Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Wild-Card Sunday

Cleveland Browns DE Myles Garrett and QB Baker Mayfield
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions 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.

This special edition playoff Audibles covers the three Sunday wild-card games. You can find discussion of the Saturday games here.

Baltimore Ravens 20 at Tennessee Titans

Scott Spratt: Did Brian Griese call Titans left guard Rodger Saffold a "war daddy?" Is that a thing?

Tom Gower: Definitely an actual scouting term for powerful interior line players.

Bryan Knowles: With six games in two days, I actually really value the alternate broadcast methods the networks are using today. I'll probably flip between the main broadcast, ESPN2's Xs and Os-themed coverage, Freeform's watch party coverage, and ESPN+'s more stats-based coverage, especially if the game ends up being a blowout one way or another.

This afternoon's Nickelodeon game might trump them all for uniqueness, however.

Bryan Knowles: So, A.J. Brown is going to be a bit of a challenge to deal with today, isn't he? The Brown-versus-Marlon Humphrey matchup might be the most interesting one in this game, and advantage so far is very much Brown -- three receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown on that Titans touchdown drive.

Dave Bernreuther: I thought -- and the broadcast is now agreeing -- that that was a pretty egregious push-off on the touchdown catch for Brown. Were I a Ravens fan, I'd be really upset right now.

I toggled over to the ESPN2 coverage but could only last a minute before it became intolerable. I want to pull up the ESPN+ one, but that'd put me on a lag (and I couldn't toggle back and forth then). I assume it's good, but is it so much better than Louis Riddick to make it worth the effort to try to time them up?

Malcolm Butler is turning into the Ty Law to Lamar Jackson's Peyton Manning, huh?

Scott Spratt: Well this looks like a familiar story so far.

Bryan Knowles: On the one hand, it's still the first quarter; there's no reason for the Ravens to abandon the game plan that got them where they are, there's plenty of time.

On the other hand, the Ravens have yet to come back from a 10-point deficit with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The questions will continue until the stat is no longer true!

Aaron Schatz: Well, Lamar Jackson at least made a deep throw outside the numbers, which is his weakness. Hit Marquise Brown for 28 yards. But the Titans got a third-down sack to set up a field goal to go 10-3 Titans.

Scott Spratt: The Ravens made a couple of critical plays to extend their second drive, the first of which was a beautiful Lamar Jackson 17-yard strike to Mark Andrews down the right sideline while being chased on a third down. But the Ravens had to settle for three points when Brooks Reed sacked Jackson in the red zone on another third down.

It is news to me that Reed still plays, but his hair still looks stylish.

Aaron Schatz: The problem with Tennessee's man coverage against the Ravens is that Lamar Jackson will do things like scramble through defenders for a 48-yard touchdown. That's why you don't play man against mobile quarterbacks.

Bryan Knowles: Moving the ball down the field gradually is great and all, but sometimes, you just need your superstar quarterback to see some space between the tackles and go into warp speed.

Jackson didn't step up in the pocket on his earlier sacks. He, uh, found a way out of pressure this time around.

 

 

Scott Spratt: He is Houdini.

The Titans have to feel like the Colts did yesterday. It feels like they controlled the first half but will enter it tied at 10-10 unless they can add some points in a two-minute drill.

Aaron Schatz: Interesting to note that the Ravens pulled Marlon Humphrey off A.J. Brown after the touchdown, put him on Corey Davis. Then in the two-minute drill, they put Humphrey back on Brown. We'll see what they do in the second half.

Cale Clinton: Crazy what a difference positioning can make. The broadcast pointed out that Titans safety Kevin Byard came up to meet Jackson near Tennessee's 40-yard line. Lamar was able to beat Byard pretty easily with his seamless ability to change directions. Once Byard was behind him, the next Titans defender able to make a play on Jackson was Adoree' Jackson, who made an attempt to shove Jackson out of bounds inside the 5. One simple miss was the difference in 35-plus yards and six points.

