Here are some thoughts on the NFC and AFC Championship Games along with a look at the market for Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
- The effect of turnovers on a single game are talked about ad nauseam. But no contest greater magnified their importance than Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
- From the start, Green Bay was overmatched. Tampa Bay was a team of sputtering yet scary offense all season that at its worst featured a fearsome defense. On one side of the ball, teams knew what they were getting with the Buccaneers throughout the year.
- The Packers struggled against Tampa Bay’s defense. Its offense had no chance against Tampa Bay’s front, resulting in discombobulation. The Bucs and Tom Brady were having a good day, cooking Green Bay’s defense, thanks to beautiful balls from Brady to a host of receivers (in addition to a terrible blown coverage right before halftime which resulted Scotty Miller’s touchdown catch). The Packers offense was left with no room for error, which it certainly encountered and resulted in them being down 21-10 at the half.
- The break didn’t bring good fortune right away. Desperately needing a score, Green Bay fumbled three plays into its first drive of the second half. The Bucs scored immediately after, seemingly putting the game away by virtue of a three possession lead.
- But Tampa Bay kicked off its own turnover party after Green Bay’s miscues allowed them to build the lead. Brady threw three picks – all of which had some of his fault embedded in them. The first was a deep shot to Mike Evans that was lofted a bit too high, allowing Packers safety Adrian Amos to fly over and intercept the pass on what was truly a great play by the former Bear. The second was a high ball intended for Evans, who probably could have caught it given that his fingers made contact, but Brady’s placement was a little too high even for the 6-foot-5-inch receiver to snag it.
- The third pick was a pure duck as Brady attempted to escape pressure. Green Bay didn’t recoup points from that pick, and only went 1/3 with points off of each possession change. Blame whatever occurred later in the game for the Packers’ loss if you want, but the inability to cash in on two golden opportunities looms large as well.
- Green Bay had a chance to redeem itself for the missed chances. Down eight with 2:05 left, the Packers opted to kick a field goal on the eight yard line on fourth down as opposed to going for it. An egregious decision, Matt LaFleur essentially called the game away there.
- Skeptics will tell you that points is better than no points. That’s fine, and sometimes true, but only to a certain extent. If the Packers were able to stop Tampa Bay on the ensuing drive, they’d still need to a score a touchdown in order to take the lead – which is the same thing they would have attempted to do on 4th and goal while leaving more time on the clock for a last-second heave if they didn’t convert on the 4th down and forced Tampa Bay to a three-and-out.
- A touchdown on 4th and goal likely would have led to a two-point conversion attempt, which if converted, obviously ties the game, but if not, allows a field goal to take the lead if the Packers defense made a stop after the change of possession.
- Going for it just makes things easier. It’s a move that has a higher ceiling when it comes to the objective of winning the game, while causing zero harm if not successful. In addition, you’re backing up the Buccaneers offense deep in their own territory. Their backs are against the wall, and while unlikely, the odds of a safety increase.
- The Packers didn’t even play it safe by kicking. They played it stupidly.
- You would have thought, after watching two teams go home from these playoffs as a result of the same dumb play-calling, that the Packers would have learned. But they didn’t, and now Aaron Rodgers is mad.
- Green Bay fans can be upset all they want about the pass interference call on Kevin King with 1:46 left that sealed the game for Tampa Bay, which, yes, was an outlier call given how the referees officiated the contest and, yes, was probably awarded partially due to a magnificent flopping job by rookie wide receiver Tyler Johnson who, yes, was not affected at all by King’s jersey grab. But it’s in the rules – you can’t tug on someone’s jersey to defend them, and had the Packers just decided to go for it on 4th and goal, we likely wouldn’t be arguing about this at all.
- Green Bay might have gotten screwed over (Hint: not really), but they could have avoided it. Instead, they enter an offseason that might have more drama and turmoil than they could have ever imagined.
- The Chiefs being down two possessions is like any other team being down eight points.
- Coming back from down eight is a harder task than doing the same against seven or fewer points thanks to the variability of the two-point conversion, but neither of those compare to thee challenge two possessions is for most teams.
- Buffalo’s 9-0 lead felt insecure in the moment. The immediate shock value of Kansas City’s sudden deficit was surmised by almost a comforting feeling: that this was the Chiefs, and that almost no lead on them ever matters.
- The Bills’ lead was also not a byproduct of their own doing. A long field goal gave them the first three points, while a horrible fumble by Mecole Hardman on a punt return set Buffalo up at the three yard line soon after, where the Bills scored immediately and missed the extra point. It all happened fast – which typically isn’t the formula best suited to beat the Chiefs.
