The first-ever Super Wild Card Weekend has concluded, 6 teams have been eliminated, and now 8 teams remain in the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs. Let’s review:
Bills 27, Colts 24
The Colts just left points on the field, pure and simple. Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 33 yard field goal after an 14-play, 7.5 minute drive with the Colts down 17-10 in the third quarter. The Colts went for it and failed on 4th and goal from the Buffalo 4 yard line with 1:52 left in the first half up 10-7. That, to me, seemed like a bad call. I know everyone’s all about #Analytics these days but sometimes you’ve gotta take the points. The Colts going for it right there told me that Frank Reich didn’t trust his defense in that game, and yet the Colts defense held up pretty well after all was said and done.
What I saw out of the Bills, though, was pretty damn impressive. They showed some signs of being a really, really dangerous offense. I mean, we already know they’re good, but they showed some stuff in that game that I’ve only ever really seen out of a few teams in my life: Aaron Rodgers’ Packers, Tom Brady’s Patriots, Peyton Manning’s Colts/Broncos, and Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs. I’m talking about the whole “score a TD right before halftime, then get the ball back to start the second half and get even more points” thing. They got the TD before the half, then got a field goal on their opening drive of the second half. That’s very Patriots-esque. Before the TD at the end of the first half, they were down 10-7. The next time Indy got the ball back, Indy was down 17-10.
But even more than that, Buffalo’s passing offense just looks great. You flush Josh Allen out of the pocket, that’s fine, he rolls out and slings one down the sideline for a 10, 15, 20 yard completion. It’s very Rodgers/Mahomes-esque. It’s demoralizing for a defense: you feel like you have the QB dead to rights, then he escapes, rolls out and throws one downfield for a big completion.
However, when I dug into the stats, I found that Buffalo was only 2/9 on third down compared to Indy’s 9/17. Indy outgained Buffalo 472-397 in terms of total yards, but a big reason there was that the Colts ran 72 plays on offense to the Bills’ 58. The Bills averaged 6.8 yards per play to the Colts’ 6.2.
My main worry with the Bills is that they were only able to run for 96 yards in that game, and, more importantly, that Josh Allen was their leading rusher with 54 yards on 11 attempts with a TD. Devin Singletary only had 3 carries in the game, while Zack Moss had 7 for a total of 21 carries for Buffalo. They passed 35 times. That’s pretty wild to me. Maybe it’s because the Colts have a good run defense, I don’t know. But Buffalo has basically no run game other than Josh Allen.
And to make matters worse, Ian Rapoport just tweeted that Zack Moss is done for the postseason after hurting his ankle against the Colts. So now it’s just Devin Singletary back there. Josh Allen is going to be under even more pressure to carry that offense. This is not good for Buffalo.
As for the Colts, you’ve gotta give Philip Rivers some major credit for his performance in that game. Take a look at this statline:
That’s a hell of a performance. Normally Philip Rivers is good for at least one soul-crushing 4th quarter INT per game, but he played nearly perfect against Buffalo. He played well enough to win, too. Without that missed 33-yard field goal and the botched 4th and goal attempt, the Colts probably could’ve won this game. Tough way to go out if you’re Philip Rivers. We’ll see if he’s got one last hurrah in him.
Rams 30, Seahawks 20
Jared Goff was active for the game, but was not healthy enough to get the start as Sean McVay rolled out John Wolford to begin the game. Wolford was knocked out of the game early on due to a nasty (but legal) hit to the head by Jamal Adams, and Goff had to come in. The Rams defense just suffocated the Seahawks’ offense all game long. They held Russell Wilson to 11/27 passing for 174 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT for a 17.6 QBR and a 72.1 passer rating. They sacked him 5 times, however he was able to run for 50 yards. And one of Russ’s two TDs was in garbage time, so his statline made him look better than he actually was. He really only had one impressive play, and it was the long TD to DK Metcalf in the second quarter. Russ scrambled out of the pocket, rolled out towards the sideline, and Metcalf noticed what was going on, so he broke off of his route and just started running toward the endzone. Russ was able to find him for a 51 yard TD. But that was about the only time the Rams didn’t have him in check.