Carl Yedor: Do we think Baltimore should have called timeout there after that big loss by Ryan Tannehill? Tannehill was trying to throw what looked like a tight end screen, but because he caught the ball instead of knocking it down after it was batted back to him, they lost 10 yards and kept the clock running. I guess if you let it run to the two-minute warning, you are trying to prevent Tennessee from getting another possession if they punt and then force Baltimore to punt, but for a team that likes running the ball as much as Baltimore does, I can also see the logic of wanting timeouts in your pocket (as opposed to 20 seconds or so) when you have the ball. Normally that isn't as typical in two-minute situations, but I suppose it gives them added flexibility with their play calling.

Cale Clinton: If you've ever needed evidence to suggest that sacks are the fault of the quarterback, Lamar Jackson is giving you an ample amount. I'd chalk three of Tennessee's four first-half sacks up to Jackson simply holding onto the ball too long. NGS has Jackson's average time to throw at 2.93 seconds.

Bryan Knowles: 10-10 at the half, as both team's two-minute offenses sputter and die.

One question: do the Ravens have ANY quick passing plays in their playbook? Jackson finished the season with the fourth-longest time to throw, per Next Gen Stats, and it's pretty apparent on the field. I get that he hangs on the ball forever because he can turn almost anything into a huge run play, but I think he could have avoided a few of those four sacks if he had just gotten rid of the ball at some point.

Tom Gower: Pretty even game, really. The Titans got the early 10-0 lead before the Ravens equalized, but the way I'd look at that is, the Titans had their two good drives (of five) before the Ravens had their two good drives (of five). Neither offense seems to be moving the ball with much success with what they like to do. One of the keys to Tennessee's upset in Baltimore last year in the playoffs was how their line handled Baltimore's defensive front. So far, the Ravens are winning that matchup as Derrick Henry has 10 carries for 18 yards and hasn't gotten any big runs even by "runs are bad plays so we'll set the baseline for success lower" standards. The Titans found some big plays to A.J. Brown on the touchdown drive and their field goal drive was basically the big pass play to Anthony Firkser, but yeah, not much sustained success. Baltimore has had similar results. I think they can and should be doing more to put Tennessee's linebackers in conflict, but that's not how their offense tends to work, so...

Vince Verhei: Got off to a late start here and got caught up just as the second half started.

I'm not surprised the game is close, but I am surprised that the Titans are succeeding with the pass rush while their rushing offense hasn't done much.

I didn't even know ESPN2 was doing a film room style. I cringed at a lot of the personnel they had in there (Rex Ryan? Tedy Bruschi?) but it was worth it to see Keyshawn Johnson's mind blown at Baltimore using 300-plus-pound Patrick Ricard as a target in the passing game.

And, to answer Bryan's question, Baltimore opens the second half with a series of passes to the flats to get them into favorable down-and-distance scenarios, and then Jackson keeps the ball and breaks down the sideline for a big gain, and Johnson's the one pointing out how Hollywood Brown blocked two guys on the play. Another pass to the flat converts a third down in the red zone as Ryan is talking about how Baltimore's 22 personnel confused the defense. Dobbins scores on a power play, taking a shotgun handoff and following his pulling guards, and after one drive I'm very impressed with this broadcast.

Bryan Knowles: Now, THAT was a drive, coming out of the half. Quarterback keepers, read-options, heavy use of the fullback, the works. Seriously, when was the last drive you can remember with the fullback being involved on three plays, as Patrick Ricard was there?

It looks like the Ravens saw the same thing we all saw in the first half -- Tennessee was getting to Jackson on those long dropbacks. So, shorten the time in the pocket, and just march right down the field. Impressive, impressive drive.

Aaron Schatz: Just to note, I checked, and Patrick Ricard doesn't play two ways anymore which is a bummer. No defensive snaps this year.

