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» Clutch Encounters: Divisional Round

Stefon Diggs saves the Vikings after one of the greatest touchdowns in NFL history. Also: Atlanta's horrific red zone sequence, and Pittsburgh's odd history of high-scoring playoff losses.

07 Jan 2018

Audibles at the Line: Wild-Card Round

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Browns fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Tennessee Titans 22 at Kansas City Chiefs 21

Tom Gower: First time since I've been on staff the Titans are playing a postseason game. First time in precisely 10 years I've been at home for a Titans playoff game, since the loss to San Diego in 2007 (I made the trek to Nashville for "delay of game, what's a delay of game?" game).

Rivers McCown: Kind of a surreal TV moment to have Jon Gruden congratulated for joining the Raiders and respond that nothing is official yet.

To take another ESPN thing: C'mon, man.

Bryan Knowles: That HAD to be awkward in meetings, especially with the Chiefs. I wouldn't want to tell him anything if I were Andy Reid!

Andrew Potter: I have to believe that enough changes from one season to the next that it wouldn't be a problem. It's not like the Chiefs have never been on Monday Night Football.

Derrik Klassen: Feels early on like Kansas City's star power can and will take over. Justin Houston has already gotten to Marcus Mariota, and Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce ripped off back-to-back receptions to get the Chiefs inside the 5-yard line. Hill did have a couple drops to open the game, but that is uncharacteristic of him and should not continue.

Tom Gower: Titans have been matching Adoree Jackson up on Tyreek Hill for most of the first two drives, which is a fun speed-on-speed matchup. Looked like Jackson got a little lost in coverage on the big Hill reception, though.

Dave Bernreuther: I'm not entirely sure what Gruden was babbling about after the Kareem Hunt touchdown (I suppose this is true most of the time too...) praising the unique Chiefs offense when what happened was about as standard a run play as could be. Nobody pulled, no misdirection, nothing clever, just a run up the gut, where Avery Williamson, the linebacker, was unblocked and properly filled his gap... only to be blasted backward at the point of contact by Kareem Hunt. Nothing exotic or unique about that at all; Hunt just won.

I believe it was just last week that someone here pointed out how historically poor a job Jeff Triplette has done keeping control of a game. Naturally, he has a playoff game, and in the span of four plays just now has called two personal fouls for unnecessary roughness. I don't know if this is a sign he's going to do a better job or a sign that he's on track for yet another donnybrook (or brouhaha, if you prefer). We'll see.

Tyreek Hill looked to be completely covered by Adoree Jackson on a 26-yard completion from Alex Smith; caught a well-thrown ball anyway and just accelerated upfield. That makes Jackson 0-for-2 so far, but it's a little hard to fault him for either of them. The first big Hill play was on a drag route where he kind of snuck through, and it wasn't clear if Jackson was supposed to follow him or not, and the second one wasn't poor coverage at all.

As I type that, Jackson is flagged for hands to the face on a play in which I was certain Travis Kelce was interfered with on what could easily have been a touchdown pass. Tennessee got lucky to only get dinged for 5 yards instead of a spot foul there. Not that it mattered, of course, as Kelce was wide open up the seam for a touchdown two plays later. This one already feels over and it's still the first quarter, given that the Chiefs now have two more touchdowns than the Titans have first downs.

Scott Kacsmar: Brutal drop by Eric Decker on a third down. The ball couldn't have been thrown better. The drive was fortunate to get to that point after a Derrick Henry fumble was knocked out of bounds. We're that close to a huge early deficit here. Then again, 14-0 is a huge deficit for this Tennessee offense.

Rivers McCown: I will buy low on all your Marcus Mariota stock because I just think he's playing hurt. But ye gods he has not looked good for the first 22 minutes of this game. The miss on Corey Davis on the first drive was the most egregious.

Aaron Schatz: Mariota just threw the ball right to Marcus Peters, so here comes your big deficit. Delanie Walker didn't fight for it at all, I think he had no idea Peters was jumping in front of him.

Replay shows that Peters was actually covering Corey Davis, who did a crap job of clearing out space for Walker to run a corner underneath him. Peters just peeled off Davis and jumped in front of Walker.

Vince Verhei: That was, as Gruden pointed out, brutally bad play design by Tennessee. You had Walker on the cross, the outside receiver on the fly, and the slot guy on the curl -- that's three receivers all bunched up in the same area, and in the end zone so the fly route didn't even have space to clear his man deep.

Both teams have used a lot of three-man rushes, and that has led to a lot of wide open receivers. The Chiefs are just lucky that Decker had that bad drop.

Kansas City's offense is so good most of the time but looks so bad in long yardage. Just a series of failed screen plays. That seems unusual for a team that's good at passing overall. Just for fun, here's a look at the top ten overall pass offenses this season, and where they rank in third-and-long offense:

  • 1. NE, 6th
  • 2. LACH, 2nd
  • 3. MIN, 24th
  • 4. PIT, 17th
  • 5. PHI, 1st
  • 6. NO, 11th
  • 7. LARM, 8th
  • 8. KC, 10th
  • 9. TB, 14th
  • 10. ATL, 23rd

So my impression was wrong -- they've been good in third-and-long situations. Might be a different if we went to very long yardage, 15 yards to go or so, but maybe not.

Andrew Potter: Jeff Triplette's presence in the NFL playoffs is an affront to the sport. Marcus Mariota is sacked on a blitz by Derrick Johnson, and clearly fumbles. Justin Houston scoops it up and heads for the Titans end zone, but the play is blown dead. No problem, we think, Chiefs will get the ball after a review -- except the call on the field was not that Mariota was down before fumbling, it was forward progress, which cannot be challenged. I can think of no excuse whatsoever for that play to be called that way. So for the second time, the Titans keep the ball after a fumble, and this time it directly results in three points. It's a very good job this game isn't tight, because that's the type of inexcusable officiating screwup that costs teams games.

Vince Verhei: Here is the play that was ruled stopped due to forward progress. This is an insane ruling.

Carl Yedor: Touchdown Kansas City right at the end of the half. For a second there, it looked like the Chiefs were going to botch the clock management there, as Demarcus Robinson did not run out of bounds after a 15-yard gain and Kansas City did not use their final timeout. However, the Chiefs punched it in on the next play, resulting in what could be a back-breaking score right before the half. Had Kansas City not scored on that subsequent play (also a pass to Robinson), they likely would have ended up kicking a field goal instead of getting another shot at the end zone.

Bryan Knowles: Tennessee with some absolutely terrible defensive work on this one-minute drill. The holding penalty was another "ehhhhh" penalty by our crack referee team, but Tye Smith (I think it was Smith, at any rate) playing 10 yards off of Demarcus Robinson to allow an easy 15-yard gain was indefensible, and then the entire right side of the defense got snookered by a play fake. We're at 21-3 at the half, and I don't think the Titans can physically score 18 more points today, much less stop the Chiefs from adding any of their own.

We haven't had a good opening wild-card game since 2013. 2016 saw the Connor Cook game. 2015 had Brian Hoyer getting blown out 30-0 against the Chiefs. 2014 had Ryan Lindley, NFL quarterback. 2013 was the Colts' incredible comeback from a 38-10 deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44. I don't think we'll see Marcus Mariota pull the Andrew Luck and match that tonight.

     

Tom Gower: Chiefs up 21-3 at the half. Tyreek Hill dropping a pass 30 yards downfield to start the game felt like a good omen for the Titans defense, but no, we got to see them look like they normally did the rest of the half. Adoree Jackson was kind of in place against Tyreek Hill most of the time, but making a play was a different question. Johnathan Cyprien looked like Johnathan Cyprien in coverage. He played a key role in the first touchdown, missing a tackle to limit Tyreek Hill's 45-yard catch-and-run, and was part of Travis Kelce's 27-yard catch to set up the short run. Second touchdown, he was the single high safety as the Chiefs hit Travis Kelce on the seam route with Avery Williamson in man coverage.

Which is another exasperating aspect of this team; their good plays against tight ends were with the safeties, whether Cyprien (yes) or Kevin Byard (who didn't cover himself in glory right before the half), while the linebackers didn't fare much better against the tight ends than they did in contributing to the 32nd-ranked receiving back pass coverage.

The Titans' offense was, once again, exasperating, a mix of plays that didn't work and some good work. I'm pretty sure they ranked last in percentage of runs from shotgun last year and were at/near the bottom of the league this year, so it was nice to see them not only in the gun but actually spreading the field and running the ball. But then you get nonsense like the interception, an ugly pass into a failed route design/execution. This offense just can't stay out of its own way.

Thanks to Jeff Triplette for confirming everything everybody has said about him for years with his game management of that first 30 minutes.

Oh, in a different game, I'd talk about the concussion to Travis Kelce and how that might affect the second half. But as Williamson on him on the touchdown showed, the Titans haven't been matching up to him in the same way they tried to get Jackson on Hill, and the Titans need to score at least 18 points of their own for it to really matter. I'll revisit it if it proves relevant.

Vince Verhei: Thirty-three plays for Kansas City in the first half. Twenty-six were passes/sacks/scrambles by Alex Smith. Only six runs for Kareem Hunt and one for Tyreek Hill, and even that was a backwards pass. That will likely change in the second half, but the Chiefs haven't given a damn about establishing the run today.

Aaron Schatz: Not only that, but Tennessee HAS established the run against the No. 32 run defense by DVOA. Ten carries for 42 yards by Derrick Henry in the first half. Actually 45, because he officially lost three when the fumble went backwards 3 yards. Ten yards on his first two carries of the third quarter. Does it matter? Nope!

Scott Kacsmar: The end of that first half didn't sit well with me. First, the ridiculous forward progress ruling on one of the most bone-crunching sacks I've seen in a while. That's an absurd call. Then there was the Kelce fumble/non-fumble on the play he was concussed on. Does his hand covering the ball on the ground count as a recovery to blow the play dead? Either way, I'm glad nothing came of that, because it doesn't feel right to reward a team for delivering a hit to the head that produces a concussion. Let's hope Kelce is able to play next week, and there should be a next week with this 21-3 lead. Imagine that, we're a touchdown away from back-to-back playoff games featuring a 28-3 lead. Somehow I doubt I'll need to write about a comeback here.

Dave Bernreuther: More Triplette hijinks: After a run by Henry clearly gains the first down past the Tennessee 40, the ball is spotted, somehow, way back at the 38. That Mike Mularkey had to waste a challenge on that is appalling.

And for all the talk of the obvious Mariota fumble that was missed, the hit that took Kelce out of the game very clearly also knocked the ball free, and while Kelce did think to grab for it, it was a Titan who plainly scooped it with two hands. No call, no review.

Aaron Schatz: I thought that Marcus Mariota touchdown throw to himself was an illegal forward pass, but apparently they reviewed it and he didn't cross the line. So we sort of have a ballgame again, 21-10.

Bryan Knowles: Well, when your receivers can't catch, throw the ball to yourself. Mariota to Mariota, 6-yard touchdown pass, bouncing the ball off of Revis Island. I mean, that's not exactly how you draw that up, but that was fairly awesome.

That's exactly what Tennessee needed to start this half -- a long drive, chewing up half the quarter, where they actually managed to move the ball with a degree of regularity. Maybe there's a spark of life there, after all...

Dave Bernreuther: Two things about the Tennessee red zone sequence interested me. The first, Mariota's touchdown pass/catch, well, that'll be covered.

One play earlier, on the one that'll go down in the books as a Justin Houston sack from Mariota running out of bounds an inch behind the line, Derrick Henry failed to impress me. On the snap, he stepped up into the A-gap to pick up a blitz. None came, though, and then his center backed into him, so, with the mobile quarterback leaving the pocket to look for a chance to throw to the end zone, Henry ... put his arms down and gave up and stood there.

That wasn't especially helpful.

Also, Triplette announced that the Mariota play was acceptable because he had lined up in shotgun and was thus an eligible receiver. I never knew there was a distinction.

Andrew Potter: Even in making the right call, Triplette screwed it up. He announced that Mariota could catch the ball because he was lined up in shotgun, but that's irrelevant because the ball was touched by an opponent. How does a professional game official make these constant rulebook errors?

Aaron Schatz: Wait. Does that mean that if line up in shotgun, you could literally toss the ball over an opponent and catch it yourself, without it being touched by a defender? I mean, I don't know why you would want to do this, but...

Bryan Knowles: You sure can, assuming you're playing in a Saturday morning cartoon or a heartwarming family film about a group of ragtag kids learning to come together through the game of football.

Well, then. We buried the Titans too early! A 35-yard run by Derrick Henry means we have a one score game here in the fourth quarter. A ... uh, let's be generous and say "unusual" attempt at a wide receiver screen fails on the two-point conversion, though, and it's still a 5-point deficit.

We were saying something about Kansas City's 32nd-ranked rushing defense?

Aaron Schatz: It's the NFL. We all jump to conclusions too fast when a team takes a big first-half lead. We forget how frequently teams come back these days.

That Derrick Henry run was some bad defense but also was set from the very start because the Chiefs were trying to rush the passer with an overload by having three guys on one side, one guy on the other. Just send the running back up in the direction where there's only one guy, and the blocking's going to be a lot easier. Henry broke a couple tackles to finish it off.

Third-and-2 trying to ice a small lead, you have no choice but to throw to Orson Charles, kids. You gotta design the play for him.

Tom Gower: At 21-16 with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter and Kansas City now facing a third-and-2, Derrick Henry has 17 carries. By my count, 13 of them are from shotgun. He had 27 carries from shotgun in the regular season. The Titans have finally discovered what every other team in the NFL knows, that you can spread the field and have success running the ball into beneficial numbers. Useful that they discovered it now, yes; exasperating that they've spent two years not knowing it. But I sound like a broken record. Orson Charles drop. That's a Kelce play. In-game injuries matter a lot.

Rivers McCown: Going down big early might have been the best thing that could have happened to the Titans, in retrospect. The Chiefs have no idea how to manage a lead and the Titans seem to get much more effective when they're out of exotic smashmouth and running a normal spread catch-up offense.

Aaron Schatz: And the Titans just took the lead with a 22-yard pass on a skinny post to Eric Decker. There were a couple of weird run-pass options on that drive (The screen to Eric Decker with just one blocking wide receiver? No thanks.) but the Titans are ripping off big chunks with Henry runs and passes to both tight ends.

Now the Chiefs need to try to come back without Travis Kelce and apparently without running Kareem Hunt since they seem to have forgotten about the concept. At least they only need a field goal for the lead, since Tennessee missed another two-point conversion and it's now 22-21.

Bryan Knowles: Alright, so officially scrub that "no exciting first wild-card games since 2013" thing. This isn't going to go down as an all-time classic or anything, but full credit to the Titans for taking the lead. I did NOT think they had it in them at all after that first half, but as Rivers pointed out, the Titans are much better when they're not trying to play like ... well, the Titans. Does Mariota really have the most fourth-quarter comebacks this season? Makes sense, I suppose.