The Rams held Seattle to just 2/14 on third down, forcing 8 punts on the Seahawks’ 14 drives.
The injured Goff wasn’t great, but he made some key plays when it counted. I give him a lot of credit for his performance, because he wasn’t even healthy enough to start the game and yet he came in and led his team to a win. A lot of credit also has to go to Rams rookie running back Cam Akers, who ran 28 times for 131 yards and a TD. He looks like the real deal. The Seahawks’ run defense was actually pretty good this season.
So now I’m sitting here wondering where Seattle goes from here. The past three years, they’ve been good enough to make the playoffs, but that’s about it. This year and 2018, they were one-and-done. Last year they beat the Eagles in the wild card round but then lost to the Packers in the divisional round. They’re a playoff team but not a Super Bowl team. Seattle definitely needs to improve on defense, specifically up front. And when you look at their offense, you see talent all over the place: Russ, Chris Carson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett. That’s more talent than most of the teams in the league have. Yet they were not able to make much happen on offense against the Rams. Part of that is that the Rams are an elite defense, but I think Seattle really needs help up front on the offensive line. Russell Wilson got sacked 5 times and was hit 10 times in the game on 27 dropbacks. You are probably not going to win when your QB is under assault like that.
One more thing I want to talk about in regards to Seattle: the pick-six in the second quarter. What made that play uniquely bad for Seattle was that it came on a screen pass to DK Metcalf. Rams cornerback Darious Williams just jumped the route and took it to the house. After the play you could see Metcalf was absolutely livid on the sidelines. And here’s why: there were 784 total wide receiver screens in the NFL this season, but that was the first one that was picked off. Which means the Rams knew it was coming. If you go back and watch the replay, you’ll see Williams was watching Wilson the whole way. He didn’t even care about DK Metcalf, he was just waiting for the ball to come his way, and of course it did and it was an easy six.
Seattle was manhandled up front, they were outcoached, and they had basically nothing going on offense. It’s going to be a long offseason for the Seahawks.
As for the Rams, now they have to go to Lambeau and take on the Packers. It’s going to be tough to do with Jared Goff playing hurt, plus Aaron Donald hurt his ribs in that game (official designation is torn rib cartilage, still expected to play), but the Rams’ defense should be an equalizer. Of all the remaining teams in the NFC, I think the Rams are probably the best-equipped to go into Lambeau and win. I’m not saying they will, but I think they can. Jalen Ramsey is going to have to clamp Davante Adams, and Aaron Donald is going to have to disrupt the pocket consistently. It’s a boon for the Rams that the Packers have lost their All Pro LT David Bakhtiari for the year, so Leonard Floyd should have an easier time getting to Rodgers. But it’s really hard to pick against Aaron Rodgers right now. The Rams are going to have to lean on Cam Akers again and hope that Packers’ run defense falls apart again like it did last year in the NFC Championship against San Francisco. Jared Goff is going to have to step up in a major way, but it just might not be possible with his thumb just a few weeks removed from surgery.
Bucs 31, Washington 23
Less than a year after Tom Brady officially joined the team, the Buccaneers end their 13-year playoff drought, and win their first playoff game since they won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. Most people expected Tampa to beat the 7-9 Washington Football Team, but that Washington defense is no joke. They had not allowed more than 20 points in a game in their prior 7 games. They were unquestionably a top-5 defense in the league this season. And Brady just diced them up. He did pretty much exactly what he wanted. Washington sacked Brady 3 times, but it really didn’t matter. That was my concern for that game: that Washington’s pass rush would be in Brady’s face all game and making his life miserable. But he was unfazed.
The one concern for Tampa is that pass defense: they let Taylor Heinicke throw for 306 yards, and towards the end of that game Heinicke was just picking Tampa apart with his arm. Washington’s offense is not good, and they should not be able to throw like that against you. Tampa’s secondary is a real concern.