Bryan Knowles: Alright, if you have the first-team All-Pro running back, someone you've gone out of your way to highlight as the focal point of your offense, how do you punt on fourth-and-2 from midfield? You've gotta trust Derrick Henry in that situation, right?

Scott Spratt: The Ravens have now twice run the play where Jackson throws a pretty hard lateral back to his left. That just seems to be begging for a turnover. This time, Jackson threw the ball behind Marquise Brown, and Brown barely corralled it on the doorstep of their own end zone.

Cale Clinton: The Titans offensive game plan has me contradicting myself inside my own head. That last offensive drive had me questioning why Tennessee is still going back to Derrick Henry, then asking why they're not turning to Henry on third-and-short. Per RBSDM's box score, the Titans are averaging a -0.35 EPA/play on run plays with a 21% success rate, but Derrick Henry's still averaging 2 yards per carry. Third-and-2 from midfield feels like the time to take two quick inside runs with Henry.

Both the live television broadcast and ESPN+'s simulcast (which has been a fantastic accompaniment to this coverage) continue to mention that Derrick Henry improves as the game goes on, but doesn't that happen when you put him in a position to succeed and make plays?

Vince Verhei: The fourth quarter just started, and Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans have yet to run for a first down.

Scott Spratt: Marquise Brown went out of bounds with more space to run and went to the sidelines for a play with a trainer at his feet. And then after he returned, he couldn't run open on a go route. I think he may have suffered a cramp or tweaked something, which could be a factor late since the Ravens have so few receiving options.

Scott Spratt: The Titans just went pass, pass, and punt starting at second-and-2 from the Ravens' 40-yard line. Yikes.

Aaron Schatz: That punt from fourth-and-2 on the other side of the field was a 14% GWC error according to the EdjSports model.

Bryan Knowles: They keep passing up makeable fourth downs in the middle of the field. You have to imagine that will come back to haunt them.

Vince Verhei: And the first-down play was Derrick Henry rushing for 8 yards, his longest run of the day! Isn't the whole point of Henry to batter down opponents and trample them in the fourth quarter?

Vince Verhei: And then Baltimore goes for it on fourth-and-2 in field goal range. That's just a middle finger to Mike Vrabel. They convert, but it's called back for offensive pass interference, so they kick the field goal anyway. Justin Tucker does not miss twice, and the Ravens go up by seven with five minutes and change to go. This could be Tennessee's last chance coming up.

Scott Spratt: That OPI call on the Willie Snead pick play could prove huge. John Harbaugh seemed to dislike it because there wasn't a ton of contact. I was trying to figure out if it happened within the first line of the line of scrimmage. Could anyone tell?

Aaron Schatz: That pick may have been within a yard of the line of scrimmage. I guess on replay it looked more like 2. You're allowed to pick the defender within 1.

Bryan Knowles: I can't seem to find a replay from straight down the line, but it looked like the OPI happened at about the 22-, 21-yard line. It's CLOSE.

Vince Verhei: ESPN2's analytics guys are saying Baltimore should have kicked the field goal even before the penalty. I'm a little surprised by that, but the difference between a seven-point lead and a four-point lead is obviously substantial.

Aaron Schatz: It looks like our model preferred going for it but only by 1% so it was very close, could go either way.

Bryan Knowles: Oh no! Khalif Raymond falls down on a pass route, the ball goes right to Marcus Peters, and it's a turnover. Tennessee has three timeouts left so it's not victory formation, but that's a killer.

Cale Clinton: Good grief. On the last replay of the Peters interception, the broadcast highlighted that A.J. Brown had beaten his man. Not just that, Brown stuck his hand straight up in the air and gave the universal symbol for "I just burned my man." Considering his production today (6-for-10 for 83 yards and a touchdown, 0.57 EPA/play), one would think Brown would be a prime target with the game on the line.

Bryan Knowles: I love the adjustments the Ravens made coming out of halftime -- their offensive strategy looked entirely different in the second half, and it paid dividends. The shift to quick plays, attacking the edges, was a great shift.