Now, we're going to hear about the two-point conversion strategy. I'm fairly sure going for the first one made sense at the time, but now that they've missed two, they're only up by one rather than three. That could come into play. But I do think the choices were right, and there are plenty of other strategic question marks to point at before going there.

So far the game has been kind of Kansas City's entire season in microcosm: a world-beating start, a miserable middle. Now, will they bounce back for a competent ending?

Tom Gower: No issue with going for two the first time. Going for two the second time up one was unquestionably the right call. With two-point conversion rates where they are (47 percent?), you expect to hit one of those. Just didn't that time. You pays your money and you takes your chances.

Derrik Klassen: Those last two plays (before the second extra point) are an embodiment of the Chiefs' defense this season. First, a safety and a cornerback appeared to miscommunicate their coverage responsibilities, leaving a receiver free down the sideline. Mariota missed the throw, but it was a free touchdown. On the next play, two defenders get split down the seam and Mariota make a good throw, surrendering the Chiefs' lead.

Rivers McCown: Titans take a 22-21 lead after Mariota misses an open Corey Davis to his right, but hits Decker on a cross in the end zone. Jeff Triplette blows the two-point conversion dead because he's Jeff Triplette, preventing the Chiefs from having a chance to return it to the other end zone when it looked like Mariota was about to fumble.

Aaron Schatz: Blowing that two-point conversion dead for forward progress made a lot more sense that the earlier forward progress call. Mariota had been pushed back 10 or 15 yards.

Dave Bernreuther: I thought both two-point conversion attempts were no-brainers. The execution of each, however, left a lot to be desired. Gruden mentioned that they hadn't run one all season. They looked like they hadn't practiced one either.

The Titans are winning in the fourth quarter now, just like I predicted. I don't know if I can live in a world where Mike Mularkey has won a playoff game. And I don't think anyone other than Patriots fans has much of an interest in seeing the Titans go to New England next week. But now, improbably, there's a very good chance we could see both of these things, as Alex Smith decided to pull it down and run straight into some defenders on third-and-9 just outside of field goal range. With the clock ticking close to the two-minute warning, the Chiefs are ... going for it? From the 44?

Well, well. That is very, VERY interesting. And a damn ballsy call too, on a deep pass to Albert Wilson. With a safety present, that wasn't a high-percentage play, but it could've been caught if Smith had been perfect. It sailed juuuuust a bit on him, though, and now the Chiefs are in serious trouble.

Bryan Knowles: It seemed like the ball was snapped too early on that fourth-down play -- or, at least, that not everyone on Kansas City knew what was going on. Not exactly the execution I would have looked for on fourth-and-season.

I think I just had multiple heart attacks there. Running out the clock, Derrick Henry gets clobbered. It's ruled a fumble and returned for a score, but we're in replay review, and it looks like it was down.

That was ... I mean, wow. If that had stood, that would have been one of the most remarkable plays ever, there.

Dave Bernreuther: I think it's pretty clear that Henry was down before that ball started coming out, but either way, that was one great run blitz call by Bob Sutton to send Peters there.

Aaron Schatz: Derrick Henry's butt wins Most Valuable Butt.

Bryan Knowles: The last Chiefs quarterback to win a playoff game at home was Joe Montana. I think that says everything you need to know about the Chiefs' playoff struggles and their long-term failures to develop a quarterback in-house.

Vince Verhei: So, to recap: the Titans won a playoff game because Marcus Mariota caught a touchdown pass to start the comeback, then threw the key block on the game-clinching run.

Dave Bernreuther: OK I love making fun of Mularkey and his offense. And I am among those with no interest in seeing him become Belichick fodder next week.

But when your quarterback throws that block on a running play to ice a game, I will be the first to praise the EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH.

Scott Kacsmar: I haven't had dinner yet, but I guess I'll just be eating crow after one of the biggest road comebacks in playoff history. That is just absolutely devastating if you're a Chiefs fan.

Bryan Knowles: Alex Smith, Arizona Cardinal? It's more likely than you think.

I have no idea how the Chiefs seemed to forget about ... well, all their playmakers. How does Kareem Hunt get 11 carries in a game where you're trying to run out the clock for essentially the entire second half? Especially with Kelce out; wouldn't you think you lean on your star rookie and keep the clock going? Some serious questions to ask Reid and Matt Nagy in the aftermath of this one, and no easy answers.

Tom Gower: Pretty sure Kansas City was 50 percent run on first and second downs in the second half until Titans took the lead. That's perfectly reasonable. They just failed on third-and-short when they got there, while the Titans converted third-and-long (and -short and -medium).

Vince Verhei: It was just an ass-kicking in the second half. Tennessee's touchdown drives went 91, 62, and 80 yards. Kansas City, if I'm doing the math right, had 50 yards of total offense after halftime. The Titans blew Chiefs out of the water in the last 30 minutes. Play-calling may not have helped, but the real issue is that the players failed to do their jobs over and over and over again.

One last note on the Kansas City play-calling today: Kareem Hunt finished with 11 runs, and six of those runs gained 1 yard or less. One of those was a touchdown, but still, the Chiefs might have run more if it had been more effective.

Atlanta Falcons 26 at Los Angeles Rams 13

Bryan Knowles: Weird, weird special teams breakdown for the Rams and (deserving!) All-Pro returner Pharoh Cooper. At first, I thought it bounced and hit Cooper on a fair catch, but it was instead one of the coverage guy's feet it bounced off, rolling 15 yards downfield, Falcons ball.

The Rams should have a huge special teams advantage in this one, but the first major blow goes to Atlanta, there.

One of the big points in our NFC wild card preview was that the Falcons struggle getting off the field, recording very few three-and-outs and having one of the worst DVOAs on third down. So, naturally, they start with a pair of three-and-outs, thanks to heavy pressure by Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley. Rams have been providing equal pressure but, hey, special teams counts.

Derrik Klassen: "Falcons vs. Rams Decided By Special Teams" was not the scenario I was prepared for.

Vince Verhei: I might have been, but in favor of the Rams, not Atlanta.

Aaron Schatz: Not if the scenario was "Pharoh Cooper, the best returner in the league this season, turns into Kyle Williams."

Bryan Knowles: A second fumble on a return, and special teams (and Cooper, specifically) are letting the Rams down tremendously.

Again, the Rams were second in special teams DVOA. They had the second-highest kick return score and the sixth-highest punt return score. The Falcons were in the negatives on both kickoffs and punts. This is not something that should be happening.

Rams defense has limited the damage so far, but, wow.

Scott Kacsmar: Yeah, you could have sold me on special teams winning this game for the Rams, but not the other way around. Weird day so far. Probably to expected when the home teams were all favored so much in what has been a weak season with some weird teams getting in the playoffs.

Bryan Knowles: This is basically exactly what Atlanta needed to have a great shot at winning this one. The Rams' defensive DVOA drops from fifth when leading to 28th when tied/trailing by one score, in part because of their relatively poor run defense. I didn't think the Falcons would be able to jump to a lead this early, but you couldn't really write a better situation for them here. Just stunned by the way this game has started.

Scott Kacsmar: This should be interesting since the Rams are a team that traditionally doesn't come back, and the Falcons have had a hell of a time holding leads, especially in the playoffs.

Aaron Schatz: What on earth is wrong with the turf in Los Angeles? Everyone is slipping on the field or as they go out of bounds.

Rams defense has been fantastic all game, stuck defending short fields because of the problems on offense and special teams. Finally got some help, as the Rams march the ball down the field, touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp. Todd Gurley looked like he got going on that drive as well.

Vince Verhei: I really, really want to go back and diagram that Kupp touchdown. Trips to that side, Kupp ran a wheel from the inner slot, second slot guy runs a slant/pick, outside receiver ran ... a post I think? Seemed like something that would have been a killer in Madden.

I don't have the energy to recap the follies at the end of the half, but the Rams were really, REALLY trying to not score in the red zone, but the refs just wouldn't let them, and they kick a field goal to make it 13-10 Atlanta at halftime.

Bryan Knowles: Credit the Rams for not calling the draw and getting off the field, and getting into position to GET that field goal, but they dodged a couple bullets there at the end. Whenever you're rooting for your own completion to be overturned, something has gone wrong.

Jared Goff threw a couple dimes there at the end, including that touchdown pass to Kupp and the bomb to Robert Woods to get them into field goal range to begin with. The better talent around him, better play design and easier reads have done a lot of good for him, but the Jared Goff of last season wouldn't have been able to hit those passes.

13-10 at the half, and we have a good one here.

     

Charles McDonald: Unexpectedly, the defenses dominated the first half of the game. Aaron Donald had a dominant first half and the Rams secondary had an answer for just about every concept Steve Sarkisian threw at them (outside of long gain to Julio Jones). The Falcons defense came to play for the vast majority of the first half. They did a good job of limiting Todd Gurley outside of a long run towards the end of the half. Let's see if the offenses can pick up the pace in the second half.

Scott Kacsmar: From a pure viewing perspective, that was another pretty bad ending to a first half today. Just too long on the reviews of these catches. Also, it's funny that in a league where coaches and players are replaced all the time, the referees seem to hang on forever. Guys like Jeff Triplette, Ed Hochuli, and Walt Coleman have been at this for years, and it doesn't seem like there's ever any real penalty for a dismal performance from them. I probably like Hochuli more than most, because I think his detailed explanations have a purpose at times. But we had Triplette in the first game and he was lousy. These are the playoffs. They should be able to find better officials for these games than that.

Vince Verhei: I think the all-star format they use for officials is part of the problem. It's not just Hochuli, it's Hochuli and a bunch of guys he hasn't worked with all year. (And for the record, I am generally pro-Hochuli too.)

Tom Gower: Thirty minutes of football was played on my television. I'm still too preoccupied with the last game to tell you anything interestingly non-obvious about a single thing that happened in it.

Aaron Schatz: The Falcons have clearly figured out by the third quarter that the Rams struggle to stop the run. They're running a lot and getting nice chunks of yardage.

Vince Verhei: One thing the Falcons learned from the Super Bowl: they are letting that clock run. Five seconds or less on the play clock when the snap it. Part of the reason they've been on the field for most of the third quarter. That, and they keep getting first downs.

Scott Kacsmar: Running the give-up draw on third-and-14 with your backup runner is a curious call to say the least for the Rams. I guess the thought is maybe Goff is more likely to throw an incompletion in that situation, so McVay wants to get his struggling kicker the easiest shot possible at a kick he needs anyway in a 19-10 game? Would look a lot worse if this was 19-13.

Bryan Knowles: Not going for it on the fourth-and-short that ensued also is questionable, especially in retrospect. Now, they basically can't afford to let the Falcons get the ball back for the rest of the game (barring a super-fast score).

Aaron Schatz: Haven't had much reason to say positive things about Steve Sarkisian this year but the receiver screen to Mohamed Sanu with about 6:00 left in the game was the perfect play call at the time. Totally neutralized a Wade Phillips blitz and Sanu went almost the length of the field. That set up Julio Jones to actually score a red zone touchdown a couple plays later, so now we're at 26-13.

Vince Verhei: There are less than six minutes to go in the game. Why did Atlanta kick that extra point?

Dave Bernreuther: I was certain when Matt Ryan threw that that it was going to go the other way for six. With his foot slipping and him falling backward like that, I'm astonished he still put it where only Jones could catch it.

Like Vince, I can't understand why on earth they didn't go for two.

Rivers McCown: Goff has had one of those Scout's Dream days. Has made some absolutely ridiculous throws, but has generally been inefficient otherwise outside of the two-minute drill drives at the end of the half. Lots for the highlight reel, but a lot of passes defensed and wild underneath throws.

Vince Verhei: I had a similar conversation about Goff with some people on Twitter. He has been a very good passer tonight, with three or four tremendous throws. But he hasn't been a very good quarterback -- he has looked hesitant and indecisive a lot too.

And on that note, down 13 points in the closing minutes, look at all these short completions he's making in bounds. Just like at the end of the first half when they were very lucky to get a catch reversed to an incompletion. They're in the red zone now but there's less than three minutes to go.

Bryan Knowles: Getting the touchdown before the two-minute warning is huge. They don't HAVE to onside kick now.

Scratch that, it's being reversed most likely. Good play by Keanu Neal.

Aaron Schatz: Nonetheless, the way the Rams have moved the ball on the two-minute drill here, and then thinking back to Super Bowl LI, I wonder if it makes sense for opponents to always run no-huddle offense against the Falcons. They seem to have problems with it.

Rivers McCown: I was just thinking the Rams hurry up looks a lot like Goff's college offense, myself.

Vince Verhei: Props to NBC for this highlight package of Atlanta tackles. Falcons made a ton of big, difficult tackles in space tonight, and I don't remember too many missed.

Scott Kacsmar: One of the highlights from the Rams' season was that 52-yard touchdown on third-and-33 against the Giants. Just a little screen to Robert Woods to get that one done. So it's kind of fitting that a 52-yard gain on a little screen to Sanu was a dagger play tonight to their season, delivered by the Falcons. I thought the floater from Ryan was pretty ballsy, but he made it work for that touchdown. The Rams had one of those low-scoring losses that we see so many young teams put up in their playoff debut. I think Al Michaels said it well when you "think" this team can be good for a long time, but it's never a guarantee. I think they can get back to this spot next year, but the NFC West will be very competitive with the 49ers and Seahawks.

Buffalo Bills 3 at Jacksonville Jaguars 10

Bryan Knowles: As we get ready for the first Buffalo Bills playoff game of the 21st Century, it's easy to assume that everyone in Buffalo is crazy-excited. As a counterpoint, allow me to introduce exhibit A: one of the most "curmudgeonly local articles I believe I have ever read.

Vince Verhei: I just saw the Jaguars split Leonard Fournette wide and throw him a slant on third down. I need a drink. (He dropped it, of course.)

Bryan Knowles: This game feels like we're just waiting for someone, somewhere to make a big mistake. This game might end 7-0. Or 3-0. Or 2-0.

On the plus side, LeSean McCoy looks to have no ill effects from his ankle sprain. He just has ill effects from all those Jaguars hitting him repeatedly in the backfield. Jaguars are playing a little conservatively on defense, probably realizing the way they lose this game is if someone slips past them on a fluky play and races down the sideline.

Aaron Schatz: This game is setting offensive football back. Good Jacksonville defense is one thing, but Blake Bortles is missing guys wide who are otherwise open. Also, is it possible to put 12 men in the box? And I yelled at my TV screen when Deonte Thompson made a negative-ALEX play on his own by bringing his route back in front of the sticks when he easily could have caught the pass a yard farther downfield for a first down.

Bryan Knowles: And there we go -- Jacksonville interception on a tip-drill! Great play by Myles Jack knocking the ball in the air, and good concentration by Aaron Colvin to get the ball on his second attempt and bring it to the ground.

Hey, someone's across the 50! First time all freaking game, with 11:30 left in the second quarter.