Tampa now gets a third crack at the Saints. Can they finally get a win? I cannot imagine Tom Brady losing to New Orleans three times in one season. The GOAT is dialed in right now. It took him a while to get things figured out down there in Tampa, but the Bucs offense really looks like it has turned a corner as of late.
Ravens 20, Titans 13
“Lamar Jackson finally silences the haters and breaks the narrative that he can’t win in the playoffs!” said the entire sports media in unison. The sports media, which sets all the “narratives,” kept talking about this “narrative” about Lamar Jackson being unable to win in the playoffs, but I don’t think I saw anybody in the media actually ripping Lamar for not winning in the playoffs. All I heard was sports pundits continually referring to this “narrative” that nobody in the sports media was actually advancing. I don’t think anyone was seriously bashing Lamar for not winning in the playoffs. But every sports pundit kept acting like everyone else was bashing Lamar for not winning in the playoffs.
The fact is, Lamar lost to the Chargers in the 2018 playoffs as a rookie. Nobody blamed him for that. Then he lost to the Titans in last year’s playoffs in a major divisional round upset. I figured everybody gave him a pass for losing as a rookie, because nobody really expects a rookie to win his first career playoff start. And last year’s loss to Tennessee, yeah, it was a bad loss, but the Ravens defense also let Derrick Henry run for 195 yards. You can’t really blame that loss all on Lamar; sure, as the QB, he shoulders a lot of the blame, but it’s not like Baltimore lost that game only because of him.
Nevertheless, the Ravens got the win on Sunday after a somewhat slow start. Lamar ran for 136 yards, which is great in and of itself, but he won that game with his feet. His biggest runs came in the biggest moments. The long TD in the first quarter, the dagger at the end–the MVP played like an MVP in that game. Plus, the Ravens defense shut down Derrick Henry: 40 yards on 18 carries, long of 8 yards. The Titans only had 209 yards in the game overall, and most of them came in the first quarter, too.
Look at what the Titans did on their drives after the first quarter:
- 4 plays, 4 yards, 3:24, punt
- 3 plays, -6 yards, 0:48, punt
- 6 plays, 20 yards, 3:52, punt
- 7 plays, 51 yards, 3:15, field goal
- 5 plays, 18 yards, 2:11, punt
- 6 plays, 16 yards, 2:29, interception
That is just complete defensive domination. Give the Titans defense credit for stepping up to keep it close, because that defense had been horrible all season long and it really stepped up. But the Ravens’ defense just stepped up more.
The last thing we have to talk about is Mike Vrabel’s decision to punt on 4th and 2 from the Ravens’ 40 yard line. Tennessee was down 17-13 with 10:06 left in the game. Everyone ripped Vrabel for the decision, and it did not seem like the right call even at the time–not just with the benefit of hindsight. They only punted 25 yards, too. I think you have to go for it right there and show some faith in your guys. Derrick Henry hadn’t done much all game, and as we just went over the Titans’ offense was stifled since the end of the first quarter, but that could’ve been a spark for the team if they got that 4th down conversion. I think that’s a gamble you have to take.
The Ravens are now on to Buffalo to play Josh Allen and the red-hot Bills. I have not decided on my Divisional Round picks yet but I really think I’m going to take the Ravens to win.
Saints 21, Bears 9
I knew the Bears were done when Javon Wims dropped that TD bomb early in the game off the trick play. It was a perfectly thrown ball by Trubisky and it should’ve gone for 6, but Javon Wims simply dropped the ball in the endzone. At that point I just had a feeling the Bears would not be able to keep up with the Saints. If you’re an offensively-challenged team like the Bears are–and have been for a very long time–you cannot afford to leave points on the field against a team like the Saints.
I didn’t really pay much attention to this game, honestly. It was one of the least interesting games of the weekend in my view. I thought the Bears, who were the biggest underdogs of the weekend–even bigger than the Taylor Heinicke-led Washington Football Team–had zero chance and that’s about how the game played out.