And I'm glad we'll never have to hear the "Lamar Jackson can't win a playoff game" spiel ever again.

Vince Verhei: Well, Baltimore deserved to win that one, that's for sure. Better on offense, defense, and especially coaching. I have no idea what Tennessee's game plan was -- spent the whole day putting together 2-yard gains to "establish the run" and then decided not to run when they needed to in the fourth quarter.

ESPN2 broadcast was tremendous, Keyshawn Johnson in particular. He always struck me as a Macbeth announcer -- full of sound and fury, signifying nothing -- but he really showed his knowledge today. Lots of receiver stuff, as you'd expect -- critiquing route technique and what guys should do to gain YAC -- but also Xs and Os stuff, quarterback anticipation, defensive tendencies and tells. I felt like I was getting smarter every play. Four guys in the room was probably too many cooks, but overall I really enjoyed that, much more than most broadcasts.

Vince Verhei: Dots on the interception. Looks like Tannehill made his decision before the snap and failed to adjust -- the free safety breaks to the offense's right before the pass is even delivered but Tannehill still goes that way. Meanwhile, as Cale noted, A.J. Brown is open on the left.

 

 

Tom Gower: I wasn't surprised by Mike Vrabel's punt on fourth-and-2 from the Titans 44. At 17-13, the Ravens are almost in field goal range already, the defense had been playing fairly well, and you're still probably a couple of first downs from scoring territory. Plus, Derrick Henry had been on the sideline the prior two plays, apparently because of a shoe issue, so I'm not absolutely sure he would have been available for that play (and that's why they didn't use him on either of the previous two plays).

The subsequent punt, from the Ravens 40, none of those reasonable caveats applied. Henry was available. The Titans would have been in field goal range (if they were in a bad fourth down, granted, still down four at that point). A failure would have forced the Ravens to move the ball about 30 yards before they got into field goal range. It's later in the game, so fewer future possessions (and the Titans would in fact only have the ball one more time). It's just completely indefensible and one of the worst moves a coach has made all season.

Notwithstanding what Vrabel did, the most fundamental reason the Titans lost is they couldn't move the ball on offense. Derrick Henry did barely more in the second half than he did in the first half (nine carries for 22 yards, total of 18 for 40). He didn't have one of his better games on an individual basis, with Next Gen Stats giving him -18 rush yards over expectation. Even an average rushing performance would have been just over 3.0 yards per carry, a strong testament to the game-long effectiveness of Baltimore's defensive front. If you judge the offseason acquisition of Calais Campbell by how much he helped solve the problems that led to last year's postseason defeat, today that trade gets a grade of A.

Corey Davis got banged up late and was apparently unavailable, but before that had just two targets and zero catches and seemed like a total non-factor, a disappointing conclusion to a year that had many fewer total non-factor games than his first three seasons. That Kalif Raymond, a rarely used pure deep threat who hadn't played 20 snaps in a game since Week 8, was the targeted player on Tannehill's interception speaks to their lack of depth at the position. And after Anthony Firkser's big play to set up the first-half field goal, the tight ends were similarly a non-factor. Heck, maybe the "hidden" key play was Jonnu Smith's failure to haul in a contested catch that even gave Vrabel the opportunity to screw up and punt on fourth-and-2 from the Ravens 40 down four in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. (OK, I'm definitely not over it enough to not keep harping on it ... win the game with your most important players!)

Also, it has been pointed out, but Greg Roman adjusted and started attacking the opposing defense in a different way, and the Ravens had much more consistent offensive success in the second half because of it. It's not obvious to me that Arthur Smith did. I think this actually worked for Tennessee in the regular-season game between the two teams -- they stuck with their base offensive approach even down 21-10 in the second half and came back to win in overtime. But Lamar Jackson didn't give them a crucial second-half turnover today, and they never broke through today like they did in the regular-season game. That was one of my worries coming in, that they'd stick with an approach that wasn't working because they had gotten away with it before. And they never changed their approach today, that I noticed, until the two-minute drill at the end of the game, and it never worked.