Scott Kacsmar: You might be able to win this game if you realize taking a sack is better than forcing an interception. I'm a little surprised that Taylor was intercepted first, but it was a crazy tipped ball. Buffalo's defense still held after some poor, conservative calls from the Jaguars couldn't even turn great field position into points. Yeah, looks like the under (40) was an easy bet in this one.

Tom Gower: And the Jaguars gain -3 yards and quite reasonably choose to punt from the 38 rather than attempt the 56-yard field goal. Like the neighbor kid in The Incredibles, I'm still waiting for something to happen.

Dave Bernreuther: All that needs to be said about this game so far is that Blake Bortles has badly missed on two throws to guys behind the line of scrimmage. His YPA thus far is sub-2. But he's still a favorite to win a playoff game because AFC.

Rivers McCown: It feels to me like the Jags decided to pull the leash even further on Bortles. Romo has already mentioned that they're playing more off than usual. The Jags are throwing a ton of screens and the Bills aren't biting.

It definitely feels like the Jags don't respect the Bills offense.

Andrew Potter: There is no throw Blake Bortles can't miss.

As Dave alluded to, what really gets me is not just that screens and dumpoffs are falling incomplete, it's that Bortles is missing 2-yard passes by two full yards. That Tommy Bohanon fullback dumpoff looked like he had 10 or 15 yards of open grass in front of him, but Bortles' pass was miles away. The screen almost hit one of the blockers in the back, a good couple of yards away from Chris Ivory. Even better, as soon as he threw it, Bortles started running as though he expected to have to chase down an interception return.

The Jaguars might be using the most conservative game plan, on both offense and defense, that I've seen from any team all year.

Aaron Schatz: I'm a bit shocked that Buffalo is the first team to move into opponent territory, but LeSean McCoy looks perfectly fine and that's the majority of Buffalo's offense. And while I'm usually the biggest fan of going for it on fourth-and-1 ... oh wait ... OMG the Jaguars jumped offside. So the Bills get first-and-goal ... and promptly commit OPI to move back 10 yards.

Dave Bernreuther: Buffalo does the always successful and incredibly bold move of trying to draw them offsides on fourth-and-1, then lines up for a field goal. At which point the Jags jump offside and give them first-and-goal.

Not to be outdone, Kelvin Benjamin immediately pushes off and backs the Bills up to the 12.

AFC Playoff football, everybody.

Bryan Knowles: Points! Glorious, glorious points.

Vince Verhei: Buffalo goes ahead 3-0 on what is officially an 18-play, 71-yard, 8-plus-minute drive. It's going to be overlooked, but the biggest play in scoring range might have been Tyrod Taylor missing Nick O'Leary on what would have been a 23-yard touchdown. You won't get many chances to make a play like that against Jacksonville.

Dave Bernreuther: I won't lie. I was rooting for him to miss the kick, because this game deserves to be scoreless. I found myself daydreaming of a scenario where the game ended 2-0 on a botched punt snap out of the end zone, because such ugliness wouldn't really even be out of character in this game.

Vince Verhei: I am finding it more and more difficult to refrain from using profanity to describe Bortles. He's so heart-stoppingly awful. Threw what should have been an interception and was very lucky his receiver broke it up.

Dave Bernreuther: Vince, that throw was actually far less dreadful than the one he sailed over the head of a wide open Keelan Cole two plays earlier.

Aaron Schatz: He wasn't awful in every game this year. Just remarkably inconsistent and boy oh boy did bad Bortles show up today. I can't see why the Jaguars would consider going forward with this next year. He's never going to be any better than this. This was his best season ever, by far, and it isn't going to be better. No matter how good he ever is, bad Bortles is showing up when you don't expect it.

Rivers McCown: When your pass offense is one based purely on winning by design and not execution, it's going to run in to trouble.

And as I type this, Bortles rips off a huge run out of structure to put the Jags in field-goal range. I know this is anecdotal, but I've always felt the more you try to structure Bortles the worse off you are. Let him play outside the pocket and he at least presents some danger.

Bryan Knowles: Blake Bortles, scramblin' man! The Jaguars maybe should consider coming out in the single wing or something after the half, because it's better than trusting Bortles' arm.

Aaron Schatz: I win the prediction game:

Bryan Knowles: The last time we had a game this low-scoring at the half in a playoff game was the 2015 wild-card game between the Seahawks and the Vikings -- the Blair Walsh game. That game, at least, had the Vikings semi-consistently driving, with scaredy-cat punts being at least somewhat to blame for the 3-0 halftime score. That really hasn't been the case here. I mean, we've had TWICE the scoring! How lucky we are.

With such a low-scoring performance, one mistake might be the eventual difference. Calais Campbell stopping Taylor from getting into the end zone when they were at the goal line might end up being one of the most significant plays of the game.

Tom Gower: 3-3 at halftime. That first half reminded me of Bills-Colts, minus the snowstorm that made that game so compelling. Key play of the first half might have been Calais Campbell's tackle of Tyrod Taylor on third down before the hut-hut/offside on a field goal/OPI sequence.

Aaron Schatz: There isn't much pressure. Bortles is just throwing wide on everyone.

Dave Bernreuther: CBS surprised me with a graphic showing Bortles to be fourth all time in quarterback yards per rush, at 6.3 yards per attempt. This made me wonder how that stacks up to his yards per attempt. 6.7, it seems, which is less amusing than I had hoped, but if you go with ANY/A that drops all the way to 5.4. So nearly a yard worse than his rushing. Which sounds about right.

If you're Tom Coughlin, and your coach is still going to be Doug Marrone, what is actually the best play to replace Bortles next year? Do you overpay the still not exactly dominant Kirk Cousins? Go out and try to buy low on Sam Bradford maybe? I wonder if that's all they need to become a team that's very hard to beat.

Scott Kacsmar: Unlike yesterday, I don't think I'll be making a halftime proclamation that I'll regret. Some people yesterday wanted to convince me that Jacksonville can win in New England this year thanks to its defense. The problem with that is it would require Blake Bortles surviving 12 quarters of playoff football without screwing things up too badly. That's just not possible if you ask me. This first half was some of the ugliest football I've seen all year, and it's a reminder that this would usually be a D-team game for CBS' crew on a normal Sunday. Yet here we are looking to send one of these teams to the divisional round. I don't think "great defense" is good enough to excuse the constant throws short of the sticks or near-turnover plays. These quarterbacks choosing to take off and risk their bodies might be the only way either offense scores again.

Aaron Schatz: Taylor isn't missing guys anything like Bortles is. When he's missed guys it's mostly been deeper passes, like the O'Leary would-be touchdown. Bortles is missing stuff behind the line of scrimmage. Taylor has also been over a lot more pressure. I think it's fair to say that Buffalo has three points in part because of great defense. Jacksonville offense and Buffalo defense is a different story.

Bryan Knowles: I wonder, if Jacksonville can't extend some drives, if their defense will begin to tire out. With McCoy looking fairly healthy and Taylor a threat with his legs, maybe they can fatigue Jacksonville towards the end of the game. If I'm Buffalo's coaching staff right now, that's what I'm banking on, at any rate.

Full, full, FULL credit to Jacksonville for going for it on fourth-and-goal on the 1. It's been so much of a struggle to get ANYTHING going today that you can't waste these opportunities. Thank you for not kicking the 20-yard field goal.

Carl Yedor: It only took three quarters and a successful fourth-down conversion but we have a touchdown! Jacksonville uses up almost nine minutes but they score the first touchdown of the day. Part of me was thinking that if there was going to be one in this game that it was going to come courtesy of a defensive or special teams score. But fear not, Blake Bortles is here to save the day.

Tom Gower: Fourth-and-goal from the 1 going for it resulting in a touchdown definitely deserves a Tony Khan celebration gif.

Bryan Knowles: Costly lack of urgency there -- Charles Clay stepped out of bounds, right in front of the Jags sideline. Rather than the Bills running up to snap, though, they took their time, and gave the Jaguars time to challenge. Lack of situational awareness.

Aaron Schatz: Blake Bortles dropping the ball and scrambling for a first down anyway is like the most Bortles thing that has ever happened.

Dave Bernreuther: After yesterday I might contend that the Bortlesest possible outcome would be that he throws a bad interception and somehow still scores a touchdown.

I like Tyrod Taylor, but I don't have much faith in his ability to lead a tying drive here at all with the way he has been playing, and I haven't seen anything from the Jags defense that makes me feel like it's them that deserve credit.

Bryan Knowles: "Tyrod Taylor isn't any good!" people shout, as the ball hits Zay Jones in the chest.

On the other hand, three or four times this year, Buffalo has had an open receiver on a deep route, and Taylor's just missed him by a yard or so. If one of those hit...

If Nathan Peterman comes in and throws a game-tying touchdown, I am going to flip my lid.

Oh, Peterman. To be fair, that was a good play by Jalen Ramsey, but how else could this game have ended?

Vince Verhei: Jacksonville wide receivers: five catches, 48 yards (all by Dede Westbrook)

Buffalo wide receivers: five catches, 52 yards

Bortles was much better in the second half. In fact, if you said he was better than Taylor after halftime, I couldn't really argue. Taylor missed open throws for big plays, and had receivers open for first downs but wouldn't throw to them. I had heard that critique before, but hadn't seen it so plainly myself. He had a guy open for an easy first down on the third-down scramble where he got hurt. If he had seen the receiver and made the throw, Peterman may never have come into the game.

Rivers McCown: I can see the open underneath guys that Taylor missed. It was interesting to watch. It's almost like he had conservativeness beat into him so much that there's a certain point in a play where he just gives up.

The deep balls I thought were usually decently thrown, just a touch too ahead (usually) or otherwise off.

Tom Gower: The big takeaway from Tyrod is that teams with limited offenses cannot deal with execution errors. Tyrod missed a couple throws, most notably the one to O'Leary that should've been a touchdown, and his receivers failed to haul in a number of passes. One way to live with inconsistent offense like that is to be able to produce big plays, but that wasn't this Bills offense. Of course, none of this was really a surprise.

Carolina Panthers 26 at New Orleans Saints 31

Bryan Knowles: Cam Newton is looking more like Good Cam Newton today, which is helpful. He looked pretty sharp on that 15-play drive, with some solid scrambles to extend the drive and some solid passing. His numbers would look better if it weren't for drops -- Kaelen Clay had a touchdown, Ed Dickson had another one earlier -- but Newton's looking a lot sharper than he did in Week 17.

... And then Graham Gano misses a chip-shot, shockingly. Still scoreless.

Vince Verhei: Panthers get a field goal early in the second to make it 7-3 Saints. Story so far is that the Saints have 80 yards on the touchdown to Ted Ginn and 4 yards on their other seven plays. You have the best running back combo in the league, and the most accurate quarterback in the league, but your play-call on third-and-2 is a pitch to Tommylee Lewis? What in the hell was that?

Rivers McCown: It was adorable, is what it was.

Bryan Knowles: Tackling is important! Alvin Kamara made Luke Kuechly look foolish behind the line, which is really, really hard to do. But there were a number of missed tackles on the Saints' scoring drive there, not all caused by Saints players doing amazing things. And then they just lost coverage entirely on the Josh Hill touchdown, and the Saints are clicking.

Answering touchdowns with field goals does not feel like a sustainable strategy. Carolina's moving the ball fairly well, so don't count anyone out, but they're not finishing drives and not stopping the Saints. 21-9 at the half, with the Panthers getting the ball to start the third quarter. Not over, but Carolina's going to have to find a fifth gear and some sort of answer for the Saints' precision passing game if they want to still be in this for much longer.

Think Drew Brees missed playoff football? Since the first drive, he's 12-for-14 with a pair of touchdowns; nothing is even coming close to slowing him down. If you told me that the Saints would have 14 rushing yards at the half, I would have assumed they were struggling, not comfortably in the lead!

Aaron Schatz: It's 21-9 at halftime but I have very little to say about this game. It mostly seems like chalk. It's played out mostly as expected. The Saints are simply the better and more well-rounded team. The Panthers are really missing quality wide receivers. The one real surprise is how little the Saints have used the running game. The Saints have combined for just five carries by Ingram and Kamara for 17 yards. The other note is that I don't think the Panthers have really made a play on defense that makes you go "Wow, a play!" They're just kind of there, allowing receptions and short gains, and then the one huge one by Ginn for the 80-yard touchdown. But when the Saints have faltered it's mostly been their own fault, like whatever that little pitch to Tommylee Lewis was supposed to be.

Tom Gower: Brees this year threw a ton of short passes, I think at a higher rate than anybody else in the league. That's how you set the completion percentage record. Seam throws -- like the one to Josh Hill, where he had his eyes left, looked off the safety, got his head around, waited a beat for his throwing lane to clear, and then dropped it in against really pretty good coverage -- are how you score points and win games. But Carolina would be in this if they were just executing a little bit better in tight quarters. Instead, at 21-9, it feels like they need seven to start the second half or it could really get out of hand.

Derrik Klassen: Carolina is going to have to beat New Orleans' secondary in the second half and move down the field faster. Carolina has been abusing the linebackers, but that has a been a slow approach that has yet to yield a touchdown. New Orleans, however, is finding the end zone on nearly every possession.

Scott Kacsmar: The longest completion for Brees this season was 54 yards, so the 80-yard bomb was unexpected to a degree. I do find it fascinating, as FOX has pointed out, that the Saints were 0-for-2 on third down in the half, but still scored three touchdowns on long drives. That's great when you can just avoid third down like that, but two attempts in one half is pretty crazy stuff. Carolina on pace for nearly 40 minutes time of possession and it's just irrelevant when you waste time to drop touchdowns, miss field goals, or continue setting up field goals when you clearly need to find the end zone in this tough matchup.

Vince Verhei: I think this actually says a lot about how the game has gone: the Saints did not convert a third down in the first half ... but they didn't have to, because they're only 0-for-2. They didn't get to third down one time in their three touchdown drives. That's 230 yards on three drives, no third downs.

Aaron Schatz: Panthers aren't really getting much pass pressure on Brees, which I think is a large part of their problem.

About three plays after I wrote this, the Panthers brought tons of pressure (six guys) on a third-and-5 and forced both holding and intentional grounding. So I'm a jinx.

Bryan Knowles: Hey, a stop! Kinda! At least if they exchange field goals, the Panthers won't get any further behind.

This game won't get a nickname without a big comeback or something, but it's almost a Ted Ginn revenge game. Ginn's 80-yard touchdown was the longest ever playoff score against a former team, and he's at 115 yards receiving already -- more than Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess combined. Ginn's Carolina's second-best receiver if he sticks around in 2017, yeah? He would certainly do something to fix this lack of separation Carolina is getting.

Vince Verhei: Saints up 24-12 at end of three, and like Aaron said, there's not much to say about a game that has gone like most of us expected. Biggest surprise is that the Panthers have taken Ingram and Kamara out of the game (57 yards from scrimmage combined), but that has just left things open for Ginn, Thomas, and on one occasion Hill. I've been on the Saints bandwagon for the past third of the season or so, and this is the biggest reason why: they have so many different ways to beat you.

