raiders burned a little more time, but Murray had 4:43 to answer a 23-15 deficit.

As I seem to write a long rant about a couple times a season, the Cardinals were not in a super hurry to get the touchdown given the “information” that they were down eight points. It ended up being an insanely tough drive that had to overcome three fourth-down situations, and on the final play at the 3-yard line, Murray scrambled for another touchdown with no time left.

But even then, a secondo two-point conversion was needed just to go to overtime. Murray found A.J. Green in the end zone and the veteran held on for a great catch to tie the game. By my count, the Cardinals are just the fourth team in NFL history to win a game after erasing a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns and two two-point conversions:

  • 2004 49ers vs. Cardinals (trailed 28-12, won 31-28 in overtime)
  • 2016 Patriots vs. Falcons (first cut 28-9 to 28-12, then won 34-28 in overtime)
  • 2021 Ravens vs. Colts (trailed 25-9, won 31-25 in overtime)
  • 2022 Cardinals at Raiders (trailed 23-7, won 29-23 in overtime)

But even in overtime the Cardinals looked dead in the water after Murray threw incomplete on a fourth-and-1 at the Las Vegas 37. Carr just needed a couple first downs for field-goal range, and Hunter Renfrow picked up a third down before fumbling. The team recovered it though. However, just two plays later, Renfrow fumbled again, and this time it was scooped up and returned 59 yards for a game-deciding touchdown. Unbelievable.

This was just the sixth time in NFL overtime history that a team won by returning a fumble for a touchdown. That includes the playoffs, as Arizona fans should enjoy (2009 NFC wild card vs. Green Bay).

Just a miraculous win from one of the teams you’d least expect to pick things up after a 20-0 first half. But both teams are guilty of bad coaching to start this season.

Falcons at Rams: The Most Dangerous Lead in the NFL

The Rams kept Matthew Stafford clean (one sack), got Allen Robinson much more involved with a touchdown, and kept rolling with Cooper Kupp on the way to a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

And yet, they almost blew what was once a 28-3 lead to the team that will take that score to their graves. Having a bet on Rams -10, I just knew bad things were coming once the Rams failed at the 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter with a 28-10 lead. They settled for a field goal to make it 31-10, but no lead was truly safe on Sunday.

The Falcons got one touchdown drive, then blocked a punt in devastating fashion – that punter got crushed – and returned that for a touchdown. I liked the call to go for two, and Drake London really is showing why he was the first wideout off the board in the draft. His catch made it a 31-25 game, Kupp actually made a mistake and fumbled, and this shit was really going to happen a week after the Falcons blew a 26-10 lead in the fourth quarter.

Two 21-point fourth-quarter leads blown by home teams expected to make the playoffs in the same day? Insane.

It is hard to say the Falcons hit us with a “they are who we thought they were!” since we thought this team was going to get crushed like it often did in 2021. But this team has been fighting the first two weeks and may eventually get some wins to show for it. It just wasn’t happening this time as Marcus Mariota threw an interception in the end zone to Jalen Ramsey with 1:07 left. D’oh.

The Rams still had to take an intentional safety after they wouldn’t dare punt again after the way the Falcons attacked the last one. That’s how it got to 31-27, but Mariota was sacked on the final play before he could try a Hail Mary, and Aaron Donald was there for a cheap fumble recovery.

We may be talking about the defense being the most unreliable part of this Los Angeles team, but it’d be nice to see them play a normal game that isn’t 31-10 in the fourth quarter first.

Buccaneers at Saints: I Hope Jameis’ Cousin in The Afghanistan Didn’t Watch This

No recent defense makes Tom Brady look so bad like Dennis Allen’s Saints since 2020, but too bad the offense always seems to be injured for these games. Beyond Alvin Kamara missing the game, Jameis Winston played with a bad back and it showed. While no stranger to mistakes, he really let it all hang out in the fourth quarter after a tight battle that saw the Saints shut out Brady for another half on the heels of last year’s 9-0 win in Tampa Bay.

But in a 3-3 game in the fourth quarter, things just started to crumble for Winston, who took six sacks and ended three straight drives with an interception, gift-wrapping the last 10 points to Tampa Bay in a 20-10 loss.

Had it not been for that last New Orleans touchdown, Todd Bowles’ defense would be sitting on two games of allowing six points and scoring seven with a pick-six in this one. Still, a net 6 points allowed in two games is really strong work. Now we’ll see if they can do that to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, which would be a repeat of what they did to a far better Green Bay machine in 2020.

Also, I know it looks impossible for Brady to smile these days, but the amount of bitching he did on Sunday was worse than usual. I am getting a 2019 Patriots vibe already with this team. Once the defense stops playing at a historic level, expect mediocrity. We’ll see how long they can hold out with the Packers and Chiefs coming up next. But frankly, all three of those teams look weaker this season.

Patriots at Steelers: The Meh Bowl

Well, the good news is the Steelers had the most respectable loss in the AFC North on Sunday. But for as long as I have watched the NFL (mid-90s), Patriots vs. Steelers has always meant something in the AFC. You have to go back to 1991 to find the last meeting between the two where neither made the playoffs or had a winning record. Could these teams be headed that way this year? They are no longer the favorite or even second favorite in their divisions.

The game itself reflected a lot of that “meh” rebranding for these teams in the wake of recent departures of their Hall of Fame quarterbacks. But I will take Mac Jones over Mitch Trubisky in a heartbeat. Jones at least found his receivers, Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, down the field on multiple occasions. Agholor made a fantastic 44-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Trubisky was picked and could not move the ball well, leading the offense to 30 points in two games so far.

The Pittsburgh defense basically has to play perfect for this team to win, and that is asking for too much without T.J. Watt. But the sequence of the game was in the third quarter. The defense dropped a second Jones interception at midfield. That led to a punt, which was muffed by the Steelers, which led to a 10-yard touchdown drive for the Patriots and 17-6 lead.

Despite Trubisky leading the offense’s only touchdown drive of the game, he had no follow-up act in a 17-14 game. On a couple of third downs, he seemed determined to go to Najee Harris. Neither play worked. Neither play made much sense with the other weapons the Steelers have. The Patriots were able to run out the final six minutes on the clock and win the game.

I really think Mike Tomlin has to look at this Week 3 game in Cleveland on Thursday night as a final audition for Trubisky. He is not the future for this team. He is not shining to help them turn him for a draft pick if some other team’s starter is injured. Maybe Kenny Pickett won’t be any better. Maybe he’ll be worse. But I’d just like to see something happen there because Trubisky isn’t making it happen on the field. People wanted Ben Roethlisberger benched after last year’s slow start, but this is the same chickenshit offense being run by offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

We can make jokes about the Patriots using Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to run the offense with Josh McDaniels gone, but based on the way these units performed on Sunday, the real joke is that the Steelers won’t fix this broken offense.

