“Well, well, well. How the turntables…” – Michael Scott
This is quite possibly my favorite line in the history of The Office. It felt apropos to start this week’s column after a perfect 6-0 week prediction wise. We’ll tackle this upcoming week’s games in a minute, but before we do let’s just touch on the teams that were eliminated this past week:
The Chargers let a 27-0 lead slip through their fingers and lost to a Jaguars team that had significantly less talent. I had said last week that if the Chargers lose I don’t see how head coach Brandon Staley survives. I stand by that statement. Quarterback Justin Herbert is entering the prime of his career and needs a coach who will put the right pieces around him. Sean Payton is that guy. We’ll see what happens this offseason but this makes way too much sense in my book.
The Vikings were the #2 seed in the NFC and lost at home to the Giants who were looking to avenge their last second loss on Christmas Eve. It would be very convenient to put all of the blame on Kirk Cousins and his inability to get it done in big situations, but anyone watching this game could tell that the Viking defense was the real problem. This team still has a window to be a contender, but they need to put all of their effort into upgrading their defense in the offseason or they may risk being a .500 team next year.
The Dolphins put up a valiant fight against the Bills on the road, getting the game within 3-points in the 4th quarter. The big question this offseason will be what do they do with Tua Tagovailoa. Reports seem to indicate that they are all in on bringing Tua back, but they’re going to need to monitor his health this offseason, and at the very least monitor the trade market for some of the quarterbacks who may be available. I’m a big fan of head coach Mike McDaniel.
The Seahawks hung tough in the first half against San Francisco, but eventually talent in this league wins out and that is what happened here. Seattle will have the 5th pick overall this year in the NFL Draft, and I think they need to be open to all options including at quarterback. Props to Geno Smith for a renaissance year, but he’s going to be 33 years old next season and this team may want to look at having their future of the position on their roster sooner rather than later.
The Ravens have been a first class organization year in and year out. This offseason they’re going to be tested. They put up a valiant fight against the Bengals, however running back JK Dobbins was very critical of the play calling after the game, and there were questions regarding Lamar Jackson and his willingness (or lack thereof) to play. In addition, Jackson is up for a new contract after an injury riddled year. Could he be traded?
Finally, the Bucs were absolutely embarrassed last evening at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. Tom Brady has a legacy that very few athletes in the history of sports will ever have. That said, it was very clear and obvious by watching him this season that he is done. He can’t move, he can’t throw the ball down the field anymore, and his dink-and-dunk style of passing doesn’t work when his team is down by a couple of touchdowns as evident by last night. The Raiders have a significant interest in him, however I’m not sure how a 46 year old immobile quarterback who doesn’t like to be hit is going to be an upgrade over Derek Carr. Brady was consistently seen yelling at his receivers last night despite under and over throwing them time and again. He’s become way too predictable at this point of his career and in my opinion, isn’t worth the headache. Head to the broadcast booth Tom, you’ll be happy you did.
Now onto this week’s slate of games!
Jacksonville and Trevor Lawrence overcame FOUR interceptions in the first half to mount one of the largest comebacks in NFL playoff history to beat the Chargers 31-30. Their reward? A trip to Kansas City to face Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Jaguars have been a nice story this year and are a team heading in the right direction, but playing and winning a playoff game in Arrowhead against Mahomes and Reid on an extra week of rest? That’s going to be a very tall task. I’m taking the Chiefs.
The Giants played a fantastic game against Minnesota. Daniel Jones won the game with his arm and his legs and Saquon Barkley looks healthy for the first time in years. Speaking of health, this was the first game all season where the Giants had their full compliment of players available and it showed. That’s the good news. The not so good news? The Eagles are a very different team than Minnesota. Jalen Hurts is a much more dynamic player than Kirk Cousins, the offense line is better than Minnesota, and most importantly, the Eagles defensive front can get pressure on the quarterback. I’d look for Philly to test rookie right tackle Evan Neal early and often in this one. The Giants will put up a fight but asking for them to win a primetime road game against a well-rested Eagles team who has been dominant all season is going to be a tough task. Going with the Eagles here.
**Author’s Note** - A quick note for all my fellow Giants fans out there. Don’t let this prediction get you down. If the Eagles do win, this season has been an incredible success by any measure. We have a management team and head coach in place that most franchises would dream about. We made the playoffs in a year where we have been playing practice squad and third string players as starters for the majority of the season. We have a good corps of young talent and next season we finally begin to dig out from some of the salary cap hell that Dave Gettleman left us in. Everything is heading in the right direction for the first time in a long time. We should be celebrating that. I’m excited about where we’re heading and I think we have the potential to raise some eyebrows this weekend.
The Bengals and the Bills last matchup was interrupted by the horrible injury suffered by defensive back Damar Hamlin and the game was subsequently postponed. It’s been a miraculous recovery for Hamlin and his health and well being was, and should have been the priority over rescheduling a game. Now we’ll get Round 2 in Buffalo after all. The Bengals were pushed to their limits against a very tough Ravens defense, but some timely forced turnovers and the efficient play of Joe Burrow was enough to get the victory at home. Buffalo looked less impressive against a Miami team starting their third string quarterback. The defense gave up 31 points and Josh Allen threw 2 interceptions. That type of effort is not going to get it done against Cincinnati. I think last week was the wake up call the Bills needed and I think they’ll pull out a very close one at home this weekend.
Dallas, much like the Giants, looked fantastic this weekend. Also like the Giants, part of that can be attributed to efficient game play, the other part can be attributed to playing a lower caliber opponent. Yes, Dak Prescott threw for 4 touchdowns and no picks, but I thought he forced this issue a couple of times and was fortunate that some of his passes were not picked off. I don’t think he’s so lucky against a San Francisco defense that can be stifling at times. The 49ers are peaking at the right time and I think they handle the Cowboys with ease this weekend. Niners win big.
Enjoy the divisional round my friends!