NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titans at Jaguars: Fumbling Away the AFC South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just protect the ball, guys.

Rams at Seahawks: Playoff-Bound Geno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens at Bengals: The Settled AFC North

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

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

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

Patriots at Bills: New England Never Stood a Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chiefs at Raiders: Quick Work

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

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

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

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

Giants at Eagles: No. 1 But Not Dominant

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

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

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

Cowboys at Commanders: Howell Bad Was Dallas?

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinals at 49ers: Ready to Break the Glass Ceiling

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

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

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

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

Buccaneers at Falcons: Stats Over Winning, Eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikings at Bears: No. 1 Pick Belongs to Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Packers at Eagles: All Things Must Pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All things must pass.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens at Jaguars: The Streak Is Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one will sting the most.

Rams at Chiefs: Red Zone Practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chargers at Cardinals: Two-or-Die Take Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bears at Jets: Pour One Out for Zach Wilson?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

Broncos at Panthers: The Lowest Point Yet for Russell Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texans at Dolphins: Poor Bryce Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falcons at Commanders: Oh, Now You Pass?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next Week

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packers at Lions: Some Shitty Throws, For Sure

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

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

Jesus Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vikings at Commanders: We Need to Talk About Kirk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You like that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chargers at Falcons: About What You’d Expect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolphins at Bears: Some Offensive Appreciation Here in 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hurry-Up Finish

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

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

Panthers at Bengals: Have a Day, Joe Mixon

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

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

Colts at Patriots: Throwback to the Old Days Best Forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 3

I questioned on Saturday how a week with no games with a point spread of 7+ would go, especially this early in the season when we are trying to figure out what these teams really are.

As it turns out, this was only the fourth NFL week (regular season) since 2001 where no game had a spread larger than 6.5 points. We’ll see what Monday night brings with Cowboys-Giants, but so far, the four games with spreads of 1-2 points were all decided by 1-4 points. #VegasKnew

One of the most incredible stats so far is that the rookie head coaches are 9-1 this season at 4QC/GWD opportunities:

The only loss was when Nathaniel Hackett lost his mind and tried to do a 64-yard field goal in Seattle.

Some Week 3 games had a fake close finish this week (PIT-CLE on TNF, NO-CAR), but in the end, there have been 11 games with a comeback opportunity. If we get a 12th on MNF, that will be the most in any week since the 2016 season started with 13 close games.

But after seeing the Bills and Chiefs lose in dramatic fashion in the fourth quarter, the Chargers lose at home by four touchdowns to the Jaguars, a 14-12 Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady game, and the unholy clusterfvck that was 49ers vs. Broncos on Sunday night, “Any Given Sunday” is still very much in effect.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Dolphins: Miami’s Rope-a-Dope

Before I piss off the Miami fans, I want to remind everyone that I picked Miami to make the playoffs and Mike McDaniel to win Coach of the Year. This game helps with both of those, but I think by Week 15 when the rematch is played on a December afternoon in Buffalo, this game is going to look like the New England 14-10 extreme winds game on Monday night last year.

The Bills dominated this game and only have themselves to blame for losing it. They literally melted in the Miami heat and wore themselves out while outgaining the Dolphins 497-212 in yards, 31-15 in first downs, and holding the ball for 40:20.

Yes, Josh Allen had some notable screwups in this one. He lost the ball on a strip-sack that led to a 6-yard touchdown drive for Miami. He had to do a fake spike before halftime after bobbling another snap, potentially costing the team another three points. He didn’t come through again on three straight plays from inside the 2-yard line after the two-minute warning. His final drive, with 85 seconds to get the winning field goal set up, was not the stuff of legends and does not help his MVP case as he couldn’t get the spike off to beat the buzzer.

But while Allen had a ridiculous 75 dropbacks, I am not sure how Tua Tagovailoa returned to the game after banging his head off the ground in the second quarter and looking wobbly. Instead of expecting the Bills to feast on Teddy Bridgewater, Tua was soon back in the game and ended up leading a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter keyed by big catches that Jaylen Waddle made (45 and 32 yards) that I doubt Bridgewater would have completed, even if the Bills were badly shorthanded in the secondary in this game.

But back to Allen, he had help in blowing this game. In the third quarter, the Bills had one full possession and Gabriel Davis dropped a sure touchdown on it. Almost a Lee Evans-Sterling Moore type of play if you know what I mean (2011 AFC Championship Game). The Bills had to settle for a field goal and 17-14 lead after a 9:22 drive.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Bills settled for another field goal and missed it from 38 yards out. What the hell? Miami took the lead, then it was another march of over eight minutes where the Bills came up empty at the goal line. Even after Miami’s butt-punt inside the end zone produced a safety and 21-19 score, Allen still couldn’t deliver the final game-winning drive.

Since 1970, teams with an edge of 275+ yards are 300-13-1 (.957), so come on, Buffalo. The last team to outgain an opponent by 275+ yards and lose was the 2020 Rams in Miami, Tua’s first start when Jared Goff imploded with turnovers. Those articles I wrote during the playoffs asking if Joe Burrow was the new Brady, did I have the wrong 2020 draft quarterback in mind?

But going back to last season, the Bills are now 1-7 in close games. Allen has not had a fourth-quarter comeback since the third game of the 2020 season against the Rams, a game where the refs bailed him out with a penalty to wipe out a fourth-down incompletion.

This team may have a big front-runner problem. I would still pick Buffalo in a rematch in a heartbeat, but they are going to have to win a game late at some point this year if they are going to win a Super Bowl or even get to one.

Chiefs at Colts: That Horseshoe Voodoo

Some franchises just seem snake-bitten against certain teams. Over the last 30 years, the Chiefs are 4-14 against the Colts, including a 1-4 record in playoff games. From Lin Elliott’s missed field goals in the 1995 playoffs to the no-punts playoff loss in Arrowhead in 2003 to the blown 28-point lead in 2013 AFC Wild Card to that weird 19-13 game in 2019, it’s just one heartbreak after another for the Chiefs.

But most of those games did not happen in the Patrick Mahomes era, and he even won his first playoff game – feels like a shock now – at home against the Colts in 2018, Andrew Luck’s final game.

But Mahomes and the Chiefs are 0-2 against the Colts ever since, and Sunday’s 20-17 loss ranks right up there with the 19-13 loss that was such a one-of-a-kind in Mahomes’ career.

We have 20-17 as a nice cousin to 19-13:

  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to an opponent that scored fewer than 26 points (45-2 record).
  • They are the only two losses in Mahomes’ career to a team with under 340 yards of offense (28-2 record) as the Colts had just 259 yards on Sunday.
  • 19-13 was the first time in 24 starts that Mahomes did not lead the Chiefs to at least 26 points.
  • 19-13 is the only game in Mahomes’ first 50 starts where the Chiefs did not score at least 22 points.
  • Pending on 2022 results, 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career to a team with fewer than eight wins (2019 Colts finished 7-9).
  • 19-13 is the only loss in Mahomes’ career when a team blitzes him at least 12 times (12-1 record). [Note: waiting for 20-17 data.]
  • Mahomes is 28-2 SU as a favorite of more than 7 points and 19-13 was the first loss.

How did this one happen? Special teams played a huge part in a variety of ways, making you wonder if the team should have bit the bullet and cut someone to add another kicker while Harrison Butker is injured.

  • First, rookie Skyy Moore muffed a punt that led to an easy 4-yard touchdown drive for the Colts.
  • A punt pinned Mahomes to his 1-yard line for Drive No. 2.
  • The Chiefs missed an extra point on their first touchdown.
  • Leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs tried a terrible fake field goal instead of trying a 42-yard kick.
  • Matt Ammendola missed a 34-yard field goal wide left with 8:38 left that would have had the game tied if the Colts still got the touchdown.

That was a brutal performance, but the offense also was not that great for the second week in a row as the Chargers and Colts have held this offense to 37 points.  Apparently, not every defense is as clueless as Arizona.

The defense had five sacks of Matt Ryan and made some good plays, but there was a fourth-and-1 sneak at the Indy 33 that could have been game-deciding if the Chiefs stopped Ryan. They didn’t. Worse, a sack to bring up fourth-and-14 with 5:08 left should have changed things dramatically, but Chris Jones was penalized for apparently saying some naughty words after the play, leading to an automatic first down. Ridiculous.

The Colts took a whopping 8:14 to drive for the winning touchdown with Ryan cashing in again to rookie Jelani Woods with 24 seconds left to take a 20-17 lead.

We know Mahomes doesn’t need a ton of time to get into field goal range, but what exactly is that without Butker and with a kicker who can’t make an extra point or kick from 34 yards out? After a 24-yard completion from Mahomes, who struggled to break 250 yards passing, he had 0:08 left at the Indy 46. Something quick over the middle for 10-15 yards and getting down to use a timeout would work well with Butker, but again, the kick was going to be a nightmare in this situation. But we never got to see one as Mahomes forced a pass that was intercepted, and the game was over. The Colts did it again to the Chiefs.

This game is exactly why I said it’d be so interesting if the Chiefs had to play the Colts in the 2020 or 2021 playoffs. They did this without their best defender (Shaquille Leonard) active, but Michael Pittman’s return was a huge boost to Ryan’s confidence despite the pressure he faced.

If we ignore Weeks 1-2, this game is exactly why I felt the Colts would be better without Wentz this year, and why I had the Chiefs taking a step back to 10-7. Time will tell if this was just some more Horseshoe Voodoo when these teams meet up, but if there’s a playoff rematch, I don’t blame any Kansas City fans having dread over the outcome.

The muffed punt to start the game was just the first sign of what was to come. The Chiefs have some issues to take care of in this post-Tyreek Hill era, and a trip to Tampa Bay (allowing 9.0 points per game) is unlikely to make things better.

The good news is the rest of the AFC West looks terrible right now.

Packers at Buccaneers: Okay, Boomers

Tom Brady had the 50th failed 4QC of his career on Sunday, and yet I felt nothing from this 14-12 odyssey that could be the final time he and Aaron Rodgers match up in the NFL.

Is it because this didn’t feel like the real version of the Buccaneers with Mike Evans suspended and Chris Godwin (hamstring) out? Sure, we can talk about Julio Jones being out for Tampa and Sammy Watkins being out for Green Bay, but that’s like talking about the sun coming up and going back down. It’s just assumed at this point.