Bryan Knowles: Panthers finally, finally punch it into the end zone, and we have a one-score game. A healthy Greg Olsen is a heck of a weapon.

Saints could use a nice, time-consuming drive here, if for no other reason than to give the defense a chance to rest up.

Aaron Schatz: They don't get it, because the Panthers are finally bringing the
pressure. Saints have to punt at midfield after a couple first downs.

Vince Verhei: One of the things I wrote about on Friday was how Carolina needed to win on third downs on both sides of the ball.

That last Saints punt left them 1-of-6 on third downs. Carolina currently 8-of-15.

Of course, I also said the Saints wouldn't use much play-action ... then they get their biggest play of the second half on a fake pitch to Kamara and a bomb down the sideline to Michael Thomas. That sets up a short Kamara touchdown run and a 31-19 lead that is going to be tough for Derek Anderson to overcome.

Bryan Knowles: Even with Newton coming back into the game (and how much do I wish I had some truth serum to figure out how hurt Newton really is!), this is probably too much to overcome.

Andrew Potter: Cam Newton is reportedly coming back in, because the only big negative this weekend lacked was a concussion protocol controversy.

Aaron Schatz: Well. We'll see. Christian McCaffrey just made an awesome juke on Craig Robertson and then ran upfield, putting on the jets to go past everyone, 56-yard touchdown. Now it's 31-26.

Vince Verhei: Ahem.

Aaron Schatz: If the Saints punt this fourth-and-2, the Panthers will get back to the 47 in like 30 seconds because prevent defense. So I say they should just go for it. And it looks like they will.

Bryan Knowles: And they do, and it's intercepted!

Love the Saints going for it; we can debate if it's the right play or not, but the decision is great. The interception bails them out somewhat, too -- as if they had a bad punt.

Aaron Schatz: They should have reviewed the interception and fumble out of bounds. I thought it was an incomplete pass. Doesn't matter much, Carolina gets all the yardage back on the first pass.

Where has the Saints pressure gone on this final Panthers drive?

Dave Bernreuther: I can't be the only one wondering how they didn't call a false start on Trai Turner on the first play post-interception.

Bryan Knowles: I thought Devin Funchess could have made a better play on third-and-a-mile at the end of the game; he just kind of gave up on the pass early. It feels like a top target could have fought for that one more.

And then on fourth-and-season, the Panthers run the "don't block anybody" play, and all three guys in a three-man rush meet at the quarterback. Game over, Saints survive.

I am ready for some Saints-Vikings, let me tell you.

Andrew Potter: That Devin Funchess play in the end zone is typical of his, and Kelvin Benjamin's, time in Carolina. Both of those guys play much smaller than their size, and don't have the quickness to make up for it. I'm not asking Funchess to be Calvin Johnson; but even Brandon Coleman has a better understanding of how to use his dimensions in those situations.

Aaron Schatz: So the big controversy seems to be over whether Cam Newton was in the pocket or out of the pocket on the intentional grounding call. Anyone have a strong opinion either way?

Bryan Knowles: It's close, but looking at this video, I think he was JUST inside the tackle box. It looks like grounding because the right tackle goes in very, very quickly, but I think Newton never clears his initial position.

One more thing on the punt, from Brian Burke at ESPN:

His WP model said the Saints would have been better off punting:
WP [Punt]: 90.7%
WP [Go for it]: 87.8%.

Needed a 69 percent change of converting that fourth-and-2 to make it worthwhile, by those numbers. I think I still trust Brees and the Saints offense.

Tom Gower: Intentional grounding: there's an argument he got to the edge of the pocket with Jordan hanging on to him, enough that it wouldn't be called a throwaway with most circumstances. I'm not sure I really buy it, but I'm one of those sad souls who would like to see grounding called more frequently.

That after Tony Corrente and crew called the grounding penalty they (a) didn't run the required 10 seconds off the clock and (b) didn't start the clock on the ready and had to be saved by the alternate official was a travesty and, from an officiating evaluation perspective, probably worse than anything Jeff Triplette did Saturday.

Non-grounding notes: the Saints really got away with one on third down. A more aware receiver than Devin Funchess makes a better play on the ball and catches a touchdown. Vonn Bell is the almost-and-nearly goat for just missing the sideline pass to Clay and not doing a better job on Funchess. Instead, the Saints get another chance and Dennis Allen wins fourth down with Bell getting the game-winning sack.

Dave Bernreuther: I thought he got to the right tackle area and got the pass far enough, at least close enough not to decide the game on it.

Even though it shouldn't have, because Funchess decided for some reason to jump for a ball thrown short of him. If he stayed on his feet it would've been an easy catch.

All four road teams covered this weekend, but only the Titans end result surprised me.

Rivers McCown: I was happy about the intentional grounding call because I think the NFL gives quarterbacks too much leeway on anything close on that.

Devin Funchess was really the difference to me. He looked hurt all game, and as great as Carolina's offense was in general, Funchess closed down a couple would-be drives and that last throw to the end zone.

Vince Verhei: A few late thoughts:

  • Let's credit Cameron Jordan with the pressure on the bull rush that forced the intentional grounding.
  • On the third-down play, it wasn't just Funchess, it looked like all the Saints defensive backs gave up too. Did everyone lose the ball in the lights or something?
  • There are people out there who still think Cam Newton is a bad quarterback. What silly people.

I'm all fired up now. Can't wait till next to week to watch the Seahawks --

Oh God dammit.

Aaron Schatz: We're the stats people, but we need to remind some of our readers that quarterback stats are not reflective of the quarterback only without filtering out his teammates, and Cam Newton is an example of a player who overcomes the weaknesses of players around him. Well, sometimes he does.

Posted by: Andrew Potter on 07 Jan 2018

197 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2018, 11:44am by Raiderjoe

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:23am

Yeah, that play by Funchess was brutal. Will that be recorded as a drop? If not, it is the sort of statistically hidden play that decides a lot of games; think of all the yardage the Saints gained when their receivers made good adjustments on passes the Brees intentionally put in places calling for that adjustment. By comparison, it wasn't a huge ask for Funchess to get to the right spot, and if he does, it's an easy catch.

Did I hear Buck correctly, that this was only the fifth home playoff game for the Saints in the Payton/Brees era? It seems like there should be more, as long as those two guys have been there, but when I see they have won 4 division titles in 12 years, it makes sense. Loomis really hit on the draft this year, but it seems like you should win more when you have HOF quarterbacking for a stretch that long.

2
by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 7:38am

Do not forget that the Saints were last or next to last in defensive DVOA five times in six years from 2012 to 2016. Forget winning divisions -- the Saints had a Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime and couldn't even finish with a winning record.

Sunday's game against Carolina "only" Brees' 12th playoff start, and one of those came in San Diego. Right this second, Brees and Russell Wilson are tied with 12 playoff starts. Brees has played 17 NFL seasons. Wilson has played six. No, this is not fair. Yes, this says a lot more about the defenses both men have played with than it does about the quarterbacks themselves.

48
by johonny :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:30pm

Oh course Brady's defense sucked this year but he's likely heading to the AFC championship game because the AFCleast is a terrible terrible division and there's no hope in sight.

117
by PaddyPat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 3:30am

This really isn't a very reasonable take on the matter. As I have argued on this site in past years, the AFC East is hardly as weak as most folks think it is. It doesn't tend to produce a second-place team with a winning record, but it rarely produces terrible teams. The AFC East actually stacks up quite competitively against all other divisions in terms of games won outside of the division. In fact, the likelihood in any given year of the NFC North, a so-called "competitive" division fielding an 11-5 team, a 10-6 team, a 5-11 team, and a 3-13 team vs. an AFC east division fielding a 12-4 team, an 8-8 team and 2 6-10 teams is actually quite high, more or less. Those results would show that the NFC division that year won 29 games, while the AFC East won 32. Yet, the AFC East would be viewed as "least" because it was not "competitive." These results are fairly generalizable over the past decade, demonstrating that the overall quality of play and competitiveness in the AFC East is high relative to most other divisions. The Bills, Jets, and Dolphins are a pretty good bet in any given year to each win between 9 and 6 games, which is far more than the second through fourth place finishers in most divisions.

All of that supports the larger assertion that the success of the Patriots is not due in any large measure to the weakness of divisional competition. Rather, I would argue that the domination of the Patriots has suppressed and squashed continuity in the rest of the division, masking talent and coaching strength, and undermining organizational stability.

123
by PatsFan :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:45am

Over time NE has higher non-divisional winning percentage than they have a divisional winning percentage. So if the AFC East is "lousy", so is the rest of the entire league.

134
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:58am

I wonder if that's true of a lot of good teams? Are divisional opponents more likely to upset a better team?

129
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:50am

"This really isn't a very reasonable take on the matter. As I have argued on this site in past years, the AFC East is hardly as weak as most folks think it is."

In an increasingly passing-dominated league, the AFC lEast has had embarrassingly poor QB play from the non-NE teams. The best non-Brady QB was either Fitzpatrick (!!!!) or Pennington. Fitz had more total career value; Pennington had more in his time in the East.

Put it this way -- Bledsoe finishes in the top-5 for career value in his Buffalo seasons alone.

I haven't fully divvied up years across split teams, but I think every other conference has had at least three guys better than Fitzpatrick's career in the Belichick era. Some *teams* have had multiple of these guys.

Belichick lucked into spending most of his career in a time when his conference opponents were uniquely unsuited for the direction football went in.

132
by aces4me :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:54am

While no one I know would dispute your eyeball test of the AFCE quarterbacks. The records of those teams both against the Patriots and against other non-AFCE teams don't support the assertion of a weak division.

137
by nat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:06pm

Or to put it differently, if those teams have been "uniquely unsuited" to modern football in their QBs, they must also have been even more "uniquely suited" to modern football in some other way. Otherwise, their non-divisional records would have been well below average instead of above average.

133
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:57am

It's not the weak *average* strength of the division that people think of when they think that the Pats play in an easy division, it's that the Pats haven't had many particularly *good* teams to contend with.

Compare to, say, the NFC West, also often considered a weak division, but in the past 9 years 3 of the teams in the division have been to the Superbowl (and all 4 if you push it back a little further). In that same 9 years, the Bills are 0-1 in the playoffs and the Dolphins are 0-2. Only the Jets have provided Belichik-Brady any kind of divisional rivalry, but the last of their playoff wins was 7 years ago with Mark Sanchez at the helm.

So that's what people mean when they say the AFC East is "weak"--they mean that most years it hasn't been much of a challenge for the Patriots to win the division because the other teams have been a very average bunch.

136
by aces4me :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:05pm

It is true that the average AFCE teams has been better than the average non-ACFE team. It is also true that there really hasn't been any really strong teams come out of the AFCE since the Patriots started their run of dominance. QB play is probably the underlying reason for that lack of another great team.

139
by aces4me :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:24pm

This chain of thought led me to a thought experiment. Availability of quality QBs is clearly the limiting factor for very good teams. It is very hard to have a successful team without quality QB play. What if there were enough good QBs in the world that the floor for QB play was Stafford or Cousins. That any team that couldn't get play of at least that level could replace their QB with one of at least that level. What would be the limiting factor for great teams then? Shutdown corners? Impact free safeties? Offensive coordinators? IF QBs grew on trees what would be the next position to limit team performance?

171
by Alternator :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:04pm

Top flight pass rushers, because the best way to play defense in such a league is to harass the quarterbacks into rushing throws. Teams would build around acceptable pass rush and top flight coverage the way they build around acceptable quarterbacks and a strong running game now.

146
by nat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:06pm

It's not the weak *average* strength of the division that people think of when they think that the Pats play in an easy division, it's that the Pats haven't had many particularly *good* teams to contend with.

That sounds plausible. I wonder if it's really true.

So I did this: I looked at the last ten years, looking for divisions with at least two teams with 7+ wins outside the division. I think .700 is a reasonable cutoff between "just a bit above average" and "particularly good", as it equates to somewhere between 11 and 12 wins over a 16 game season. Focusing on non-divisional games keeps this from confusing a team being good with its divisional rivals being bad.

Here are the results:

The median division had three such seasons out of ten. So did the AFC East.

The median division last did this in 2015. So did the AFC East.

Four divisions have had three teams that good in one season. The AFC East is one of those.

In the past 10 seasons, the most a team has been that good and faced a divisional opponent that good is 4. The Patriots were in that situation 3 times.

All in all, it looks like the "few good divisional rivals" idea doesn't really hold up very well.

I suspect this theory comes from how seldom other AFC East teams win the division. It turns out (quelle surprise!) this is due to the Patriots being good, not their rivals being bad.

147
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:11pm

I really wish your posts on this subjected could be stickied on the site somewhere.

173
by eagle97a :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:10pm

If not stickied we can make them copy-pasta as replies to comments everywhere about the AFCE being weak.

179
by aces4me :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:03am

Too many years as a programmer. Never type what you can copy and paste.

180
by aces4me :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:06am

double

148
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:14pm

I think it is more simple why people make the slightly incorrect assumption the AFC East has been weak: First, no team has had consistent coach/QB, even when they've had some general periods of success.

But the larger issue, no AFC East team has been truly awful or really good (outside NE, of course).

Since 2002 realignment, no other AFC East team has ever won 12+ games (only three seasons of 11 wins). That said, other than the 2007 Dolphins (1-15), no team had lost more than 12 either.

No other division has had so few 0-3 win or 12+ win teams as the AFC East in that time period. Not sure if it becomes less stark when looking just at recent years.

151
by nat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:25pm

I believe all that.

You should really stick to non-divisional games to do this kind of analysis, though.

Considering that no team in the AFC East has swept the Patriots since at the 2000 season, including divisional games in your analysis is putting your thumb on the scales in a big way.

158
by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 3:04pm

Fair. Wasn't trying to make an actual assessment of the AFC East. More looking at the biggest reasons why the division is perceived as being especially weak when by nearly every analysis of team strength outside of 'Most Wild Cards earned' they are not the worst by any stretch.

160
by nat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 3:29pm

Also fair.

You're probably right that the perception of a weak AFC East (when it's not simply the wishful thinking of the envious - a major source in my opinion) is from looking at seasonal W-L records without subtracting out the losses that typically come from having to play the Patriots twice.

It's simply not valid to say, in effect, that "Team X is in a weak division because Team X has a good divisional W-L record".

182
by BJR :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 6:57am

Agree with the envy, but there are likely other narratives in play also. Buffalo had the longest playoff drought in major sports prior to this season which plays into the idea they are a consistently lousy opponent, when in fact they have been mostly mediocre, and their extended drought is obviously due in large part to being stuck in a division with the Patriots.

Then there's the Jets who are often regarded as a punchline, and the Dolphins who older fans remember for 17-0 and Dan Marino. Neither have been terrible for any extended period, but fail to meet historical expectations of their media/fan-base.

Anyway, your analysis seems fairly conclusive, and has now been repeated several times, so I hope to not have to read about the 'weak' AFC East on these boards again. Good job.

