That Was The Best Day Of Football You Could Ask For

For the past two weeks, we’ve suffered through some incredibly boring and no fun games.  During Wild Card weekend, only one game was close the whole way through.  And last week, we got one good game overall.

Whether it was the bad luck of the past two weeks or Drake reverse jinxing all four teams, we finally got a good day of football this postseason.  And it was the best day we could of asked for.

Rams-26 Saints-23 (OT)

Similar to the Bears during Wild Card weekend, it is hard to figure out how the Saints lost this game.

Sure, they blew a 13 point lead, but it was early, and the Rams weren’t at their full potential yet.  The Rams came out a complete mess offensively.  Drops by Todd Gurley and bad throws by Jared Goff plagued Los Angeles, and somehow it was CJ Anderson who once again was running better than the All-Pro.

It felt like Goff and the Rams were caving.  New Orleans had the ball the entire first quarter, and two drives that went nowhere by LA put them in a 13-0 hole.  It wasn’t like New Orleans’ defense was playing extremely well; most of it was self-inflicted.  The first Gurley drop, then the drop which turned into the interception, and stupid screens to Robert Woods could explain a lot of it.  I didn’t like those LA play-calls; you have Brandin Cooks; if you’re going to run a play for someone that is based on getting yards after the catch, you run it for Cooks, not Woods.

New Orleans was dominant offensively.  They had a few bad drives (Which LA capitalized on well), but when they were on, the Rams defense couldn’t stop them.  Alvin Kamara was open all game, and New Orleans got huge plays out of Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Hill.  Taysom Hill got involved as well, and at halftime, it felt like exactly how it did in Week 9: The Rams were stuck playing catchup.

But this time, LA came back.  After New Orleans went up two possessions again right after halftime, the Rams found themselves.  Brandin Cooks and CJ Anderson torched the Saints, and Tyler Higbee scored to make it 20-17.

LA never turned back after that drive.  That doesn’t mean it was all positives, but it was enough.  If New Orleans went three and out or punted, the Rams did too.  If New Orleans scored, so did LA.  The anomaly in that formula came early in the 4th, when the Rams got big plays out of Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds to tie New Orleans at 20.

That’s when things really got started.

LA’s comeback was subtle.  This was a great game not because of what happened before the tie, but because of what happened after it.

In big games like this, all you can ask for is a good ending.  The Rams and Saints got us to the point of making that possible, and then made it happen.

Brees and the Saints got the ball back with five minutes left.  Kamara gave them a big return, and because of that it was clear the Saints were doing their best to take their time.

But then LaMarcus Joyner decided to sag off of Ted Ginn Jr, and the Saints were at the Rams 13 yard line with 2:08 left.  Now they could take their time and not have to deal with any pressure.

But the Saints wasted first down by throwing and then had Kamara swallowed up (like he was all night on the ground), leading a crucial 3rd down.

In the moment, it didn’t even feel like pass interference.  It looked worse.  Nickel Robey-Coleman didn’t used his hands to interfere or hold back Tommylee Lewis’, he straight-up mauled him, running with his head up and extended his arms into Lewis’ head and neck area to push Lewis into the ground.  It would have been an excellent block had Lewis not been a defenseless receiver and if Robey-Coleman was on offense.

The correct call would have given the Saints a fresh set of downs on the six yard line, allowing them to score in either way and more importantly run the clock down.  It’s almost improbable that LA would have gotten the ball back if New Orleans executed properly.  They only had one timeout, but by a possible 4th down field goal attempt, only 10 seconds or so would have been left on the clock.

I’m usually the type of person that discredits how big of an impact calls have on games.  I usually believe that no matter how egregious some calls are, you can always do things to make up for them.  This more true in basketball, as calls can be made up for by playing faster and recovering possessions that way.  In football, it’s harder because there’s not many possessions.

Sure, the Saints could have stopped the Rams from kicking the game-winning field goal, but it’s not like LA went “down the field” on New Orleans.  The game-tying kick was 48 yards and that Rams drive to tie was typical Rams football: Deep throws across the middle of the field and methodical movement.  The Saints were never going to be prepared to stop it, but they were going to be prepared to answer it.  That type of game, that absolute shootout type of game where the Saints don’t have to worry about defense, never really came.

And sure, Brees could have not thrown an interception early into overtime, but that was a bang-bang play between Brees and Dante Fowler Jr.  It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision by Brees, it was simply a good play by Fowler.  By the time Brees had made the decision to throw, Fowler was right on top of him.  Fowler’s arm hit Brees’ right at the perfect time and angle, and that’s why the ball took such a wild trajectory in the air.  Are we really going to blame Brees when an excellent defensive play caused his first overtime interception ever?