Broadcast note: I spent basically all of my time on the main ESPN broadcast. Had it not been the Titans game, I would have spent time checking out the ESPN2 film room broadcast for sure, and maybe one of the other options if they were close enough to real time (or at least the delayed version of real time that is the main ESPN/ABC broadcast).

Chicago Bears 9 at New Orleans Saints 21

Scott Spratt: I knew Darnell Mooney and Roquan Smith were out for the Bears, but they're missing cornerback Jaylon Johnson, too? Those are some massive losses for an already outmatched team.

Bryan Knowles: There are reports that Drew Brees will retire once the Saints' playoff run is over.

I feel confident we'll get him for at least one more week.

Cale Clinton: Nickelodeon is on my television for the first time since I was 10 years old, and boy am I excited. First off, it needs to be addressed just how good Nate Burleson is at hosting this. He was put in charge of counting down Spongebob Squarepants' "Top 10 Sportiest Moments" as the lead-up to the game, and he was delightful. He even took the slime like a champ.

The broadcast kicked things off by explaining the scoring permutations of this game, introduced the "NVP" trophy they'll be giving out after the game, and scored their pregame sizzle reel to the Kidz Bop version of Imagine Dragons. This is going to be bizarre and delightful.

Bryan Knowles: Nick does have to fix their graphics, though -- the slimed first-down line keeps moving around as the play happens, not following the camera move.

Bryan Knowles: "This is going to be a little harder to explain, but Taysom Hill is in the game."

I feel you, Nickelodeon announcers.

Scott Spratt: I thought maybe Taysom Hill had the wind knocked out of him because he landed with his abdomen on the football. But a replay showed that his head crashed pretty hard into the turf. I'm wondering if he suffered a concussion there.

Aaron Schatz: Michael Thomas is back, kids. Three catches so far including the touchdown to put the Saints up 7-0. He's such a focus of the Saints' passing game that I would consider running a box-and-one defense on him like the Seahawks did with Steve Smith back in, I think 2006 (2005 postseason) ... zone except for one man assigned specifically to Thomas.

Cale Clinton: I think I've achieved the perfect viewing experience for this game. Nickelodeon is slightly ahead of the CBS broadcast, so I get to watch this acid trip unfold live on my television, then watch Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on my iPad two plays behind.

The neon colors and funny analogies between NFL players/situations and Nickelodeon characters/storylines has been a nice distraction from a whole lotta nothin' in this first quarter. We've got a Saints punt from Chicago's 38-yard line, and Mitchell Trubisky nearly threw a costly interception.

Cale Clinton: The Saints have driven downfield and Michael Thomas has found the Slime Zone!

Bryan Knowles: Alright, back on CBS to cover with appropriate gravitas 11 men wearing matching shirts attempting to move a ball over a fake lawn.

It's hard to believe that was Michael Thomas' first touchdown of the year. It's even harder to believe this is only the fourth game this season where the Saints have had Thomas and Drew Brees healthy at the same time, and yet they're still a second seed.

Scott Spratt: I think Javon Wims just erased all of the good will from his nice sideline catch with that long touchdown drop. It was perfectly thrown.

 

 

Bryan Knowles: It's time to play "Is That A Catch," with your host, Javon Wims!

A bobbling catch on the border of the sideline? A catch, after review. A perfectly thrown touchdown pass? Not a catch, as Wims lets it go right through his hands. Sickest man in America, et cetera, et cetera.

Bryan Knowles: We are really getting a full and thorough examination of the catch rule today, aren't we? We're getting a long, long look at a tipped ball that appears to be a Bears interception -- but the tip of the ball grazes the ground.

I'm expecting the "not enough evidence to overturn" call, but no, they reverse it on replay. I think Bears fans have a rightful bone to pick there.