Bengals at Cowboys: Another Backup Beats Cincinnati

I said all week Cooper Rush and the Cowboys would surprise people and the Bengals are overrated, but even I didn’t expect this upset, wire-to-wire win for Dallas. Hell, I thought Brett Maher missed that 50-yard field goal at the buzzer, but apparently it did sneak in there for the win. Bengals are now 0-2 after watching teams execute long field goals against them while they couldn’t get an extra point or 29-yard field goal to work. What a bummer.

But once again, Mike McCarthy deserves some credit for getting a backup quarterback ready to play. The Cowboys still have offensive talent despite the injuries, and we should just admit that Dak Prescott played poorly in Week 1. I am not surprised the offense gutted out 20 points at home against a defense that couldn’t stop Mitch Trubisky in overtime. Not to mention this team lost to Mike White last year. Why not get an adequate game from Cooper Rush with CeeDee Lamb, Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott, Dalton Schultz, and Noah Brown on his side?

Micah Parsons can do his best T.J. Watt impersonation and lead that defense to a good day to keep the score down and the game winnable. They did exactly that with six sacks of Joe Burrow, who became the 11th quarterback to start a season by taking at least six sacks in consecutive games. Russell Wilson was the last to do it in 2018, so it’s not something exclusive to bums, but it is not a good sign for the new offensive line or Burrow’s development. He is going to see plenty of good pass rushers this season and will need to do a better job of cutting down those sacks.

But hats off to the Cowboys for not giving up a single 20-yard play to the Bengals. They were good against Tampa Bay last week too. Now if they can just get Dak healthy and get someone like Michael Gallup back, then maybe we have something here. But the good news is Rush was able to lead a game-winning drive, his second in two NFL starts. He might be able to hold the fort until Prescott can return.

Texans at Broncos: Can Hackett Hack It in the NFL?

If the Texans had just a little more punch to their offense, they would be 2-0 right now with wins over what are apparently two slow starters in the Colts and Broncos. Maybe these teams just aren’t going to be as good as we thought they’d be with the quarterback changes.

But one thing I warned for both the Colts and Broncos is that Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are not taking over teams with as much elite talent like the 2009 Vikings (Brett Favre), 2012 Broncos (Peyton Manning), 2020 Buccaneers (Tom Brady), and 2021 Rams (Matthew Stafford). They would be improvements over the quarterbacks that were there, hopefully get good defensive support, and give them an edge in close games as they are two of the most prolific ever at accumulating comebacks and game-winning drives.

Well, Wilson got his first Denver comeback win, but he played one of his shittiest first three quarters to end up in that situation. But I will not blast him for this section. He threw the game-winning touchdown and got that done. Speaking of elite talent, the team lost wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and corner Patrick Surtain II during the game, which certainly hurts.

But it’s the coaching. Jesus Christ, Nathaniel Hackett has had a coaching start so uninspiring that I think I had more faith in Urban Meyer this time a year ago. The 2022 Broncos are the sixth team on record to have at least a dozen penalties in their first two games. It’s the procedure of getting the play in on time that is so jacked right now as the Broncos had two more delay of game penalties on kicks. It’s the horseshit calls on 3rd-and-1, like giving the ball to tight end Andrew Beck on an end around, or all the terrible passes and decisions inside the 2-yard line.

Like the Colts, the Broncos are doing this against Seattle and Houston, two teams projected to be among the worst in the NFL this year. We saw how well Seattle handled the 49ers on Sunday, a team they owned with Wilson.

Maybe the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. We’ll see what happens. All I know is if you see someone bring up Peyton starting 1-2 in Denver in 2012, just shut them up quickly. That team lost to a 13-3 Atlanta team that was the No. 1 seed, and they lost to a 12-4 Houston team that started 11-1 and was leading the AFC into December. The Broncos also scored 46 points in those two games with rallies that came up a score short. It’s not the same.

It was never going to be that good. But this has been embarrassing so far for Hackett and frankly for Wilson too.

Panthers at Giants: Updating the Rhules

Oh, don’t mind me, just updating the pathetic Matt Rhule records in Carolina after another game was lost at the end. This time it was a 19-16 defeat against the 2-0 Giants:

  • 0-15 in game-winning drive opportunities
  • 1-25 when allowing 17 or more points
  • 0-22 when allowing more than 21 points
  • 2-24 when not leading by at least 7 points at halftime
  • 3-25 when not leading by double digits at halftime

I could be wrong on this, but I think this is the first time the Giants have won consecutive games after trailing by at least seven points in the second half since 1970 (Weeks 8-9). Imagine how many decades it would take Rhule to do that.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I would like to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other four games that were not close.

Colts at Jaguars: If the Colts aren’t going to bother showing up in Jacksonville, then I’m not going to bother giving them a deeper recap. I knew this game was trouble, and I may have changed my pick if I knew earlier that Michael Pittman was out. He’s the only reliable receiver for Matt Ryan at this moment. The Colts have started poorly under Frank Reich in the past, but I would be really alarmed that they were pushed around for all but one quarter so far by the Texans and Jaguars. What’s a team like the Colts going to do to them? Oh yeah, we’ll find out next week. Something tells me it won’t be 19-13 this time. As for Trevor Lawrence, apparently hosting the Colts is him in his element in the NFL. His two best games are arguably both Indy games at home.

Commanders at Lions: Maybe Amon-Ra St. Brown has some Antonio Brown in him. Hopefully just the good parts like how he racks up catches week after week.

He did it for an eighth game in a row with his best NFL game yet. Jared Goff threw four touchdowns against Jack Del Rio’s overrated defense filled with first-round picks. Carson Wentz made some plays after it was 22-0, but I feel like this one encapsulates Washington’s day the best:

Seahawks at 49ers: It was sad to see Trey Lance break his ankle just five quarters into his first season as the starting quarterback. When I wrote in my 49ers preview that him getting injured in September was on the table for how his season could go, I certainly did not want to see that happen. Hopefully he can come back strong without complications. It puts Jimmy Garoppolo right back in the QB1 role. He was the best backup in the league, but let’s see if he can make the third time the charm should this team get to the playoffs. As for Seattle, well shit. That’s the kind of pathetic performance – their only score was a blocked field goal for a touchdown – that I expected in these matchups when I said 5-12 at best. My confidence in Seattle keeping it close like usual against San Francisco was not rewarded. It’s the first time the Seahawks lost by double digits to the 49ers since the 2011 opener.

Bears at Packers: For the second year in a row, the Packers followed a brutal Week 1 loss with an easy Week 2 win at home against one of their NFC North stooges. As long as they can do that, then you can’t count them out from a high playoff seed. But a real test for this offense comes in Tampa Bay next week. As for Chicago, do they really trust Justin Fields if he has nine pass attempts (plus three sacks) almost 58 minutes into a game they were trailing 27-10? That was not a good look for him.