It’s possible I’m just making excuses for New Orleans and am blaming the refs too much.  But there’s a chance that’s the most egregious call ever given the stakes, and given how prominent and explosive the play was.  There was no hand-fighting, someone got laid out.  And could have been seriously hurt.

So yeah, the Saints may have blown their chances to make that call less impactful.  But they also should have never been put in that position in the first place.

Patriots-37 Chiefs-31 (OT)

While the NFC Championship Game unfortunately was decided on a brutal no-call, the AFC came down to execution and big plays late.  This game honestly could have decided who the best team in the league really was.

A perfect example of that came after Chris Hogan “dropped” a pass from Tom Brady with 1:05 left in the regulation.  The call of incomplete was probably the right one; I honestly had no idea; no camera angle was sufficient for me, which meant the call probably should have stood as a catch, but giving such an iffy call like that to New England was going to make the world explode after what everyone had already been through Sunday.

But Hogan’s “drop” didn’t matter.  New England survived it and a drop by Gronk that ended up in Charvarius Ward’s hands, which looked like the game-sealer for the Chiefs until Dee Ford was called not offsides, but lined up offsides, a somehow even more egregious penalty in that situation.

Despite the breaks, how many teams come out of that Hogan incompletion and aren’t bothered by it?  Or aren’t totally rattled by the fact that they came within an inch (literally) of losing the game?  That two play sequence, even with the breaks, throws off every other team in the league.

Not this one.

New England, like the Saints, came out on fire.  They did exactly what they did to LA to the Chiefs.  The Patriots grinded KC down, using Sony Michel and James White as receivers and backs.  New England ran Michel right up the gut (A ballsy proposition considering his size) and spaced White out and let him do his thing.  They used eight minutes of the clock, and the next possession felt like a must score for KC.

They went nowhere.  Mahomes took a brutal sack on 3rd down after holding onto the ball too long (He was really bad about not getting rid of it Sunday in addition to just looking a little off/rattled).

KC got a break though.  After another fantastic drive by New England, Brady threw a ball right to Reggie Ragland in the end zone.  It was one of those old man mistakes we’ve seen from Brady this season, and felt like it cost them much more than it did. It should have; it was a completely bone-headed throw by Brady.  Ragland did a good job of making an athletic play by going up and getting that ball, but Brady could have put a little more mustard on it and put it towards the back of the end zone for Gronk to go and get.  Or, why not just run the ball?

The interception didn’t do anything for the Chiefs besides keep it a one possession game, but even that advantage went away as New England went up 14-0 at halftime after another methodical drive that featured more James White and a ridiculous TD throw and catch by Brady to Phillip Dorsett.  Brady fit it in an incredible window, and with tight coverage Dorsett did a nice job coming toward the ball.

The Chiefs getting the ball to start the 2nd half was the best thing that could have happened to them.  If New England gets it and goes up 21-0, then this game probably turns out a lot differently.

KC finally looked like the team we saw all year.  Mahomes flung a ball downfield to Sammy Watkins and then fired a rocket to Travis Kelce for a touchdown, and the whole game shifted.  If this Chiefs team was going to start showing up, New England’s task was going to get a lot harder.

Still, it was a matter of playing catch-up.  The Chiefs were in the Rams spot.  New England had went up 10 again, and KC answered thanks to the speed of Damien Williams, who gained 33 yards on a wheel route along the right side of the field and then caught a touchdown later in the drive.  The Chiefs just shouldn’t be allowed to run the wheel; they have too many guys who can score on it.  It’s just unfair.

With KC’s offense now fully firing, it was New England who had to start scoring every possession.  They looked like they were in decent shape to do that until Rex Burkhead got stopped on 4th and 1 at the Chiefs’ 25 yard line, a decision I was okay with until the play was actually ran.  You have the best QB-sneaker of all-time and need one yard.  Why give it to Burkhead? (He certainly made up for it later, though)

What then resulted was the most insane stretch of plays, scoring drives, reviews and calls I can remember.  The Chiefs did nothing with the ball and were forced to punt, only for Edelman to not-but-maybe/possibly touch it; I thought there were clear angles that showed that the ball didn’t touch either of his hands, but it was close and, and if not for the drop by Edelman on the 2nd play of the drive, then that ruling in addition to the other 50-50 calls that went in New England’s favor again would have set the world on fire.  I guess the ball didn’t lie.

For the first time all day, the Chiefs capitalized off a New England turnover.  Mahomes put the ball in the end zone just as quickly as he did after halftime, and it was Damien Williams again.  That guy was just too fast for the Patriots.  Better him beat you than Tyreek Hill, I guess.

I mentioned it to start with New England, but Kansas City deserves just as much honor.  The resiliency both teams showed in those final eight minutes yesterday led to some of the best football I’ve ever seen.  Resiliency turns into execution, and the Pats and Chiefs did it at the highest level possible yesterday.