Scott Spratt: At least the Bears got the karma of a Wil Lutz missed field goal, Bryan. It remains 7-0 New Orleans a minute into the second quarter.

Scott Spratt: Woah. That big Taysom Hill wind-up was going to be a touchdown. Deonte Harris was way open, but Hill couldn't get it off before the strip sack/interception.

Bryan Knowles: Yeah, Scott; I'm the first to yell at Sean Payton for his Taysom Hill fanaticism, but that play would have worked if the protection was just a little better.

Aaron Schatz: I don't think "bring in Taysom Hill, let the defense play run, and take a shot deep" is a bad idea. The protection just couldn't hold up until the play developed.

Tom Gower: My edit to Aaron's last note: the protection couldn't hold up long enough for Taysom Hill to make a decision to throw the ball and complete his throwing motion to get the ball out of his hands. Which is one of the issues with Taysom Hill.

Aaron Schatz: Note that the Saints haven't thrown to Michael Thomas since the touchdown. Kyle Fuller was just very tight on him on a third-and-12 that didn't go anywhere for the Saints (incomplete to Alvin Kamara) and led to a punt.

Scott Spratt: If you slow down the replay of the David Montgomery play enough, it looks like he had possession and fumbled, ha-ha.

Aaron Schatz: Both defenses really dominating this thing at halftime. Bears at 4.1 yards per play and 0-for-6 on third downs, but even the Saints are only at 4.7 yards per play and have the turnover. Bears defensive performance is very impressive considering that they are missing Roquan Smith and two of their top three cornerbacks. Kyle Fuller, the remaining starting corner, is doing a fantastic job on Thomas, Thomas' only catch in the second quarter came in a zone with Fuller on the other side of the field. Maybe more surprising, Emmanuel Sanders has one catch for 0 yards. And the Bears are getting pressure even though Brees hasn't taken a sack because he's Brees and he doesn't take sacks.

Bryan Knowles: Considering the Bears are down to fifth-round pick Kindle Vildor in the secondary, they're doing an amazing job so far.

Tom Gower: Down three starters, the Bears defense is looking great. The old criticism about the Saints pass game is that it tends to go through very few players (if I recall correctly, I noted this both last year against the Vikings and maybe even both games against the Eagles and Rams the year before that). True again here, as Deonte Harris played his schemed role early and got a couple of targets, and despite what Aaron has said about Kyle Fuller doing good work on him, Michael Thomas is the other player who has played a role in the pass game. Nobody else has multiple catches. The biggest surprise to me is that Alvin Kamara doesn't even have a target. Not sure exactly what the Bears are doing to take him away, but I'd be surprised if Sean Payton doesn't look to get him involved in the second half.

The Bears offense is the Bears offense, and the Saints have a good defense. It's too bad Javon Wims couldn't hang on to the ball in the end zone, if only for competitiveness reasons. Sure, at 7-3 after 30 minutes, we're within a single fluke play of the Bears taking a lead. But it's also hard to see them repeatedly executing enough to beat the Saints if they do anything consistently on offense. Or if Sean Payton decides to stop punting on fourth-and-medium-ish in plus territory.

Bryan Knowles: With Kamara, you also have to wonder how much missing practice and/or any lingering COVID effects might be slowing him down. The plan might have been to rather slowly work him back in, rather than give him his usual full workload right off the bat.

Aaron Schatz: The Bears did rank second in DVOA against running backs in the passing game, so that could be part of it.