We survived another Bears-Packers game in prime time. Bring on Titans-Bills and Vikings-Eagles, because they should be much better than the Week 3 island game slate (Steelers-Browns, Broncos-49ers, Cowboys-Giants).

NFL Week 2 Predictions: Haves vs. Have Nots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Week 2 Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Super Bowl LVI

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooper Kupp: Best Wide Receiver Season Ever?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Burrow: Not the LOAT

Pregame tweet:

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

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

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

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

THIS WAS BRADY BULLSHIT ALL OVER AGAIN.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But even that future is uncertain.

Conclusion: Can the Rams Repeat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time.

NFL Super Bowl LVI Preview: Rams vs. Bengals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Prediction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Championship Sunday

Two rematches. Two painfully familiar postseason outcomes for the teams on the losing side.

For the first time in 56 seasons of the Super Bowl era, we will have a Super Bowl without a team that seeded higher than fourth. The Rams and Bengals were both No. 4 seeds that spent very little time – if any in Cincinnati’s case – in the spotlight as the teams to beat this year.

But now they are all that’s left after erasing double-digit deficits in the second half. For Kyle Shanahan and Andy Reid, this is becoming old hat.

Of the five blown leads of 18-plus points in the NFL playoffs since 2013, Reid’s Chiefs have lost three of them and were the winning team in a fourth game against Houston (down 24-0 in 2019). The only other such game was of course Super Bowl LI, where as offensive coordinator of the Falcons, Shanahan infamously called doomed passes with a big lead in the fourth quarter. It has started a string of three postseasons where Shanahan’s teams have been bounced after leading by double digits in the fourth quarter and never scoring again.

This sets up a Super Bowl between two quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall by the Lions and Bengals (11 years apart). It may be the last outcome I wanted to see out of the four possibilities, but if this is what the post-Tom Brady NFL is going to look like, I’m sure I will learn to love it.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bengals at Chiefs: Whoops, They Did It Again

It was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves, it was the age of adjustment, it was the age of sloppiness, it was the season of defensive regression, it was the season of tipped giveaways, it was 13 seconds to restore hope, and it’s now another winter of despair for this failed attempt at a dynasty.

Even Charles Dickens knew he had to write different beginnings and endings to his books no matter how successful they were in the past. The Kansas City Chiefs continue to tease us with many wonderful things, but only one time (2019) did things end on a positive note.

If it wasn’t for Jet Chip Wasp on third-and-15 in Super Bowl LIV, we would be calling the Chiefs the biggest underachievers and disappointment in the NFL in the last decade.

They still might be even with that play.

As the favorite in the final four this year, the Chiefs just had to hold onto a 21-3 lead to become the fourth team to go to three straight Super Bowls. Instead, they became the fourth team in NFL playoff history to blow an 18-point lead at home and the first to do it in a championship game. In the process, the Bengals are the first team in NFL history to beat an opponent twice in the same season after trailing by double digits at halftime. The 18-point blown lead is the largest of the Patrick Mahomes era, and the Bengals own a tie for the second largest at 14 points in Week 17.

Why does this keep happening under Andy Reid? It’s his third playoff loss in nine seasons where the Chiefs led by at least 18 points. Since 2013, Reid has coached the Chiefs to a league-high nine different win streaks of at least five games, including an eight-game streak this season that again had people believing this was the team to beat.

But look at how things have gone for Kansas City under Reid:

  • 2013: 9-0 start built up by playing backup quarterbacks, but swept by Peyton Manning’s Broncos to lose division, and blew a 38-10 lead in the wild card round in Indianapolis.
  • 2014: thought to have ended the Patriots’ dynasty and also beat the Seahawks, the NFC’s Super Bowl team that year, but finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
  • 2015: took another suspicious 11-game winning streak into New England and took what felt like 11 minutes to score one late touchdown in a 27-20 loss in the divisional round.
  • 2016: came back to beat the Chargers, outdueled Drew Brees and Andrew Luck, scored 30 on Denver’s defense, beat MVP Matt Ryan on a pick-two, and still lost the first playoff game at home to six Pittsburgh field goals.
  • 2017: 5-0 start with a great win on opening night in New England but finished 10-6 and blew a 21-3 halftime lead at home to Marcus Mariota and the Titans in the Forward Progress Game in the wild card round.
  • 2018: Mahomes is the MVP, but lost 43-40 in New England, 54-51 to the Rams, and still ended up as the No. 1 seed thanks to a Miami miracle against the Patriots. But lost 37-31 in overtime at home to those Patriots after Dee Ford lined up offsides and negated a game-ending interception. Never touched the ball in overtime.
  • 2019: trailed by double digits in every playoff game before winning each game by double digits. Apparently, the right combo of opponents involves Bill O’Brien, Playoff Ryan Tannehill, and Playoff Jimmy Garoppolo. Still needed a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to win the Super Bowl.
  • 2020: the hottest team in the league, but also a record winning streak of seven games by fewer than seven points. Kept it up in playoffs but lost offensive tackles for the Super Bowl and failed to score a touchdown in rematch with Tampa Bay. Dominated 31-9 by a play-action offense and two-high safety defense.
  • 2021: ugly 3-4 start before the defense turned things around thanks to the schedule. Offense started clicking again late in year, but defense regressed to early struggles. Very fortunate to win coin toss and march for a touchdown against the Chargers and Bills; the latter being 13 seconds away from knocking the Chiefs out in the divisional round. Fell apart after 21-3 lead on Sunday.

Like I said, this team teases us with wonderful things, then they shit the bed when it matters most. The one time they didn’t blow it, they were fortunate to be playing Kyle Shanahan, but scroll down for more on his chokejobs.

A team with Alex Smith at quarterback being exposed as fool’s gold is one thing, but expectations have been much higher with Mahomes the last four years. For 10-plus quarters this postseason, it wasn’t hard to see why. He was putting together a case for the best postseason run ever by a quarterback. Then he had arguably the worst half of his career.

It really was a tale of two halves similar to what happened in Week 17 when the Chiefs scored four straight touchdowns, led by 14 points, then were held to a field goal in the second half before losing by a field goal on the final snap. But the Bengals hit up the Chiefs with big YAC plays that day and controlled the clock at the end. Mahomes wasn’t inept in the second half like he was in this one. It was a different game with a similar outcome.

Mahomes was close to perfect in this first half. He hit 13 of his first 14 passes and the Chiefs scored three straight touchdowns to take a 21-3 lead. If you wanted the easy, short throws, he took them. The running game looked good with the backs fighting hard for extra yards. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were heavily involved unlike they were in Week 17. It looked like an unstoppable offense while the Bengals looked unprepared for a big game.