163
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:53pm

The median division had three such seasons out of ten. So did the AFC East.

I can't duplicate your numbers. In fact, what I can find contradicts them.

Since 2003 (that year just because that's the cut-off for my source page) the Patriots have managed 70% winning percentage outside the division 12 times. The rest of the division put together: twice in 15 years. By this measure, the Patriots have had serious competition for the division two times in 15 years, and that's why the AFC East is perceived as a weak division.

Source: https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/trend/win_trends/non_division?range=yea...

P.S. All this counting is undoubtedly way cruder than using the actual stats provided by this very site, as ammek points out below.

172
by eagle97a :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:07pm

Reading comment # 146, nat I believe went looking for divisions with 2 teams having a 0.700 season as cutoff (between 11 or 12 wins in total) and those teams having 7 wins outside of the division. I read your comment as the Pats having 0.700 winning % full stop. You can ask him for more clarity but I'm thinking you guys are not using the same numbers with the same starting points.

177
by nat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:01pm

I was simply looking for teams with 7+ non-divisional regular season wins. That's .700 or better outside their division, a good indicator of a strong team that avoids the issue of whether they are in a weak or strong division themselves.

I didn't also check playoff games or divisional games or season totals. I didn't want to punish teams for being in tough divisions or for making the playoffs or to reward them for being in easy divisions.

178
by eagle97a :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:53pm

Seems I also mistook a part of your comment. Thanks for the clarification.

187
by bravehoptoad :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:58pm

Yes, that's what I was doing, too. By those standards, the Patriots have had another good team in their division twice since 2003.

191
by nat :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:09pm

Your data is a screwed up somehow.

Since the modern divisions were set up in 2002, a non-Patriots AFC East team has managed 7 non-division wins 7 times.

2002 - MIA
2004 - NYJ
2008 - BUF and MIA
2009 - NYJ
2010 - NYJ
2015 - NYJ

Two of those were in seasons the Patriots failed to get 7+ wins outside their division themselves. That still leaves 5 opponents and 4 seasons where the Patriots were strong and had a strong rival, as determined by non-divisional W-L record.

That's way more than twice.

Please double check your data and tell us what you find, so people don't get misinformed by your error (or mine, if that turns out to be the case). Thanks.

125
by aces4me :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 9:29am

Or to quote nat's work

Yup. You could ride a weak division to the playoffs. Consider all the division winners with 7, 8, or 9 wins.
I wasn't dismissing your general point, just its application to the Patriots and the Colts.
Here's one more look at non-divisional records, this time looking by season 2009-2016, the period when the AFC East supposedly was weak. (Not by your claim, but by the post that started this thread.)
How many times did teams in each division go at least 5-5 in their non-divisional games? That would tell us that they played well enough to at least deserve a shot at the playoffs if they had a winning divisional record. At any rate, none of these teams would be considered pushovers or automatic wins to mark on the calendar.

Div. Competitive Teams
NFCE 17 (of 32)
NFCN 22
NFCW 14
NFCS 16
AFCE 22
AFCN 19
AFCW 19
AFCS 16

Sure, you might say, but that's just because teams like the Patriots skew their division. If you take out the team with the best non-divisional record from each division, how do the also-rans do? That would really tell you which division was the pushover.

Div. Competitive Also-Rans
NFCE 13 (of 24)
NFCN 14
NFCW 9
NFCS 10
AFCE 14
AFCN 12
AFCW 12
AFCS 10

And there you have it: the AFC East and the NFC North are the divisions (since 2009) with the most competitive teams. The AFC South and the NFC South and West are the divisions with the most potential pushovers.

144
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:42pm

Yes, but "competitive" and "pushovers" aren't how to measure this perception of weakness, which is based on the lack of challengers for the division crown. "Competitive" is often just a synonym for "average," after all, and 5-5 outside the division would be pretty much the definition of average.

A good proxy for this might be: how many wildcard winners has each division boasted? This would give some idea of how many challengers there were for the division.

When I count up wildcards since the divisional reorganization in 2002, here's what I get:

AFC

North: 11
South: 8
East: 6
West: 7

NFC

North: 7
South: 8
East: 11
West: 5

Looked at this way, the AFC East is indeed one of the weakest divisions at producing challengers, "bested" only by the NFC West. The most challenging divisions by this standard are the AFC North and the NFC East, each by a good amount.

This seems to match much better with the common wisdom about which divisions are "strong."

150
by aces4me :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:19pm

That is another reasonable way to try and judge strength of a division. The 5-5 outside your division method is independent of the presence of a dominate team in your division where the wildcard test isn't. It would be interesting to see how the presence of a dominating team impacts the likelihood of a wildcard team emerging from that division. How does the division winner winning 12 games or more (where I pick 12 games arbitrarily as the limit for "dominance") impact the change of another team in that division winning a wildcard. I will see if I can find the time to research that.

Update:
If there is an impact it is a positive one. Since 2002 the number if wildcard teams that came out of a division with a winner having 12 or more wins: 41. Number of wildcards to come out of divisions where the winner won less than 12 games: 23.

181
by aga :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 4:11am

"If there is an impact it is a positive one. Since 2002 the number if wildcard teams that came out of a division with a winner having 12 or more wins: 41. Number of wildcards to come out of divisions where the winner won less than 12 games: 23."

yes, because to be a wildcard, you need to have a good w/l and be the second/third team in your division...
it is much easier to have a good w/l and be the second team in your division, if the winner of the division has a very good w/l (12 or more wins)... it is not so easy to be second with a good w/l, if the first team does not have a good record (if the winner of the division is 10/6, it is quite unlikely that the second team in that division will get a wildcard)

183
by aces4me :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 9:50am

After putting the numbers together and being surprised for like 5 minutes I had a Homer moment (doh!) and thought of course it is that way.

185
by DGL :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:22pm

Or to put it another way, if you're a good team and the best other team in your division wins less than 12 games, there's a good chance that you're not the wildcard because you won the division.

174
by Alternator :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:14pm

The AFC North teams have consistently had two very easy wins a year against the Browns, which helps significantly with picking up wild cards; the Ravens this year were 7-7 versus not-Browns, for example. In terms of earning wild cards, exceedingly weak teams in the division are a gigantic help - notably, something the AFC East has lacked.

I doubt you'd get much disagreement over the NFC East being the division that has produced the most 'strong' teams, though, regardless of how you define the term.

141
by ammek :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:38pm

Wins and losses are a terrible way to judge team quality. You should use this new stat, it's called DVOA, invented by some Patriot hater on the internet.

The Other Three in the AFC East all average between -4.0% and -5.8% DVOA in the period 2009-17. The Jets were pretty good from 2009-11 and again in 2015. They were below average in 2013 and terrible the other four seasons. The Bills and Dolphins have one year above +5% DVOA between them (Buffalo had +10.5% in 2014), versus nine years of DVOA below -5%. That's a lot of badness and mediocrity.

The AFC East hasn't been a joke in the same way as the AFC South has. But it has been consistently a little below average, and it is getting worse.

A more pertinent line of inqiry into why the Patriots have coasted to the division title recently might be their ability to win games they ought to lose. Between 2009 and 2012 the Patriots won exactly as many games as FO's Estimated Wins said they should. In the period 2013-17, they have exceeded Estimated Wins by at least one win in every season, and by an average of 1.5 wins per season. It would be interesting to know what is going on here; I reckon a chunk of it is down to luck, like missed Cardinals field goals and fortunate overtime coin tosses. I certainly don't believe Belichick has found a formula – nor that there's a conspiracy.

143
by aces4me :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:42pm

Or that using DVOA as a way to predict future events like winning or losing games isn't perfect.

6
by ammek :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:57am

There could be three HoF quarterbacks in the division. Can only be one winner.

(At the very least, Brees has had the misfortune of going up twice a season against the best QBs drafted anywhere during his first half-dozen years in New Orleans.)

12
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:39am

Technically true!

You could make an argument the NFC North group (Stafford, Cutler, Bradford) is net better than (Ryan, Newton) for the 2006-2011 draft class.

11
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:33am

It struck me more as the kind of play where an outfielder loses a ball in the sun or half-asses it towards a fly ball down the line. It should have been caught, but because it never really hit his hands, it's not a drop.

Funchess has Derek Jeter range.

49
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:30pm

resd that comment like 1980s song that has lyrics "She's got bette davis eyes"

77
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:13pm

I love that "read" is misspelled but "Bette" is the correct variant spelling.

Never change, Raiderjoe.

61
by BroncFan07 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:22pm

Really looked like to me that Funchess just took his eyes off the ball to look where he was in relation to the goal line, then when he looked back for the ball again, he had lost sight of it. If he kept his attention on the ball, he could have adjusted to the spot where it was landing.

3
by jtr :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:38am

Really lousy job by Romo on reacting to the Tyrod Taylor injury. Taylor was flat on his back for quite a while, obviously concussed, with the whole training staff surrounding him, and Romo spent the whole time talking about the 10-second runoff that this was going to cost the Bills. I get that the NFL really really doesn't like people talking about concussions, but you can at least give a quick mention of concern to the guy before you dive into the strategic implications of his injury.

7
by billsfan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:58am

That bothered me, too, although, In Romo's defense, he appears to care about player safety exactly as much as the league does. Anyway, between the all-day head-hunting on Taylor and Newton getting, uh, poked in the eye after being down by contact, both of Sunday's games were essentially decided by which team was more willing to inflict brain injury on the opposing QB.

Myles Jack even got in Taylor's face and talked smack after going helmet-to-helmet. Class act, that one.

13
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:40am

The Jack hit was on a run. That's a clean hit.

Granted, it likely only occurred because Taylor got clobbered on a give-up slide earlier in that drive.

21
by billsfan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:18am

It was absolutely a clean hit. That doesn't mean that it wasn't a deliberate, for the reason you just stated. But the subsequent grabbing and twisting of Taylor's helmet was a bit superfluous. nfl.com even has it up as a highlight, if you go into the play-by-play.

(Not knowing when to slide, take the sack, or throw it away, of course, is just one of the many flaws of Taylor's game.)

Regardless, the trash-talking after allowing an 8-yard scramble on 3rd-and-7 is just nonsensical. After years of great play from Posluszny, it's sad to see him replaced by this thug.

28
by sbond101 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:54am

I don't know exactly what appropriate is there. It's the end of the game and the game is clearly on the line, you kind of have an obligation to talk about the implications to the coming play. I do think focusing on the run-off at the expense of the change in QB was a bit of a mistake, but definitely of a kind that is made in broadcasting all the time in the moment.

On the other hand it was an ugly play - and it was a fairly obvious instance of a concussion and the associated protocol playing a critical role in the final sequence of an as-yet-undecided playoff game. It's reasonable to take a cynical view about that the broadcast was drawing attention away from it - and away from the fact that if that happened in Romo's rookie year there is a 99% chance he would have taken the next snap. I can imagine it's really difficult for an ex-QB to know how to feel about that, certainly in a way which is possessed of enough confidence to share on the air.

65
by jtr :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:29pm

If this were an NBC game, Michaels would have gone to a softer tone of voice to talk about what how Taylor was still down after hitting the ground really hard, then sent it right off to commercial. Once they came back from commercial and Taylor was on his feet they would talk about the 10 second runoff, who the backup is, and so on. Romo and his partner definitely are definitely a bit raw, and in particular Romo never seems to know when it's time to shut up about something. Hopefully that's something he'll get better at over time.

37
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:13pm

In Romo's defense, he was savaged so badly throughout his career he is probably beyond sympathy at this point.

38
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:13pm

In Romo's defense, he was savaged so badly throughout his career he is probably beyond sympathy at this point.

4
by billprudden :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:41am

I spent every Jax possession asking myself "How good would this team look with Kap at QB?"

Or Alex Smith, or Kirk Cousins, or any of Minn's QBs...

14
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:41am

With Kaep?

So slow reads, limited route tree traversal, followed by panicked and occasionally-successful scrambling, all while paired with a determined running game and a top-flight defense?

Pretty similar, I expect.

16
by jtr :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:53am

If your offense is going to devolve into panicked scrambling anyways, you might as well employ a really damn good scrambler. Kaep offers an extra notch of athleticism in scrambling that Bortles doesn't have.

18
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:04am

Their combine performance wasn't that different. Kaepernick has a faster top end, but they're about the same in speed+agility comps (three cone, short-shuttle). Bortles also ran a pure option offense in HS.

89
by bravehoptoad :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:08pm

Your evaluation of Kaep is really out of date. You should read Cian Fahey's piece on him: http://presnapreads.com/2017/08/31/colin-kaepernick-evaluating-every-sna...

22
by billsfan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:19am

...or Blaine Gabbert!

5
by jtr :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:57am

Not a coincidence that Kelce's injury precipitated the collapse of the KC offense. Their big midseason collapse also coincided with Hill's hamstring injury, which didn't keep him out of games but was enough to take him from insanely fast to just regular NFL fast. Between Alex Smith's conservatism and Andy Reid's most-complicated-possible-way-to-run-a-screen offense, they really need the Kelce-Hill-Hunt triumvirate to be at exactly 100% to have any firepower at all. As soon as they lose just a bit of playmaking ability out of those guys, the whole offense falls apart.

I think that's why Mahomes would be a good answer for them next season. Somebody who's willing to push the ball down the field and take more than just whatever the defense offers would really help give this offense more margin for error.

8
by dryheat :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:16am

During one game, an offensive lineman (I believe Alex Mack), put the ball-carrier in a bear hug and pulled him across the end zone. This type of thing used to be flagged for illegal use of the hands. Did the League do away with this rule, or is it something that just isn't called any more?

9
by Will Allen :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:19am

It's now legal, and I see short yardage runs now where it looks like it is part of play design.

10
by jtr :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:26am

It's legal to push a runner forward, but you can't grab him, and a bear-hug is explicitly forbidden. They just don't seem to be enforcing it. This is straight out of the 2017 rulebook:

ARTICLE 4. OTHER PROHIBITED ACTS
No offensive player may:

-pull a runner in any direction at any time
-use interlocking interference, by grasping a teammate or by using his hands or arms to encircle the body of a teammate
-trip an opponent
-push or throw his body against a teammate to aid him in an attempt to obstruct an opponent or to recover a loose ball.

Penalty: For assisting the runner, interlocking interference, tripping, or illegal use of hands, arms, or body by the offense: Loss of 10 yards.

26
by Travis :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:37am

Pulling the ballcarrier is illegal, but they haven't flagged it since the 1991 playoffs.

118
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:13am

The NFL publishes it's rulebook? I know it was kept secret several years ago, and so I haven't bothered looking since. When and why did that change?

124
by PatsFan :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:46am
138
by dryheat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:08pm

I was also wondering the previous week, where a quarterback (I'm pretty sure it was Tyrod Taylor) was hit and was falling down, and an offensive linemen caught him under the armpits and set him on his feet again. I remember thinking no way it was legal, and apparently it technically isn't, per your second bullet.

