NFL Wild Card Reaction & A Look Ahead To The Divisional Round
First, a cliche.
There’s nothing like staying home and watching playoff football while it’s cold outside. I spent my Sunday on the couch with a blanket on my lap like a senior citizen and couldn’t have been happier. Good times.
Second, what a couple of days. As usual, Wild Card Weekend had some ugly moments and sloppy play, but overall, I’d put the watchability at a 7 out of 10. All four games had at least a little final-quarter drama, and really, that’s all you can ask for.
That being said, here are a few names from the past two days that need to be called out, for better or for worse.
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WILD CARD CALLOUTS
Nothing justifies a midseason trade more than a clutch playoff moment. The wide receiver arrived in Philadelphia via what was called a blockbuster trade with Detroit, but didn’t do much in 8 games with the Eagles, catching 30 balls with 1 touchdown. Then came Sunday’s dramatic game-winning grab on fourth down with less than a minute remaining, and even the bitterest crank Eagles fan thanked the lord GM Howie Roseman pulled the trigger on that move.
However, that wasn’t even his most impressive moment vs. the Bears. That came in the second quarter, when he sacrificed his body over the middle on a 28-yard reception that ended with him taking a huge hit. And while he was grimacing in pain, he still signaled first down with his right arm. Plays like that set an example and can lift a roster.
What a simple fool. The man accepted the Colts’ head coach job last year, only to back out and return to New England to become the presumed coach-in-waiting behind Bill Belichick. Fast forward to the present day and how does that decision look?
The Colts have a ton of cap space, a ton of draft picks this offseason and judging from their playoff opener against the Texans, are a team on the rise on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the Patriots finished 11-5, but the end days of the Belichick-Brady era are closing in and according to reports, the team is preparing for McDaniels to leave for another job. Then, what the hell did he come back for, exactly?
There isn’t a job opening out there better than Indianapolis.
Hey, at least he knows. There can be no doubt that the man’s time as a quarterback for the Ravens is over. And knowing the truth isn’t a bad thing. Those of us who have been laid off know that it’s rarely a surprise. You might not know anything concrete, but rumors start to buzz around the office. There’s innuendo in the air. And on the day the hammer falls, it’s almost a relief to finally know.
Flacco knows now. The Ravens didn’t have him replace a struggling Lamar Jackson during Sunday’s playoff loss (and they shouldn’t have), and coach John Harbaugh confirmed it after the game when he said he expects there to be a healthy market out there for the veteran.
Good. Joe Flacco got 11 seasons in Baltimore, won a Super Bowl and should be remembered fondly. He has “no doubt” that there’s a starting job out there for him and I believe it, especially with such a weak quarterback draft class this year.
The Saints head coach is a brash individual. He seems to really enjoy himself when his team wins, especially when they win big. Back in Week 11, he must have been having a great time against the Eagles, because he went for it on fourth-and-6 with a 31-point lead in the fourth quarter (they scored, by the way). That 48-7 final score ended up being the worst loss by a defending Super Bowl champion in history.
And wow, were the Eagles upset.
“They ran up the score,” Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters told NJ.com. “We wanted them again, we got them again. This time, we coming. It’s not going to be the same outcome.”
So, the Saints will be at home against the Eagles, but they’ll be facing an opponent playing angry. An opponent hungry for revenge. Hope running up the score was worth it, Sean. Not saying you won’t win, but you made your job harder for no real reason other than to be a jerk.
Who? Come on, people, pay attention. The Chargers kicker nailed five of his six field-goal attempts against the Ravens, and his one miss was blocked. If you’ve paid attention to the Bolts over the years, you’ve noticed they haven’t been able to find a keepable option at the position. And worse, kickers have routinely cost them wins. That seems to no longer be the case as Badgley has enjoyed a terrific rookie season and has teammates singing his praises, with defensive lineman Isaac Rochell (via the L.A. Times) calling him the “ultimate ice man.”
Jadeveon Clowney/J.J. Watt
I’m going to double up this one. Clowney came into the league with the fanfare of a conquering hero and while he hasn’t necessarily been the Lawrence Taylor-esque warrior people expected, he’s made three straight Pro Bowls. Watt has been one of the league’s recruiting poster faces and is a three-time defensive player of the year.
Here’s how many sacks Clowney and Watt combined for against the Colts: Zero. Here’s how many sacks the Texans had as a team on Saturday: Zero. Andrew Luck enjoyed a quiet afternoon of running 7-on-7 drills.
That can’t happen. Clowney is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason and he’s going to get paid, either in Houston or somewhere else. Watt is already making gobs of money. And all that cash has led to a 1-3 playoff record in the Bill O’Brien era. And that one win was against the Raiders team that had Connor Cook at quarterback.
At some point, you have to ask: Where is the money going?
McCauley is a former NFL referee and was in the broadcast booth for Sunday night’s Eagles-Bears game. Eagles CB Cre’Von Leblanc stripped the ball from Bears WR Anthony Miller in what was initially ruled an incompletion. The play went to review and McCauley analyzed the play and said Miller actually caught the ball and Leblanc caused a fumble. And since no player recovered the ball until a referee picked it up, the correct ruling was to give the Bears the football at the spot of the fumble.