But then a screen pass broke for the Bengals for a late 41-yard touchdown. The Chiefs were driving for another touchdown after getting a defensive pass interference flag, in a game where the refs really swallowed their whistles for both sides all day, that put the ball at the 1-yard line with 9 seconds left.

This is where the Chiefs basically lost the game. You get two quick throws into the end zone in that spot. The Chiefs should have had another timeout, but they wasted one early in the game before challenging a bad spot that should have been an easy first down for them. That didn’t help. But you have to know the clock situation and where the ball must go. One pass didn’t work, and it was risky to try another with five seconds. With the Chiefs getting the ball to start the third quarter, I would have been fine with a field goal and 24-10 lead.

Reid listened to Mahomes, and I’m not sure why everyone didn’t know the throw had to be quick and into the end zone. It was in the flat to Hill, and he danced around for no gain and the half ended. That pass never should have been thrown.

That failure really seemed to put the Chiefs in a funk. They were stopped on their first five drives in the second half, something you practically never see happen to this offense. They got away from the run. They got away from throwing to Kelce and Hill. Mahomes was not forcing deep throws, but his passes were just off and going to the wrong guys. A couple big sacks on third down in the fourth quarter also happened.

This was a mess of a half where the Bengals just hung in there with their game plan, even when it seemed nonsensical. Cincinnati continuously ran the ball on first down, setting up countless second-and-9 situations, which usually led to a short completion and tough third down situation. It made no sense why they did not attack more after throwing for more than 400 yards last time. Why not some play-action shots on first down? Ja’Marr Chase was held to 54 yards, a big drop of 212 yards from his 266-yard effort in Week 17. But Tee Higgins had 103 yards this time, even if his 44-yard grab, tied for the longest gain in the game, resulted in no points after the Bengals went right back to being conservative.

But after getting a field goal to make it 21-13, the Bengals got the first turnover in nearly six quarters of action between these teams this season. Mahomes tried to set up a short throw and threw it to a defensive lineman, who tipped it to himself for an interception at the Kansas City 27. The Bengals used that short field to drive for a game-tying touchdown (to Chase) and two-point conversion to end the third quarter.

You could see the tide turned when Joe Burrow threw an interception at midfield early in the fourth quarter, but the Chiefs went three-and-out with Mahomes taking his second third-down sack in two minutes.

Why did it look like Mahomes was constantly running around in the second half to no avail? The Bengals changed things up and kept dropping eight defenders into coverage. According to Next Gen Stats, they did it a season-high 35% of the time, increasing it from 24% of passes in the first half to 45% in the second half. It was very effective.

Like with Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl, this will be all the rage as the new blueprint to stop the Chiefs going into 2022. They’ll just have to figure it out because they did not have the answers on Sunday.

While Mahomes was taking fourth-quarter sacks, Burrow was very close to throwing consecutive interceptions. On a simple throw away, he for some reason threw a pass right to a diving defender, who dropped the ball. He would have been in bounds for the pick, stopping Cincinnati’s go-ahead drive after two plays. But Burrow took that gift and made perhaps his best play of the game with a 7-yard scramble for a first down on third-and-6. Three plays later, he was just as good with an 11-yard run to convert a third-and-7. We usually don’t see Burrow avoid sacks like that, but he only went down once in this game and had multiple good scrambles.

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson continued his perfect postseason with a clutch 52-yard field goal to take a 24-21 lead with 6:04 left. CBS’ Tony Romo kept talking about Burrow never getting the ball back, and I thought he was insane. Does he not see how this offense has been playing this half? Does he not realize the Bengals have three clock stoppages left?

And yet, it worked out to where Romo could have been right. But playing cute with the clock actually ended up costing the Chiefs in the end. Mahomes calmed down and found open receivers to move into field goal range quickly, but the Chiefs really made things hard after the two-minute warning. Mahomes was scrambling for his life and going out of bounds to stop the clock multiple times for meager gains. It was getting ridiculous like this:

Remember when Mahomes ran for 497 yards before passing/getting sacked in the Super Bowl? It was the highest game in the last five seasons, only topping Mahomes’ 495 yards in the 40-32 loss to Vegas. I would love to see if he broke 500 yards in this game.

But the Chiefs still had a first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 5 with 1:30 left in a 24-21 game. I can understand wanting to try a run and force the Bengals to call their last timeout. I don’t understand how anyone could advocate for letting the Chiefs score. You only do that if they’re able to kick a game-winning field goal with no time left. This wasn’t that.

But this is something that pisses me off about today’s NFL. Why should the offense be penalized for doing its job and scoring a touchdown? “They left too much time” is such a bullshit cop-out to let a defense off the hook for not doing its job. Don’t give up a touchdown. I don’t care if they have 20 seconds or 120 seconds left, don’t give up a touchdown. Do your job. The offense just did.

This is why I would have preferred to see the ball in Mahomes’ hands instead of a run for 1 yard by Jerick McKinnon. I want to maximize my touchdown probability, especially in a 3-point game against an offense that is struggling to score touchdowns now.

But on second down, Mahomes again ran around too much before taking a 5-yard sack. Not good. The clock was down to 39 seconds, but the ball was now at the 9 on third down. This would take an amazing throw like Mahomes had to open the game with a touchdown to Hill, but you have to be careful about forcing it and getting a tipped pick. We’ve seen it so many times with the Chiefs this season, including in the red zone.

So, Mahomes had to be smart. He wasn’t. He took too long again, Sam Hubbard sacked him again, and this time there was a fumble that the Chiefs were lucky to recover, or the season would be over. What a near disaster, and yes, this would be a season-ending turnover that the QB got away with for those keeping count. It made the field goal 17 yards harder, but Harrison Butker did his job and nailed it from 44 yards to force overtime. Good on the kickers this week.

After the Chiefs won the coin toss, you had to think the football gods aren’t going to let them do this three times since Week 15. Based on what I saw in the second half, I knew this wasn’t going to end well.

But it went worse than expected. For starters, why is he throwing to Demarcus Robinson twice in overtime after Robinson had one target with zero catches all day? Robinson wasn’t looking for the second-down throw and it nearly ended up in a pick-six by Eli Apple. A Hasselbeck, if you will. But for some #BallDontLie, the third-and-10 throw was deep for Hill, the pass was in the right location for his hands, but the defender made a great play too on the ball, and it was tipped to Von Bell for an interception. The Bengals were already at their own 45 and the ending felt inevitable at that point.

It is fitting that this team’s season would end after a big blown lead and tipped interception. It’s what plagued them during the 3-4 start. The Bengals came back from 14 down three times in Week 17 too. It was going to catch up with them eventually. The Chiefs were simply too sloppy this season to deserve to go back to the Super Bowl.