15
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 9:44am

I would point out, that if I were a conspiracy-minded man, that the non-reversal of the Ramsey interception and the reversal of the KC fumble recovery gives New England exactly the 2nd round matchup they would prefer -- they get Tennessee and not KC, and Pittsburgh gets Jacksonville and not Buffalo.

I never thought I'd say this, but I miss Blandino. He was Hitler to Riveron's Stalin.

19
by Cheesehead_Canuck :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:10am

I'm all for pointing out the randomness and matchups that tend to fall the Patriots' way.. repeatedly.. but Buffalo was simply not going to tie that game even if the Ramsey INT had been reversed.
The KC non-fumble, however, was bullshit and did play a role (they scored a FG on that drive)

31
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:21am

Which KC fumble reversal? If you are talking about the sack, it wasn't reviewed because it was blown dead due to forward progress.

35
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:08pm

The Henry fumble.

41
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:28pm

Thanks, I forgot about that one. Unfortunately (and I know you weren't entirely serious with this), there is zero doubt that he was down so overturning that call can't support a conspiracy narrative either.

42
by Cheesehead_Canuck :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:56pm

I thought he meant the sack actually. I realize it's non-reviewable, but the forward progress call itself was awful and cost KC a possession.

51
by ddoubleday :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:44pm

Right, but the call of stopped forward progress will live in infamy. Terrible, inexplicable call. There could never be a sack/fumble if that were the rule.

54
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:48pm

I agree, clear fumble.

FWIW, NE had the exact same call go against them last year when Trey Flowers ripped the ball out of Flacco's hands in the process of a sack.

52
by RickD :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:45pm

(Ye gods comments like this are silly. But they proliferate like bunnies.)

No, the NFL didn't magically wave pixie dust over the Chiefs to make them collapse in the 2nd half. They did that on their own.

You're just trolling, right? You don't actually think the NFL was counting on a small handful of plays that they could misadjudicate in an obvious fashion just to get the Titans in the next round.

Right?

And if you think the NFL would rather see Jax vs NE than Pitt vs NE there's not much to say.

72
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:58pm

No.

I've seen the Chiefs playoff record since the Stram administration.

That said, I could totally believe in a rogue employee who steered game results in their preferred direction. That has actually, provably, occurred in the NBA.

Now, that said, I can only observe so many coins land on their edge before I start suspecting it might not be a fair coin.

79
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:38pm

Have any coins landed on their edge?

101
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:05pm

Clearly, every call that helps the Patriots, in no matter how disconnected a manner, is a coin on its edge.

I mean, taking the Patriots 1st and 3rd picks and suspending Brady because they don't understand basic gas law was clearly an elaborate conspiracy to keep Brady fresh and make sure that Bill Belichick didn't get confused by too many draft picks.

119
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:16am

Hey yeah, I never thought about it that way before!

121
by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 7:41am

I try to avoid any comment on the ball deflation debacle, but I keep seeing comments like this, so I'll make an exception one more time, and note that those penalties likely in good measure resulted not from improper deflation, but rather from impeding the inquiry into the matter. Particularly with regard to the team's decision to impede the inquiry, the penalties were pretty reasonable, it seems to me.

Having said all that, I agree that there is a lot of evidence to suggest it is ridiculous to think the league ttys to favor the Patriots.

135
by dryheat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:05pm

"Reasonable" was never in play. Brady offered to take a one game suspension for destroying his phone. His inner circle leaked that if Goodell increased it to two games, Brady would have accepted it.

However, Goodell was not interested in even meeting with Brady to discuss until Brady admitted to "directing a conspiracy to deflate footballs".

Not to put too fine a point on it, but remember that the Wells report concluded that "the football were more likely than not deflated by the Patriots, and Brady was more likely than not to have a general awareness of it."

It might be the only time in the history of appeal processes that the punished came out of the hearing with not only the punishment not reduced, but the allegation inflated.

That being said, the Patriots organization definitely could've handled the whole thing better, and if less recalcitrant, possibly would have faced lighter sanctions.

152
by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:34pm

I've always been more ambivalent about what was done to Brady, because I'm still not entirely convinced that the CBA gives the league the power to compel a player to turn over a cell phone. The team? If anything, the team got off easy. We have 32 cartel members with a license to print money, and one of them wants to start effing around with the other 31, regarding simple stuff like multiple interviews with a very low level employee? Screw that, if I was one of the 31 being effed with about nonsense like the time of a low level employee, I would have wanted the partner acting this way to be stripped of an entire year's draft, just to get everybody's mind right.

17
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:01am

I would also like to thank Carolina and New Orleans for providing the only game where both teams seemed to possess professional-caliber pass offenses. Funchess aside, they both seemed to have competent receivers at the same time.

Holy hell are Buffalo's receivers awful. They might as well wear old-fashioned spitter-style catcher's masks, so Taylor can at least drill one into the face hole. The Bills WRs aren't as good as what Taylor played with in college (Royal, Coale, Jarrett, Morgan, Harper; Williams and Wilson at RB). When the front office decided to can anyone who could catch the ball so as to undercut Taylor, they realized they couldn't just resign those guys when they switched to Peterman, right? That he'd also be throwing to a bag of crap?

Taylor's passing reminded me of Wentz last year. Constantly checking down to the TE and the RB, who are the only receivers he has any trust in, and mostly ignoring the deeper routes run by guys who don't catch as well as DBs. I don't think Brees or Brady could make this offense work. It would be fun to watch Brady, try, though. WRs who can't catch and don't run clean routes paired with an O-line that give up early pressure up the middle is guaranteed to lead to Brady Kaboom.

23
by billsfan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:23am

Their best receiver played with a shredded knee and could basically only run in a straight line.

My greatest fear watching that game yesterday was that the Bills would manage to tie it and subject me to overtime.

39
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:14pm

The funny thing is that Buffalo currently has the Panthers best wide receiver.

103
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:08pm

"It would be fun to watch Brady, try, though."

He'd kill one of the wide receivers, on the field, during the game.

126
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 9:39am

And nothing of value would be lost.

20
by barf :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:10am

I was at the Chiefs-Titans game Saturday. I don't like blaming the refs for a loss, and don't in this game. KC had plenty of chances to finish (missed FG, too many dropped passes, bad play calls, etc) but I will say the Derrick Johnson hit on Mariota that should have been a fumble recovery by KC is the single worst call I've ever seen in my life. If a player isn't moving forward, how on earth is there "forward progress"? He got lit up by Johnson, and fumbled. That was huge, and took at least a possession away from KC, if not an outright touchdown.

KC found a way to lose the game, and didn't deserve to win. They also deserved better on that particular play. I believe if they had scored 28 in the first half instead of the 21 they ended up with, we'd be talking about a Chiefs game in New England this week.

Something has to be done about these critical officiating mistakes.

24
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:28am

It would take a major shake-up in the front office.

Remember, Triplette once crippled a player. Literally crippled him. And he's not only not in jail, he's still employed!

56
by RickD :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:50pm

"Not any more."

60
by Drunken5yearold :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:21pm

The forward progress call was bull****, but how come nobody is mentioning that the play is clearly unnecessary roughness on Johnson? He executes a helmet-to-helmet hit on the quarterback. Brady gets a "contact to the helmet of the QB" call if a defender blows on him while running past.

62
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:23pm

Brady gets a "contact to the helmet of the QB" call if a defender blows on him while running past.

He does?

69
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:44pm

Is helmet-to-helmet hits on the QB allowed if they are outside the pocket?

Not in relation to this play, but on the sack that got Newton 'poked in the eye', isn't that clear hit to the head of a QB?

80
by Lyford :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:39pm

"Brady gets a "contact to the helmet of the QB" call if a defender blows on him while running past."

The median count of roughing calls to benefit an NFL team in 2017 was 3. The average was 3.3. Roughing was called against Brady ... 3 times.

Over the past 9 years, the following QBs have benefitted from more roughing calls per 100 passes than Brady:

P.Manning
T.Romo
J.Freeman
E.Manning
P.Rivers
C.Kaepernick
A.Dalton
B.Hoyer
J.Flacco
M.Schaub
D.Carr
J.Campbell
B.Roethlisberger
M.Sanchez
M.Cassel

The idea that the officials are excessively solicitous of Brady is not supported by facts...

83
by nat :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:49pm

Well researched.

Is this list in any particular order? Should we suspect P. Manning of getting special treatment? Or is it just chance that he's listed first?

86
by Lyford :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:01pm

Oops - sorted the wrong way. Here's the right list (which doesn't change the overall point):

J.McCown
R.Griffin
R.Fitzpatrick
M.Vick
M.Mariota
S.Bradford
J.Cutler
R.Tannehill
C.Newton
K.Cousins
C.Palmer
K.Orton
N.Foles
A.Rodgers
R.Wilson
T.Taylor
M.Ryan
A.Smith
J.Winston
B.Gabbert
B.Bortles
A.Luck
D.Brees
M.Stafford

http://www.nflpenalties.com/roughing-the-passer-by-qb.php

90
by nat :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:12pm

That seems more like it. Thanks for the correction.

166
by billsfan :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 5:11pm

Interesting to see guys who "don't get the call" getting more calls.

Missing, of course, is game-charting data on the relative rates of *uncalled* roughing the passer. A more meaningful metric would be "penalties per late/high/low hit." Late is subjective, but heads and knees are pretty well defined.

25
by AwesomeDan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:33am

Ding dong the Witch is dead! Thank you Vince Verhei and Rivers McCown!

As many awful plays as Blake Bortles had, he was the better QB on the field yesterday. Tyrod's defense did it's job and he could only muster 3 measly points. Worst play of Tyrod's not even noticed by many: Bills had a run called on 1st and goal and Tyrod audibles to the dreaded fade. Taylor needs wide open receivers and even then he can't consistently hit them. Contrast that to Drew Brees beautifully throwing Josh Hill open as Hill runs down the seam. Finally, it is as plain as day to non-Bills fans that Tyrod Taylor is not a winning QB. He plays not to lose and unless you have the '00 Ravens defense, you need a QB who plays to win. I'll go out and call it: Tyrod Taylor will not be a starting QB in 2018 in the National Football League.

29
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:57am

This is the offense whose love child went 1-3 for 14 yards, and INT, and a fumble.

What was Peterman's DYAR, by the way? That fumble and INT had to have hurt.

43
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:03pm

Taylor is no Drew Brees, I'll grant you that, but I don't know how anyone can fairly judge him when he's trying to throw to the practice-squad level WR corps that the Bills currently have.

55
by RickD :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:49pm

When his passes miss the targets by wide margins fairly often, it's hard to think the receivers are the only problem.

105
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:16pm

They're not. His offensive line is terrible too.

When you put a somewhere-around-average quarterback in an offense with almost no talent, you're going to get terrible results.

He's not good, but he's a lot better than Bortles - who managed to look worse despite being surrounded by significantly more talent.

27
by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 10:54am

Carolina's final drive... peculiar that the best running QB in the sport didn't get outside the pocket either by design or by scramble on any snap. QB mobility is a weapon that needs to be judiciously used in the second quarter of week 5, but when it's now or never, how does Newton just stand there against heavy pressure?

30
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:00am

No times out.

It's like basketball. The ball moves faster on the pass than on the run.

34
by Peregrine :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:54am

Yes, I get that.

Carolina had sufficient time on that drive until Newton started getting hit. (They were 1st and 10 at the NO 21 with 46 seconds left and the clock stopped.) If he had been of a mind to scramble and break contain on the play that resulted in intentional grounding, maybe he would have been in position to take a shot downfield or run to the boundary and stop the clock. With a QB that mobile facing pressure, I don't know why the OC didn't call any designed pocket movers and I don't understand why Newton's instincts didn't get him out of the pocket.

106
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:19pm

A quarterback scramble that gains 20-30 yards and ends inbounds probably leaves them spiking the ball with 10 seconds left. Its basically a game-ender.

I could see called bootlegs and such to utilize his mobility, but the ball absolutely has to be thrown away if he can't get out of bounds.

33
by ZDNeal :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:45am

He was injured earlier in the drive. The whole drive he was not moving much.

32
by Shylo :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:39am

I hate that the narrative seems to be "Titans only won because Triplette" because Triplette was consistently bad, with the Kelce no-fumble, spotting issues, etc. Yeah, the Titans were lucky, but I don't think that was part of it. I'm glad he's retiring after the season.

36
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:10pm

It's not part of it when Triplette is responsible for a 10-pt swing in a 1-pt game?

40
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:27pm

It's a bit of a shame that the best teams, and game, is going to be in the NFC divisional round. Would love to see the Vikings and Saints play one more game each, and then each other in the NFC championship game.
Nothing worth watching on the AFC side unless you happen to be a fan of one of the teams. Titan-fans notwithstanding.

46
by nat :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:09pm

First you complain that the two best teams in the NFC are meeting in the divisional round.

Then you complain that the two best teams in the AFC are NOT meeting in the divisional round.

I bow to you, Zen Master. Your logic is beyond my meager comprehension.

50
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:40pm

It's pretty simple.

1) I want to see the Vikings and Saints play more.
2) The Vikings-Saints game is by far the best match-up left in the post-season.
3) I don't consider the Patriots-Steelers matchup to be worth watching because the rational expectation is that the game will be decided by questionable reffing decisions that favor the Patriots. Why watch a game in which the result is already preordained?

57
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:51pm

LOL! I know you don't believe any of the bullshit you spew, but just in case someone actually does.....

A catch correctly overturned is "questionable reffing"?

What if I told you that there was a touchdown earlier in the game where an uncalled penalty was instrumental in the success of the play? Not only that, but a flag was actually thrown and - for no apparent reason - picked up and ignored? Which team would you suspect I was talking about?

64
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:26pm

You might be surprised to learn that a very large part of the population believes that the Patriots get the calls, not only in that game, but in most games. Try google. You will find that its a pretty common opinion among fans, players, coaches and people in general. It's not like I just came up with this on my own.
Also, how would you compare the Jones 'correctly overturned' call to the Adams interception? Or, while we are on the subject, the intentional grounding on Cam Newton in the last minute of the game compared to what Brady gets away with?

66
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:32pm

Note: all responses presume you are a proxy for someone who actually believes your bullshit.

You might be surprised to learn that a very large part of the population believes that the Patriots get the calls

Why would I be surprised? I'm fully aware that human beings are prone to confirmation bias.

Also, how would you compare the Jones 'correctly overturned' call to the Adams interception?

The Jones is irrefutable, going to the ground, lose control at contact, no catch. Hate the rule if you must but the call is correct.

The Adams pick looked questionable to me, though Fox's angles leave a lot to be desired.

the intentional grounding on Cam Newton in the last minute of the game compared to what Brady gets away with?

Where do you get the idea that Brady is regularly getting away with intentional grounding? I can think of two plays off the top of my head (Sea in 2012 and the 2011 SB) where IG was called when it probably shouldn't have been. And both were instrumental in eventual losses.