The Saints held the ball for 39 minutes to the Bears’ 21. The Saints were able to do this because they picked up 27 first downs to the Bears’ 11. The Saints were 11/17 on third down, while the Bears were just 1/10. The Bears were just outclassed in every facet of the game. The Bears’ defense held up pretty well given the circumstances and managed to keep the game close, but when your offense is as impotent as the Bears’ is, and cannot convert a third down to save their lives, the defense is inevitably going to get worn out.
The Bears just didn’t belong in this game. Thankfully the Colts showed they did belong in that game or else the NFL’s decision to expand the playoffs to 7 teams would’ve looked pretty bad.
As for the Saints, they will now have to beat the Bucs for a third time this season. I’ll get more into this game when I make my predictions later in the week, but obviously Saints-Bucs III is going to be the marquee game of the Divisional weekend. The NFL knows it, too, which is why they scheduled it for Sunday night.
Browns 48, Steelers 37
On the Steelers’ first offensive snap, the ball sailed over Ben’s head and the Browns fell on it in the endzone for a 7-0 early lead. On the Steelers’ next drive, Ben threw a pick which gave the Browns the ball back at the Steelers’ 46. Three plays later, the Browns scored on a 40 yard TD pass to Jarvis Landry. 14-0 Browns. Pittsburgh then went 3 and out on their next drive, and after the punt the Browns went 65 yards in 6 plays for another TD to make it 21-0. Ben then threw yet another INT on the Steelers’ next possession, which gave the Browns the ball on the Steelers’ 15 yard line. The Browns promptly added another touchdown and it was 28-0 before the end of the first quarter. That was basically the ballgame.
To their credit, the Steelers didn’t give up and kept trying to mount a comeback the whole game, but basically everybody knew it was over after the first quarter. It was 35-10 at halftime, and the final score of 48-37 was the closest the game ever got since it was 7-0 Browns. The Steelers added the late garbage time TD + 2point conversion with about a minute left.
Big Ben ended up throwing a whopping 68 times, completing 47 passes for 501 yards with 4 TDs and 4 INTs. But it was a hollow statline; the Steelers really had no other choice but to throw that much. Plus Cleveland was playing conservative on defense basically the whole game.
So now the Steelers are finished. After an 11-0 start, they seemed to just hit a wall and only won 1 game out of their next 6. It just felt like the Steelers ran out of gas, Big Ben especially. It didn’t help that they lost Devin Bush and Bud Dupree to season-ending injuries right around the time their win streak ended.
They’ve got at least 16 guys up for free agency this offseason, too. So expect the Steelers to look very different next season. You’ve got Juju, James Conner, Bud Dupree, starting offensive lineman Matt Feiler, Alejandro Villanueva and lots of other guys. Will Big Ben retire? He was in tears at the end of the game and seemed to be taking that loss really hard. He could be seen sitting on the bench just staring off into space as the clock hit zero and everyone else was exchanging the customary handshakes at midfield. He looked like a beaten man.
But he still does have a year and over $30 million left on his current deal, so he’d be leaving a ton of money on the table if he doesn’t come back for 2021. I think he’ll be back for another season, but I don’t think the Steelers will be nearly as good next year as they were this year. And I think Big Ben knows it’s the end of an era. Just look at this photo of him and Pouncey on the bench after the game. It says it all:
Those look like two guys who lost more than just one game.
As for the Browns, what an incredible win. First playoff road win since 1969. First playoff win in general since January 1995 when Bill Belichick was their coach. Oh, and they didn’t have their coach, Kevin Stefanski, who had to sit at home and watch the game by himself because of Covid. They were also missing their starting guard Joel Bitonio, a Pro-Bowler, plus their top cornerback Denzel Ward was also out for the game. Nobody expected the Browns to win this game, and yet here they are. Simply amazing.