It was New England’s turn to execute first.  Sure, they got some help with the unbelievable roughing the passer call on Chris Jones, but I truly believe the Pats convert on 3rd and 7 there and still go down the field.  Was anything stopping them in that moment?  I mean, just look at Chris Hogan’s one-handed catch later in the drive.  What can you do against that?

The Patriots 2nd to last touchdown drive of regulation was a clinic.  Brady picked apart Kansas City as he did all game (and as he still was about to do), and Sony Michel punched it in from the 10 yard line with another run straight up the middle.  New England’s blocking for him was fantastic; he’s so small that he doesn’t need very big holes but is fast enough to shoot through them.  Even though the hole is small, it’s hard for defenders to shed their blocks when the blocking is so well done.

But Mahomes wasn’t scared, and in the moment, it felt like they were going to go down the field once again.  The level of trust in these two QBs was probably too high, but they had us convinced that they could do anything at that point.

KC got two huge breaks thanks to J.C. Jackson’s two defensive penalties in coverage (One was holding, one was interference.  Also, Jackson was really bad overall Sunday), and Mahomes found Sammy Watkins on once again another wheel route for 38 yards.  Williams again punched it in, but there was too much time.

Way too much time.

Somehow, each team got the ball and scored in the final 2:03.  I covered the Patriots drive to take the 31-28 lead above, and how insane it was that they battled through the Hogan drop and through the Gronk drop/tip-drill pick.  That drive was the most Pats thing ever.  It was just turned out that they left enough time (Just 39 seconds, to be exact) for the Chiefs to do the most Chiefs thing ever.

That phrase certainly has taken on a different meaning this year.

Thanks to a huge play by Spencer Ware and great awareness by Mahomes to take a shot on a free play, the Chiefs were in position to tie, and like one of the best teams in the league should, and how fitting it would have been considering this game, they did.  Because of course they did.

Due to how unstoppable the offenses were in the final eight minutes, it felt like the coin toss won the game.  There was no way the Chiefs were stopping New England, but there was also no way New England was stopping the Chiefs.  Brady’s final drive was probably the most impressive of the game.  New England got 10 yards every play, and Brady picked KC apart in a way he hadn’t all day.  Somehow, it was possible for him to improve on his performance.

That final drive was this game in a nutshell.  The absolute and absurd display of execution and clutch plays between KC and New England was 2nd to no other game this season.  No teams besides these two could put on that good of a show and not screw up in an impactful way.  No game has been that good in awhile.

No day has had me asking for there not to be any more football.  Sunday was too perfect for anything else.

NFL Divisional Round Recap

Like Wild Card Weekend, the Divisional Round was also quite underwhelming.  We essentially got one good game.  I guess that’s just setting us up for Championship Sunday, where we really did get the league’s four best teams.

Chiefs-31 Colts-13

This game felt entirely too much like last weekend’s Wild Card matchup that also featured the Colts.  The only difference was that they were on the wrong side of it this time.

This game was similar to last week in the sense that it was over in four to five drives.

Despite the weather, a Chiefs offensive clinic worried me for the Colts.  Indianapolis, whose defense has gotten better but still isn’t that great, has to play conservative because of their shortcomings That means sitting back in zone coverage and keeping everything in front of you.

But there’s a couple problems with that against the Chiefs.  One is that free yardage is a sin when trying to stop Kansas City; it gets them in a rhythm and gives them even more confidence than they already had.  Two is that the Chiefs execute better than anyone offensively in the league.  If you leave guys open, they’re going to capitalize on it.  And three is that even if you do keep everything in front of you, the Chiefs are so good after the catch that they can outrun or out-muscle you for extra yards.

All of that happened Saturday.  Kansas City’s offense was too overwhelming.  Tyreek Hill found holes in the zone and was open all game; so was Travis Kelce.  Damien Williams gashed the Colts front, thanks to amazing downfield blocking (That downfield blocking also helped receivers get yards after the catch).

It was just too much.  Like Houston last weekend, one bad drive cost Indy everything.  The Colts opening drive went well until Eric Ebron reverted to the Eric Ebron we’ve been used to the past four years and dropped a crucial ball on 3rd down.  The Chiefs went down and scored, and the next Indy drive felt all too important.  Once again, they got nothing.  The Chiefs defensive lineman were getting their hands up and knocking down passes.  Dee Ford put immense pressure on Andrew Luck.  It was perhaps the best defensive performance we had seen out of this KC defense all season.

The only hope Indy had was that a classic Andy Reid postseason performance was in store.  KC’s offense didn’t do a whole lot in the 2nd half, but Indy didn’t capitalize, essentially cancelling out the possible meltdown.

