We’re on to the Championship Round! This Divisional round was, without hyperbole, one of the best weekends of football history. Had each game been the only good game this weekend, we would’ve been satisfied. Yet, we’re left with an embarrassment of riches to reflect on and a couple of great matchups for Championship weekend.
Cincinnati Bengals 19 @ Tennessee Titans 16
Not to belabor the point, but Bengals-Titans was a legitimately amazing football game that is just lost in the sauce when it comes to the ridiculous level of football we were treated to this past weekend.
Why did the Bengals win? Like a lot of us, the Titans’ coaching staff seemed to bank on running back Derrick Henry being his old self. He was not. Numerous times and in big moments, King Henry took the ball and looked…hesitant? That isn’t to say he was physically scared, but plenty of athletes have noted that the mental return from injury is just as important as the physical. Henry is as much of a competitor as anyone, and in six months he’ll be ready to go. He wasn’t on Saturday, and the Bengals were the beneficiaries.
Meanwhile, if quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals are going to go to a Super Bowl, the offensive line will have to keep him more upright than they did when he took nine sacks and 13 total QB hits.
San Francisco 49ers 13 @ Green Bay Packers 10
Why did the Packers lose? Wide receiver Davante Adams having 11 targets and the entire rest of the receiving corps having less than a handful is probably a big piece of that. Adams and RB Aaron Jones are killer weapons, but in a defensive first game, Rodgers could’ve opened things up by spreading things around more effectively. It shouldn’t have had to come down to special teams, but it did.
More needs to be said about just how bad the Packers special teams have been for the better part of two decades and the organizational approach to the unit (and its coaching) that have plagued the Packers in more than just this one loss. This one is on more than just one or two players or the coordinator. It’s on Matt Lafleur and the Packers to fix. The rebuild is coming, and part of that rebuild needs to be a stronger look at this ⅓ of the game.
As for the 49ers? They can get to the Super Bowl if they harass Rams QB Matthew Stafford as much as they harassed Rodgers and if they can continue to limit turnovers.
Los Angeles Rams 30 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27
I was on with my bud Reese Waters on AM The Team 980 in Washington, D.C. when he pointed out that the Rams may have won on Sunday, but they actually lost a lot of his respect in the process…and, yeah. That tracks. The Rams had this game solidly in hand for the better part of three quarters on Sunday and then things fell apart. They needed an absolute breakdown from the Buccaneers defense and a fantastic throw from Stafford to put this one away, but it shouldn’t have been all that close.
Yeah, I know Buccaneers QB Tom Brady is a stud, and he does this in big moments. I get it. He deserves some credit, but the Rams also raised a giant red flag up the ol’ pole. The Rams tried to run out the game with RB Cam Akers who was just not good. After providing a spark a week ago, he rushed for 2.0 yards per carry in this one. Had the Rams simply continued to do what they did to put up the big margin, this game could’ve been 28-18 or so rather than filled to the brim with drama.
The Rams brought a lot of good, solid, experienced leaders into their clubhouse for moments like this. If they want to beat the 49ers, they can’t continue playing like they’re new here.
Buffalo Bills 36 @ Kansas City Chiefs 42
I’ve seen more than one take from people who would love to just eliminate the NFC and have the Bills and Chiefs play four more quarters for the Lombardi Trophy. And, that’s not the worst idea I’ve heard.
This game was perfect…just perfect.
The best comparison I have for this game is the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals game in the NBA. That’s the famed shootout between the Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird and the Atlanta Hawks Dominique Wilkins. The game featured some of the purest basketball in the history of the game and featured a stretch where it seemed neither team (and especially their two stars) could miss.
That was this game, and—just like that semifinals game which is still studied by basketball students today—this game belongs in our collective consciousness for years to come.
Still, it has to sting this morning that the Bills No. 1 defense gave up 42 points. They’ll be back on this stage again soon, and they’ll have to have a better plan for Patrick Mahomes and Co.