Joe Mixon had some strong runs to put the Bengals in chip-shot range. McPherson wasn’t going to miss a 31-yard field goal. He didn’t, and the Bengals are off to their third Super Bowl with a 27-24 win, the biggest road win in franchise history. Zach Taylor has as many playoff wins this year as Mike Tomlin (two) and John Harbaugh (one) have combined since 2016. You might actually be able to pick him out of a lineup of generic white men now.

Everyone knows Burrow and Chase now after this breakout season, but it really has been clutch kicking and clutch defense with incredibly timely and pivotal takeaways that have keyed this run to the Super Bowl for the Bengals.

This is the third game in a row where the Bengals have intercepted a quarterback in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in a close game. This is something that has only happened 20 times in the playoffs since 2001, and the Bengals have done it three weeks in a row to Derek Carr (fourth-down pick at the goal line), Ryan Tannehill (third-down pick at midfield in a tied game), and now Mahomes in overtime to set up a game-winning drive.

The only other defenses to have two such plays in the same postseason are the 2007 Giants (Tony Romo and Brett Favre in back-to-back weeks) and 2010 Packers (Michael Vick in Philadelphia and Caleb Hanie two games later in Chicago).

Not even Tom Brady, the LOAT, has ever willed his defense to do this three times in his lengthy playoff career. Sure, he’s benefitted twice, including the most crucial interception in NFL history by Malcolm Butler, but you’d be hard pressed to find a team with big picks like this three weeks in a row.

Now the Bengals get their third chance to win their first Super Bowl. Maybe it’s the first of numerous chances for Burrow and company. Maybe it’s the best chance they ever see. Maybe it’s the start of the NFL’s next dynasty, and it happened on Kansas City’s field where the next dynasty was supposed to be.

We won’t know those things for some years, but as I hammered on this offseason, chances like Super Bowl 55 cannot be taken for granted. When you lose a game like that 31-9 instead of repeating, you never know if you’ll ever get back to the Super Bowl.

Ask Dan Marino and Don Shula.

Ask Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren.

Ask Kurt Warner and the Rams.

Ask Drew Brees and Sean Payton in New Orleans.

Ask the Steelers/Ben Roethlisberger and Packers/Aaron Rodgers after Super Bowl 45, which was 11 years ago.

Ask Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll in Seattle.

That little grace period in the AFC where Tom Brady had to move on from New England, Big Ben’s clock stopped ticking in Pittsburgh, Andrew Luck retired, Deshaun Watson ruined his career, Josh Allen had to improve dramatically, and Burrow was just a rookie? That time is over. The AFC has caught up to the Chiefs, and this is before we find out how high the ceiling is for Mac Jones and Trevor Lawrence, if Justin Herbert can get a defense in Los Angeles, and if Rodgers or Wilson want to join the conference.

You could be thrilled that the team is always competitive and will have a chance every year with Mahomes, and there is nothing wrong with that. But any dynasty talk? Kill that noise now. Scoffing at the thought of only winning two or three titles like you’re Jim Irsay? Have you seen the last nine seasons for the Chiefs? Did you ever watch a Kansas City playoff game from 1970-2010? Be happy with the one ring and hopeful there’s ever a second. The NFL is a con when it comes to making sure great quarterbacks walk away with Super Bowl titles.

We just watched a coach in his 23rd season get tripped up by two of his career bugaboos: managing the clock and neglecting the run even against a three-man rush. He lost to a coach who ran the ball 17 times on first-and-10 and roped-a-dope his way to a win. Like many of us, Reid has fallen in love with his superstar quarterback and expects him to be Superman at all times. Except the NFL playoffs are kryptonite to teams relying on the quarterback this much.

After halftime, the Chiefs got Clark Kent. Maybe on Earth-Two, Frank Clark gets a strip-sack on the most sacked QB in the NFL. But in our reality, the clips of Mahomes taking those sacks and throwing that pick in overtime are going to be played more than the brilliant ending last week against Buffalo.

Kick the field goal before halftime. Take the boring throwaway instead of the ridiculous sack. Not every situation requires a hero. Burrow just won two road playoff games by being pretty boring. Christ, he really might be the new Brady. Kansas City’s defense was not playing poorly enough to justify so much hero ball. Mahomes will learn this eventually, but he better hope it doesn’t happen after kickstarting a Cincinnati dynasty by playing one of the worst halves of his career.

I’ll end with an unmodified Dickens quote, because this must be what it feels like to love the Chiefs and not have them love you back.

I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.

49ers at Rams: Gut-Check Win for Stafford, McVay

Losing six games in a row to one rival is a big deal, but there is no better way to avenge it than with a playoff win that puts you in the Super Bowl. We had not really seen anything like it since the 2001-04 Colts lost all six games to the Patriots to kick off a rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Colts finally won a game in 2005, followed it up with another road win in 2006, but didn’t truly slay the dragon until they came back from a 21-3 deficit in the 2006 AFC Championship Game and went on to win the Super Bowl.

49ers-Rams is less of a big deal than that, and the Rams have folded time after time to the 49ers in a variety of ways. But no matchup was bigger than this one, and the Rams did not have Matthew Stafford, Odell Beckham, and Von Miller for all six of those losses. Head coaches Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan come from similar backgrounds with time spent in Tampa Bay with Jon Gruden and time together in Washington under Kyle’s famous dad. This game was to decide which one would be making their second Super Bowl appearance in the last four seasons.

The Rams had a clear advantage at quarterback with Matthew Stafford, but that did not pay enough dividends in the first two upsets by the 49ers this year. On Sunday, it looked bleak through three quarters with the 49ers leading 17-7 and the Rams having one of those classic “finesse team getting bullied by the physical team in the playoffs” type of performances. Jimmy Garoppolo even threw for 200 yards before the fourth quarter of a playoff game for the first time in his career. Little was going right for the Rams, which is why the comeback was such a gut-check and hallmark victory for McVay and Stafford.

It was ugly early. Stafford threw a red-zone pick on a tipped ball on a third down where the 49ers actually covered Cooper Kupp tightly like they should have been doing as much as possible. Make the other players beat you, and the Rams lost tight end Tyler Higbee to injury early in this one. Kupp was a monster on third down the rest of the game, catching 11-of-14 targets for 142 yards and two touchdowns (both on third down). If the MVP award included the playoffs, Kupp would run away with it this season.

Deebo Samuel also had a hell of a year and showed again his incredible strength on a 44-yard touchdown on a screen that was all him. Ben Skowronek dropped a 38-yard touchdown on his only target of the game. Following that, Matt Gay missed a 54-yard field goal for the Rams before the 49ers made their kick to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room, a half that certainly favors San Francisco’s style of play.

If you know me well, you know I’m not a big fan of the “genius” label that gets attached to McVay and Shanahan. I think both are good coaches, but they are far from flawless, and their game management leaves a lot to be desired. This second half was a perfect example of their shortcomings, and they should be glad they were coaching against each other. Someone had to win.

