Here are a few random musings after the first round of the playoffs:
The Lions or the Buccaneers will be playing in the NFC Championship game: The Lions seemed to spit in the face of 30-plus years of misery and false hope when the clock struck zero Sunday Night. They played the Rams, who were one of the hottest teams down the stretch, and the game literally came down to the red zone. The Lions were three for three in the red zone with three TDs, while the Rams were 0-3, with three field goals. When you lose by a single point and can’t even get into field goal range on your final drive at the four-minute mark, you deserve to lose.
Thanks to the Green Bay Packers’ upset over the Cowboys, the Buccaneers head to Detroit instead of playing the 49ers in San Fransisco. This sets up a Bucs vs Lions divisional game, with the winner heading to the NFC Championship. Either of these teams could host that game or find themselves on the road, depending on who prevails in the Niners/Packers game.
After how they played this week, the Lions appear to be Super Bowl-bound. They have the game at home in front of their ravenous fans, just looking to explode again. The Bucs played an Eagles team that had lost five of their last six games; something is definitely wrong in Philadelphia. Tampa’s best hope is if Detroit has a hangover heading into this game … although I doubt HC Dan Campbell will allow that too happen.
It’s tough when you pick the wrong hot team: Heading into these playoffs, I sought to find a longshot who could win it all. I came up with the Rams. They had beaten everyone down the stretch, except for losing in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens. They were absolutely on a heater. And, without knowing how Detroit would react to their first playoff game in decades, the Rams seemed like a decent play in the first round. I believed their momentum would grow and they’d find themselves in the big dance.
Alas, failure in the red zone cost them the game. And I overlooked another hot team heading into the playoffs: the Green Bay Packers. Over the last couple of months, Jordan Love has played as well as any QB in the league. He had a stretch where he threw 18 TD passes with only one interception. On Sunday, the Packers thoroughly destroyed a Cowboys team that was favored by a TD. It never occurred to me that the Cowboys would choke … again. They played well down the stretch to claim the NFC East and the No. 2 seed. And, they were at home, where they were undefeated during the regular season.
Heading to San Fransisco, the way they played last week, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Pack comes out with a victory. I guarantee San Fransisco will play much better than the Cowboys and won’t roll over. As well as Green Bay played, they’ll need to be even better this week.
The future of the league is strong: Trever Lawrence, Justin Herbert, and Joe Burrow are all home for this year’s playoffs. But, C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love are each in this week’s divisional round. Although Love isn’t a rookie, he is playing in his first playoffs as the team’s starting QB. And C.J. Stroud just won his first playoff game as a rookie. They each have tough matchups this week, facing off against their conference’s respective No. 1 seeds. And although it is improbable that they will get past this week, their future playoff prospects are solid; this won’t be a one-and-done for either of them.
Pittsburgh fans have to feel robbed: It was an act of God, but that snowstorm in Buffalo helped the Bills a great deal. If the storm wasn’t so devastating, or its timing was a bit different, the two teams would have faced off in the middle of the snow. The conditions would have been a great equalizer, and who knows how the ball would have bounced? While watching on TV, the conditions on the field didn’t look bad at all. There was no snow to contend with, and it wasn’t all that windy.
Will there be rust?: Since the playoffs have expanded to seven teams, only the top seed in each conference has gotten the bye. Last year the two No. 1 seeds made it to the Super Bowl. Logic says a bye week will allow time for ailing muscles and bones to recuperate, but it could have the opposite effect as well.
Could rust set in for either of these teams, especially with these two teams that rely so heavily on their offensive timing? The opponents of these teams are not cupcakes or pushovers. The Niners are playing the young, hot, and confident Green Bay Packers. And the Ravens have the exciting Houston Texans coming to Baltimore. C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love may be so young that they don’t know enough to be afraid or intimidated. This moment will not be too big for either of them. They may both get beaten, but I doubt either will lose … and there is a difference.
Eagles collapse: Speaking of a team that got beaten, it would have been hard to believe that when they were sitting at 10-1 that they Eagles would lose five out of six and not win the division. Seven weeks later and the Eagles find themselves out of the playoffs, with questions swirling around HC Nick Sirianni.
Cowboys collapse: I am writing this Tuesday evening, and it is amazing to me that Mike McCarthy hasn’t been fired yet. Jerry Jones cannot keep him. Three regular-season 12-5 records will look great on his resume, but McCarthy must be fired. There are too many really solid HCs out there waiting to get scooped up.
Dolphins collapse: By all accounts, HC Mike McDaniel’s job is secure, but this is another year that the Dolphins faded down the stretch. They had the division well in hand, just as Philadelphia did, but did everything they could do to let the division slip through their fingers. The result was the difference between a home game against the Steelers and a road game in frigid Kansas City against the defending champs.
Mahomes on the road: Other than the Super Bowl, Patrick Mahomes hasn’t had a road playoff game yet … until this weekend against the Bills. This is shaping up as the Brady/Manning matchups of the 2000s. This is now the seventh time Mahomes and Josh Allen are facing off. The two teams are 3-3; this is the tiebreaker with huge stakes up for grabs. The winner will get to the AFC Championship, which has been Kansas City’s home for half a decade. If Houston can upset Baltimore, the winner of this game will host the AFC Championship. And regardless, the winner of this game could very well go onto the Super Bowl, and potentially prevail.
This should be an exciting week of football with four really intriguing and compelling matchups.