The weather didn’t help the Colts either, but that was a factor that affected them the  whole game, not just the 2nd half.  Luck threw multiple balls into the ground, and drops killed them.  The weather factor always feels like a cliche, but the weekend’s first game was a classic performance of a dome team in treacherous conditions.

In better conditions, it would have been fun to see these two engage in a shootout.  But the weather had too big of an impact on the Colts, and proved to us that the Chiefs are still, and just may be, unstoppable.

Rams-30  Cowboys-22

The score was and wasn’t a good representation of how this game turned out.

It was a good one as the Cowboys played just as well as the Rams for the first quarter, and as Dallas made a bit of comeback late to make things interesting.

But it wasn’t a good one as Los Angeles dominated the Cowboys defense for most of the game, and led 20-7 at halftime after a slow start.

Though it was pretty short-lived, the Rams dominance went far.  CJ Anderson actually ran for more yards than Todd Gurley did.  That right there sums up Dallas’ night defensively.

The two were a ridiculous one-two punch.  Anderson put up 123 yards and two touchdowns, while Gurley ran for 115 and one.

It was essentially a three drive sequence that turned the game.  Down 7-6 after the slow start, the Rams came out on fire on a drive early in the 2nd quarter.  Jared Goff made a couple nice passes, and Anderson finished them off.  It was methodical; one of those soul-gutting drives where you went “Oh man, they look unstoppable.”

And they were.  The next Cowboys drive felt like a must-score.  The momentum had swung, and LA had all of it.

Dallas did nothing with it.  Ezekiel Elliot actually had one of his better runs of the night on that drive, but Dak Prescott forced two balls to Amari Cooper (who was dominating early) and that was it.

The next Rams drive looked just like their prior one.  The running game dominated, and Goff made a couple huge throws.  It was Gurley who had the biggest play of the drive though, running in 35 yards for the score.

That all the sudden put LA up two possessions.  Dallas never recovered.  They got close to nothing out of the rest of their drives; the Rams’ run defense stuffed Zeke, ending what was an incredible month-and-a-half tear he was on, and the secondary adjusted after some early struggles.

The performance from LA was a decent one.  There’s some nits you could pick; they had an extremely hard time with Amari Cooper early, who, yes, has been on fire since being traded to the Cowboys, but should be contained given the Rams secondary talent.

At the same time, that Rams secondary talent has been torched for most of this season.  Marcus Peters was picked on again Saturday night, and even LaMarcus Joyner had a couple brutal missed assignments (Specifically the Amari Cooper TD).

It’s not exactly the performance you’d like heading into a matchup against the 2nd most explosive offense in the league, but there’s a good chance defense just doesn’t matter in that game… we could be looking at a 50-45 score next week.

That’s where LA’s performance was impressive.  The offense came out and dominated.  Goff made throws, the running backs were essentially interchangeable. Another performance like that will be needed next week.

As for Dallas, they went from a point in their season where Jason Garrett should have been absolutely canned (and maybe still should be??) to in the playoffs.  Zeke turned into a monster until he ran into the league’s best run defense (Fair that he didn’t show up) and the defense started playing above-average football, or in a more positive light the best defense it has played in years.  While it’s fun to make fun of the fact that Dallas lost early in the playoffs again, this was probably their ceiling, and that was one heck of a turnaround.

Patriots-41 Chargers-28

Yet another game where the score was not indicative whatsoever of how things actually went.

This was a classic domination by the Patriots.  Who could of possibly thought they’d have trouble with the Chargers at home?

Oh, wait, that might have been me.

This game proved to us that while this Patriots era might be on its last legs, it’s certainly not dead yet.  Watching this game was like taking your car for one last ride on your favorite road before you sell it.  Tom Brady was out there picking apart the Chargers.  James White and Julian Edelman were grinding away for yards.  Great play designs were everywhere.  Bill Belichick’s favorite term is execution, and New England did that Sunday.

The 35-7 lead came thanks to Sony Michel remaining extremely patient at the line of scrimmage and hitting holes incredibly hard, and James White doing the same thing on catches out of the backfield.  Michel ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, while White caught 15 passes for 97 yards.  Both guys ran incredibly hard, and the Chargers couldn’t bring them down.

Edelman was also unreal.  The guy was wide open for what felt like the whole game. He racked up 151 receiving yards and torched the Chargers.

There was about ten minutes of football that was entertaining, and it was the first ten.  It was the Chargers only successful offensive football besides the garbage time at the end.  Los Angeles came out incredibly aggressive, throwing deep twice and connecting on both, once to Mike Williams and the other to Keenan Allen, who was left wide open in the end zone on a blown coverage.  That tied it at seven.  The Chargers didn’t score again until the end of the third quarter.