But there’s the rub. The Packers are not going to get that much better talent-wise than what they had here, and they still got the 14-12 win despite not scoring on their final nine drives. Aaron Jones had another huge fumble in a game against Tampa when the Packers could have gone up 21-3.

But Tampa should get better soon with Evans coming back and Godwin probably in a couple more weeks. The Buccaneers didn’t run well at all in this game (35 yards for Leonard Fournette) and Brady was sacked three times. But he threw for 271 yards with Russell Gage and Breshad Perriman each losing fumbles.

The Tampa Bay defense is allowing 9.0 points per game this season to lead the NFL, but the offense is averaging one offensive touchdown per game. This defense gave the offense plenty of chances to win this, as did the Green Bay offense with a bad second half.

Brady had four drives in a 14-6 game and finally cashed in the last one for a touchdown. But just when you thought Fournette was going to run in the two-point conversion to force overtime, the Buccaneers were hit with a delay of game. They barely avoided one on the touchdown too. How do teams keep screwing this up this season?

Pushed 5 yards back, Brady’s pass was deflected and incomplete in the end zone. The Packers recovered the onside kick, and it was over at 14-12.

It’s a fun win for Green Bay, but would you trust this team in a playoff rematch with the Bucs having better receivers? No way I would.

49ers at Broncos: 11-10, Rockies Edge Out the Giants

Do I need to say much about the second 11-10 game in NFL history? You probably saw this mess on Sunday night. Along the way to those 21 points, we had a 55-yard field goal, a safety after Jimmy Garoppolo pulled a Dan Orlovsky and stepped out of bounds, and a 51-yard field goal on a drive without any first downs.

That set up the 10-5 score in the fourth quarter, which set the stage for Russell Wilson to have one good drive where the old magic showed up and the Broncos actually ran in a touchdown. But even with an 11-10 deficit, Garoppolo should be able to get a game-winning field goal, right? It’s the other bums that lose every close game for Kyle Shanahan.

Well, on a night where the crowd was again booing Denver’s boo-worthy offense, the 49ers weren’t much better. Without a great drive at the end, you could even say they were worse given the talent involved.

Garoppolo threw a terrible interception with 2:06 left. I have no idea what he saw there. But then Nathaniel Hackett put some gutless touches on the win. He called three straight runs and punted the ball back with 1:42 left in a 1-point game. Do you not understand that the 49ers had four clock stoppages? Did you forget why this team traded so much to get Wilson? That wasn’t Drew Lock out there, even if some Wilson’s accuracy looked like Lock’s on Sunday night.

That was pathetic and it should have lost Denver the game. But the 49ers had coach’s back with another sack and Jeff Wilson fumbled a catch to end it 11-10. The 49ers were 1-for-10 on third down.

The Broncos are 2-1 yet feel like an 0-3 team that has yet to score more than 16 points. On Sunday night, the Broncos went three-and-out nine times, the most ever for a Wilson start.

Since 1970, NFL teams with at least 10 punts and no more than 11 points are 16-162-4.

Can we unplug the 2022 Broncos and plug them back in? I don’t know what this team is doing, but I know I don’t like watching it, and they will be on TNF in Week 5 too against the Colts.

Ravens at Patriots: Lamar’s Season?

If not for one disastrous quarter against Miami, the Ravens would be the talk of the NFL going into their showdown with Buffalo next week. Maybe they still should be, and Lamar Jackson should be the new odds-on MVP favorite after another stellar game with 325 total yards and five total touchdowns in what was a surprisingly wild, high-scoring 37-26 win in New England.

Jackson rushed for over 100 yards again while throwing for four scores. It looked like the defense was going to blow another fourth-quarter lead (31-20) too after some spirited plays from a mobile Mac Jones, but Marlon Humphrey came through with a huge pick in the end zone in a 31-26 game.

Next, Nelson Agholor fumbled on a catch inside the Baltimore 40 as the Patriots were sloppy with four giveaways. Jackson turned that into a 73-yard touchdown drive that basically put the game away.

Jones then suffered some sort of leg injury on his third pick, which looked painful as he hobbled off the field. We’ll see what his status is but early reports seem to suggest sprain more than torn knee ligaments. So, hopefully his season won’t be over after the 2021 draft class already lost Trey Lance.

Jackson putting the Ravens on his back against a Buffalo defense that is suddenly vulnerable with injuries should make for an exciting Week 4. He is playing better now than when he won MVP in 2019.

Raiders at Titans: 0-3 Bowl

Going into Sunday, we expected someone to come out of this game 0-3, but just a few weeks ago, who would have imagined the Raiders would be the only 0-3 team in the NFL?

The Titans clearly took their embarrassing loss to Buffalo on Monday night to heart. Ryan Tannehill got Robert Woods (85 yards) involved, and not only did Derrick Henry look better on the ground, but he had five catches for 58 yards, easily one of the most productive receiving games of his career.

Tennessee led 24-10 at halftime, but this was a game I had lined up as a 4QC/GWD for Derek Carr. It didn’t seem like it would get there after Darren Waller, who had a terrible game, tipped a red-zone pass for a pick with 9:22 left. But the Raiders had the ball in a 24-16 game with 2:57 left. After Carr hit a deep ball to Mack Hollins to convert a fourth-and-15 at the two-minute warning, overtime was looking likely.

Carr even added to his legacy of getting bailed out of a fourth-down incompletion with a defensive holding penalty on the Titans to extend the game. You knew the touchdown was inevitable at that point, and Hollins caught that too as apparently Davante Adams isn’t allowed to hit 40 yards in this offense.

But when it came time for the game-tying two-point conversion with 1:14 left, Carr could not hook up with Waller in the end zone. The Titans recovered the onside kick and the game was over.

We knew the Raiders were a big regression candidate with their 4-0 overtime record and poor (-65) scoring differential to get to 10-7 last season. But the inability of head coach Josh McDaniels and Carr to figure out how to use the receivers in this offense has been stunning. Hollins, the leading receiver this season, had almost as many yards on Sunday as Adams has in three games combined. He had more Sunday than Waller in three games.

If the Raiders lose to the Broncos and Chiefs next to start 0-5, then this season is already cooked going into the Week 6 bye.

Lions at Vikings: I Like Dan Campbell But…

As someone who was on Lions +6/Vikings ML, it’s amusing that that was not the winning combo until the game’s last 45 seconds. Detroit blew leads of 14-0 in the first half and 24-14 in the fourth quarter to a team with Kirk Cousins getting 14 receiving yards out of Justin Jefferson. It doesn’t sound feasible, but then you remember it’s the Lions.

Detroit was just 3-of-16 on third down but made up for some of it by going 4-of-6 on fourth down as head coach Dan Campbell was aggressive again. I loved it when he bypassed a 48-yard field goal while leading 24-21 with 3:35 left, because a 6-point lead is not that helpful in that spot. Unfortunately, the running game was stuffed on fourth-and-1.

But the defense held, and soon Campbell was faced with another decision on fourth-and-4 at the Minnesota 36 with 1:14 left. He decided to kick the 54-yard field goal, which was wide right. I think he should have gone for it to try ending the game with a first down. If you don’t get it, the Vikings will be down 24-21 and will have an incentive to only kick the field goal and go to overtime. Since it’s the Vikings, the game-tying field goal going in is far from a guarantee no matter what distance it is.

It’ s not like Detroit had Justin Tucker at kicker, so getting the three points was far from a given, and a miss put the Vikings at their own 44. Even if it was good, you are giving the Vikings over a minute to beat you with a touchdown. After going for it on fourth down so often in this game, I think Campbell made a mistake by not doing it once more.

Cousins only needed three throws to win the game. K.J. Osborn made a pair of 28-yard catches, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 45 seconds left. It took 25 seconds for the Vikings to score from midfield.

Jared Goff was in a tough spot and his Hail Mary was intercepted short of the end zone to end the game. I would say that is the toughest loss of Campbell’s career since this team would have felt great at 2-1 with Seattle up next and having made some history with a streak of 18 quarters scoring a touchdown. It is the second-longest streak since 1925. Who would have imagined the Goff-led Lions would be on that kind of list with the 1942 Packers (19 quarters)?

But instead, it’s the Vikings who are 2-1. Winning division games is something you can trust them to do. Anything else? Meh.

Hurry-Up Finish

Since I need to get to bed, here are some quick thoughts on the other games in Week 3:

Eagles at Commanders: Do you think those Philadelphia defenders like Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham were ready for this one? They sacked Carson Wentz a career-high nine times, including three dropbacks in a row in the game’s first five minutes. Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts passed for 340 yards and three touchdowns, a stat line Wentz has yet to achieve in his NFL career. The Eagles cruised to a 24-8 win with DeVonta Smith (8/169/1) and A.J. Brown (5/85/1) quickly turning into one of the most dangerous duos in the game. Isn’t it great to make the right move at quarterback, Eagles fans?

Side note: I swear the Eagles just had the two greatest offensive games back-to-back in which a team only scored 24 points and didn’t score in the second half. They scored all 24 of their points on Monday against the Vikings in the first half and all 24 points against Washington came in the second quarter. I don’t think the lack of second-half scoring is something to get worried about yet, but it has been an interesting two games with Hurts lighting it up and improving his MVP odds.

Bengals at Jets: This was one of the few games where I was really dialed in on how everything would play out. Joe Flacco threw the ball a ton, but no busted coverage meant no big plays and the Jets only scored 12 points. Joe Burrow didn’t have a dominant pass rusher to deal with, so he had his best game of the season (only two sacks) and took advantage of poor coverage for a long touchdown to Tyler Boyd. Bengals finally get a win this season but will have tough game with Miami on Thursday night.

Texans at Bears: So much for that under 40 points. The Texans cannot stop the run (281 yards), which is a good thing since the Bears still only threw 17 passes and took five sacks. But we may have seen another 20-20 tie for this Houston team if Davis Mills didn’t have a pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Roquan Smith with 1:05 left. That set up a cheap game-winning drive that consisted of a 1-yard run and two kneeldowns by Justin Fields before a 30-yard field goal at the buzzer. It’s the kind of finish Lovie Smith would be proud of… if he was still on the other side.

