Nowhere is the No. 1 playoff seed more critical than in the AFC, where six of the past seven teams to have it moved on to the Super Bowl. So why, then, should the Kansas City Chiefs be concerned?
Two reasons: 1) History and 2) the Baltimore Ravens.
Let’s start with history. Not only have the Chiefs lost 11 of their last 12 playoff games, but they’ve lost their last six at Arrowhead. What’s more, coach Andy Reid dropped six of his last seven postseason games.
Then there’s Baltimore. The Ravens won six of their last seven this season to reach the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. And let's start there. Let’s say they win next weekend vs. the Chargers – not much of a reach considering that L.A. lost to Baltimore last weekend at home. Then what?
Well, then, if the seeds hold and No. 3 Houston beats Indianapolis, the Ravens move on to Arrowhead to resume their rivalry with the Chiefs. The two met earlier this month, and the Chiefs were lucky to escape with an overtime victory. In fact, Baltimore left that game believing it was the better team.
Now it may have a chance to prove it.
FLY, EAGLES, FLY
Do not undersell the Philadelphia Eagles.
The last time a sixth seed was this dangerous in the NFC playoffs was 2010 when the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl … and, no, I don’t think that happens again. But, yes, I do believe the Eagles are the team nobody wants to face.
That’s because they’re playing as they did a year ago, and they’re winning with whom they won a year ago – namely, quarterback Nick Foles. For whatever reason, the guy is a different player this time of year, and the envelope, please: He’s 12-4 in his career from December on, is on a three-game tear and just tied a league record with 25 consecutive completions.
Of course, he’s also hurt. But if Foles plays next weekend, and early reports suggest he could, Chicago should be worried. Because while the Eagles are an ordinary road team (4-4), two of Foles’ last three wins were away games – including the Rams’ only loss at home.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Two coaches have been fired (Dirk Koetter and Todd Bowles), with more expected on Black Monday, and that's the price of failure. Change is supposed to be good. Except that's not always the case, especially in this year's NFL. Look what happened to the seven head coaches hired prior to 2018: Their combined record was 49-63, with Arizona's Steve Wilks so bad about the only thing the Cards won was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. Of the seven, only three (Chicago's Matt Nagy, the Colts' Frank Reich and the Titans' Mike Vrabel) had winning records. Worse, only three (Chicago, Indy and the New York Giants) had better records than 2017, while three others (Oakland, Detroit and Arizona) did not. Tennessee finished with the same 9-7 record, but, unlike last year, did not make the playoffs.
- Kirk Cousins isn't the only one who should be questioned in Minnesota. So should the entire Vikings’ think tank. After reaching the NFC championship game a year ago, it paid Cousins the biggest guaranteed contract in NFL history. And for what? He loses at home when playing for January, is 1-for-11 on third downs and doesn’t have a completion of 20 or more yards. But then there’s this: With Sunday’s loss, Cousins is 4-25 lifetime vs. opponents with winning records. Don’t tell us you weren’t warned, guys.
- That clinches it. Chicago’s Matt Nagy is my Coach of the Year.
- The only certainties in life: Death, taxes and Andrew Luck vs. Tennessee. He’s 11-0 against the Titans.
- Remind me again: What’s wrong with Tom Brady?
- Maybe we should ask the rest of the AFC East. In Brady’s last 30 home games vs. the division, he’s 29-1 vs. Buffalo, the Jets and Miami.
- Here’s why New England gaining a first-round bye is such a big deal: The Pats are 19-3 with Brady at home in the playoffs, winning 11 of their last 12. They’ve also won their last 15 home contests, including all eight this season, and were the only team not to lose a home game.
- Good news for Saints’ fans: The last time your team was 13-3 it won a Super Bowl. And its three losses? They were to Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina. Now, this year, it’s 13-3 again and the Saints’ three losses … yep, to Tampa Bay, Dallas and Carolina. May be déjà vu all over again.
- That makes four of the past five years the Giants have 10 or more losses. There's a reason they're called Big Blue.
- Yes, Cleveland, there is a Santa Claus. Baker Mayfield is the quarterback you’ve been waiting for.
- You gotta feel for the Browns. Had refs not blown that call on Lamar Jackson’s goal-line fumble, Cleveland would have had a 94-yard touchdown return and maybe … probably … its first winning season since 2007.
- Jamal Adams says the Jets need more “dawgs,” but he’s wrong. Dawgs are the problem. Too many of them, and Sunday’s game was proof.
- Jared Goff finishes the season with two straight wins, five TD passes, QB ratings of 118.1 and 121.6 and, suddenly, he’s back where he belongs … right? Not so fast. He played the Cards and 49ers, the NFL’s two worst teams.