New England’s defense was impressive, but it felt strange that the Chargers were trying to be so aggressive, especially since it was 25 degrees out, which isn’t exactly air-it-out weather.  Phillip Rivers threw 51 times, while Melvin Gordon only got nine carries.  It would have been nice to see more of a balance; the Chargers might have had real success grinding away with Gordon.  That would have killed more clock, since LA was getting beaten in the possession battle from the start of the game.  Instead, the Chargers kept throwing and kept throwing, even when it wasn’t working.  Whether running the ball was going to work or not, keeping it on the ground would have at least given the defense a bit more rest.

Next week for the Patriots will be the real test.  I was a week early on that.  Going into KC against that Chiefs offense is daunting.  They did a good job Sunday limiting big plays, but can they do it again?

Saints-20 Eagles-14

Like the Rams against Dallas, it took New Orleans a little while to get going Sunday afternoon.  The Eagles and Nick Foles came out on fire, and for awhile, it really looked like Foles was going to cook yet another defense and get Philadelphia one step closer to the Super Bowl again.  The Saints weren’t totally dominated; they got a break to score a touchdown in the 2nd quarter when Foles got a little cocky on a deep ball that Marshon Lattimore played perfectly and picked off.  New Orleans needed Taysom Hill’s fake punt rush to extend the drive, but it resulted in a touchdown thanks to a huge catch by Michael Thomas down the field to set them up.  Still, the Eagles were in control.  New Orleans’ defense couldn’t stop Foles and Alshon Jeffrey.  The Saints struggles that some picked on in the past couple weeks had started to come to light a bit.

But Drew Brees and Thomas weren’t having it.

The Saints first drive of the 2nd half was the turning point.  It looked like drives the Saints had put together all season.  Thomas getting open and making huge catches downfield.  Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram with four yard rushes every time they touched the ball.  Some trickery with Taysom Hill (That bomb to Kamara was unfortunately called back thanks to a holding penalty on Andrus Peat).  Drives like those are what made New Orleans unstoppable all season.  They looked unstoppable in that moment, and after that, Philly finally looked stoppable.

The Eagles next drive felt critical.  After watching New Orleans go down the field so easily, no points for Philly felt like a death sentence.  Their drive went nowhere, but New Orleans couldn’t punch into the end zone on their next drive, leading to only a six point lead instead of a two possession one.

That brought it down to Foles at the end.  New Orleans missed a field goal on the drive prior, allowing Philadelphia to stay in it and win with a touchdown and extra point.

If you were going to pick anyone to lose the game for the Eagles, it probably wouldn’t have been Alshon Jeffrey.  Like Thomas in the 2nd half, Jeffrey dominated the opposition in the 1st half, and had emerged as a massive target for the Eagles since Carson Wentz went down.  Jeffrey, like Thomas and Amari Cooper, had been always open for the past month of the season.  He was killing it.

Which is why, as much as he is to blame for the Eagles loss, it’s gut-wrenching to put the blame on him.  It was a once-in-a-million play by Jeffrey, and it came at the worst time.

The Eagles loss feels a lot like Chicago’s last week.  It just doesn’t feel right to blame anyone in particular.  Jeffrey had such a good game until the last drive.  Foles was on fire and earned himself a ton of money.  The defense really did its best job against Brees for most of the game.  Philly really gave it their all.

I guess that’s just a testament to how scary the Saints really are.

2019 National Championship Preview

For the third time in four years, we got here: Alabama and Clemson in the National Championship Game.  And for the fourth time in five years, we got Alabama and Clemson in a Playoff matchup.

And no one is really complaining.  Or at least, no one should be.

The Playoff is supposed to take the four most deserving teams.  Just because Oklahoma’s defense got cooked by the Crimson Tide doesn’t mean they didn’t belong in.  Playing the “who would beat who” game is the wrong way to evaluate the playoff.  If that was the case, there should be no playoff whatsoever, and Alabama should just be voted the National Champion every year.

Georgia may have kept it closer with Alabama, but they probably wouldn’t have beaten them either, especially if they preformed like they did against Texas. Maybe the Bulldogs should have taken care of LSU earlier this year, a team that almost lost to UCF’s backup quarterback.

The committee didn’t get it wrong because Oklahoma lost to Alabama.  Oklahoma was supposed to lose to Alabama.  They’re the fourth seed going up against the one. The same case goes with Georgia.

So what are we really complaining about?  That the games just aren’t good?  That’s a fair argument, but it’s not the same as which teams deserve it.  The committee isn’t making that decision based (or at least, shouldn’t be) off how good of a game the semifinals will be.  That’s not their job.