He had me convinced. He had Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth convinced. It seemed as though some of the officials on the field felt the same way as they started the walking the ball to the spot.
The head referee said that since there was no clear recovery of the fumble, the correct call was to rule the play incomplete.
I’m not sure who to yell at here: the vague NFL rulebook, the unwieldy replay process or the official on the field who didn’t rule the play a fumble in the first place.
I’ll settle for McCauley for making me believe a lie. By the way, don’t get me started on the mess during the Chargers-Ravens game. Oof.
Maybe it’s an aesthetic thing, because it’s true, the Cowboys QB doesn’t throw the prettiest ball in the league. However, there’s nothing Prescott’s haters can say about what he did with the game in the balance on Saturday night.
Third-and-14 from the Seahawks’ 17-yard line. If the Cowboys falls short, they can kick a field goal that would put them up by just six points with a little more than two minutes left in the game. Would there be anyone doubting Russell Wilson’s ability to lead Seattle to a potential game-winning touchdown? No way. We’d all expect it to happen.
Prescott nutted up and took control of Dallas’ fate, somehow gaining 16 yards to the 1-yard line and one play later, sneaking it into the end zone.
Much has been said about Dak’s future in Dallas and much more will be said until he gets his next contract. But rest assured, the Cowboys will pay him. And they will be right for doing so.
I’m not a big fan of calling out coordinators for their play choices. I’m not there all week watching film, I’m not the one trying to find winning matchups and put together a game plan. And sometimes you can call the perfect play and a guard can trip, or a running back can miss a block and everything goes to hell.
And it’s true: The Seahawks had the No. 1 running game in the league this season. A top-ranked attack that had a miserable time gaining yards in Dallas.
If you’re a Seahawks fan and you’re upset that the offensive coordinator didn’t put the ball into Russell Wilson’s hands more often in that loss, it’s understandable. Not saying you’re right, but it’s fair to feel that way.
We’re not nice to kickers. And when the Parkey’s potential game-winner bounced twice and fell flaccid on the turf in front of the uprights, I cringed. I immediately felt so sorry for him.
I had a text exchange with a Bears fan friend a few minutes later, and let’s just say, his words weren’t kind.
However, it came out on Monday that his kick was technically blocked, so hopefully he can rest on that laurel. But it will be rough. Poor guy.
WHAT’S THE CHATTER?
Cowboy Nation: So, the Cowboys now head to Los Angeles to face the Rams. Big D has held training camp in Southern California for decades. There is a healthy contingent of Cowboys fans in the L.A. area.
The crowd at Coliseum will be split, at best. A home game for Dallas at worst.
Well, that’s nice: Robert Griffin III (remember him?) is currently third on the depth chart in Baltimore. However, Flacco is heading out the door and RG3 has made it clear that he’d be happy to stay with the Ravens as Lamar Jackson’s backup. Cool, I guess?
Receiver issues: Speaking of the Cowboys, they lost wideout Allen Hurns to a horrifying ankle injury and what’s more, Cole Beasley was briefly sidelined on Saturday with a sprained ankle. Head coach Jason Garrett says the team is going to monitor his status as the week goes on, but Dallas can’t afford to have him hobbling around. They aren’t exactly deep at the position.
No, thanks: Panthers WR Torrey Smith says he isn’t planning on watching playoff games, which is something I’ve heard from several players over the years. And I can understand it.
Foles or Wentz: I have no idea what’s going to happen with the quarterback situation in Philly. However, if Foles somehow gets the Eagles past the Saints this week, wow. Common sense says Wentz is the team’s future, but you can’t argue with results, right?
Good move: Ben Roethlisberger says he wants the Steelers to keep the offensive line in place. That’s smart, because his line is probably the only ones who like him, as he’s seemingly had issues with several skill position teammates over the years.
TV ratings: In case you’re someone who cares about these things, the ratings for Wild Card Weekend were up 10 percent from last year. I’m sure there are several theories floating out there as to why this happened, and I’m sure they’re all wrong.
WHAT’S COMING THIS WEEKEND
Colts at Chiefs: I’m going to gather my courage and make predictions this week. And I’m starting with a bang: The Colts will upset the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday. There, I said it. There’s no hotter team that Indianapolis and its young defense has made a believer out of me. And call me a hater, but I’m still an Andy Reid doubter in the playoffs.
Cowboys at Rams: I don’t feel great about this game. From the Cowboys fans in the stands to the Rams’ porous run defense, this is setting up perfectly for Dallas to get the victory. However, while it’s sexy to pick against L.A. at the moment, I’m not going to. It will be close, and it might be ugly, but I’m picking the Rams to win a close one.
Chargers at Patriots: Here’s a fun stat that came out today. Tom Brady has a perfect 14-0 record against the other three remaining AFC quarterbacks. That’s 7-0 against Philip Rivers, 6-0 vs. Andrew Luck and 1-0 against Pat Mahomes. That stops here. While most people will label this an upset, I don’t view the Chargers beating the Patriots as one. They have a better roster. They should win.
Eagles at Saints: I said above that the Eagles will be gunning for revenge in this game. They can want it all they want, doesn’t mean it will happen. They won’t lose 48-7 again, but they will lose.
Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 - Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 - Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.