70
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:45pm

Why do you think the IG call in Super Bowl XLVI was questionable or shouldn't have been called?

81
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:41pm

The sack wasn't as imminent as they usually are (he was hit mid-throw, but the motion didn't begin because of the pressure) and the space between the ball and the receiver was due to miscommunication.

I just watched the play again and I can see why someone would disagree, but it certainly doesn't support the idea that Brady gets preferential treatment when the call was made.

82
by dmstorm22 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:48pm

I agree with your statement on it not supporting the idea of preferential treatment.

That said, I 100% believe it was the right call. To me the sack seemed pretty imminent (Tuck had broken free and a step away from Brady). I get the idea there may have been miscommunication, but still it was nowhere near anyone.

87
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:05pm

I can't remember the Seattle one, but the Super Bowl call was correct. I'm not aware of the referees being supposed to consider miscommunication in the rulebook when it comes to calling the penalty, just actual places people are on the field.

91
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:15pm

Ah, another gratuitous personal attack.

Let's have a little bit of clear thinking here.

We are not discussing whether or not you believe that the Patriots are involved in shenanigans. A personal confession from Kraft wouldn't change your mind on that subject because your opinion on this subject is impervious to facts. It is not falisifiable to you in the Popperian sense.

As such, the subject is scientifically meaningless for you. You either believe, or you don't believe, but it has no correspondence with reality. It's like how many angels do you believe can dance on the head of a pin?
Clearly only as many as Belichick schemes for.
The question at hand, is whether this 'bs', as you so eloquently and politely label the opinion that the Patriots historically have been the beneficiary of an otherwise inexplicable run of calls, is of my own creation, or whether it exists independent of me.
My argument is that it does exist independent of me.
You and Bryan seem to counter that with the suggestion that if the opinion is wrong, in your opinion, it therefore does not exist.
I would suggest that this is a logical fallacy.

104
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:13pm

Ah, another gratuitous personal attack.

To the contrary, my opinion of you is too high to think you believe your bullshit.

your opinion on this subject is impervious to facts

That your internet persona behaves in this manner does not make it universal.

You and Bryan seem to counter that with the suggestion that if the opinion is wrong, in your opinion, it therefore does not exist. I would suggest that this is a logical fallacy.

Then your persona needs to bone up on fallacies. You made the claim, the burden of proof is wholly yours. Having that burden of proof made clear, with examples that at least superficially dispute your claim, is actually more of a response that your comments warranted.

113
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:43pm

I believe that you completely missed the point of my post. Or this is some kind of elaborate trolling. Is the reference to 'personae' supposed to clue me in that you aren't serious about any of this? It does seem ludicrous that people could worship the Patriots to a degree that few even worship God.
Ignoring the rest of the post which is entirely non-sequitor, are you asking me to substantiate the statement that 'the opinion that the Patriots historically have been the beneficiary of an otherwise inexplicable run of calls [...] exists independent of me.?

116
by Anon Ymous :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:58pm

When you make a point, I'll be sure to catch it. Until then, I'll just admire your persistent drivel.

Is the reference to 'personae' supposed to clue me in that you aren't serious about any of this?

I thought it was clear that I was letting you know that I get that your bullshit is self-aware rather than rooting in idiocy.

It does seem ludicrous that people could worship the Patriots

LOL! Confusing recognizing you are full of shit for Patriot worship is too much even for you. If you are going to troll, at least constrain it to reality.

140
by morganja :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:27pm

Isn't there someone on a Boston talk radio website you could be trolling instead? Why the personal abuse?
Fifteen plus years on this site I have never personally abused another poster. Rarely has the conversation ever degenerated to the level that you have posted recently.
Is there something going on in your life that you would like to talk about? Can any of us help?

175
by Alternator :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:20pm

> Claims to have never abused another poster
> Passive-aggressively harasses poster in same comment

Never stop being such a good example of an irrational hater.

176
by morganja :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 9:41pm

Can you point out the 'passive-aggressive harassment'? I have no idea what you mean.

107
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:22pm

Not to mention, the Adams call 'stood' - it wasn't confirmed. When they say the call stands, they're basically saying "we think it should be overturned but it isn't conclusive".

114
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:44pm

They never reviewed. There was no 'stand' because there was no review.

67
by Bryan Knowles :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:32pm

A very large part of the population enjoys the music of Justin Beiber, as well. Just because a lot of people believe something doesn't make it true.

71
by nat :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:45pm

That's what everybody says, anyway.

74
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:03pm

IF(Music.Bieber_Justin) = 1.

73
by sbond101 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:00pm

The "the Pat's get all the calls" is a special case of confirmation bias. The logic works as follows; when teams lose close games there are usually questionable calls that they can point to as the "reason why they lost", those calls end up being talked about a lot. When a team like the Pats goes and wins at a high percentage for a long time by virtue of the loser-call-discussion bias the only calls that get discussed are the ones that go their way - after a time it seems as if they get all the calls. It doesn't help that the Pats under BB have mastered a ton of things that are "cheap" by the playground definition (quick-snaps on replays, QB sneaks, the Bill O'Brian hurry-up runs before the defense was set, the OL pass against the Ravens, "rub" routes, the intentional safety against the Broncos etc...). None of it is illegal, but it reinforces the confirmation bias running wild in the mind of some observers.

In reality this season (and others) there have been a ton of high-leverage officiating incidents that have gone against the Pats. The picked up flag in the Pittsburg game is a great example; The picked up flag was straight-up bad officiating and it went against the Pats, the no-catch call was really close and most who have written on it see it as a correct "by the book" call, yet the narrative out of the game is that the Pats won on the benefit of a favorable call. Go figure....

75
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:07pm

I wonder if that's true.

Like "clutch", in late-and-close scenarios, even good teams should regress towards 50/50. These outcomes are mostly determined by luck. Games that are late-and-close are inherently based on games where the team performance on both sides has been comparable.

You should expect 'getting the calls' to be nearly equal.

Now, you will get confirmation bias in the memory effect. People remember the Pats winning because they hate them. They have no incentive to remember their similarly-acquired losses.

Thing is, even neutral counting suggests the Patriots win more of these than they lose. If "luck" is biased towards one team in a consistent manner, it's not luck.

110
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:32pm

"in late-and-close scenarios, even good teams should regress towards 50/50."

I'm not sure this is true. There's certainly an element of luck - but there's also an element of preparation, planning, etc, and the Patriots seem to do that really well.

I can only remember a handful of games that the Patriots have barfed up at the end - and a whole litany of games where other teams have essentially given the game up because they're either poorly prepared (Tomlin/Roethlisberger and not having a play to run), poorly coached, or just don't seem to be able to run a functional 2 minute drill (Andy Reid).

End game scenarios require an additional skill set from the rest of the game

And yeah, the Patriots are really friggen good in these situations - because BB is ridiculous, and they spend a bunch of time practicing these things.

130
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:58am

So, teams do regress towards .500, but not as strongly as I thought.

Using a pretty 1st-order PFR search (games within 7 pts; there's not an easy way to filter on late+close or trailing team has ball late in game), teams win at a rate of 20% + 60% of their overall record.

So a .700 team wins 62% of their close games. The R^2 is about 65%. The Chargers, amusingly, are the biggest outlier. They should win 50% of their close games. They actually win 39.6%.

If you break it down into whether a good/bad team is playing a good/bad team, some fun stuff comes out. The Colts are almost universally good. The Cardinals, not the Steelers, play to their opponent. They're amazing against good teams. Even bad Cardinals teams are >.500 versus good teams. However, they gank games against bad teams. The Lions are their opposite. They are *terrible* against good teams (universally, but especially when they are bad themselves), but are golden gods in close games against bad teams. They beat those 91% of the time. The Pats, amusingly, have never beaten a good team in a close game when they themselves are bad. In all 5 games.

95
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:54pm

Interesting theory. I think there is some truth to the idea that the Patriots coach to what the refs are going to call. Witness their mug the receiver strategy last decade in the playoffs, their famous blocking on screens, aka last year's super bowl 2-point conversion, Gronk's rarely called OPI's.
The issue is that other teams do get called for those penalties.
When it is an important high-stakes game, and the Patriots, as the visiting team, get called for all of 4 penalty yards during the game, or the officiating fiasco that was last year's Super Bowl, yet are committing penalties that other teams get called for, and then get touchdowns that should never have been overturned, overturned, it starts to add up, after a decade or two.
And whatever the opinion of the catch, there is no way that the call on the field should have been overturned based on the video evidence.
How many big-stakes games have the Patriots come through with 'questionable calls'?
It is going to take two or three big-stake games, at least, in which the average fan goes 'The Patriots got hosed', before there is any reason to have faith that it is a fair contest. But Kraft and his friends will never allow that.

97
by Lyford :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 5:00pm

"I think there is some truth to the idea that the Patriots coach to what the refs are going to call."

Belichick has explicitly said so. "We tell them to do business the way business is being done."

But frankly, any coaching staff not doing so is guilty of malpractice...

99
by sbond101 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 5:51pm

Your last comment is really the crux of the matter. In order for the Pats to fulfill the condition that will break the confirmation bias they have to lose a bunch of high-stakes games (writ small with questionable calls involved). As long as the Pats continue to win ~78% of their games and almost all NFL games have multiple questionable calls in them, the impression that they are beneficiaries of the refs will continue (justified or not). It's not possible for the average fan to say "The Patriots got hosed" when they win the game, the Patriots have won 75% of their playoff games since 2011 (as a proxy for high-profile games), the broad fan perspective that they are favored by the refs is what you would expect to see if all those games were fairly officiated.

All that being said there might be merit to the idea that they get the benefit of the doubt on some calls, but I really don't see any good evidence for the idea, and I see a pretty clear explanation for the perception. I can walk through a list of BS calls the Pats have been on the wrong end of over the years that's just as long as the list of BS calls they are on the right end of (but no where near the same number of "cheap" plays successfully used against the pats as they have used).

112
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 8:34pm

But they aren't playing against 8-8 teams in the playoffs or in high-stakes games. They are playing teams with equivalent records. I would expect them to have their opponent get 'hosed' about the same number of times they get 'hosed'. But what high stakes game have the Patriots lost in which the typical, non-Patriot, fan thinks that the Patriots got the short end of the officiating stick?
I don't recall a single high-stakes game in the past 15 years, in which the general conversation after the game was how the Patriots were screwed.
How many games in which the conversation was that their opponent was screwed?

184
by Cheesehead_Canuck :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:12pm

Recently, they have been playing close to 8-8 caliber teams.. in the Divisional! That has nothing to do with who is getting what calls.. just thought I'd point it out that it's part of the "Patriots Luck" that seems so prevalent. (Again, no conspiracy! But luck is real)

109
by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:28pm

Kraft and his friends are coming for your team! Make them wear a pinned-on Pats logo so you know who they are. And then hide your children. And QBs.

127
by JMM :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 9:48am

"What if I told you that there was a touchdown earlier in the game where an uncalled penalty was instrumental in the success of the play? Not only that, but a flag was actually thrown and - for no apparent reason - picked up and ignored? "

Since the flag I think you mentioned was discussed among the officials before it was "picked up" and it was announced by the Referee that is was being "picked up," perhaps it wasn't ignored. Maybe there was a reason for "picking it up" that was apparent to the officiating crew if not to every viewer.

128
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 10:04am

Maybe there was a reason for "picking it up" that was apparent to the officiating crew if not to every viewer.

Nope. Watch the vid, the ineligible man downfield is clear as day and there was no reason to pick up the flag. If you want to quibble about "ignored", be my guest, but it misses the point.

https://youtu.be/v9wbMzkVseE?t=1m32s

145
by sbond101 :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:51pm

The "reason" for picking the flag up was that it was a close call 9though pretty obviously the correct one on review), a touchdown for a home team. The same kind of BS that happens all the time because of how vulnerable people (even with careful training) are to the "suggestion" of thousands of screaming fans. This case was exceptional because the flag was thrown in the first place, so it was particularly egregious to see it picked up.

It's crap like that that makes me like the prospect of replay for penalties; Of course every time I see an offside replay in the NHL I'm reminded of how insidious video replay is, so who knows what the right way to handle it is.

149
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:14pm

It wasn't particularly close, the lineman was 4 yards downfield when the pass was thrown.

That said, I don't bring this up to make a general complaint, I mention it to rebuff the idea that NE benefited from biased officiating against Pitt.

155
by JMM :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 2:42pm

From: https://operations.nfl.com/the-rules/2017-nfl-rulebook/#rule8

SECTION 3 - INELIGIBLE PLAYER DOWNFIELD
ARTICLE 1. LEGAL AND ILLEGAL ACTS
On a scrimmage play during which a legal forward pass is thrown, an ineligible offensive player, including a T-formation quarterback, is not permitted to move more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage before the pass has been thrown.
Item 1. Legally Downfield. An ineligible player is not illegally downfield if, after initiating contact with an opponent within one yard of the line of scrimmage during his initial charge:
1 he moves more than one yard beyond the line while legally blocking or being blocked by an opponent
2 after breaking legal contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he remains stationary until a forward pass is thrown
3 after losing legal contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he is forced behind the line of scrimmage by an opponent, at which time he is again subject to normal blocking restrictions for an ineligible offensive player.
Note: If an ineligible offensive player moves beyond the line while legally blocking or being blocked by an opponent, an eligible offensive player may catch a pass between them and the line of scrimmage.
_____________________
The lineman was engaged in a block.

161
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:12pm

Sorry, you're wrong. The block on Harris doesn't begin until 3 yards past the LOS. If you think I'm wrong, then either:

1) Watch the video and show me where the block initiates within one yard.
2) Find the excerpt in your quote that allows an ineligible receiver to go three yards downfield to initiate a block prior to the pass being thrown.

(I'll save you the time, you can't do either.)

162
by JMM :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:16pm

To address your 2: Pass blocking intimated within 1 yard can extend as far as the opposite end zone if the blocker stays engaged. Also, if the blocker stops moving after dis-engaging he is legally downfield even if 3 or more yards downfield.

I'm not going to scrub the video. It's enough to say one official thought as you do during the play, and after thinking twice or conferring with another official changed his mind. Happens every game. It isn't evidence of bias or non-bias of any official. Its only evidence of them being human. To use this as an example of the Pats getting a clearly poor call is over-reach, IMHO.

165
by nat :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:55pm

Thanks for a thought provoking look at this. Good use of the rule reference on your part, too.

Like Anon Ymous, I saw clear and obvious ineligible man downfield on that play. But you've at least given a pointer to a factor I didn't consider that might have driven the on-field decision to pick up the flag. Did the block start within a yard of the line, or did it start down field?

I did just re-watch the play in the video - it's right there at the link - no scrubbing needed. The block in question clearly begins three yards or more down field. But if the refs conferred and decided this one without the aid of a replay, then it's merely a case of "bad reffing hurts the Patriots" rather than "replay official is part of a conspiracy". Although I don't think that was ever the theory.