- Khalil Mack had 12.5 sacks this season. The Oakland Raiders had 13 … as a team. Mack also had six forced fumbles. The Raiders had five. No question, Chicago owes Jon Gruden a playoff share.
- Miami owner Stephen Ross declined to speak to reporters after Sunday’s loss, and who can blame him? Now the question: What does he say to Adam Gase Monday? The guy lost nine of his last 13 games this year.
- More reason not to get caught up in today’s inflated passing numbers: That was Matt Stafford’s 20th straight season with 20 or more TD passes. But so what? He’s never won a playoff game.
- Tennessee better come up with a backup plan at quarterback this offseason. Marcus Mariota can’t stay on the field.
- So that’s what New Orleans looks like sans Drew Brees. Hand me that MVP ballot.
- One reason I don’t like the Chargers’ chances vs. Baltimore: The Ravens’ defense. It held four of its last six opponents to 16 or fewer points. But the other is Bolts’ quarterback Philip Rivers. The past month he’s looked more like Ole Man Rivers, with 4 touchdown passes and 6 interceptions.
- For what it’s worth, no division won more games this season than the AFC South (35).
- Contrary to what you’ve heard here, Ryan Tannehill will return to Miami next season … as a wide receiver.
- Congratulations to the San Francisco 49ers. They broke the league record for fewest interceptions in one season with … and this is no misprint … two, or as many as Baltimore’s Jimmy Smith had Sunday.
- Buffalo’s Kyle Williams is gone, but he won’t be forgotten. He finishes his career ranked 282nd in team history with his 9-yard catch.
- Every playoff team has a hole, and Houston’s is pass protection. Quarterback Deshaun Watson absorbed 133 hits this season and was sacked 60 times, more than anyone since 2006.
- If the Colts’ Frank Reich had only tied Houston when the two teams met in September – and he easily could have – both teams wind up 10-5-1, and the Colts win the division based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
- Indy owner Jim Irsay owes Josh McDaniels a thank-you. Had McDaniels not backed out of the Colts’ coaching job at the 11th hour, Frank Reich never would’ve been hired.
FIVE THINGS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
- New England has scored 400 points an NFL-record 12 straight seasons.
- Zeke Elliott led the NFL in rushing twice in the past three seasons but played in only 15 games each of those years. Since 1994 only twice has the league’s leading rusher played fewer than 16 games … and both times it was Elliott.
- Since the current playoff system was adopted in 1990, the Steelers are the third team to start a season 7-2-1 or better and fail to make the playoffs. The others were the 1995 Raiders (8-2) and 1993 Dolphins (8-2).
- Dallas was 9-3 in one-possession games this season.
- Seven of the 12 playoff teams this season weren’t there in 2017: The Chargers, Ravens, Texans, Bears, Cowboys, Seahawks and Colts. Since 1990, a streak of 29 seasons, at least four teams that weren’t in the playoffs one season qualified for them the next.
THE SUNDAY OMG
Prior to this season only eight teams made the playoffs allowing more than 25 points per game, only one had a bye and none was a No. 1 seed. And then Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs came along.
THE SUNDAY OMG II
Tom Brady’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead was his first to a player targeted in the Red Zone since Week 6 vs. Kansas City. He was 0-10 until then, the only quarterback without a completion in five or more attempts.’
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
“I believe in Eli.” --- Giants’ coach Pat Shurmur.
“Starting 0-3 and winning the division it’s a monumental achievement. We’re not done.” – Houston coach Bill O’Brien.
SUNDAY’S BIGGEST WINNER
BALTIMORE SAFETY ERIC WEDDLE. When the Ravens clinched the AFC North to reach the playoffs as the fourth seed, Weddle collected a $1 million bonus. But that money’s not all going to him. Instead, he said, he plans to spend it on his teammates – including linebacker C.J. Mosley, who saved Sunday’s game with a fourth-down interception -- as well as his coaches. “I’m nothing without my team,” said Weddle. And he's nothing without his ice cream, either. Weddle, who often eats close to a gallon of it after every game, was promised an ice-cream truck -- true story -- if the Ravens won the division. Well, they did, and the truck is on its way … courtesy of a fan from Annapolis, Md. Best of all, with the victory, Weddle gets to play his former team, the Chargers, for the second time in three weeks.
SUNDAY’S BIGGEST LOSER
PHILADELPHIA QB NICK FOLES. OK, so he has the Eagles in the playoffs again. And that’s good. But he also got hurt, and that’s not. Nor is this: He had a $1 million bonus coming to him if he played 33 percent of the snaps this season and made the playoffs. He finished four snaps short.