First, the Rams tried a pass on a third-and-1 at the San Francisco 43 in the middle of the third quarter. If you know you’re going for it, as you should there, just run the ball. Run it twice if you have to. Instead, Stafford threw a pass away after not liking what he saw, and the Rams tried to sneak him on fourth down. His sneaks, even when they worked, have looked awful this postseason. He also seemed to be banged up during this game. Sure enough, he was short again and it wasn’t even that close on replay. But McVay wasted a challenge and precious timeout on the play.

The 49ers seemed to deliver a huge blow with a 58-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-7 lead. Jauan Jennings fought for extra yards on a key third-and-10 to convert it. I guess everyone in San Francisco is just amazing with YAC.

Skowronek drop aside, Garoppolo was pretty much outplaying Stafford, or at least playing up to his level in the game. Stafford was going to have to have the biggest fourth-quarter comeback of his career against a good opponent. Remember, Stafford was just 4-35 (.103) at game-winning drive opportunities against teams with a winning record.

Stafford was 0-28 in his career when trailing by double-digits to start the fourth quarter against teams with winning records. That included an 0-4 record this season with the Rams. But the Rams were already at the San Francisco 20 to start the fourth quarter after a great play call to the backup tight end popped for 20 yards. McVay had to burn his second timeout with 20 seconds left in the quarter to call it on first down, but the play was a great one.

On a third-and-1, Stafford was in empty and threw an 11-yard touchdown to Kupp with 13:30 left. Again, how do you not double team the best receiver on the field? Odell Beckham had a very good 100-yard game, but I’d sooner take my chances with him beating me than leaving the most dominant receiver in the game in single coverage.

The 49ers could have stopped the bleeding, but once again, they failed to score any points with the lead under Shanahan. I’d be very worried that he is just never going to understand when to go aggressive vs. conservative. If you’re leading by 16 points in the fourth quarter, you can be conservative. If you’re only up three points and you’re the underdog, you need to take some chances. He has failed both situations in his career.

The 49ers may have botched their season when they faced a third-and-2 at the LA 45 and called a run for fullback Kyle Juszczyk with big, injured tackle Trent Williams in motion. It’s a cutesy play that did not work. McVay even thought the 49ers fumbled the ball, so he wasted his third challenge and was out of timeouts with 10 minutes to go. But the real sin here was giving the ball to maybe your sixth-best ball carrier in this offense? No disrespect to Juszczyk. He’s one of the finest in a dying breed of a position, but I’m giving the ball to Deebo or George Kittle or Brandon Aiyuk or Elijah Mitchell or maybe Jennings again.

The vaunted rushing attack for Shanahan’s offense? It produced 19 carries for 46 yards without a run longer than 9 yards. It looks like the Rams learned from the regular season and made an adjustment.

Still, the 49ers could have overcome the bad play with a fourth-and-2 conversion. But from early in the play clock, it was evident that they were just trying to draw the Rams offsides and never intended to snap the ball before taking a delay of game and punting. What a shame. The 49ers had as many delay of game penalties in the fourth quarter (two) as they had in the entire 2021 regular season, which is something they also did in the Dallas wild card win.

By the way, if there are two areas where the NFL should make use of modern technology and improve the game, it would be a light/sound system for delay of game and better spotting of the ball. It’s absurd how many times teams are getting away with snapping the ball after the clock hits zero, and the spots are sometimes so bad you wonder if the game is being fixed. If this led to more delay of game penalties, then so be it. It shouldn’t take 40 seconds to get a play ready.

Anyways, that punt was cowardly. Stafford must have let some of the LOAT rub off on him last week after nearly starting the next drive with a terrible interception, but Jaquiski Tartt dropped the deep ball pick with 9:47 left. Not a game ender, but it mattered. Stafford found Beckham for 29 yards on the next play, the Rams’ longest play of the night, and the drive ended with a game-tying field goal with 6:49 left.

Stafford was under siege by the 49ers in Week 18. Things didn’t feel that bad in this game, but apparently, they were. Next Gen Stats had it as his highest-pressure rate in a game for Stafford this season.

But this was a great chance for the 49ers to take advantage of McVay’s terrible clock management and drive into game-winning field goal range with no time left. But it was a brutal three-and-out with Garoppolo throwing three incompletions and the 49ers struggling to even beat the play clock multiple times. Stafford found Kupp for another big 25-yard gain on a third down, and only a sack at the two-minute warning stalled the drive to a field goal attempt. Gay was good from 30 yards out with 1:46 left.

Garoppolo certainly overcame longer odds in Week 18, needing a touchdown in similar time. Just a field goal would be fine here, but my did we get the worst of him in this offense with the season on the line. After a wild throw and a checkdown lost 3 yards, it was quickly third-and-13. With Aaron Donald in chase, Garoppolo tried to avoid a sack and just threw a pass up that was eventually tipped to the Rams for a game-ending interception with 1:09 left. Just nine more seconds and it’d be on the list I posted above.

Incredibly, or maybe sadly, this is still in the running for Garoppolo’s best playoff start out of his six. You could say his two best games were the two he lost. But after the way this one ended, it will begin the Trey Lance era in San Francisco. The 49ers invested way too much in him to not go that route next season. Garoppolo will have to catch on somewhere else as this should end the five-season run for him and Shanahan together in San Francisco. There will be more pressure on Shanahan to get things right with Lance, since he’s been given a pass for Garoppolo’s durability and limitations. If the 49ers are still blowing winnable big games with Lance, then we know the problem all along starts at the coach.

Now McVay is the one who looks to cap off this five-year journey with the Rams with a Super Bowl win as a favorite against the Bengals. He would join an impressive list of coaches who also took that five-year journey to their first ring: Mike Holmgren (1992-96 Packers), Tony Dungy (2002-06 Colts), Mike McCarthy (2006-10 Packers), and John Harbaugh (2008-12 Ravens). Holmgren is the only one on that list who won it with his best team, and while the Rams had better stats and record in 2018, this team is in better position to win in two weeks than that team was.

Sometimes that’s what matters most. Just keep making the playoffs and hope things fall into place for three or four weeks. The Rams took an aggressive approach to build this team and they are where they wanted to be. The quarterback who was 8-68 against teams with winning records can notch a seventh such win this season in two weeks. Maybe even make himself a case for a gold jacket one day as he can join John Elway as the only quarterbacks to win their first championship more than a dozen seasons into their careers.

This is what the Lions drafted Stafford to do. This is what we’ve been told McVay can do for a team. Now together, McVay and Stafford can finish this thing off in their home stadium in Year 1.

Next two weeks: Well, go figure. We get what I said days ago was the least attractive option of the four.

Watching the 49ers play on Sunday, maybe it’s the second or third-best outcome after all. All I know is the Rams better score more than three points this time. The Bengals better figure out how to get in the end zone more often. A third dud Super Bowl in four years would be a letdown.