So everybody is right. The call was clearly wrong, as Anon Ymous said. But since the refs called it without seeing the replay, there's no need to assume bad intent, just a missed call.

This would be a fine case for Belichick's suggestion that ALL plays should be review-able. Even though "downfield" and "block" involve judgment much of the time, this play in particular would be an easy call to correct on replay. Such replays would be subject to all the other rules, so we wouldn't get swamped with coach's challenges. But the worst calls would get fixed.

168
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 5:45pm

To address your 2: Pass blocking intimated within 1 yard can extend as far as the opposite end zone if the blocker stays engaged.

And seeing as this isn't what happened, it doesn't address #2. :)

To use this as an example of the Pats getting a clearly poor call is over-reach, IMHO.

That is was a poor call is indisputable. This is the more germane comment, though.

It isn't evidence of bias or non-bias of any official.

Again, I'm not claiming there is a bias against NE, just that there isn't a bias (or even conspiracy) in their favor. I could make generous concession that there was no penalty and it would still support my position. Why would pro-Patriot refs waive off a penalty that they actually flagged? Particularly when doing so allowed a scoring play to stand?

167
by morganja :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 5:36pm

Didn't the Patriots just win a Super Bowl in which they scored a critical 2-pt conversion while illegally blocking the defenders?

170
by Anon Ymous :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 6:01pm

Not according to the rule posted above. The ball appears to be out before either block commenced and even if the first block started a nanosecond prior to the throw, it was within one yard of the LOS.

https://youtu.be/016LXFHpFCk

If you want to make the argument that Brady got away with a minor shuffle that drew Freeney offsides, that would be more legitimate. Conspiracy!

44
by bingo762 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:06pm

Eli to Jags
Smith to Cardinals
Cousins to Browns

47
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:13pm

Unless they give him the quarterback equivalent of the Gruden contract, Cousins would be insane to sign on with the Browns organization in its current state.

78
by billprudden :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:24pm

I don't think it would happen to this particular guy in these particular circumstances, but it would be cool to hear a big-ticket FA say "Yes, I have taken their money, for money's sake, and now let's see how many we can manage to win..."

120
by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:36am

I don't know if you noticed, but Cousins developed playing for the REDSKINS. They couldn't ruin him, are the Browns any worse?

122
by apk3000 :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 8:18am

Redskins FO is a dumpster fire, but non-Zorn coaching has been okay-ish.

45
by JoeyHarringtonsPiano :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:06pm

I wonder how most Titans fans feel about winning this game, since it apparently makes Mularkey's job safe for now. As an NFL fan, I'm disappointed that I won't get to see Mariota paired with a new coaching staff that might design an offense more suited to his talents.

53
by ddoubleday :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 1:46pm

I’m SHOCKED that the interception of Brees wasn’t reviewed and overturned. Carolina would have gotten 20 more yards if the same standard had been applied to the DB as is routinely applied to WRs. He dropped the ball while going to the ground.

It was dumb to catch it, but BY RULE he DIDN’T catch it.

It wasn't Rivera's job to challenge at that point, but TOs are automatically reviewed, aren't they?

58
by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:16pm

That sure looked like an incomplete pass, he didn't have control before it fell to the ground. DB's make money for Int's so the problem is mostly with incentives, but still that was a poor decision.

59
by morganja :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:19pm

It was both after the two minute warning and a turnover. It absolutely by rule should have been reviewed.

63
by ssereb :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:25pm

Jeff Triplette is reportedly retiring in the wake of Chiefs-Titans, though his camp is studiously denying that Saturday's game had anything to do with it.

92
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:24pm

Re performance reports for referees, I'm sure they do get the same treatment as players and coaches, I get a performance report as a referee in a minor amateur sport, you're just not aware of it as a fan. There's a ranking system that's not public for going from best refereeing crew to worst. Considering this site markets itself in routinely criticizing subjective analysis of gameplay, it's doing that here with referees as I'm not aware of any qualitative or quantitative analysis of referees ever being done. (Who are the crews that should've been refereeing this weekend?)

Where do the replacements/new referees for guys that retire come from however, with NFL having a different rules set than college and high school football?

68
by ChrisS :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 2:38pm

Tanier said in his column that Cam was concussed and the "eye-injury" was a BS cover-up story. To me the hit looked hard but not super hard and he looked OK walking to the sidelines. When he went to his knee I thought that made sense to give himself more time to recover rather than Tanier's take that he fell to ground as a result of the hit. They showed a replay where you can see that his visor was knocked out of alignment which could have hit the eye causing blurry vision. The NFL does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, but this looked OK to me.

76
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:12pm

If you had to pull every player who fell down for no orthopedic injury, you'd have had to clear the field in the Falcons-Rams game. All kinds of people were falling down for no good reason.

84
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:52pm

Looking at his facial expression afterward and then watching him drop to a knee, my thought was concussion. Can you make a hypothetical case it wasn't one? Sure. Do we know 100% certain either way? No. But that's why you have concussion protocols to examine players that exhibit signs of it.

85
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 3:55pm

Tom Gower,

I support the bandwagon on calling intentional grounding more often. Feels like every time I watch the Seahawks, Russell Wilson at least once per game does an uncalled intentional grounding where it's pretty clear he was passing the ball to absolutely no one.

93
by LyleNM :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:31pm

You are aware that it is perfectly within the rules to pass the ball to no one as long as certain conditions are met, right?

96
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:59pm

Yes.

I stand by my post.

88
by jtr :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:07pm

Mariota catching his own pass for a touchdown had me curious whether that had ever happened before. I was able to find a game in 1997 where Brad Johnson threw a 3-yard TD to himself. As far as I can tell that's the only time it's ever happened, at least by a starting quarterback.

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/199710120min.htm

EDIT: found video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zqNG3tl7Aw

94
by PatsFan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 4:33pm

Is that the same video Gruden showed on his phone?

98
by rj1 :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 5:07pm

The site Quirky Research says there are 2 more, although both involve laterals.

QBs to throw TD passes to themselves:

Marcus Mariota, 1/6/2018
Brad Johnson, 10/12/1997
Frank Ryan, 10/30/1960 (lateral from receiver)
Roy Zimmerman, 10/29/1944 (lateral from receiver)

Video of the Ryan one, go to 8:25 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrgeU2VfbS4

153
by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 1:53pm

have ryan one ion dvd from weekly highluight show. do not think I have Zimmerman oner althouigh do have other film ofzimmerman in action

100
by Hoodie_Sleeves :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 5:54pm

Taylor is a functional NFL quarterback - Bortles isn't.

Blake Bortles is why you don't abandon a QB like Taylor to draft one high.

Swap the quarterbacks and Jacksonville is dangerous.

102
by AwesomeDan :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:06pm

Functioning NFL QB is sufficient for a NFL backup, not a starter. Bortles was bad yesterday, Taylor was worse.

115
by Alternator :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 11:32pm

Taylor, on a Bills offense lacking functional NFL receivers and a mediocre offensive line, played like shit. If you put him on the Jaguars at the start of preseason, then the Steelers would have been playing this week.

111
by Steve in WI :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 7:08pm

Blake Bortles seems like the argument for why you don't draft a QB high just because you need a QB and you have a high pick...I could be wrong, but even when he was drafted didn't a lot of people think the Jaguars made a mistake?

Also, I know the Bills had a messy situation this year and were arguably trying to tank until they played better than expected, but Taylor got them to a one-and-done playoff appearance. Is that something to be clung to if you don't see any potential for him to be great in the future, and the kind of guy who can lead you to a championship? I view everything through the lens of, winning a championship is the goal, and nothing against Taylor personally (and again, the Bills had a dysfunctional season in ways that had nothing to do with him) but I view a QB like him as functionally not much better than a bad QB. Especially when he's no longer on his rookie deal and you have to pay him.

131
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 11:11am

Who would you have taken instead?

Bortles is the 5th most-successful player taken from that draft. The top 3 all play defense. The fourth is a guard.

He was the highest-rated QB in the draft. There were 4 decent ones and all were gone by the end of the 2nd round.

142
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:41pm

This is only true if you are a slave to PFR's Approximate Value stat. By that, yes, Bortles ranks #5 from the 2014 draft with 40 DrAV.

But that's ahead of Derek Carr (38), Devonta Freeman (37), Anthony Barr (35), Odell Beckham, Jr. (34), Mike Evans (33), Jarvis Landry (31), Jadeveon Clowney (28), Ryan Shazier (27), Trai Turner (27), Davante Adams (26), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (24), Brandin Cooks (23), among several others I'd rank ahead of Bortles.

Are you really suggesting the Jaguars would have been worse off if they'd taken Carr? Or Beckham or Evans or Cooks?

154
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 2:32pm

Beckham is an oft-injured headcase. But that aside, he's a WR, as is Evans and Cooks. Who is throwing passes to him?

They don't need more RBs or front-seven guys; they have an embarrassment of them already.

Carr's fine. Bortles is better than if they'd gone with Bridgewater or Manziel. Garopploulo is harder to tell.

Bortles wasn't what they hoped for, but I can't say that really had a compellingly better option available. He not only filled a need, he was basically the best guy available.

We can criticize them for not taking another QB in a later draft.

157
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 2:57pm

Your claim that Bortles was the fifth most successful player in that draft is laughable. Odell Beckham, Jr. has 4424 yards through four seasons. He was hurt this year, but in 2015 and 2016 the only game he missed was for being suspended. There is no convincing argument you can make that Bortles has had a better career so far. Ditto Mike Evans and Jarvis Landry, who both also have more than 400 yards receiving. Or Brandin Cooks, who has barely less than 4000. Let alone the players ahead of Bortles in DrAV: Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, who very soon will have two defensive player of the year awards between them, and C.J. Mosley and Zack Martin, who are both very good players already. And Derek Carr is a better QB, for sure.

I don't really have a problem with Bortles as the first QB off the board; but his overall lack-of-goodness kind of proves Steve in WI's point, "Blake Bortles seems like the argument for why you don't draft a QB high just because you need a QB and you have a high pick."

164
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 4:55pm

I'm using weighted career AV.

If you have another objective measure you'd prefer to use, have at.

169
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 5:58pm

Completion percentage:
Carr - 61.3
Bortles - 59.1

TD%:
Carr - 4.6%
Bortles - 4.0%

INT%:
Carr - 2.0%
Bortles - 2.9%

Y/A:
Carr - 6.5
Bortles - 6.7

ANY/A:
Carr - 6.08
Bortles - 5.38

DYAR:
Carr - 2312
Bortles - minus-443

DVOA-by-year:
Carr - minus-14.9, 4.1, 19.8, 9.9
Bortles - minus-40.7, minus-9.9, minus-10.0, 0.3

156
by Steve in WI :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 2:51pm

In retrospect, Aaron Donald would be the obvious choice. Yes, he plays defense, but do you honestly think the Jaguars are better off with Bortles than they would be with him?

I'm not saying that there was a better QB available in 2014's draft. I am saying that I think it's a bad idea for a team to fixate on the best available QB to use their highest draft pick on merely because they lack a great QB. When you miss and end up with a Bortles, you end up in no man's land.

My belief is that teams in the middle class of QBs (say, 11th-20th best or so) are really in the worst position because they are terrified to move on from a guy who's just competent enough to get their hopes up. That goes double after the QB's rookie contract when you have to pay him 90% of the going rate for a HOF QB and it kneecaps the rest of your roster.

Look at the Super Bowl participants in the last decade. The QBs on that list going backwards are Brady (4x), Ryan, Peyton Manning (3x), Newton, Wilson (2x), Flacco, Kaepernick, Eli Manning (2x), Rodgers, Roethlisberger (2x), Brees, and Warner. Brady, Peyton Manning in XLIV, Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Brees, and Warner are great QBs. Ryan, Newton, and Wilson are arguably all top 10 QBs (and Wilson was still on his rookie contract costing next to nothing when they went to those Super Bowls). Flacco, Kaepernick, and Eli Manning are the outliers but they managed to put together top 10-level play either during those seasons or at least during those playoff runs. (Peyton Manning in SB 50 is the most obvious outlier, as he was really bad by that point, but clearly the Broncos defense carried the team that year).

It seems to me that to get to a Super Bowl, the best thing is to have a great QB. The next-best thing is to have a really, really great defense, which is even harder to build if you're dedicating $20M in cap space to a mediocre QB.

159
by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/09/2018 - 3:09pm

If you don't get a great qb who plays for you at a HOF level for many years, which is largely just random chance, then you have to draft and teach at an consistently above average level, so as to have consistently good cheap young talent on the roster. Nobody ever drafts enough people for us to have strong confidence that somebody drafts consistently above average, but I think we can have pretty good confidence as to which staffs teach well.

108
by MilkmanDanimal :: Mon, 01/08/2018 - 6:27pm

I feel like just on principle Jeff Triplette should have been assigned Jacksonville-Buffalo, because his lack of ability at officiating would have perfectly matched the utter incompetence of the Jaguars and Bills.

186
by jtr :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 12:40pm

I'm not the only one who's sick of every comment thread turning into old arguments about the Patriots, right? This is an article about the games from this past weekend. The Patriots didn't even play!

188
by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:40pm

Is poster druink? You can never get enough Patriots tlak

189
by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:45pm

Yep, we really need an Irrational Patriot Hater/Fan thread, to address anything Patriot related not specifically having to do with a Patriot game that weekend.

190
by Will Allen :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 1:45pm

Yep, we really need an Irrational Patriot Hater/Fan thread, to address anything Patriot related not specifically having to do with a Patriot game that weekend.

192
by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:32pm

It's a bit annoying, given that this was a fairly entertaining Wild Card weekend.

193
by aces4me :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 2:43pm

Really? I guess our definitions of entertainment vary. Although I will confess the the Bills Jax game was the game I got to see the most of.

194
by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 3:27pm

My expectations for Wild Card weekend are fairly low. This wasn't as good as 2013 (probably the best WCW ever for the first three games), or 2015, but not far off other years.

Thought the TEN @ KC game was entertaining, the two CAR @ NO game was well played and fairly exciting, and the BUF @ TEN an interesting farce (or enjoyable getting to watch JAX's defense).

No blowouts always helps.

196
by morganja :: Thu, 01/11/2018 - 1:15pm

Now, gentlemen, let me ask you this: What if Da Patriots were all 14 inches tall, you know, about so high? Now, what's your score of next week's game?

197
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 01/12/2018 - 11:44am

RFuitnas would wuin like 81-0. would score left and right early. derrick henry 15 carries , 347 yards, 8 touchdown.s

then would just kneel a lot in 4th quyarter. Go into colin kaepernick mode.

195
by karystrance :: Wed, 01/10/2018 - 5:37pm

In the Tennessee comments, Vincent Verhei wrote that both teams were using lots of three-man rushes, leaving a lot of receivers wide open. Dumb question, but if three-man rushes cut down on QB pressure AND leave a lot of open receivers, what is the benefit to the defense? Shouldn't 8 men covering 5 receivers pretty much blanket the field?