Falcons at Seahawks: Can you believe the Falcons and the Browns are the only teams to score at least 26 points in all three games this season? I liked the Falcons in this one because of the way they have been competing and scoring this season, and the Seahawks are still too hard to trust for me. But this was one of the closest games of the week with a fourth quarter that featured more unauthorized drones flying over the stadium than points. But in the end, Geno Smith reminded us why he’s 3-14 (.176) at 4QC opportunities with a sack and interception in Atlanta territory. The Falcons finally closed a game.

Saints at Panthers: I knew Carolina wasn’t going to go 0-17, so a home game with the Saints after Jameis Winston imploded last week felt like an appropriate spot to give Matt Rhule his first win. It was also typical Rhule in that the Panthers led wire-to-wire thanks to scooping up an early Alvin Kamara fumble for a touchdown, and they only allowed 14 points. The Jameis turnovers came later, and he technically had a failed 4QC/GWD, but it was in just about the most impossible situation you can have: down 8, no timeouts, 18 seconds left at your own 1. Just time for another desperation pick.  

Rams at Cardinals: For the second week in a row, the Rams could have smoked a team in the fourth quarter, but Cam Akers fumbled at the 1-yard line in a 20-9 game. That spoiled what could have been a game with 27 points on eight drives. But the Rams are not the Raiders, and Kyler Murray’s long marches in the fourth only led to a field goal and 20-12 loss despite him throwing 58 passes.

On the bright side, the Cardinals held Cooper Kupp to 44 receiving yards on six targets and four catches. Since 2021, Kupp has had at least 90 yards in every game except for three, but all three have been against Arizona. This is the first time Kupp has been under 60 yards since 2020. He finishes with a 25-game streak of 60-plus receiving yards, which did edge out Antonio Brown (24) for a new record. He’ll just have to start another streak next week, but maybe these Cardinals are doing something right with him. Just ignore the tape of the 20-yard touchdown run he had on Sunday that looked too easy.

Jaguars at Chargers: I picked the Jaguars to win just because Justin Herbert seemed to be trending downward to play. I loved Jacksonville at +6.5 when the line went back up to that, but truthfully, I probably would have picked the Chargers to win on Saturday had that been the line when I posted my Week 3 picks. Still, it was shocking to see the way Jacksonville rolled this team in that building.

Most of the damage was done in the second and third quarters. I do not think Herbert’s ribs were physically limiting him too much, and he sure doesn’t play defense where Trevor Lawrence and company did what they wanted. Kudos to Doug Pederson for getting great early results out of an offense with Zay Jones, Christian Kirk, and Evan Engram at tight end. I really did not think it would work, but for three games it has, and this team realistically could win the AFC South this year. Might even be upgrading to say they should win it in a few weeks if things keep up.

As for Chargers coach Brandon Staley, has a coach’s stock ever dropped so fast? His answer to keeping Herbert in a 38-10 game in the final five minutes was absurd. This team seems destined to waste one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.

Next week: Bills-Ravens is a huge one, Dolphins-Bengals might be good on Thursday night, and of course I’ve already done a preview for Chiefs-Bucs before writing this. Even Jaguars-Eagles looks like a game to watch, which might be the best way to sum up September in this NFL season.

This season has to give us something more than Bills-Chiefs III meets Brady in the Super Bowl.

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

NFL Stat Oddity: Divisional Round

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

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

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

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

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

This season in Stat Oddity:

Bills at Chiefs: The Greatest Divisional Round Game Ever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make that 55-2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The defense was not a scapegoat this time though. Garoppolo flirted with multiple picks, forced an awful one in the end zone on first down despite George Kittle being wide open, and his internal clock seemed to be frozen on this snowy, freezing night. But the 49ers also seemed to adjust better to the conditions than the Packers, which was weird. It was the 49ers hurting themselves more with drops, including a wide-open one by Kittle that would have been a big play. The 49ers hung in there, got the huge break on the blocked punt, and just waited for their chance as the Packers could not move the ball.

When Garoppolo just has to complete two quick passes for 26 yards to get a game-winning drive going, that’s going to be ideal for the 49ers. When you can just hand the ball to Samuel three times to get a first down that puts you in field-goal range, including a 9-yard run on third-and-7 where almost any other quarterback would have to make a huge throw, that’s stealing for the 49ers.

And they stole this victory away from Green Bay to end its season in one of the most painful ways possible. Rodgers was numb after the loss and that’s easy to understand. He has opened himself up to more criticism than ever before this season with the way he’s handled himself on podcasts and media interviews. I’m not going to pile on here. I’m just glad we don’t have to entertain the idea of him letting Brady get to a second Super Bowl in the NFC before he does. After this loss, I don’t think he will ever get back to the big game.

Matt LaFleur’s 2019-21 Packers are the first team in NFL history to win at least 13 games in three straight regular seasons. But they are also going to go down as the only team to win 39 games in a three-year span and not reach the Super Bowl.

Is this the end of an era of Hall of Fame quarterback play in Green Bay from 1992 through 2021? I don’t know what it’s like to watch an NFL where the Packers don’t have Favre or Rodgers. I got a little taste of it in 2013 and 2017 when he had his collarbone injuries, and yeah, the Packers weren’t relevant those weeks.

We’ll see what the future holds, but it’s crazy to think the 49ers are one win away from sending Jimmy Garoppolo to more Super Bowls than the Packers reached with Rodgers.

Bengals at Titans: Ryan Tannehill’s Interception Sudoku

I usually do not boil a playoff game down to one quarterback choking, but Ryan Tannehill choked this one away for the Titans, who fell to 0-3 in Tennessee in home playoff games as the No. 1 seed. They never scored more than 16 points in any of those games either. This comes on the heels of a 20-13 wild card loss to the Ravens last year in which Tannehill also had a late interception.

This time, Tannehill threw an interception on his first pass of the game, his first pass of the second half, and his last pass of the game. It’s like filling in an interception sudoku. He would have tried to add one in overtime if the game ever got there, and the fact that it didn’t is the most egregious part of this all.

Well, there’s also this fact: teams who score under 20 points and take nine sacks are 2-126-2 (.023) since 1960. The 1990 Seahawks had the first win against the Chiefs after Dave Krieg escaped Derrick Thomas’ final sack attempt. Now the Bengals have the first playoff win after Joe Burrow, who led the league in sacks taken this year (51), took nine sacks and still got the low-scoring road win. Tennessee’s pass rush was impressive at overwhelming the Bengals throughout the game, but it went to waste from an offensive performance that would make Jeff Fisher nod with approval.

The Titans waited basically all season to get their offense healthy for this playoff run. A.J. Brown was awesome with 142 yards and a one-handed touchdown catch. Julio Jones looked good with six grabs for 62 yards. Derrick Henry had screws in his foot, didn’t look quite ready for his 20-carry workload, but he scored a touchdown and had a few vintage runs. The Titans probably should have given D’Onta Foreman more touches as he had four carries for 66 yards, including a 45-yard run for the offense’s biggest play of the game.

But even after getting all his guys back, Tannehill did not go to them on the crucial play of the game. On a third-and-5 at his own 40 with 28 seconds left, Tannehill decided to force a pass at midfield to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. The result was a tipped interception, which set up the Bengals for their game-winning field goal with no time left after Burrow found Ja’Marr Chase for 19 yards. Evan McPherson has been an outstanding rookie kicker and he drilled a 52-yard field goal to win this game.

The last thing Tannehill could do was turn the ball over in bad field position. If he wanted to throw a bomb to Brown or Jones that was picked 40 yards downfield, that probably would get the game to overtime too. But with overtime in his back pocket, Tannehill got greedy and didn’t even pick a good option.

That was a killer, but so was the tipped pick after Foreman’s 45-yard run got the ball into the red zone. Mike Hilton made an incredible play on the ball, so it wasn’t all Tannehill’s fault, but he was not sharp in the game. The offensive line also did not get any push on a couple of key Henry runs, including a fourth-and-1 in a tied game with 7:16 left. Mike Vrabel is willing to chop his dick off for a Super Bowl ring, but he can’t get behind a quarterback sneak? Is he afraid he’ll have to actually go through with the castration if the Titans get a Super Bowl on his watch?

Watching Tannehill in the last three postseasons, where he averages 150.8 passing yards per game, I’m not sure Vrabel has to worry about any Super Bowl in the near future.

One thing blowing back on Vrabel from this game was his decision to go for a two-point conversion with the game tied at 6-6. It was early in the game (second quarter), the extra point puts Tennessee up 7-6, but I liked it just because there was a penalty that put the ball at the 1. I liked the call to give the ball to Henry, but he came up inches short and the game remained tied.

Would we have a 9-7 game at halftime if the Titans go for one? Probably. Would the Bengals go for two on their touchdown to start the third quarter to make it 17-7 instead of 16-7? Probably not. Do the Titans take a 17-16 lead late third quarter if they had gone for one? Good chance. But would Burrow still take a brutal sack that knocks the Bengals out of field goal range in the fourth quarter if he was down 17-16 instead of tied 16-16? Maybe, maybe not. The whole fourth quarter could play out much differently from there, so I’m not going to put the loss all on that one decision. There were more missed opportunities than that in the game. The Titans had three plays of 40-plus yards and turned those drives into just nine points.

It was the second year in a row that the Titans had an offensive letdown at home for a one-and-done postseason. Turn the ball over enough and you can lose to anyone in this league. If it’s true against the Texans in Week 11, it’s for sure true in the playoffs against Cincinnati.

After watching the Bills-Chiefs game on Sunday night, it’s still hard to believe the Titans beat both of those teams the way they did this year. It’s also hard to believe they could have done it again next week, or next year for that matter.

If Tannehill could learn anything from Burrow in this game, it may be that eating the ball is sometimes the smartest option. Don’t throw the game away.

Next week: Can we actually get a third Bengals-49ers Super Bowl? It’s the worst option available and would require two road upsets, but we’ll see. Personally, I want a rematch of 54-51 between the Rams and Chiefs. It’s the best matchup and provides the best storylines. Even 49ers-Chiefs isn’t so bad since it would be a rematch of Super Bowl LIV.

NFL 2021 AFC Divisional Round Preview

Despite only one team getting a first-round bye now, the divisional weekend is still prime for some of the richest drama in NFL history. I just recapped some of the most dramatic games in divisional round history that tested 14 eventual Super Bowl champions.

