NFL Wild Card Weekend Recap: 5 Things I Think
1- Apparently scoring points in the playoffs is hard if you’re not from the NFC South
Three of the eight teams in action this weekend were members of the NFC South, far and away the toughest division in football this season. The Falcons advanced by winning on the road and the Saints staved off the Panthers at home. These three teams were the highest scoring teams of the weekend and the only squads capable of regularly moving the ball and putting up points. In fact, they outscored the other five teams 83-69 as the four wild card games averaged about five combined points less per contest than the league saw in the 2017 regular season. (Maybe if Kansas City had played offense in the second half of their game that would not have been the case.)
2- The mythical playoff jitters took some scalps this weekend
While the NFC South coincidence from the previous paragraph is fun to joke about, I think you have to say that previous playoff experience is a more relevant commonality, especially at the quarterback position. Cam, Matty Ice, and Brees have all taken a team to the Super Bowl and those teams never looked overwhelmed the way you saw from each of the other teams at certain points in their contests. In an interview last week, Steve Young was asked about the difference between regular season and playoff football. His answer? Everything feels faster. To paraphrase the Super Bowl MVP, everything in the playoff speeds up, including your heart and your brain. You can be buried and out of a game before you know it.
Call it “jitters” or “playing tight” or whatever, but I think we saw it manifest itself on the field this weekend. The Rams just didn’t look like the team we saw all season, despite the familiarity of playing at home. From Todd Gurley’s drops to Pharoh Cooper losing his head on special teams, it was evident. The Titans looked lost in the entire first half so they deserve a lot of credit for not giving up, overcoming the jitters, and fighting back for the victory. The QBs for Bills and Jags still don’t know what happened yesterday. 5- That leaves the Chiefs‘ epic gag job as the real head scratcher. Andy Reid and most of those players have significant playoff experience which makes it very difficult to excuse or explain the way they lost control of that game against a young Titans team. Numerically, this loss is nearly unfathomable and will only hasten Alex Smith’s exodus from KC. If you are a Chief’s fan, please proceed to Thing 3. If not, check out this win probability chart:
3- It feels like a revolt against replay is gaining momentum right now
The NFL weekend was different for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that there was no RedZone to watch. Last Sunday we got 16 games in a 7 hour window with so much going on that no one could keep up. This Sunday we got two games after getting two games on Saturday and the scheduling ensured that there was no overlap, nothing to distract from the only live event most of the country cared about in that moment. It follows that nationally concentrated viewership would lead to enhanced criticism of the games. I mean the league has been under fire all year for safety and protests and player conduct and officiating and declining ratings and . . . well you get the idea.
So as we sat in our living rooms and bars and fan caves glued to the TV, we were acutely aware of each play that required the zebras to go under look at the SurfacePro and put on the headset with the direct line to New York. I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice is to say it was a rough weekend for the rules and the refs. We saw all kinds of catches, non-catches, interceptions, fumbles, measurements, etc. and a lot of spectators were left disappointed. From prominent members of the media I saw calls to completely revamp replay or to just do away with it, but I never saw anyone defend it or say that we need more. I realize that everyone is in a different place with replay, but I am pretty sick of it and I propose the following litmus test: If they just completely eliminated it for an entire season like they did back in the 90s, how mad would you really be? Think about it.
4- I wanted to stick to the games, but we have to talk about the Gruden hiring today
On Saturday the Raiders announced that they had hired Jon Gruden to be their new head coach and the circumstances surrounding the entire thing were just odd. Three items that really stuck out to me:
– The timing of the announcement: It was announced during the Rams-Falcons night game on Saturday, just hours after Gruden called the Chiefs-Titans game for ESPN. I guess Raiders management simply could not wait to confirm the rumor that had been percolating for days and days before.
– The money and the length of the deal: In this day and age, coaches simply do not get 10 year deals. It’s unheard of and the idea that they committed $100 million over the course of that 10 years is mind blowing. There are 6 coaches (out of 32) that have been in place for 10 years or more (Bengals, Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Saints, Steelers). In the last 10 years, the Raiders have gotten rid of five head coaches and they’ve whacked nine head coaches since Gruden was last there in 2001. I hope you’re sure about this, guys.
– The revisionism that paints Gruden as a savior: In the 10 seasons since Chuckie was last on the sideline, his legend has grown and it’s mostly a lie. From the pessimist’s point of view, Gruden won a Super Bowl in his first year in Tampa with a roster that Tony Dungy built, then never won a playoff game again and posted losing records in three of the next four seasons before getting run out of town after a pair of 9-7 campaigns. Yikes. No matter how much you like him in the booth or as part of ESPN’s QB Camp series, you have to admit that the track record outlined below doesn’t inspire much confidence:
|2002||12||4||Super Bowl XXXVII champions|
|2005||11||5||Lost in Wild-Card Game|
|2007||9||7||Lost in Wild-Card Game|
5- Finally, I leave with you a sneak peek at next weekend’s divisional round
Saturday, 4:35pm EST: Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles; Opening line: Falcons by 2.5; Coverage: NBC
Falcons are the only road favorite next weekend
Saturday, 8:15pm EST: Tennessee Titans @ New England Patriots; Opening line: Pats by 13.5; Coverage: CBS
The line is wide, but the Titans lost by more than 13 points just two times this season
Sunday, 1:05pm EST: Jacksonville Jaguars @ Pittsburgh Steelers; Opening line: Stillers by 7; Coverage: CBS
On October 8th, the Jags embarrassed the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Forget about that game.
Sunday, 4:40pm EST: New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings; Opening line: Vikes by 3.5; Coverage: FOX
On September 11th, New Orleans got run over by Sam Bradford and Minny. Throw this result out too.