- In an instant, Kansas City led. Nine-to-zero Bills was soon 21-9 Chiefs, thanks to Tyreek Hill and Kansas City’s blazing offensive speed once again torching another defense. As defensive backs chased around Hill and Hardman, Kelce sat wide open in the middle of the field and cleaned up as usual.
- You just don’t defend the Chiefs. It’s a pick-your-poison offense that is likely going to beat you one way or the other. Buffalo needed its offense to show up Sunday to have a chance, and instead Josh Allen turned in a performance that looked like it was off of his rookie tape.
- Averaging just six yards per attempt, Allen completed just 28/48 passes. He missed receivers, threw dangerous balls and made dumb decisions while scrambling. His 88 yards rushing led the team by a wide margin, and Cole Beasley’s own 88 receiving was the most on the Bills as well in that respective category. Kansas City’s defense surprisingly got immense pressure, which seemed to throw Allen off the scent just enough. It was the worst game Allen has played since he made the leap forward, which dates back to before last season.
- The Bills attempted to make a rally late, but became the latest team (Four of them in two weeks time!) to waive the white flag and get sent home by not going for it on 4th down or not attempting a two-point conversion. Down 12 midway through the third quarter, Buffalo decided to kick on 4th and 3 on the Chiefs’ eight yard-line instead of attempting to gain three yards. The good field goal was a purely lateral move – the Bills then watched Kansas City take a 31-15 lead on the ensuing drive, which had the possibility of being a 31-20 lead had the Bills been aggressive. An 11 or even 12 (if they didn’t go for two – which would have been decently acceptable) point deficit only requires one two-point attempt, not two to tie or take the lead. If the Bills were in the business of making things easier on themselves and not relying so heavily on one play must-haves, going for it early would have been the right move.
- No matter what the Bills did on the end of that possession, them winning was still unlikely. Kansas City – unsurprisingly – was the better team, and looked purely unstoppable almost the entire game. If Allen had showed up, perhaps a duel would have ensued, but offense – most notably the type Buffalo doesn’t play (run-heavy, clock eating-schemes) – is what it takes to put the Chiefs away. The Bills couldn’t do that, and there’s a good chance the last team standing in football aside from Kansas City won’t either.
On Matthew Stafford’s impending trade…
The Matthew Stafford market is much different than the one that exists for Deshaun Watson.
As written about last week, Watson is the type of player that almost every team in the league has to consider acquiring. He’s an elite, top ten QB in the league, which is invaluable at the age of 25.
We’ve also seen the bare minimum of what he is capable of. The Texans have wasted most of his young years so far, and the Clemson product has still shone and at times been an MVP candidate. Imagine what he’s capable of literally anywhere else.
Stafford is not Watson. His numbers and his ability (or lack thereof) to affect winning are indicative of that. Detroit hasn’t treated Stafford much better than Houston has Watson over the course of his career, but the former No. 1 overall pick hasn’t came through like Watson has. In four seasons as Houston’s quarterback, Watson has taken the Texans to the playoffs twice. Stafford has done the same with the Lions just once more, and that’s with a six-year head start.
The bottom line: most of the teams in on Watson should be much different from those in on Stafford.
The Cardinals, for example, are not trading Kyler Murray for Stafford unless Detroit sends multiple attractive draft picks back in a deal (There’s almost no deal that makes that worth it for Arizona). Arizona dealing Murray and some other stuff (hint: it wouldn’t be much else) for Watson, however, might make sense.
The teams that can use Stafford likely miss out on Watson. But that doesn’t mean everyone can use Stafford.
The gunslinger needs foundation, coaching and weapons. That’s been made clear after what we’ve seen in Detroit. These need to be teams that have contending-level rosters and solid skill position players in place in order for Stafford to succeed.
Who are those teams? Well, New Orleans has one of the best rosters in football whether Drew Brees retires or not. If he has played his last down, the Saints would make perfect sense. The same goes for Pittsburgh, whose quarterback (Like New Orleans) might have been the biggest thing holding them back this year. The 49ers would make a ton of sense, as San Francisco is a year off from making the Super Bowl and has underrated offensive weapons. Indianapolis was clearly attempting to go as far as they could this season with Phillip Rivers, though that team may not be good enough to elevate Stafford and might be better off going in a younger direction at QB. Chicago could use anything they could get right now at QB, and there’s some sneaky talent on both sides of the ball there (On the sidelines and in the front office however, not so much!). The Rams swapping out Jared Goff for Stafford would be mighty intriguing, and Denver throwing him into that loaded offense could light up the league.
But that’s about it for Stafford. Every other team is better off going all in for Watson or staying put where they are. It’s a limited market for the Lions, and in a low leverage situation, a potentially concerning, sell-low move awaits.