Of course, the bigger story in that link is that we have gone 19 straight playoff games without a fourth-quarter lead change, one shy of tying the record from 1935-50.

Maybe we’ll get something memorable this weekend, but this has been a difficult round for the road teams to win. Since 2011, home teams are 31-9 (.775) in the divisional round. But most years have that one upset and 2016 was the last time there were two road winners (Packers in Dallas and Steelers in Kansas City).

The Titans stunned the hell out of the top-seeded Ravens in 2019, and the Buccaneers avoided a three-game sweep by the Saints last year, propelling them to a Super Bowl win.

The NFC previews will be posted on Friday. Let’s start with a new matchup in the AFC and a crucial rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game.

Bengals at Titans (-3.5)

See my early preview for this game at BMR.

The Bengals finally ended their long playoff drought last week with a 26-19 win over the Raiders. The young offense, led by Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, did not crack in the first playoff game for this new era of Cincinnati football, but the Raiders were one of the worst playoff teams in history.

Now the Bengals must try to shake an 0-7 road playoff record against the top-seeded Titans. And no, the Titans are not the worst No. 1 seed in history. I refuse to even call them the worst Tennessee team to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. That 2008 team with Jeff Fisher and Kerry Collins was such fool’s gold at 10-0 before stumbling down the stretch.

These Titans have much better skill players when healthy, Mike Vrabel has been an awesome coach when playing the role of an underdog, and this team can win high-scoring games and close games. They are also battled tested, winning more games (eight) in one season against teams with a winning record than any team in NFL history and having the best win percentage (8-3, .727) in such games (min. nine games).

Now, are those records a little misleading? Yes, the 17th game helped 8-8 teams Tennessee beat like the Saints and Dolphins finish with a winning record at 9-8. But the Titans still boast more quality wins than any team this year, already hammering the Chiefs and beating the Bills in a shootout. Now the Titans just have to beat an inexperienced Cincinnati team and only one of those AFC powerhouses to get to a Super Bowl. Yeah, the Titans lost to the Jets, but so did the Bengals.

Derrick Henry expects to be back for his first game since Week 8, but I think the Titans have shown they can win some big games without him or with him being ineffective. The health of A.J. Brown may be more important to the offense than any other non-quarterback. Tennessee is 10-1 when Brown plays at least 60% of the snaps in a game and 2-4 when he does not. He needs to have a big game. Brown scored Tennessee’s only touchdown in a disappointing 20-13 home playoff loss to the Ravens last year. This team seems to perform better when the chips are stacked against them.

Three of the four biggest receiving games against the Bengals this year were done by top-tier tight ends, but Davante Adams also had 206 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati. Julio Jones being back should also help the passing game. It’s been so rare this season for the Titans to have Brown, Jones, and Henry on the field together. The wideouts being out had a lot to do with that overtime loss to the Jets early this season, and the significant injuries that hit the Titans in losses to the Steelers, Patriots, and Texans had to contribute to Tennessee turning the ball over 13 times in those three games. This offense usually protects the ball well. The Bengals are not great at taking the ball away.

I think the week of rest is big for the Titans to get as healthy as possible for this matchup. I was surprised to see how close the Titans and Bengals are defensively this season, but I’d still give the Titans an edge there. No quarterbacks have been sacked more than Burrow (51) and Ryan Tannehill (47) this year. The Bengals have the better quarterback right now as Tannehill did not have his best season with the injuries around him, and Tannehill has been pedestrian in his four playoff starts. But I think unlike the Raiders, who called 58 passes and ran Josh Jacobs 13 times despite success on the ground, the Titans are going to stay balanced and stick to their usual game plan. The Titans are also better on third down and in the red zone. The Bengals struggled in the red zone against a historically bad red zone defense last week. That area has been money for the Titans under Tannehill, and they were fifth this year in touchdown rate (63.9%).

This isn’t Jeff Fisher and Kerry Collins trying to win a 13-10 game. I’m sticking with my gut and the NFL history that says a pass-happy team with a young offensive core is prime for a letdown on the road in the playoffs against a physical team, especially when it’s that team’s first postseason. Maybe Henry is rusty and fumbles early or is completely ineffective like he was last year against the Ravens, and the Bengals ride their top pass connection to an early lead. We’ve seen it before. But I’m going to trust the better coach and the team that’s been better this year and should be healthy at the right time to win this one.

We can talk next week about why the Titans won’t get to the Super Bowl, but I like them on Saturday. Just hang onto the victory cigar for later, Joe.

Final: Titans 28, Bengals 20

Bills at Chiefs (-1.5)

It is not unheard of to consider a game early in the playoffs to be “the real Super Bowl” if you will. When the NFC won every Super Bowl from 1984 through 1996, the NFC Championship Game was often thought of as the real Super Bowl those years, especially when it was Dallas vs. San Francisco in 1992-94. The 2006 AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and Colts was thought to be the real Super Bowl that year because of the entity known as Rex Grossman waiting for the winner in Miami.

But wow, I cannot remember a divisional round game being thought of as the Super Bowl, especially between two teams that are not the No. 1 seed. Maybe I’m tripping and this is too high praise, but I think these teams are the real deal in the AFC and this is an epic rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs were the AFC favorites going into the season, and the Bills took over that spot when they won 38-20 in Kansas City in Week 5. They had some bad losses since, but Buffalo just had the most perfect offensive game imaginable in crazy conditions against the Patriots, scoring a touchdown on all seven possessions. In fact, this is the first playoff game in NFL history between two quarterbacks who threw five touchdown passes the previous week. Patrick Mahomes threw his five touchdowns in a span of 11:31 against the Steelers.

This could be the next great rivalry in the NFL. This will already be the fourth meeting between Mahomes and Josh Allen in the last two years. John Elway and Dan Marino were in the same conference for 16 seasons and only met three times with two of those coming in Elway’s final season (1998). The Chiefs sent Buffalo home last year to end an eight-game winning streak. The Bills got some revenge this year by handing Mahomes the worst home loss of his career (18 points). His other home losses have been by no more than eight points. The spread has already moved a point towards Buffalo since opening at Chiefs -2.5.

I’m going to break this preview up into the two main questions I have about this matchup.

Question 1: Can the Chiefs turn around the 38-20 defeat from Week 5, and was it really that lopsided?

Results can vary wildly from week to week in the NFL, but on wild card weekend, all five rematches were won by the team who won the previous matchup, including these Bills and Chiefs. Buffalo scored the most points anyone has against New England since 1990. The Chiefs pounded the Steelers for the second time in a month, sending Ben Roethlisberger into retirement.

Both offenses should cool down a little from that historic territory, but there should be more pressure on Kansas City to adjust from that 38-20 walloping the Bills put on them in Week 5. It is hard to beat a great team twice in the same season, but for teams that have already done it, on the road no less, it actually is easier than average in the rematch.

Since 2002, road teams attempting a sweep in the playoffs are now 13-13. The Bills and Rams just reversed their home losses last week by beating the Patriots and Cardinals. The Rams in particular turned a 17-point home loss into a 23-point win on Monday night, but obviously the Cardinals were on life support down the stretch and already lost a home game to their division rival Rams. Likewise, the Patriots flopped down the stretch this year, including two games (without the bad wind) where they couldn’t get the Bills to punt. This is Mahomes in Kansas City, so a bit different.

However, consider these numbers. Since 2002, teams that win the regular-season matchup by at least 18 points are 25-9 (.735) in the playoff rematch. When those teams are the underdog in the playoffs, a rare situation, they are still 5-1 in the playoffs. The only loss was the 2004 Broncos vs. Colts, but that whole example is misleading since Indy rested starters in Week 17 before blowing the Broncos out at home in the playoffs.

But let me rant on my own stat for a brief moment here. This is something I really need to start focusing on more in the offseason. I just gave you a stat on a sample size of 34 games based on games where a team won by at least 18 points. Yes, the Bills beat the Chiefs by 18 points, but an 18-point win is a lot closer to an 11-point win than it is a 31-point win like seven of the games in that sample were. So, why am I looking at a group of “comparable games” when my game is at the lowest end of that qualifier? I’d be better off looking at games decided by 11-to-25 points, or a 7-point window around 18 points. In that case, 23-17 (.575) is the record since 2002, not nearly as one-sided as 25-9 (.735). Just something to think about with stats like that.

It is fair to say the Chiefs were embarrassed by Buffalo in Week 5 as the Bills learned a few things from their 2020 losses. The “don’t blitz Mahomes” thing that got so popular this year? The Bills were actually the first defense to do that, blitzing zero times in the 2020 game on Monday Night Football. The Chiefs just had a great running attack that night and Mahomes made an incredible conversion on third-and-12 to Byron Pringle to put the game away. But it was the lowest-scoring game between these two at 26-17.

In Week 5, Mahomes threw a season-high 54 passes but was only blitzed twice. He was not even pressured that often – 14.3% tied for second-lowest game this season – but did not handle the different looks well. Mahomes scrambled seven times that night, twice more than any other game, as he was not comfortable in the pocket. The Bills, who were destroyed by short throws and YAC from the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, also tackled very well in Week 5, holding Mahomes to 4.2 YAC/completion, his second-lowest game of 2021.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills struggled to get any big plays going in their two losses to the 2020 Chiefs. That sure changed in Week 5. Allen had pass completions of 61, 53 (TD), 41, and 35 (TD) yards as he completed 15-of-26 passes for 315 yards without a sack or turnover. Despite his reputation for a big arm, Week 5 remains the only game of Allen’s NFL career where he threw multiple touchdown passes of 25-plus yards. Mahomes has 11 such games in his career.

As it turns out, throwing the deep ball with safety Daniel Sorensen in coverage is quite profitable. Sorensen allowed the two longest completions for 114 yards that night. For the season, he allows 12.1 yards per target in coverage, but the Chiefs have been wise to limit his snaps since that night. Sorensen went from playing 98% of snaps in Weeks 1-5 to 47% of snaps in Weeks 6-17.

Allen also rushed for a team-high 59 yards and a touchdown. Mahomes led the Chiefs with 61 rushing yards but that is not as ideal for Kansas City as it is Buffalo. Jerick McKinnon just had the game of his life for the Chiefs with 142 yards from scrimmage against Pittsburgh, but the Steelers were horrible against running backs this year. With the Kansas City backfield being so inconsistent this year, look for the Bills to contain whichever back gets the majority of touches this time.

