This was the first playoff weekend with six NFL games. Thoughts? May as well discuss it since there's probably no going back. Personally, having 18 hours of games over a 2-day period feels like a little much. It's like I was back in college and all the Bowl games were going on non-stop. I can't handle that pace anymore.
But as for the games themselves, most of them delivered. The two teams that least belonged in the playoffs delivered one good game, and that only by accident -- starting a quarterback way better than anyone expected, including his own team. The other provided the weekend's worst. Six games to discuss, so let's get to it.
Bills 27, Colts 24. I think this went about as expected. The Bills defense isn't very good, and aged Philip Rivers can still throw it. Maybe there were some playoff jitters for Josh Allen early on. But then he made a couple of the kind of sandlot plays and throws that not a lot of quarterbacks will or can make, and Buffalo's offense got rolling. Ended up being a very entertaining game that truly could have gone either way -- would have gone the other way had a Bills lineman not fallen on a late fumble. Hearts in throats of all of us with playoff teams tied to Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs.
In this game we got the weekend's first occurrence of a pretty lousy bit of officiating. Zach Pascal caught a ball to pick up a first down, got up, and fumbled it, but the refs didn't catch it. Worse was that the booth didn't review it (last 2 minutes of the game), so the Bills had to burn a timeout, which finally got the booth off its asses to review it, and then they proceeded to make the clearly wrong call anyway. Just as well, since the Bills won (the Colts threw two passes to get into field goal range with no possibility of being completed, several yards out of bounds), and at least we're spared the controversy of the refs deciding the game. But they should have reviewed the thing from the start (If you're not going to let coaches challenge in the final two minutes, you kind of have to review every possible turnover, right?), and spared us a lot of angst.
Rams 30, Seahawks 20. We knew the Rams defense could cause problems for Russell Wilson and company. Not a big surprise, and the early Pick Six kind of set the tone for a defense-driven win. What we didn't know was just how good Cam Akers would be, ripping off big chunks of yardage all game long. This with a quarterback trying to play through a broken thumb, which apparently was bad enough to bench him but not so bad that he couldn't complete a few key throws (raising the debate over whether the Rams basically preferred to start John Wolford). In any case, Seattle's offense struggled throughout and Russell Wilson got clobbered, and while it was certainly a great defensive front, it does beg the question of why for years and years Seattle hasn't expended a lot of draft resources on its offensive line. They're not helping Wilson.
But Akers was the best story, and now you look at what the Rams have going for them -- hot running back with fresh legs, disruptive defense -- and wonder if they can make a playoff run, pulling an upset in Green Bay this week. Tall order, but the Packers just lost their left tackle, and don't have a great run defense. A week ago I thought Green Bay would be very happy to host the Rams in this game. Now I'm not so sure. DK Metcalf wound up having a great game for Seattle, but some of it was garbage time. Should be a good game.
Bucs 31, Washington 23. Story of this game was Taylor Heinicke, who Washington didn't want to start but had to when Alex Smith couldn't shake a calf injury that would have left him a sitting duck for Tampa Bay's pass rush. I avoided all Washington pass catchers despite the favorable matchup, and it was a shame, since Heinicke did all he could to make a game of it and begged the question why he's been out of the league, making plays with his arm and his legs.
That was one story of the game. The other, more painful and frustrating, was Ronald Jones aggravating a quad injury in pregame warmups and sitting out, resulting in an ugly zero for everyone who started him and lots of teeth-gnashing. I saw rumors that Jones was actually benched for some sort of social media incident (doesn't seem likely). Speaking personally, it was just the latest gut-punch from a player I selected at 1.07 in a rookie draft a few years back and traded away long before he did anything noteworthy. Has he done anything noteworthy yet? I guess he had an OK year. Anyway, Leonard Fournette benefitted, Tom Brady and his key wide receivers all had big games, and will be tough for anyone to start Jones next week even if he's seemingly healthy that morning.
Ravens 20, Titans 13. Funny story, I was turning into this game yesterday at 1 p.m. Eastern, but I noticed Bears-Saints was showing on NFL Network. I was all confused, since I knew this game was at 1 and that game was at 4. Did the league mess things up and schedule both games at the same time? Was I insane? Turned out the Saints-Bears broadcast was a re-airing of the regular-season meeting, which only took me 5-10 minutes to figure out (among other things, it was in Chicago). Heh heh.