The Schottey Six: Looking at the Next Potential Super Teams
With Tampa Bay last season and now Los Angeles pushing all in on free agents/trades and cashing in while doing so, here are some teams that could follow suit in 2022.
1. Philadelphia Eagles — The Eagles have a lot of young, home-grown talent and three first-round picks in the upcoming draft. They’ve also been at the back of rumors for Deshaun Watson. They could add him and veteran help at wide receiver while still having a normal complement of draft picks to bolster the defense.
2. Los Angeles Chargers — For years, the Chargers were not an organization people wanted to flock toward, but general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Brandon Staley have changed that…so has the presence of QB Justin Herbert. They have the second-most cap space in the league and know how to use it.
3. Denver Broncos — Sixth most cap space, but this has everything to do with the potential of acquiring Aaron Rodgers. If you get him, more dominoes will follow.
4. Miami Dolphins — The most cap space and ability to bring in a new head coach this season. Plus, Miami is a prime natural destination for NFL talent because of the beach, sun, lack of income tax and nightlife. Now that the team might actually be good…?
5. Cleveland Browns — The Browns are underrated players for a top-level veteran QB (Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, etc) with the mindset that they’re not far away from being a very, very good team if they can get key pieces into place OR if Baker Mayfield can get healthy and take the next step in his personal progression.
6. Detroit Lions — The Lions are 12th in total cap space and have quickly become known as a coaching staff players want to play for. Moreover, the Saints are expected to make some tough decisions this summer and a lot of those players could end up in Motown.
Cleaning Out the Notebook:
— Collectively, it seemed as if the country was pretty satisfied with Aaron Rodgers' loss on Saturday. There is little chance of the Packers being able to keep all of this together in 2022 and beyond. WR Davante Adams, especially, is expected to break the bank in free agency and Rodgers will not be back in Green Bay without Adams.
— A lot of talk on social media about overtime rules. Overall, I’m pretty sold on this version of the rules being the best version. There are three phases to a football game, and while offenses are what we talk the most about, the Bills’ not being able to get a stop with their defense is the actual story. Plus, we shouldn’t incentivize getting to overtime. We should incentivize winning games.
— If you’re going to change the rules, there are plenty of good opinions on what might be “fairest,” but the entire game already exists and provides plenty of opportunities for winning. A rule change in extra time is never going to have the impact people want it to and every rule change will have flaws.
— Bengals Rookie Kicker Evan McPherson is definitely one of my favorite players now.
— Rumors have the Denver Broncos settling on Packers OC Nathaniel Hackett, which I don’t see as the right move. He’s another young(ish) offensive wunderkind, sure, but his career has been shaped by a lot of average offenses and a lot of average QBs. If his dad isn’t famed college and NFL coach Paul Hackett, is Nathaniel even still in the league getting chances? Dan Quinn is widely respected as one of the best leaders around the league and deserves a second shot. Hackett having some good years because he had the MVP as his QB isn’t enough of a resume builder for me.
— Bengals CB Eli Apple caused a stir on Twitter by calling out (of all places) New Orleans and its food. He speaks with all the conviction of a man whose mom cut the crusts off of his bread earlier this year.
— Speaking of food…Since 2010 (or so), my family and our friends have planned our Super Bowl spreads around cuisine in the local cities of the teams either playing in the game or hosting the game. This year has three clear winners and one big “loser” in my opinion. San Francisco (Sourdough, Seafood, Mission Burritos), Los Angeles (Tacos, Sushi, Thai/Korean cuisine) and Kansas City (BBQ) are all preferable to putting Chili on Spaghetti…sorry Cincinnati.
— We’re back in the swing of Flag Football season for my boys and our family teams won one game and lost one game this past weekend. Kicking off the weekend of close matchups, both games were decided by less than a final touchdown with my older son’s loss coming in overtime. There’s always plenty of room for second guessing, but sometimes you give your best and still come up short. It happens when you’re 12. It happens when you’re in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.
“When it’s grim, be the grim reaper.” —Andy Reid to Patrick Mahomes with 13 seconds left in their Divisional Weekend game against the Bills