There’s this idea that Mahomes has had to adjust with the way defenses are playing the Chiefs, copying that Super Bowl blueprint of minimal blitzes and two-deep safeties. There is definitely truth to this. Mahomes has six games this season with an aDOT under 6.5 yards and all six of those games are since Week 11. His lowest game of the season (5.0 yards) was against the Steelers on Sunday as the Chiefs had big YAC plays.

So, while there is truth to it, let’s not overblow it out of proportion. The Chiefs have had success with long drives in past years. They weren’t all 60-yard bombs to Hill for scores. In fact, Mahomes just threw the longest touchdown pass of his career to Kelce (48 yards) on Sunday night. Mahomes did still attack the Steelers (Week 16) and Bengals (Week 17) deep late in the season with success. I just think it’s important for Kansas City to get Hill and Kelce involved this week. They’ve had some really quiet games down the stretch here, and while the lesser players have stepped up, I’m not sure the Chiefs can continuously score without their stars doing big things.

More than anything, the Chiefs are simply going to have to protect the ball better this time after losing the turnover battle 4-0 in Week 5. Sure, there was a tipped ball off Tyreek Hill’s hands that went to the Bills for a pick-six to make it 31-13 in the third quarter. But guess what? Hill has tipped multiple picks for interceptions this year as Mahomes has had numerous picks come off tipped balls. There was also that red-zone pick by Buffalo, a very good defense at forcing takeaways, on a tipped ball that cost the Chiefs more points that night. Again, guess what? The Chiefs have had multiple tipped picks in scoring territory this year, including against the Giants on MNF and last Sunday against the Steelers.

Mistakes just happen at bad times for this offense, and it’s been that way for much of the season. I’m not sure we can just magically count on them to not do it this week against one of the best defenses they’ll see. On the other hand, one thing they could control is to not give up the obligatory Chiefs fumble by not calling a fvcking Wildcat play when you have Mahomes at QB. The Chiefs called a wildcat play against Pittsburgh, and it blew up for a touchdown return by T.J. Watt. So, let’s scratch that one from the playbook this week, but you’re on your own fortune for tipped picks.

I guess what I’m getting at is if you keep Sorensen off the field and don’t give up as many big plays, and you avoid the tipped pick-six, that could cut 14 points off that 18-point deficit. I think this game should be a lot closer this time, and that could be a bad thing for the Bills, who are 0-5 at 4QC/GWD opportunities this season. Buffalo’s 1-5 record in close games was the worst in the NFL this season.

This was not an issue for Allen’s first three seasons, and his fourth quarter stats look great this year (71.1% complete, 10 TD, 0 INT, 7.6 YPA, 117.7 PR). But they are simply not finishing the drives in crunch time. You saw the red-zone failures in the windy game against New England, a 14-10 loss. He was erratic against the Steelers in Week 1. He was stopped short on the sneak in Tennessee. He choked badly against Jacksonville in a 9-6 stunner. Mahomes is 43-1 when the Chiefs allow fewer than 27 points. The Bills cannot expect to be in position to win a low-scoring game this week.

But in my view, that effort to come back from 17 points down in the fourth quarter in Tampa Bay was big for this team. While they did not win the game in overtime, they tied it up and had a chance in regulation had the referees called defensive pass interference the way they called it for Tampa in overtime (go figure; #LOAT). If I’m a Chiefs fan and Allen has the ball late to win the game, I am nervous as hell. After not blowing a fourth-quarter lead in 2020, the Chiefs have done it three times this year (Ravens, Chargers, Bengals), and that doesn’t even include the epic comeback in Los Angeles when the Chiefs had to win in overtime. Those losses are the reason why this team wasn’t resting as the No. 1 seed and opening with a softer opponent like the Bengals.

Question 2: Do we trust Buffalo’s No. 1 scoring defense for the whole season or Kansas City’s No. 1 scoring defense since Week 6?

This is an interesting matchup as the Bills have the No. 1 scoring defense and were the only team to allow fewer than 300 points this season. But after a horrible start to the season where the Chiefs allowed at least 29 points in all five games, Kansas City turned things around under veteran defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Since Week 6, the Chiefs have the No. 1 scoring defense, allowing 24 fewer points than No. 5 Buffalo in that time. The Bengals (34) were the only team to hit 29 points on the Chiefs since Week 6.

Do we trust the season stats or the more recent stats? I’m not sure anyone has ever posted a definitive study of this, or if anything on it would even be conclusive enough as the league is just goofy like that. For example, when I look at the fewest points allowed by a team in Games 6-16 since 2011, the top of the list is the 2011 Steelers. You know, the defense that let Tim Tebow complete 10 passes for 316 yards in a 29-23 wild card loss. Right behind them are the 2014 Seahawks, famous for blowing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead in the Super Bowl, and the 2015 Chiefs, who lost 27-20 in New England.

With defense, it’s all about how you play that day, and who you play usually plays a huge role in that. Sure, we can say the Bills padded their defensive stats by playing rookie Davis Mills in the rain, a 40-0 shutout where he threw for 87 yards and four picks. We can see that Mahomes (272) and Brady (363) were the only quarterbacks to pass for more than 260 yards on Buffalo this year, and Brady (105.6) was the only one to have a passer rating higher than 86.7. That looks daunting for Mahomes, but it’s less daunting when you see this starting QB list for Buffalo:

  • Three cast members of The Walking Dead (2021 Big Ben, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton)
  • Six rookies in a terrible rookie year (Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Davis Mills, Mac Jones 3x)
  • Two hopeful employees in 2022 (Taylor Heinicke, Trevor Siemian)
  • One bus driver (Carson Wentz)
  • One create-a-player with a generic name (Mike White)

That leaves Brady and his aforementioned big game that still needed overtime and one blown coverage, Mahomes and the game we went over, and Ryan Tannehill got a huge game from Derrick Henry on an effective night where the Titans scored 34 points in a win.

In other words, I’m not sure the Chiefs need to be that scared of this defense, especially without corner Tre’Davious White (ACL) to take on Hill. In Week 5, Mahomes was just 5-of-11 for 36 yards when targeting White in coverage. He’s gone now.

On the other hand, the Bills can look at this Kansas City defensive improvement and point to the schedule as well. Like getting Daniel Jones and the Giants on any week. Getting the Cowboys when they were in a funk and Amari Cooper had COVID and CeeDee Lamb left at halftime with a concussion. Two games against zombie Big Ben with a foot in the door for retirement. Two games against Derek Carr, who has spent eight years teasing the Raiders he’s a franchise quarterback. One big game against Green Bay where Aaron Rodgers was out with COVID, forcing Jordan Love to make his first start. It didn’t go well. Teddy and Drew Lock? Please, and they actually let Lock run wild in that rematch. A huge fumble by Melvin Gordon won that game for the Chiefs.

But what happened when the improved Chiefs faced the Chargers in a first-place showdown in Week 15 and a red-hot Joe Burrow with the No. 1 seed in contention in Week 16? The defense did not perform well. Mahomes and the offense had to rally in Los Angeles, hope for some Chargering, and got the ball first in overtime to end it 34-28. Despite leading by double-digits multiple times in Cincinnati, the Chiefs gave up 34 points and the game-winning drive to end it after committing multiple penalties again. The defense even allowed a third-and-27 conversion for 30 yards to Ja’Marr Chase.

So, the over/under is 54 points and you can see why with the way these offenses are capable of lighting it up, and neither defense is exactly reliable against what would be considered a good offense this year.

The Chiefs are undeniably playing better defense than they did to start the season when they were arguably the worst in the league. But is this a championship-caliber defense like 2019 was? After seeing the games in Week 15-16, I say no. But they’ll have a great opportunity to prove it on Sunday, as will Buffalo’s top-ranked scoring defense. I said last year that if the Bills could combine their 2020 offense with their 2019 defense, they would win the Super Bowl. The 2021 Bills, Jacksonville loss be damned, are trying to be that team.

The Prediction

In the preseason, I picked the Chiefs to get back to the Super Bowl. But it’s really hard to get back to a third in a row, especially coming off such a brutal 31-9 loss. We’ve already seen the Chiefs lose this year to the Ravens, Chargers, Bills, Titans, and Bengals. They are 0-3 against the remaining playoff field in the AFC. I think this is the week where having the bad-bounce turnovers and giving up too many plays to good offenses combine to hurt the Chiefs and send the Bills to the next round and a step closer to that elusive Super Bowl win.

My detailed prediction: I see the Chiefs leading 27-24 late as KC and under bettors are sweating bullets. Allen finally puts his gaudy fourth-quarter stats to use this year and leads the first game-winning drive of the season for a touchdown in the final minute.

Is it the ending I want? No, but if the early game on Sunday goes my way, I can watch this one in peace and be satisfied with anything that happens.

Final: Bills 31, Chiefs 27

Where Did the NFL’s Close Playoff Games Go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we can still dream it will be great.

NFL 2021: Close Game Summary

With three overtime games on Sunday, the NFL had 21 overtime games this season, tied with 1995 and 2015 for the fourth most in NFL history. With so many walk-off scores in those games – Detroit-Pittsburgh tie aside – it beefed up the total for a stat that NFL media adopted this year that became a pet peeve of mine.

Between that stat and the lack of dominant teams quickly locking up playoff spots, it gave the impression that the 2021 NFL season was historically competitive and games were closer than ever.

Having studied this stuff for a living, I can say that this was not the case. There were 136 games that saw at least one team have a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive opportunity, which is a possession by the team tied or down 1-to-8 points in the fourth quarter or overtime. While a lower number, that is in line with recent years: 143 in 2020, 142 in 2019, 147 in 2018, and 139 in 2017.

But this season introduced a 17th game for the first time, so we had 272 games instead of the usual 256. So, when it’s 136 out of 272, that means exactly half of the games this season had a comeback opportunity. That rate is usually in the 55-60% range.

We also had 48 games in 2021 where a team was favored by at least 10 points. Only the 2009 season (62) has had more games with a double-digit favorite out of all the seasons since the salary cap in 1994.