But for the Browns, it was even more than all that I just went over. More than overcoming all the Covid adversity, and more than snapping a long playoff drought, this was the Browns repaying two-plus decades of frustrations and failures and disappointments caused by their bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. This was the little brother who constantly gets beaten-up on by his big brother finally having enough. Since moving back to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns are just 8-37-1 against the Steelers prior to last night’s playoff win. Once you understand how lopsided this rivalry has been for the past 20+ years, you see how big a deal this playoff win is for the Browns. The Browns have endured one humiliation after another against the Steelers, but last night they said, “Not anymore.” It really felt like last night’s game was the Browns announcing to the world that it’s their time now, and the Steelers’ time is finally over.
Major credit to Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, who continually made big plays to maintain that big lead. Kareem Hunt was phenomenal in the red-zone, finding holes, breaking tackles and getting into the end-zone. Nick Chubb kept on moving the chains and moving the Browns down the field. And Baker looked excellent back there in the pocket. Compared to the guy I saw last season, this year’s version of Baker is leaps and bounds better. The primary difference I’ve noticed about him is that he just knows when to get rid of the ball. Last year he took a lot of sacks, and part of that was his offensive line being bad, but part of it was also him not knowing when to get rid of the ball. Now he knows. He has a great feel for the pocket and he knows that in the NFL, you have to get rid of that ball quickly. He wasn’t sacked a single time last night, and he didn’t throw a single pick. That’s how you win games in the playoffs; you play mistake-free football. Baker’s decision making has been on-point, his accuracy has been on-point, and he’s taking care of the football. Baker Mayfield is legit.
Cleveland is on to Kansas City to take on the defending champs next week in the Divisional Round. They should have Stefanski back, plus a lot of their other guys who missed this game. And the Chiefs have not looked all that great in their past month or so. Maybe Kansas City is primed for an upset. The Chiefs’ biggest weakness is their run defense, but nobody can ever exploit it because Kansas City always jumps out to big leads and forces teams to abandon the run. If the Browns are going to win, it’s going to be through the running game. They cannot let the Chiefs jump out to an early lead. But the Browns’ pass defense is really going to have to step up.
Additional news that broke as I was writing this post: the Eagles have fired head coach Doug Pederson. The news just came down around 1pm CST. I wrote about the potential for this several weeks ago, and my conclusion was that if the Eagles did in fact fire him, he would be snapped up by some team almost immediately. Super Bowl-winning head coaches just do not hit the open market very often. I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes there in Philly, and maybe Pederson has lost the locker room, but this seems to me like a bone-headed move on Philly’s part. You don’t just fire a head coach three years after he wins the Super Bowl.
I think this means Carson Wentz is staying, though, right? We saw the reports that the relationship between Pederson and Wentz was irreparable, and I guess the Eagles firing Pederson confirms that story. The Eagles chose Wentz over Pederson. They chose the QB who didn’t win them a Super Bowl over the coach who did win them a Super Bowl.
What an absolute mess Philly is. Carson Wentz deserved to get benched this season. Jalen Hurts played better than he did. Even though the Eagles still missed the playoffs, they were a better team with Hurts starting. Philly was in that division race in the NFC East until I believe Week 16, so Pederson was just doing what he had to do to win games and try to make the playoffs.
Ian Rapaport tweeted this out about the Pederson firing:
If this is true, I’m even more on #TeamDoug. This dude won Philly it’s first Super Bowl ever, and those dysfuntional, ungrateful bastards are over here trying to tell him what to do and micromanage him and backseat coach? Nah. Doug Pederson, you don’t have to deal with that. I don’t care what the owner says. You’re a Super Bowl-winning head coach, you don’t have to take shit from anybody. If the owner of the team doesn’t like it, then he can try to find somebody better.
We’ve seen what happens to teams where the owner meddles too much–ahem, the Cowboys. It just doesn’t work out. If that’s what Philly’s owner Jeffrey Lurie wants, then that’s his right as the team owner. But good for Doug Pederson standing his ground.
I said a few weeks ago that Doug Pederson would not be unemployed for long. I firmly believe he will be an NFL head coach in 2021. I don’t think he will be on the open market for more than a few weeks. They’re already saying he’s got a great relationship with Jets GM Joe Douglas, so it looks like Pederson could end up as the next head coach of the New York Jets.