The case is true that the semi-finals haven’t been good games.  We’ve had one good semi-final game in the history of the College Football Playoff, and that was last year’s insane Rose Bowl shootout between Oklahoma and Georgia.  I don’t know what the exact remedy is to fix it, but expansion feels like the best route no matter.  If you expand, even to a six-team playoff, you make everybody happy.

It feels like every year when we have the playoff debate, there’s always two extra teams we debate over (I feel bad.  I didn’t originally think of this, someone else made this observation and I’m blanking as to whether it was a friend, something I saw on Twitter or TV, or read.  Sorry to whoever I stole this from!).  Not three, not four, not five.  Just two.  This year, there were people who thought Georgia and/or UCF belonged in.  Last year it was UCF/Ohio State.  The year before that it was Ohio State/Penn State.

So six is the perfect number, not the eight I have previously campaigned for.  That way teams only have to schedule one less game per year, the “Team B deserved in over Team A” crowd shuts up, and we’re at least doing something to attempt to make the semi-finals better.

Alright, enough ranting.  Yahoo! Sports had a tweet on the night of the semifinals and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

That little rant above was spurred off this tweet.  Let’s preview the big game.

National Championship: No.2 Clemson vs. No.1 Alabama

I touched on this above, but no one should be complaining about this game (Oh God here I go again).  It’s the two best teams in the country.  There’s been one bad game between these two in the previous three meetings.  Neither are the type to not show up or get absolutely throttled in a game like this.

Though it didn’t really matter against Notre Dame, Clemson has one big disadvantage in this game, and that’s experience.  Trevor Lawrence is my age.  So is Justyn Ross.  The other skill position players, and espicially the defense, have been around.  But the Alabama defense is ruthless, and forcing Lawrence to crumble should be one of their top priorities.  He was a little shaky early against the Fighting Irish, but so was Ian Book, so Notre Dame had no way to capitalize.  If they can do what the Irish did to Lawrence, it’ll be easier stopping the Tigers fearsome run game, and the Tide should be able to capitalize a couple times given the explosiveness of their offense.

The Irish combatted Book’s slow start by throwing short passes and letting their skill guys go to work.  They made good (but probably too much) use of tunnel screens, which Clemson had a hard time containing in the 1st half.  The Tide are suited to grind teams down like that with the powerful trio of Josh Jacobs and the two Harrises.  Getting past Clemson’s NFL-caliber defensive line is a tall task, but this is where the loss of Dexter Lawrence could loom large.  He’s the big run-stuffer in the middle.  The Bama is trio is just better than Dexter Williams, who was stuffed in the semi-final match, running for just 54 yards.  The Tigers are also up against a better offensive line, which will create larger gaps for the running backs to get through.

Turnovers, specifically forced fumbles, also helped Clemson against Notre Dame.  It seems unlikely they’ll be able to do the same against Alabama.  The Tide take care of the football.  Nick Saban-coached teams don’t make those mistakes.

That being said, I’m still much more concerned about Clemson’s offense in this game rather than the defense.  The Tigers aren’t getting torched by Alabama.  They’re too good.  No one is getting overmatched in this game.

Which is why concern for the Tigers offense is high.  They dominated the Irish.  Lawrence was able to take the top off the secondary (A secondary which was actually the strength of the group).  Travis Etienne ran for 109 yards and a touchdown.  Justyn Ross blew corners off the line.

Like Clemson, Alabama’s defense isn’t getting torched in this game.  The big plays Notre Dame allowed won’t happen.  Etienne won’t easily rush for 100+ yards.  Lawrence is going to be up against the best defense in the country, which is a group of talent he’s never seen before.

This is a grudge-match.

And in these, it comes down to who you trust.  In shootouts you take the better quarterback.  In grudge-matches you take the offense less likely to make mistakes and more likely to make big plays with their skill guys.  Lawrence, a true freshman,  against this Bama defense makes me nervous.  I’ll count on the Tide to execute better, and on Tua Tagovailoa to make the throws after attacking the hole in Clemson’s defensive front.

Prediction: Alabama-28 Clemson-24

NFL Wild Card Weekend Recap

Despite a couple wild finishes and crazy comebacks, Wild Card Weekend wasn’t all that interesting.  Every game was terrible at some point.  Indy went up 21-0 early, Seattle and Baltimore’s offense was hard to watch for most of the game, and there were times during Eagles-Bears when a Mitchell Trubisky-Nick Foles playoff matchup showed its true colors.

All of it, interesting or not, is sorted out below.

Colts-21  Texans-7

This game literally came down to six drives in the first half.  Indianapolis came out and lit Houston on fire to start the game.  Andrew Luck made two ridiculous throws to T.Y. Hilton, squeezing balls into windows that only prime Tom Brady could fit balls into.    Then, in the red zone, the Colts took advantage of the Texans lax, bearish zone coverage schemes and attacked the flats.  That left Eric Ebron wide open on a short out route which put Indy up 7-0.