The spread is about expectations. What about results? There were 137 wins by double digits this season, second to only the 2014 season (141). The 78 wins by 17-plus points are the most since 2014 had the same amount. There were 62 wins by 1-3 points, but that’s a number that was hit five other times since 2001.

This season had 35 comeback wins from a double-digit deficit at any point in the game. That is more in line with the totals from 2019 (33) and 2018 (34) than 2020’s outlier of 43 such wins.

The 2021 season featured 63 fourth-quarter comeback (4QC) wins and 81 game-winning drives (GWD). In 2020, those numbers were 58 4QC wins and 76 GWD. Through Week 17 this year, there were 58 4QC wins, which tied the numbers for 2019 and 2020 (including playoffs those years).

In the game Ben Roethlisberger missed with COVID, Mason Rudolph got credit for a 4QC tie against the Lions. There were also two games won with a non-offensive score. The Patriots came back to beat the Chargers (of course) after a Justin Herbert pick-six. Then on Saturday, the Chiefs came back to beat the Broncos with a fumble return touchdown.

Success rate for 4QC attempts was 32.4%, or just about average. GWD success rate was in the usual ballpark of 37.7% (2020 was 35.0% and 2019 was 35.9%).

The following table shows a summary of each team’s success in close games this season. First, the offense’s record in games with a 4QC opportunity is shown. Next is the overall 4QC/GWD record, which also includes the games where the score was tied in the fourth quarter or overtime. For the defense, holds are games where the defense was successful in defending a one-score lead in the fourth quarter or overtime.

The number of games lost in which the team had a fourth-quarter lead is also shown. The last section shows the team’s overall record in close games, which are defined as games involving a 4QC/GWD opportunity on either side of the ball. Playoff teams are highlighted in gray. The table is in descending order of close game win percentage.

This information can be very useful for previewing the playoffs (which teams haven’t blown a lead and which struggle to hold them) or thinking about regression in 2022 for teams that won or lost a lot of close games.

Oddly enough, the last Sunday of the regular season saw the Rams lose their first close game of the year to the 49ers, and the Bills technically won their first “close game” of the year against the Jets. For starters, both teams are in these positions because of how one-sided their outcomes have been this season. The Rams didn’t have close losses before Sunday because they were too busy getting their ass kicked in the other losses this year. The Bills never had a close win because all of their wins this year have been by double digits and they couldn’t buy a win in an actual one-score game where they had to come from behind.

But even Sunday’s win over the Jets was a 27-10 final. However, the Jets had the ball down 13-10 to start the fourth quarter. That’s why the game qualifies. The Bills stopped them cold the rest of the way and added two touchdowns for good measure.

If you’re thinking about the postseason, it’s quite possible the Rams shit their pants in any game. They’ve already lost 37-20 at home to the Cardinals, their Monday night playoff opponent. That is not much of a home-field advantage in Los Angeles yet, and the Cardinals have played better on the road this year.

As for the Bills, I’d love to see them play another close game in Tennessee to see if they can avenge that MNF loss earlier this year. But it’s looking like we won’t see that matchup until the AFC Championship Game. Up first, the Bills get New England, the only other playoff team this year with a losing record in close games.

Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, and even the Chargers all had winning records in close games despite still missing the playoffs. The Falcons and Chargers won more close games than they lost? Sounds like a miracle.

Last year, I spent a whole paragraph on Baltimore, which had only played a league-low five close games in both 2019 and 2020. Well, you can say (thanks to injury) regression hit, because the Ravens played an NFL-high 13 close games this year and went 6-7 in them on their way to missing the playoffs at 8-9. The six-game losing streak to end the year was a masterclass in losing (five) close games, but I don’t think people acknowledged enough how fortunate this team was to ever get to 8-3 in the first place. The Ravens needed a Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble (first of his career) against the Chiefs in field goal range, a record 66-yard field goal (via bounce) in Detroit, and a missed 47-yard field goal by the Colts to get those three wins. Never mind Lamar Jackson beating the Browns despite throwing four picks. It was a wild season for the Ravens.

The Steelers, Chargers, and Vikings all played 12 close games as well, including two of the games against each other. Incredibly enough, the Chargers and Vikings were the only two close games the Steelers lost this year, producing a 9-2-1 record in such games. Ben Roethlisberger led some incredible comeback attempts in those games, including from 29-0 in Minnesota, before the Steelers came up short at the end. Yet, it took a close Chargers loss (and not a tie) in the final game of the season to send the Steelers to the playoffs while the Chargers missed out and the Vikings fired Mike Zimmer on Monday. Roethlisberger finished with a career-high six 4QC and seven GWD to lead the league and help the Steelers play at least one more game.

Arizona was the lone team to not blow a fourth quarter/overtime lead this season. In 2020, the Chiefs, Saints, and Titans were the only teams to not blow a lead, but they all had multiple losses this season. A third one by the Chiefs in Cincinnati in Week 16 helped the Titans get the No. 1 seed in the AFC. We’ll see how costly that might turn out to be.

We have a six-way tie for the most blown leads at four each by the Bears, Lions, Ravens, Colts, Vikings, and Browns. Naturally, they all missed the playoffs. The Colts especially had some daggers in there with the Ravens and Titans games. Carson Wentz was unable to lead a single game-winning drive or comeback for the Colts, but what did you expect?

With the Steelers winning so many close games, it is no surprise they led the league with seven defensive holds of a one-score lead. Sunday’s win in Baltimore does not count as one given the overtime drive, but the first Baltimore matchup was a classic example of a stop of a game-deciding two-point conversion play. T.J. Watt got just enough pressure on Lamar Jackson to force an errant pass to Mark Andrews. The Rams, Dolphins, and Chargers all had six holds.

Seattle was a team I cautioned about close-game regression with after the Seahawks were 16-4 in close games in 2019-20. Well, it hit hard in 2021. Seattle finished 3-7 in close games, 0-6 at 4QC opportunities, and 1-7 at GWD opportunities. The only GWD came Sunday in Arizona on a 10-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter. The first Russell Wilson injury led way to the first losing season in the Wilson era, but these close-game failures obviously contributed too.

The Eagles (9-8) have had an odd playoff season. One year after playing the most close games (15) in the league, Philadelphia played in a league-low four close games and are 0-6 against playoff teams. One of their close wins was against Carolina, a game I’m still regretting on betting on Sam Darnold.

How are Matt Rhule’s Panthers so bad in close games? In 2020, the Panthers were 0-9 at GWD opportunities. Throw in 0-4 this year and that’s 0-13 under Rhule.

The Bills (0-5), Colts (0-5), and Texans (0-5) were also winless at GWDs, but the worst team this year was Cleveland at 0-7. Not every loss was Baker Mayfield’s fault, but he needs to start coming through as 2022 should be his last chance in Cleveland. Maybe with some better close-game fortune, health, and desperation to hold onto a job, Cleveland could be a sleeper playoff pick in 2022.

Let’s hope we get a legitimately close playoff game this year. Last season, there was not a single fourth-quarter lead change in any of the 13 playoff games. The only game-winning drive went to the LOAT in New Orleans. Throw in a sorry ass Super Bowl and it was the worst postseason I’ve ever experienced.

But if the season trends tell us anything, it’s to not expect a lot of close finishes.

NFL Stat Oddity: Week 18

The NFL can be hard to understand or predict. The NFL can be difficult to love or watch. But days like Sunday, a perfect season finale, are why we keep up with it year after year.

The inaugural 17th regular-season game got off to a dodgy start on Saturday, but Sunday’s slate delivered the most drama of any Sunday this season. As always, the NFL won out in the end. Sure, it helped that each time slot had a very meaningful game go to overtime. The Colts, a 15-point favorite in Jacksonville, also helped by laying an instant egg that set up the rest of the day for great drama.

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t need to say a prayer Sunday to extend his career. He just needed to believe that Carson Wentz and the Chargers are who we thought they were.

They indeed are. Now, two better statistical teams (Colts and Chargers) are staying home while two teams with below minus-50 scoring differentials (Steelers and Raiders) are in the tournament. I really did not expect that from Sunday.

Season Predictions: Not to Toot My Own Horn But…

I’ll get to every game below, but I do want to start by saying that I’m really proud of my preseason predictions this season. I don’t like to toot my own horn this way, but in dark times like these, it feels good to see some hard work pay off. This was the first season where I wrote a detailed season preview of all 32 teams. I’m not sure if that was the reason I had my most accurate predictions yet or not, or if it was because of how competitive this season was with 25 teams getting at least seven wins.

Not only did I predict 11 of the 14 playoff teams correctly, but I was only off by an average of 1.3 wins for all 32 teams’ final record. That is by far my best job yet as I’m usually off by about 2.5 wins. My previous best was 2.06 wins in 2014. I predicted 24 teams to within one game of their record in 2021 after only getting eight in 2020 and an average of 12 teams from 2013-20. I was within two games of 28 teams after an average of 18.6 from 2013-20.

My weekly predictions also ended on a decent note. As I explained on Saturday, I thought I was doing terrible because of my record on the game previews I’ve been assigned, but my overall record for the season is fine. It happened again this week as my articles were 1-3 ATS but I still finished 10-6 ATS for Week 18.

That leaves my final records for the 2021 season at 158-113-1 ATS (.583) and 174-97-1 SU (.642).

For a season thought to be so historically wild and competitive, I’ll take these numbers any day. Hopefully I can improve on them next year.

This season in Stat Oddity:

Colts at Jaguars: WTF, Frank?

Sunday in the NFL goes much differently if the Colts, a 15-point favorite, did not choke so badly in Jacksonville. They fell victim to a season-high 26 points and career-best game from Trevor Lawrence, who massively outplayed Carson Wentz with the Colts’ season on the line. Jonathan Taylor only rushed for 77 yards and did not find the end zone, likely missing out on every award now this year. The Colts have gone from the team “no one wants to face” to the team watching the playoffs from home despite a plus-86 scoring differential.

You probably already know my thoughts about Wentz, and how this game validates the type of fool’s gold he is and how he’ll never lead the Colts to anywhere significant.

But I’m more concerned about head coach Frank Reich after this one. You can’t be considered a top-tier head coach if you can’t figure out how to beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville. This stat is flat out embarrassing and it doesn’t even go back to 2018 where he lost 6-0 down there with Andrew Luck as his quarterback. The Colts haven’t won in Jacksonville since 2014.

