So it's Bears-Eagles, the game with the biggest point spread and the least hype, that I had the hardest time moving on from last night. I'm not a Bears fan, but I prefer my drama come without heartbreak, or at least without one guy taking most of the blame. It just seems cruel, but that's what Cody Parkey got yesterday.
I know there are people who don't really feel bad for him. He makes plenty of money, NFL kickers need to make kicks from that distance, etc. These things are true. What bugs me is that he gets the blame for a loss with no shortage of blame to go around. But everyone gets off the hook if he makes that kick. He didn't, so pretty much everyone gets off the hook but him. (And now I see that apparently the Eagles got a fingertip on the kick? Interesting -- and probably it will be overlooked by most.)
Colts 21, Texans 7: This one was over in a hurry. Colts are really good, as in better than people have given them credit for for most of the season. This isn't Andrew Luck and a bunch of mediocre players he's elevating. In basically one draft and offseason they managed to turn a lousy offensive line and defense into assets -- Luck gets tons of time, Darius Leonard is an offense-wrecking force. He nearly had a Pick Six that would have ended the game even sooner (though there was pretty much no doubt from Houston's failed red-zone try right before the half on). We knew offensive line was a problem for Houston, and it was all day; Deshaun Watson really got knocked around. That's Job 1 for Houston this offseason, although hard to imagine they can get it turned around as quickly as the Colts did.
I underestimated Marlon Mack, who had a nice game against a good Texans run defense. Game flow helped. Even Lamar Miller finished with solid numbers thanks to his surprising involvement in the passing game. Colts move on, and I think they're pretty much a nightmare matchup for a Kansas City team that's long struggled to take the next step in the playoffs. It's going to be a high-scoring battle with two great quarterbacks and some talented receivers on both sides of the field. If you're thinking the Colts won't have a good shot to spring the upset, you haven't been watching them.
Cowboys 24, Seahawks 22: Early in the week I was sure the Seahawks were going to win this game. I'd built a playoff roster with three Seattle players -- Wilson, Carson, Baldwin. As the week wore on, though, I started to think better of it. Why would I expect their offense to do much in Dallas? I still expected them to win as recently as yesterday, but elected to switch out all three Seahawks for Elliott, Mahomes and a kicker. Thank heavens. Elliott of course got sniped for a couple of touchdowns by his quarterback, but he was the best player on the field and probably the top performer in Week 18, as expected. And now he gets to play another game. Credit also to Dak Prescott, who made a couple of pretty throws and just as importantly salvaged a couple of nearly killed drives with his legs, like converting a 3rd and 14 after a brutal penalty (in fairness, Noah Brown, who also bobbled an end-zone catch for an interception, probably only on the field because of Allen Hurns' injury).
If you're a Seahawks fan, you're lamenting what looked during and after like a pretty awful game plan. I get that running the ball is who Seattle is and what they did all season. But continuing to do it all game, every first and second down, when it isn't working, looks stubborn to the point of foolishness (ironic since Seattle's biggest playoff criticism the last few years was passing it rather than running it in the final minute against the Patriots). Would Seattle have won if they'd changed things up and passed more? Who knows. But why they went with what they did for as long as they did will be the offseason discussion there. It just looked bad.
Chargers 23, Ravens 17: Somebody in my preview column comments correctly pointed out that the Chargers probably learned more about the Ravens in their loss a couple of weeks ago than vice-versa. Keep Lamar Jackson in the pocket and watch him struggle. Safe to say you won't see a much worse passing offense than Baltimore's for three-plus quarters yesterday; I believe they were at negative yards once you factored in sacks. Jackson looked totally lost out there, and yet for all that Baltimore actually had the ball near midfield with a chance to win in the final minutes, trailing by 6 in what would no doubt have been one of the most incredible playoff chokes (no way around using that word) of all time. But once the Chargers defense remembered that it was still a game and they needed one more stop, they got it.
Not a pretty officiated game, lowlighted by an awful goal-line sequence that essentially ended the game. First, Derek Watt was definitely in the end zone. Second, even if the officials were going to wrongly assert that he was short of the goal line, they spotted the ball nearly an entire yard short of where they should have spotted it. Third...ah, that's enough. It was just an awful sequence of officiating and the announcers didn't help. The right team won -- the Chargers were a lot better for about 50 minutes of the game -- but the way they almost blew it doesn't fill you with confidence that they'll go into New England win. But (despite Baltimore's favorable history against New England) I'm really glad we get Rivers-Brady than to watch the Belichick legend grow by embarrassing Lamar Jackson, who needs a lot of work before he's ready to win a playoff game.
Eagles 16, Bears 15: So yeah, Parkey missed the kick and the Bears got burned with sticking with him after he missed a bunch during the regular season. But a few things. First, it was pretty terrible the way the Bears scuffled around on offense for most of this way. They criminally underused Tarik Cohen. They passed a ton without using Cohen and without taking enough advantage of Philadelphia's injury-riddled secondary. The final numbers from Mitchell Trubisky looked OK, but too much came too late. He didn't run enough (did he tweak something? there was a play early on where he seemed to limp). And the defense didn't get the big stops.
Credit to Nick Foles, who is undeniably clutch. Winning on the road against that defense in the playoffs is going to help him get a nice contract from someone, very soon. He made some really pretty throws. I think the Eagles have zero chance to go into New Orleans and win, but I didn't think they'd win yesterday, either. Back to the Parkey miss. I have hated that "call timeout right before the snap" thing since the day it first surfaced. Hated it. I root for the kicker to miss that kick and make the one that counts every single time, in hopes it will put a stop to it. Instead, we'll now get it more often. I wish the league would legislate it out somehow -- require timeouts to be taken only when the play can actually be stopped, and instruct officials to ignore requests after that point. I mean, it's a little ridiculous. But maybe that's just me. (One more officiating note: Had Parkey made that field goal, there would have been some discussion over how exactly the review team didn't think the Eagles had been successful on their 2-point try after the go-ahead touchdown. Another lousy call.)
So the four bye teams are favored by 4.5-8.5 points. Most likely, one will lose. I think both NFC favorites look pretty secure, although the Rams were vulnerable down the stretch and maybe the Prescott-Elliott-Cooper trio combined with the Dallas pass rush against a struggling Jared Goff can surprise. In the AFC, Patriots generally don't lose at home, but the Chargers were pretty awesome on the road this year. The Colts were the weekend's most dominant winner by far and Andy Reid and Kansas City have a forgettable playoff history, so no one will be surprised to see an upset there. We'll examine them more closely as the week goes on, but for now I'm saying it's Saints-Rams on one side and .... too soon to say. I don't think it will be Patriots-Kansas City, anyway.