NFL 2021 AFC Championship Game Preview: Bengals at Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs are 11-1 in their last 12 games, but they must avenge their Week 17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals if they are to become the fourth team to get to a third-straight Super Bowl.

See my NFC Championship Game preview for 49ers-Rams here.

With both championship games being rematches for the fourth year in a row, here is some pertinent data for all conference championship game rematches since 1978.

  • Teams like the Chiefs who played on the road in the regular season are only 15-15 in that game, but they are 21-9 in the home championship game.
  • However, when that road loser switches venues back home, their title game record is only 8-7.
  • Green Bay lost at home last year to Tampa Bay. The Chiefs were swept by the 2018 Patriots, the only team to beat Patrick Mahomes twice in the same season. Kansas City was able to come back to beat the Titans a year later.
  • For division matchups, only the last meeting is used, so a team trying to complete the road sweep like San Francisco has to improve on a 1-4 record for teams in position to do that. Only the 1992 Bills were able to sweep the Dolphins on the road in the title game.

Kansas City turned around the worst home loss of Mahomes’ career against Buffalo with a thrilling 42-36 overtime win in an instant classic last week. What will the encore be?

Bengals at Chiefs (-7)

See my early preview for this game at BMR.

After a rough 3-4 start, the Chiefs are back to being a very difficult team to beat. But the Bengals will have some confidence after being the last to take this team down. Let’s update the losses chart in the Mahomes era (with some tweaks) that I introduced last postseason.

When you look at the five losses this season, running the ball and controlling the clock were less important against the 2021 Chiefs. The most important thing is still to score at least 27 points as Mahomes is 43-1 when a team doesn’t hit that number.

Cincinnati’s win was unique in that it was a passing explosion from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase (more on that below), but the Bengals had the fewest rushing yards (60) in a win over Mahomes. They are also only the third team to beat Mahomes without getting a takeaway as that Week 17 game had zero takeaways from both teams. If you look at the other four losses this year, the Chiefs always had multiple turnovers, including games with three or four.

The Chiefs also had one of their worst penalty games in Week 17, but the ref for this one is Bill Vinovich. While I’m certainly no Vinovich fan, his games this year had the fewest penalties and penalty yards. Part of what made the Bills-Chiefs game so sublime was that the teams combined for four penalties, so it would be nice to see another clean game.

Kansas City is definitely going to have to be careful with how grabby they get with these receivers. In Week 17, the Bengals overcame three third downs thanks to defensive pass interference calls. There were also two fourth-down stops in the final minute that would have given Mahomes the ball back had the defense not been called for penalties to negate both.

Seeing that Mahomes only needed 13 seconds to set up a field goal against Buffalo, you can see why the Bengals opted to go for that second fourth-and-1 at the 1-yard line in a tied game with 50 seconds left. As the chart shows, denying Mahomes the ball late in the game is the best chance to beat him. Only twice in his career (2018 Rams and 2021 Chargers) has he been unable to drive into field-goal range late in the game.

Will These Playoff Offenses Regress?

The Chiefs are red hot right now with 42 points in back-to-back playoff games, something only the 1990 Bills have ever done. Mahomes threw five touchdown passes in just over 11 minutes against the Steelers before Travis Kelce later threw a sixth on a trick play. Against Buffalo’s No. 1 defense, he led the Chiefs to eight scores on 11 drives, including five more touchdowns. Of the three non-scoring drives, one was a missed field goal and the other was a dropped ball on third down. That means the Chiefs have scored 11 touchdowns on 23 drives this postseason.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have three touchdowns on 20 drives this postseason. They have settled for eight field goals. Rookie kicker Evan McPherson is great and has long range, but we know settling for field goals, especially long ones, is a losing formula in Kansas City. The Bengals are going to have to be sharper, particularly in the red zone where they were mediocre this season. In fact, the Bengals were 16th in red zone touchdown rate and 16th in third down conversion rate. Drop down two sections for more on their offense.

As for the Chiefs keeping up this historic pace, how did those 1990 Bills fare in their third playoff game after the scoring explosion? They had one week instead of two to prepare for the Giants, a great defense, in the Super Bowl. They lost 20-19, but that is one of the most overrated defensive performances in NFL history. The Bills moved the ball great, but only had possession for 19:27 because of New York’s ball-control offense. The Bills only allowed one sack and had zero turnovers, and still gained 371 yards in under 20 minutes, but they were 1-of-7 on third down and Scott Norwood missed a game-winning field goal at the end. It was the night defensive coordinator Bill Belichick first sold his soul to the devil.

The Chiefs were the best third-down offense this season at 52.2%, and they have not disappointed in the playoffs. None of this should really come as a surprise after the Chiefs led the NFL in yards per drive, points per drive, and the fewest three-and-outs. As always, it comes back to turnovers with this team.

Chiefs: There Is No Repeatable Blueprint

I don’t care if it gets boring to say this every week, but there is no magical blueprint to stop the Chiefs. They are still their own worst enemy, and that comes largely in the form of turnovers, dropped passes, penalties, or the rare times Andy Reid forgets to put the ball in Mahomes’ hands. The turnovers especially have been killers this year, and so many were self-inflicted with tipped balls or just calling a stupid Wildcat play like the fumble touchdown against Pittsburgh. If you get the turnovers, recover the obligatory Chiefs fumble (didn’t happen last week), you give yourself a chance.

If Clyde Edwards-Helaire doesn’t have the first fumble of his career in field goal range in Baltimore, the Chiefs are winning that 36-35 game. If they don’t turn it over three times in a row to start the Chargers game, they probably win that one too. They would have given the Bills a better game the first time around without a tipped ball pick six and another ball batted at the line for a pick in the red zone.

As the Bengals showed in Tennessee last week with Ryan Tannehill’s pick parade, any game can be a win if you get enough takeaways. It doesn’t even matter if you give up nine sacks and score 19 points.

When the Buccaneers supposedly showed the blueprint to crush the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55, it was missing some context. For one, the Buccaneers were shredded by the Chiefs in Week 12, so they had a recent game tape to study and improve from. The Bengals have that advantage as well from Week 17.

Secondly, the Buccaneers had an extra week to prepare and dramatically altered their scheme to surprise the Chiefs. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is known for being an aggressive blitzer, but he called the lowest blitz rate in a game of his since 2015 and played two-high safety shells at his highest rate as well. Teams have emulated this often against Kansas City in 2021, but the Chiefs have adjusted. Last week, Buffalo used two-high safeties on 92% of plays, but Mahomes shredded it with 29-of-38 passing for 344 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t attempt a single deep pass for the first time in his career as he took advantage of the short, easy plays. He also used his legs to great success and rushed for a career-high 69 yards. Last postseason, Mahomes had a toe injury and wasn’t as willing to run on it as we’ve seen he is willing to do in playoff games.