How do you not get your team fired up to win as a 15-point favorite with the playoffs on the line? How is the “run the damn ball” offensive line not hyped to get Jonathan Taylor a 2,000-yard rushing season if need be? The Colts came out flat and they paid for it as they finish 2021 without a single 4QC/GWD. It was the finest wire-to-wire win for Jacksonville since beating the Patriots in the second game of the 2018 season.

When Lawrence converted a pair of third-and-10+ on the first drive, you thought this could be interesting. A game-opening touchdown that took up half the quarter was not expected. Taylor getting stuffed on a 4th-and-2 on the ensuing drive was not expected. Lawrence completing 19-of-25 for 208 yards at halftime and a 13-3 lead was certainly not expected after the brutal rookie year he’s had.

Now in the third quarter when Wentz is expected to make things happen, that’s when you get nervous as a Colts fan. He did nothing to alleviate those concerns. Wentz coughed up a strip-sack on the fourth play of the half, which the Jaguars fortunately only turned into a field goal despite amazing field position. Then came the bad interception, and that one was not so fortunate to avoid turning into seven points.

Down 23-3, the damage was already done by the coddled caretaker at quarterback. To Wentz’s credit, he was not the problem after it got out of hand at 23-3. Taylor was stuffed on a 4th-and-goal at the 1, a money moment for him the rest of the season, but not on Sunday. Wentz later threw a good enough deep ball on a 4th-and-12, but Parris Campbell failed to make a play on it in a situation where he absolutely needed to. The Colts got eight points on their next drive to make it 26-11 with 4:26 left, but out of timeouts, the defense failed to get the ball back.

Imagine beating the Bills, Patriots, and Cardinals before losing to the Raiders and Jaguars to miss the playoffs. What a way to give up a first-round pick to the playoff-bound Eagles, who certainly don’t miss Wentz’s bullshit.

The Colts had two decades to build great teams around Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, which they rarely ever did. Now after building up the offensive line, finding a great back, a supposedly great coach, and getting a ton of turnovers on defense, none of it is going to matter because now they don’t have a real franchise quarterback.

Unless the Jaguars make the most AFC South move of all time and hire Bill O’Brien, I’d sooner bet on Jacksonville doing something in the playoffs before the Colts as long as Wentz is the quarterback.

Steelers at Ravens: It’s Not Over Yet

I was not emotionally prepared to watch Ben Roethlisberger’s final game. He’s really the first Hall of Fame athlete I can say I experienced the whole career of from the first preseason game to the final snap. As it turns out, his final snap will have to wait at least a week.

The early control of the Colts by Jacksonville added some major intrigue to this game, even if it didn’t seem like either team had a clue what was going on in Florida in the first half. This was your typical Steelers-Ravens game, which means one team was missing its starting quarterback (Lamar Jackson) and it was an ugly, physical street fight.

Frankly, the Ravens should have ran more than the 36 carries for 249 yards got them. A good chunk (72 yards) of that was quarterback Tyler Huntley scrambling, but it felt like a relief when the Ravens called a pass play and he didn’t scramble. The Steelers were getting gashed again by the run as they have all year. Latavius Murray had 150 yards himself. But the defense came up with some crucial stops in the second half, including an interception in the end zone when Baltimore was up 10-6 and looking for more. That really changed the game, as did a forced fumble by T.J. Watt on a play where he thought he tied the sack record but it wasn’t actually a sack. He later tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record.

The game was also a great example of why watching Roethlisberger is so conflicting these days. On the one hand, you can see why he needs to retire as his body seems to be running on fumes down the stretch. After hitting a good stride for eight games, he’s struggled since the Minnesota loss. Roethlisberger became the first quarterback since 2008 Kyle Orton to throw for fewer than 160 yards in three straight games on at least 25 attempts.

This was looking like a fourth straight game of that, which would tie the NFL record, but then Roethlisberger showed us why he’s one of the all-time leaders in clutch wins. Pittsburgh kept trying to run its backup running back – Najee Harris was injured on the third snap and missed a large chunk of the game – against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. It led to the backs gaining 35 yards on their first 23 carries, constantly putting Roethlisberger on a wet field in bad down-and-distance situations.

But finally, the Steelers let Ben take over in what could have easily been his final game. In the last six minutes of regulation and overtime, he converted all five of his passes on third or fourth down with at least six yards to go. The 20-yard pass on third-and-9 to Ray Ray McCloud is vintage Roethlisberger, as was the fourth down conversion in overtime with pressure applied.

Three of those conversions in overtime alone led to Roethlisberger’s seventh game-winning drive of the season. Harris finally broke a 15-yard run as the 24th carry of the game for the backs was a success to set up Chris Boswell for the 36-yard game-winning field goal. He got it, and the Steelers (9-7-1) just needed the Raiders and Chargers to not tie at night.

That was a hell of a lot harder than it needed to be, but the Steelers made this season so difficult. The Detroit tie that saved them in the end almost cost them too as that should have been a 10th win that wouldn’t have made a tie feasible for the Raiders and Chargers. But neither the Detroit tie after Ben got COVID nor the lousy run defense could keep the Steelers out of this postseason as the seventh seed. Their reward is a trip to Kansas City where they lost 36-10 two weeks ago, but you’d still rather be playing than done for good.

Just don’t lose 62-7 like Dan Marino’s final game in Jacksonville and I’ll call it a success.

Chargers at Raiders: And That’s BINGO

I thought the Chargers already played in the Game of the Year against the Chiefs in Week 15, an overtime classic. This one too should go down as an instant overtime classic, and go figure, the Chargers came up short again despite an incredible performance from Justin Herbert. So many plays in this game were inches away from going the other way.

The Chargers were 6-of-7 on fourth down, only failing on an ill-advised run in the third quarter deep in their own end. Almost all these other decisions were out of necessity as Herbert converted the last five fourth downs where failure on any one of them would have ended the Chargers’ season right there.

While Herbert won’t be going to the playoffs in his second season, my respect for him shot up with this game. He outplayed Derek Carr, who got a more competent team performance on the night. The Chargers fumbled a punt return that led to a 23-yard touchdown drive and early 10-0 hole. Jalen Richard ran for a first down on a 3rd-and-23 before halftime on a drive that also included a 41-yard penalty for pass interference despite Carr’s pass landing nowhere near any receiver.

The Chargers missed a game-tying 51-yard field goal to start the third quarter while the Raiders hit a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to take a 29-14 lead. It was just that kind of night for the Chargers, but that’s also where the fun really started with the fourth downs. Herbert threw a touchdown on a 4th-and-21 and converted a two-point conversion with 4:28 left. A failure there would also have made the end of the game fairly moot. But in getting the ball back, Herbert embarked on a 19-play marathon drive that felt like a whole quarter itself despite taking only 2:06 off the game clock. Herbert found Mike Williams for a 12-yard touchdown as time expired.

I’m not surprised Brandon Staley settled for the extra point there. It was common sense as a tie did put both teams in the playoffs. I didn’t agree with a lot of his decisions in this game, but that one was agreeable. After the teams exchanged field goals in overtime, it sure looked like Pittsburgh was going to get screwed with a tie, but Carr and the Raiders were still hungry for a win. Maybe avoiding the Chiefs next week was on their mind given the way those two matchups went this year. Plus, the added bonus of eliminating a division rival is hard to pass up.

Carr made a great throw to Zay Jones on a third-and-8 to avoid the tie from happening. It still may have happened if the Raiders kept running with a lazy approach to the final minute, but Staley called timeout with 38 seconds left before a third-and-4. That seemed to change the Raiders’ approach and they broke off a 10-yard run against a terrible run defense.

With two seconds left, there was still a little risk associated with kicking a field goal. If you get blocked for a touchdown there and miss the playoffs, you’ll be an all-time laughingstock in NFL history. I normally don’t care about the block, but this situation (tie equals playoffs) was so unique. But the Raiders executed, and Daniel Carlson made a great 47-yard field goal to win the game at the buzzer.

Carr’s 30th game-winning drive is the third most in a quarterback’s first eight seasons behind only Russell Wilson (32) and Matt Ryan (31).

I don’t want to get bogged down with Staley’s decision making after a classic game where his team came up short. The Chargers followed a 4-1 start with a 1-3 slump and will end with a 1-3 slump to miss the playoffs. I’d just like to see the team do a better job of building up the defense so Herbert isn’t trying to win 35-32 games so much.

But knowing my NFL history, this game will somehow be the first chapter in the “Herbert isn’t clutch” narrative despite him rescuing this game time and time again to even give it a chance to be an all-time tie.

But they even screwed that up too. I would have loved to see Williams take that fourth-down catch in overtime all the way for a winning touchdown, but I’ll take the outcome as is.

I never had to root harder for a non-tie.

49ers at Rams: The McVay Halftime Stat Is Dead

I was torn on this one. Do I root for Kyle Shanahan to underperform and miss the playoffs to let the Saints in, or do I look to add another loss to Matthew Stafford’s record against teams with a winning record? I guess since my best parlays went in LA’s favor this week, karma took care of the rest with one of the most stunning losses of the Sean McVay era.

Talk about backing into a division title. The Rams seemed to be exorcising their San Francisco demons when they led 17-0 and Stafford couldn’t miss a throw. But then the pressure did come for him. The 49ers trailed 17-3 at halftime, and McVay was infamously 45-0 in his career when leading at halftime. I always hated hearing this stat referenced since it implies that he’s never lost a game when leading in the second half. He has. Multiple times.

The 49ers did not need much time to erase that deficit thanks to the multiple talents of Deebo Samuel, who ran for a score, threw a touchdown, and is a beast after the catch. But it still looked like the Rams were going to send the 49ers home and the Saints, who were winning in Atlanta, into the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo saw a tipped ball get picked in the end zone by Jalen Ramsey in a tied game in the fourth quarter. Cooper Kupp absolutely should have locked up the Offensive Player of the Year award with an incredible drive that saw him go over 90 yards for a record-extending 13th straight game, and he caught the go-ahead touchdown with 2:29 left.