So the Ravens won, thanks to Lamar Jackson making some big plays with his legs after the Titans took a 10-0 lead. I have a few thoughts on this. First is that Tennessee's defense was pretty bad all season, so the fact that Baltimore scored just 20 points with a lot of the key first downs (and first touchdown) coming on sandlot plays doesn't speak well of their offense. They have a matchup with another iffy defense coming up (true of most of the AFC playoff field), so they can certainly win again, but not an impressive outing for Baltimore.
For the Titans, I know they were facing a tough defense, and I know it may seem like they gave Derrick Henry enough work. But watching it it really felt like they could have been a little more patient with the ground game, and maybe worked in a couple of tricks (like lining Henry up in the shotgun) that they didn't do. And then at the end, they punted from Baltimore's 40-yard-line on a 4th and 2 play while trailing by 4 points; that was terrible. The intended target on the Ryan Tannehill pass over the middle that was intercepted was little-used No. 3 Kalif Raymond -- that's your play? Raymond fell down, and that's your ballgame. As impressive as Tennessee was in last year's playoffs, they were a big disappointment this year.
Saints 21, Bears 9. Without question, this was the weekend's worst game, almost as if the Bears didn't belong in the playoffs. That's what happens when you let in an extra team sometimes. Although, they very easily could/should have taken a lead, with Mitchell Trubisky throwing a perfect bomb that Javon Wims, open in the end zone behind the defense, let go right through his hands. Wims made some plays in the preseason a couple of years ago, perhaps why he's still on the Bears roster. But since that time he's drawn the most attention for bizarrely punching a Saints defender just standing there in the regular-season meeting, getting suspended for multiple games, and now blowing what was Chicago's best chance to set the early tone for this game. Kind of think that's the last we'll hear out of Wims.
New Orleans' offense was pretty excruciating to watch. They've got all these plays with Taysom Hill which look good when they work and are painful to watch when they don't. They certainly seemed to take Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara out of rhythm at times, and rhythm is important to the Saints' offense. It ended up being an easy win, but really seemed like it could have been easier, given the comparative talent level of the two teams. When New Orleans gets upset next week by a Tampa Bay team they swept during the season (yes, I'm calling it now) there will be a lot of consternation. I think Sean Payton will deserve some of the blame.
Browns 48, Steelers 37. Weekend ended with a bang in this one. Gonna start off with a personal note if I may -- in the $9 entry FanDuel competition for this game I was in 1st place late in the fourth quarter, with a lineup of Roethlisberger-Chubb-JuJu-Ebron-Hooper. I only ever enter one lineup per competition (unlike the people entering dozens or more, with all possible combinations) and win the odd amounts here and there, but I've never placed 1st. This was very close, with Chubb's late touchdown elevating me. I ended up finishing a point shy (the winning lineups had Claypool), but it was pretty exciting for a while. You too can win! Or at least come close. Sadly, in my actual playoff lineups Diontae Johnson was my only starter -- would have been nice to have a few others going.
I'm a little hung up on the snap over Roethlisberger's head that started this one off, just because Roethlisberger himself had the best chance to dive on the ball, around the 3-yard line, which would have likely meant a Steelers punt ultimately, rather than a 7-0 hole. Just one touchdown, but it got things off on the wrong foot, and could have been avoided. Granted it's asking an aging quarterback to lay out on a bouncing ball, but still. The Browns went all out there, Pittsburgh players didn't.
I've seen some talk that JuJu inspired the Browns to pull the upset. I know JuJu has drawn a lot of ire for his Fortnite dances on team logos and whatnot. If that's what teams need to fire them up to play hard in a game, so be it. I saw JuJu having a pretty strong game all night, while the Steelers defense did not. Bottom line is Pittsburgh started the season out strong but had an easy schedule all the way and got lucky in some narrow wins over bad teams. Until they didn't, and got beaten by some lesser teams down the stretch, badly at times. I'm not sure this win was the start of something big for the Browns, but they were the better team last night.
That's a wrap. Was an entertaining weekend, albeit with some ugly moments here and there. Next weekend we get what are often the four best games of the playoffs, and I think at least two will deliver (not so sure about the AFC side). We'll talk plenty about them this week.