Finally, the Buccaneers caught a break with left tackle Eric Fisher injuring his Achilles in the game before the Super Bowl, throwing the already limited offensive line into flux. Mahomes was pressured a Super Bowl record number of times depending which source you want to use, and the Chiefs failed to make any special plays that night and did not score a touchdown. The Chiefs reinvested in the offensive line and have gotten better results. They’re also healthy now, and the toughest game this year may have been the Cincinnati one where left tackle Orlando Brown was inactive, his backup got hurt after six snaps, but the Chiefs still made it work. Brown is back now and the Bengals still did not sack Mahomes in Week 17.

So, the fabled Tampa blueprint is a mirage. You just have to trust Reid and Mahomes to figure things out.

But if I have a concern for this matchup, it would be that in Week 17, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill did not have a play longer than 17 yards. They had 13 touches for 66 yards and one touchdown as basically everyone else got involved with big plays that day.

It still led to four touchdowns in a row in the first half, but I’m not convinced the Chiefs can sustain their scoring if their two studs aren’t more involved. Both showed up big time against the Bills last week. But in that second half of Week 17, the Chiefs punted twice and settled for a field goal on their final drive before the Bengals ran out the final six minutes for the game-winning field goal.

Despite their turnovers and struggles, the Titans hit up the Bengals for three 40-yard plays last week. A.J. Brown had a monster receiving game. I’m confident the Chiefs will figure it out and get Hill and Kelce more involved this week.

Cincinnati Offense Vs. Kansas City’s Liability

The Chiefs started this season with arguably the worst defense in the league. Things turned around dramatically and they allowed the fewest points in Weeks 6-18, but as I laid out last week, the schedule had a lot to do with that.

After the way the Chiefs have performed on defense late in the season against the Chargers, Bengals, and Bills, it’s safe to say this defense is a liability again. If it doesn’t catch up with them this week against Ja’Marr Chase for a second time, then it could in the Super Bowl with Deebo Samuel or Cooper Kupp being the latest skill player to destroy them.

Hell, it was Buffalo’s Gabriel Davis who had 201 yards and a playoff-record four touchdown catches last week. He was 13 seconds away from ending Kansas City’s season, and the defense never had to get another stop after failing to do so multiple times in the quarter. Without coin flip wins in overtime against the Chargers (Week 15) and Bills, this Kansas City season could look very different right now. I’d be leery of this defense.

In Week 17, Chase had one of the greatest receiving games in NFL history. He caught 11-of-12 targets for 266 yards and three touchdowns. He added two first downs via pass interference flags on third downs. He caught a 30-yard pass on third-and-27 on the game-winning drive. He had two long touchdowns that were largely YAC and individual efforts from him. He was sensational and so was his rookie season. While not finding the end zone in the playoffs, he has still been very good and did a lot of damage on screens in Tennessee.

The good news for the Chiefs is that safety Tyrann Mathieu should be back after leaving the Bills game early with a concussion. I’m not going to pretend he stops all those Davis plays, but the Chiefs are better with him on the field than off. They’re also better when Daniel Sorensen doesn’t have to play much. Sunday saw Sorensen play 92% of the snaps, his highest in a game since Week 5 when he allowed two long completions to Buffalo and saw his role diminished afterwards. Sorensen was also beat for 86 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati. They cannot rely on him with the Bengals having a legitimate wide receiver trio.

Can Chase really dominate like that again? This will be the 20th time since 1970 that a receiver had at least 175 receiving yards against a defense he will face in the playoffs. The Chiefs just saw this a year ago with Tyreek Hill lighting up the Buccaneers for 269 yards and three touchdowns. But in the Super Bowl, Hill couldn’t pull in an early touchdown and finished with seven catches for 73 yards.

On average, these receivers declined by 142.9 receiving yards in the playoff rematch. Only Tim Brown and Michael Haynes were able to break 100 yards again, and touchdowns dropped from 31 to six.

The Chiefs have allowed eight 100-yard receivers this season. You would think after Davis last week and Chase last time, the Chiefs will make him the top priority this week. Short of a return touchdown, the Bengals will struggle to hit that 27-point minimum if Chase is held under 80 yards, which can be gleaned from the 11 times it happened this season.  

Kansas City’s defense has allowed four completions to gain more than 23 YAC this season. The first was a lateral play on 4th-and-31 to end the first half by Cleveland in Week 1, so that really shouldn’t count. The second was a little toss to Devontae Booker for the Giants for an extra 35 yards in the middle of the season. But the two longest YAC plays of the year were by Chase in Week 17 for touchdowns with 43 and 61 YAC. The Bengals had four YAC plays of 40-plus yards this season and you’re looking at half of them.

I’m not going to pretend that the Chiefs won’t allow any big plays this week, especially after what the defense did against Buffalo last week. But I don’t think crazy YAC is as repeatable as a great deep ball, and I don’t believe Burrow’s deep ball is as good as Josh Allen is capable of, such as that 75-yard rocket to Davis that kept the game from getting out of hand.

I also don’t think Burrow can escape all the sacks Allen did. Allen had 10 designed runs in that game, but his only scramble was a crucial fourth down late in the game. Burrow is not a statue by any means, but let’s face it. He took a league-high 51 sacks and was sacked nine times in Tennessee. He takes plenty of bad sacks and the Chiefs got him down four times in Week 17, which had a lot to do with the Bengals trailing 14-0, 21-7, and 28-14. Why did Burrow have to convert a third-and-27 on the game-winning drive? Because he took a sack that knocked them out of field goal range on first down. He’ll learn, they’ll improve the offensive line eventually, but for right now, Burrow is a liability to take bad sacks.

The Chiefs need to take advantage of that at home and I believe they will.

The Prediction

The low-hanging fruit would be to gush over this Cincinnati renaissance and crap on the Titans as the No. 1 seed, but I built the theme to my season predictions around finding a worthy contender for the Chiefs in the AFC. Maybe that proves to be the Bengals if they can become the second team to sweep Mahomes, but I still think Kansas City is the team to beat. The Chargers couldn’t beat them twice. The Bills couldn’t beat them twice. I don’t think the Bengals are better qualified to do it either this year.

Losing that game in Cincinnati with Burrow and Chase playing so well to fall to the No. 2 seed may ultimately prove to be a blessing for these Chiefs. It installed the Titans as the No.1 seed, which they promptly choked away, giving the Chiefs a record fourth-straight AFC title game at home against these Bengals, who they led by 14 points three times in Week 17. I really do believe the Chiefs would have had a harder time reversing 27-3 on the road in Tennessee this week.

I like the Chiefs to get a double-digit lead again and not blow it this time. Give me that 54-51 rematch in two weeks.

Final: Chiefs 34, Bengals 24