The Texans came out and had one bad drive.  It cost them everything.

When Indy got the ball back, they switched it up on the Texans, and instead of Luck picking them apart, the Colts ran Marlon Mack down their throats.  His speed was too much.  Mack broke a run of 25 yards on the first play of the drive, getting him in the rhythm early.  He gained 39 yards on the drive, and ended up scoring to put Indy up 14-0.

A pair of interceptions by each team essentially offset each other, but it set the tone for what was to come for Houston.  The drive that the interception came on had been Houston’s best of the day.  They were at least getting yards, even though they were two-to-three yard gains.

After a turnover themselves, the Colts then used a third offensive style, and that was through big plays.  Luck found Dontrelle Inman wide open for 21 yards (This Colts team is just made up of dudes who were in the wrong situation elsewhere), then Ebron again for 15 yards.  Inman then caught an 18 yard touchdown, adding to the high number of Colts weapons that just torched Houston, and essentially ending the game.

It was over incredibly quickly, and it was an extremely impressive performance by Luck and the Colts.  In a year and especially a playoffs where points are going to have to be scored to win games, the Colts proved they could do that, and against good defenses too.  Next week they have the Chiefs, who, uh, don’t exactly have a good defense.  It will be about keeping up, and the Colts are capable of doing that.

Cowboys-24 Seahawks-22

It wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.  Seattle’s sudden rush of offensive competence came too late.  Thanks to a complete botch of an onside kick by punter (This makes it excusable.  Also, I was really hoping we were going to get a dropkick field goal.  It’s a shame it never happened) Michael Dickson, Dallas wasn’t caught in a dire situation with their backs against the wall.

Despite never leading by two possessions until the mid-4th quarter, Dallas dominated the entire game.  Ezekiel Elliott continued his tear, running harder than the Seahawks defensive line was trying.  He looked unstoppable.  Every rush had a 2nd push.  Jarran Reed and Frank Clark had their way at times throughout the game, but blocks like this one by Tyron Smith went farther than Reed and Clark’s disruptions.

Dallas also did an excellent job attacking the Seattle secondary, which battled injuries but also played incredibly selfishly.  Shaquill Griffin was torched for most of the night, and opposite cornerback Tre Flowers was battling an injury.  They didn’t do anything to help stop Amari Cooper, since Seattle’s scheme doesn’t allow corners to shift their position on the field.

The Seahawks didn’t respond at all, and most of that was self-inflicted.  While Dallas’ defense had one of its best performances of the year, the Seahawks failed to adjust their offensive scheme.  Chris Carson was routinely stuffed by guys like Maliek Collins and Jaylon Smith.  Brian Schoettheimer went to Rashaad Penny rarely, but when he did, Penny’s speed provided the Seahawks offense with a change of pace, and it caught Dallas off guard.  Penny’s 28 yard rush was the 3rd best play of the night from Seattle.  Out of his four carries on the night, three were on the drive the 28 yard rush occurred on.  After the long run, the Seahawks went to Penny just once more.

The Seahawks stayed away from creativity in the air as well.  Pressure from the Cowboys front made it difficult, but Seattle dinked and dunked practically the entire game aside from Tyler Lockett’s two deep balls and the jump-pass to Ed Dickson.  Lockett’s found a consistent ability to get open over the past month; it’s felt like three or four times every Seahawks game he is wide open downfield, and Dickson’s catch was the best designed play Seattle ran all night.  Those two plays were back-to-back, but Seattle couldn’t turn that momentum into anything but field goal attempts.

Seattle’s last drive was indicative of what they should have been doing all game.  Wilson found Lockett deep again, and he was totally locked in.  An aggressive, fast-moving Seattle team would have put more pressure on Dallas, speficially if more play-action was used.  Bringing down linebackers like Smith and Leighton Vander Esch with the threat of the run would have isolated not only Lockett more, but Doug Baldwin, who only had three catches for 32 yards.

Dallas brought their A-game.  The defense had one of its best performances of the season, and Zeke was too overpowering.  But Seattle wasn’t helpless, and they only have their coaches to blame.

Chargers-23 Ravens-17

Similar to Seattle, it was the Ravens offense and coaching that failed them.

But like the Cowboys, those struggles didn’t come without a good defensive performance.  Los Angeles adjusted very nicely after Lamar Jackson carved them up with his legs in Week 16.  The Chargers locked down Ravens receivers; it was Kenneth Dixon, a running back, who led the Ravens in receiving yards with 53.  Los Angeles stuffed the running game too, Lamar involved or not.  Jackson led with 53 yards, but Gus Edwards only had 23 on the ground.  Essentially, Jackson was the best option.  But the Ravens failed to realize this.  Edwards got eight carries, and Dixon got six.  Imagine how much more yardage Baltimore would have gained had they called more runs for Jackson?