Von Miller notched a third-down sack to set up 4th-and-18 at the San Francisco 17 as the two-minute warning hit. Almost surprisingly, Shanahan punted with his three timeouts left. It’s no man’s land, for sure, but I have to say I agree with the punt. The conversion is so low percentage, and if you don’t get it, the game is basically over as you’ll be down two scores at best when you get the ball back. If you punt and force a three-and-out, you have a chance with plenty of time to get the tying touchdown. I really find it hard to believe the 49ers were at 0.4% in win probability there.

Basically, it’s a punt call I think almost every coach would do, but Brandon Staley and John Harbaugh may go for it and lose the game right there. The 49ers got it to work largely because of a cowardly decision by McVay to run Sony Michel three times and punt. I can understand a second-down run, even if that would have been the perfect time to throw deep to Kupp, who was still in position to get to 2,000 receiving yards on the season. But after trading for Stafford and having Kupp chasing history, you run Sony Michel on third-and-7 for 2 yards? Pathetic.

But Garoppolo got the job done with his receiver showing their incredible YAC again. Samuel had a 43-yard play and that set up a 15-yard touchdown to Jennings with 26 seconds left. The 49ers settled for a field goal in overtime, but the defense just had to stop Stafford one more time. He threw up a pick on first down when he had plenty of time to be more methodical in a 27-24 game. Game over. Fortunately, the Cardinals lost to Seattle, so the Rams still win the division.

But if the Rams go one-and-done after losing this game, the bugaboo for Stafford against good competition is only going to grow. After going 8-68 against winning teams coming into 2021, Stafford finishes the regular season with a 3-5 record against winning teams. Still a career year and the first time he notched multiple wins in the same season. But with the expectations pointing towards Super Bowl or bust with the moves this team has made, a 3-6 finish against winning teams (assuming a loss to Arizona next week) would be a massive disappointment.

Maybe even McVay, Mr. 3 Points in the Super Bowl, will feel the criticism this time as well. He no longer has Goff as the scapegoat. The Rams had no business losing this game and still did. On the bright side, we never have to hear again how he’s undefeated when leading at halftime.

Saints at Falcons: Tough Year

I feel bad for Jameis Winston tearing his ACL in Week 8. Would the Saints still have swept the Buccaneers if he was QB1 in those games for all eight quarters? That’s not certain. The Saints were also taking a very conservative approach with him all season long, but I think they still had real potential for 10-plus wins if he stayed healthy. The Ian Book game was also certainly a debacle as New Orleans’ only loss in the last five games.

Get Winston healthy and add some receivers, and maybe the Saints can challenge for the division again next season. As for the Falcons, congrats on setting the worst scoring differential record for a seven-win team in NFL history one year after setting the best scoring differential record for a four-win team in NFL history. That at least shows the better coaching this year, or maybe just the better luck in close games as the Falcons didn’t shit their pants at the end against the Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Lions, and Saints (first time).

Seahawks at Cardinals: Bring the Band Back?

I was pretty high on the Seattle upset this week as I don’t believe in Arizona and felt that the Russell Wilson-Pete Carroll era needed to end on a high note. After the 38-30 win where Wilson played well with his receivers and Rashaad Penny again had a huge rushing performance, I’m starting to think the Seahawks will bring the band back for 2022. It’s not over. They’ll cite Wilson’s injury and some bad luck in close games as they were 0-7 at game-winning drive opportunities before getting one in this game due to a short field.

And maybe that’s not the worst idea in the world. When you see teams wanting to interview Bill O’Brien and Dan Quinn as their head coach, is there an obvious upgrade to Pete out there? And there is validity in thinking this offense could work if those key skill players stay healthy.

Seattle just scored 38 points in consecutive games for the first time since the 2015 season. As for Arizona, it was a big missed opportunity with the Rams losing to the 49ers but still winning the NFC West. Arizona will settle for the No. 5 seed despite starting 7-0. The Cardinals are just 3-5 at home. However, maybe starting the playoffs on the road isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Jets at Bills: AFC East Supremacy

You wouldn’t know it, but the Bills technically won their first “close game” of the 2021 season. The Jets were only down 13-10 and had the ball to start the fourth quarter. Of course, they were backed up in their own end and couldn’t do anything about it. Buffalo scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives that started at midfield to take a 27-10 lead while the Jets couldn’t get another first down. So, it goes down as an easy 17-point cover, but it was another tough game for three quarters in the wind for the Bills.

I would have loved to see rematches of Bills-Titans and Bengals-Chiefs in the divisional round, but it’s more likely going to be a Bills-Chiefs rematch in that round now. That’s assuming the Bills, now back-to-back winners of the AFC East, can knock off the Patriots again this week.

Patriots at Dolphins: Miami Does It Again

Robert Kraft has to stop taking the Patriots to those special massage parlors when they visit Miami each season. That’s about the only explanation I have for why this team underperforms so badly down there.

Well, scratch that. Some combination of former Belichick assistants (Nick Saban, Tony Sparano was a Bill Parcells guy at least, and Brian Flores), Tom Brady shitting his pants, the heat, and some general randomness (2018 Miami Miracle) likely have contributed too. But the Dolphins have won three in a row against the Patriots now.

Once a contender for the No. 1 seed, the Patriots have really stumbled down the stretch, finishing 1-3 out of the bye. This team might be the Eagles of the AFC this year. Prompted up by the schedule and trying to win with defense and running the ball. However, unlike the Eagles, the Patriots have a quality win over a playoff team this year. They beat the Bills in Buffalo in that windy game where they only threw three passes. I think the Bills are clearly the better team in fair weather, so we’ll see if Belichick can sell someone else’s soul to conjure up some hellish wind on Saturday when these teams meet for the third time in six weeks.

Panthers at Buccaneers: Of Course They Get Philly

The Panthers hung in there for a half with Tampa Bay, but too much Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans were enough for Carolina. Throw in a loss by the Rams and the Patriots Buccaneers move up to the No. 2 seed, because what else would you expect? Of course Tom Brady is going to start a playoff run with a Philadelphia team that is 0-6 against playoff teams and built to run the ball while Tampa Bay is an elite run defense that needs to be passed on to have success.

Throw in a potential Dallas matchup in the second round, and it’s looking like winning a couple of NFC East rematches is all it will take to get back to the NFC Championship Game in Green Bay. Or hosting it in Tampa should the Packers falter out of the bye.

It’s LOAT season again. Hold on to your butts, or hope for a couple new Philly Specials.

Titans at Texans: Her?

The Titans are the No. 1 seed as adding “swept by Texans and lost to Jets” to the resume along with “wins over the Chiefs, Bills, Rams, 49ers” was too crazy to be true. They still survived a scare from Davis Mills, who threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns as the Texans put up a fight after trailing 21-0.

We’ll see if the return of Derrick Henry in the playoffs is a catalyst to push this team to a Super Bowl, or if they’ll compete with the 2000 Titans and 2008 Titans for the title of weakest No. 1 seed in the expanded playoff era.

Do you need a reminder that both of those teams lost at home in the divisional round?

Chiefs at Broncos: Melvin on Melvin Violence

Quickly going back to Saturday, the Chiefs were in another dogfight with the Broncos before Melvin Ingram blew up Melvin Gordon in the red zone for a fumble that was returned 86 yards for a game-winning touchdown. It’s just the second non-offensive game-winning score of the season following New England’s pick-six against the Chargers.

Like I said last week, the Chiefs probably cannot continue to reliably score if Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are both going to be limited in production. Hill had an injury that limited him to 2 yards in this one and Kelce only had 34 yards again and was shaken up on his last catch. Hopefully they’ll both be alright as the Chiefs prepare to play the first wild card game of the Patrick Mahomes era.

As for the Broncos, blow it all up, I say. New coach and new direction at quarterback.

Cowboys at Eagles: Artificial Fight

Dak Prescott’s first game with five touchdown passes came against a very backup-heavy Eagles team on Saturday night. I think Dallas still wins with both teams at full strength, but this isn’t far off from the meaningless season finales these teams also played against each other in 2016 and 2017. Still, it drops the Eagles to 1-7 vs. teams with a winning record, and that one win (Saints) only became official on Sunday with New Orleans getting that ninth win. That means the Eagles are 0-6 against playoff teams this year.

I’ll have plenty more to say about both in the playoff previews this week.

Bears at Vikings: End of Two Eras?

By the time you read this, Matt Nagy and Mike Zimmer could both be fired from their jobs. It’s definitely time for Nagy to go and to get someone in there to coach up Justin Fields so he doesn’t make mistakes like Andy Dalton did on Sunday. But Zimmer has likely run his course too after getting to one NFC Championship Game in eight seasons and just one postseason in four tries with Kirk Cousins as his quarterback.

The Vikings (8-9) have some amazing offensive talent to only finish ninth in the NFC. It could be a much different outcome for Zimmer and Cousins without a missed field goal in Arizona or a last-second touchdown allowed in Detroit. But too many of those games go the other way for this Minnesota team year after year.

Bengals at Browns: Ohio Rests

Not much you can say about a game where both starting quarterbacks were out and the Bengals rested plenty of other key guys for the playoffs. Good on the Bengals for the backdoor cover. Now let’s see if Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase can lead them to their finest season since the 1988 Super Bowl team with a playoff win.

Packers at Lions: Some Kneecaps Were Eaten

I liked that the Packers got Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams some good reps in this one. Stay sharp for the playoffs and don’t fall into the trap of the double rest weeks with the bye coming. Jordan Love also got some important playing time and had some mixed results. Good on Jared Goff to lead a game-winning drive and end his season on a high note for Dan Campbell’s bunch. Definitely more competitive than the 3-13-1 record will suggest.

Sunday was the first time the Jaguars and Lions won games in the same week since October 27, 2019 (Week 8). They were playing the Jets and Giants that day, of course.

Washington at Giants: War Crime

While the Giants actually had two gains of 20-plus yards this week despite the 22-7 loss, this game was still an atrocity on an otherwise stellar Sunday.

This was the first NFL game since the 2017 Colts-Bills snow game where neither team had 100 net passing yards. You have to go back to the historically bad 2010 Panthers-Bears game to find the last time it happened in a non-snow game.

At the very least, it helped me nail my predictions of 7-10 Football Team (adios to that name) and 4-13 Giants. Now will 2022 please make these teams more watchable? You know the next time they play we’ll probably have to see it on an island.

This week: Busy one coming up. I’ll have the close game summary report for 2021, my season award picks, and full previews for all six wild card games.