And imagine if Jackson didn’t throw the ball 29 times?  Sure, a lot of those came late in the game, when the Chargers started Chargering and almost squandered their lead and Jackson started making throws he hadn’t not only made all game, but all season.  Still, Jackson threw eight times in the first half, completing two passes for 17 yards.

As I said above, Los Angeles did a good job adjusting after their Week 16 loss.  They kept Jackson more in check.  But that doesn’t mean Baltimore should have shied away from Jackson.  He’s your most dangerous weapon, and he’s so dangerous that, no matter how good an opposing defense is, something has to give at some point.  He’s that good.  The Ravens never gave Jackson that opportunity until they were down 20-3.

That’s why calls for Joe Flacco didn’t make any sense.  Jackson completely revolutionized the Ravens offense due to his running ability.  Putting Flacco in kills that advantage, and even though Los Angeles has minimized its impact, you’d rather take small odds of something happening than none at all.

As much praise as I have given Jackson, his fumble to seal the Chargers victory was quite representative of his day overall, and fulfilled the stereotype of a rookie quarterback in the playoffs as well.  The Chargers rattled Jackson early with the two fumbles.  They swarmed to him, whether it was on a drop-back or on a rush.  The pressure got to him again as he attempted to take the lead on Los Angeles late.

Jackson and the Ravens have a bright future.  It would be nice to see Jackson try and work on throwing the ball more and better, because if he figures that out, he’s going to be unstoppable.  This year’s team was inexperienced at the helm, and it bit them in the butt.  But that’s what happens.  It’s growing pains.  Cleveland went through the same thing.

This season is a success for the Ravens.  They completely turned around the course of the franchise with Lamar, and more importantly, had the balls to make that decision.  It may not have ended in the best way, but there’s a good chance the team they lost to could be playing for a ring in a little less than a month from now.

Eagles-16 Bears-15

I have almost no explanation for how the Bears lost this game.

They were the better team throughout the entire game.  Mitchell Trubisky made the best throw I have ever seen him make three to four times Sunday.  Allen Robinson busted through the Eagles banged up secondary multiple times to catch beautiful, stunning deep balls from Trubisky.  The Bears stuffed the Eagles run game, allowing just 42 total rushing yards from the whole team.  Nick Foles was average, as he threw way too many 50-50 balls that looked like they were thrown in extremely tight windows, but were really just throws that almost got his receivers killed every time they caught it.  Foles also threw a terrible interception just outside the red zone, squandering Philadelphia a chance to take a touchdown lead.

At the same time, Sunday was a defensive grudge-match in the first half, and Philly’s defense shut down the No.1 aspect to Chicago’s offense in the run game.  That kept them in it.  They weren’t down once Trubisky started firing because the defense kept them in it early.  That took pressure off of Foles, who only had to command two drives to get the Eagles the win.  The first drive saw huge breaks given to it; two massive Bears penalties-an unnecessary roughness and a pass interference-gave Foles a shorter field to work with.  Chicago later blew a coverage on Dallas Goedert, which left him wide open in the end zone to put the Eagles up 10-6.  The second was essentially the game-winner, where the Bears forgot how to tackle and succumbed to more Foles magic.  The tackling didn’t help, but Foles legitimately picked apart the best defense in the league on that drive.  They moved the ball incredibly methodically.  Alshon Jeffrey had two huge catches (He was dominating at points during that game.  Not even the Bears corners and safeties could cover him).  Foles looked poised and in command.  This was quarterback play we just haven’t seen from the Eagles this season (I seriously can’t believe this is happening.  It’s absolutely insane that Foles is just playing better than Wentz ever was.  That’s not something you can argue anymore.  It’s just the way it is).

The best defense in the league had a dicey pair to rest their fate on: Trubisky and Cody Parkey.  It was going to take both.

And really, both delivered.  Trubisky made another excellent deep throw to Robinson, setting up Parkey nicely.  Parkey’s kick would have gone in had Trayvon Hester’s finger not ever so slightly nicked the football.  You can’t blame him.  Not at all.

And that’s the problem with this Bears loss.  There’s not really anyone to blame.  Sure, you can blame Parkey, but that kick goes in if the Eagles don’t make a great play.  Sure, you can blame the best defense not only in football, but the best we’ve seen since the 2015-2016 Broncos.  And sure, you can blame the running game for not getting going and getting ahead early.  But none feel right.  None feel right at all.

Instead, we have Nick Foles winning another playoff game.

Talk about unexplainable.