Vince Verhei: I watched most of the first half on the Nickelodeon broadcast. First, the positive: Nate Burleson is a star. I don't think that's news, I know he's on NFL Network all the time, but the last NFL player to cross over as a major mainstream TV star was Michael Strahan, and Burleson already seems more of a natural to me. Otherwise ... it was just a bad, boring football broadcast. If you're going to broadcast a game like this, go all in with it. The silly graphics only really came up on scoring plays and commercial bumpers, so they were basically a non-factor. That left us with an entire game of commentary with Nick star Gabrielle Nevaeh Green, a 15-year-old young lady who is clearly funny and smart and charming but knows nothing about football. Which is the point, of course -- they picked her because she'd be the voice of the typical Nickelodeon viewer, I'd imagine -- but when she responds to a critical turnover by asking Burleson about choreographing his touchdown dances, well, that's bad. And then when the Saints appeared to score a defensive touchdown, they were all too eager to show their slime cannon graphics instead of a replay of the "fumble," which, eventually, was correctly ruled as an incomplete pass. I'm skimming social media now and it appears I'm in the minority here, so I'll step down from my Grumpy Old Man pulpit and let everyone who enjoys it, enjoy it.

As for the game itself ... is this Rams-Seahawks II? The Bears can't do anything -- four first downs, 0-for-7 on third/fourth downs -- but they should be ahead, and would be if not for a terrible Javon Wims drop in the end zone off a flea flicker. The Saints are the opposite of Seattle yesterday, constantly moving the chains without actually going anywhere. How do you get 11 first downs on less than 5 yards per play? They had three different drives that lasted six-plus plays but gained less than 40 yards. It's like they're on a hamster wheel and can't get off. Efficiency is wonderful, but at some point you've got to get an explosive play to win.

Bryan Knowles: C.J. Gardner-Johnson isn't having a particularly good season by the numbers, but those numbers don't include "got multiple Chicago receivers disqualified for throwing punches at him."

Bryan Knowles: It feels like more hard counts have worked this postseason than the rest of the year combined -- New Orleans just picked up fourth-and-3 on a Taysom Hill hard count. It's 3 yards! It's OK to be a tenth of a second late!

Vince Verhei: And it worked in Buffalo yesterday! And Washington got Philadelphia on one to ice the NFC East! That play never works and it has now worked three times in the last six NFL games!

That was set up because the Saints finally got an explosive play, 38 yards to Michael Thomas on a seam to the left on third-and-4. And then it led to Brees' scrambling checkdown to Latavius Murray for a 6-yard touchdown, and the Saints go up 14-3 and I think we're done.

Carl Yedor: Last thing I'll say about Nickelodeon's broadcast, as I've finally put Romo and Nantz on my main screen: their version of dots is way more fun.

 

 

Bryan Knowles: Even needing the fourth-down fake, that was New Orleans' best drive of the game by far. Lots of vintage late-career Brees, finding the open receiver and letting them go for tons of YAC. Michael Thomas gets back into the game. Brees throws a little ... sky hook, I guess, to Latavius Murray, who jukes and weaves his way for the touchdown. On what has not been their best day by any stretch of the imagination, the Saints are up 11 points.

I disagree, Vince, that the game is over -- if the Bears come back and have an impressive scoring drive, this is still a contest.

If.

Vince Verhei: That's true, Bryan, but it's Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears. They're not going to have an impressive scoring drive. They're going to throw a 3-yard pass on third-and-8 and then punt.

I mean, LOOK at what the Bears have done today. Their only points came on a field goal on a drive that gained 6 yards -- and that took them six plays to do! Their longest drive gained 48 yards and ended when Trubisky scrambled out of bounds for a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-4. I'm really struggling to envision how they're going to score twice in the last 18 minutes here unless the defense can do it themselves.

Bryan Knowles: I had this stat ready for the Seahawks-Rams game, before Seattle got things into gear, but there have only been two playoff games in the 21st century where a team failed to convert a third down, and both the 2018 Colts and 2012 Bengals at least picked up a fourth-down conversion at some point.

The Bears are currently 0-for-8 on third down, 0-for-1 on fourth. Still a quarter to go, but it's something to watch for...

Andrew Potter: It felt to me at halftime like the Bears defense was just about holding the dam from bursting while begging the offense to do something, anything, to help. The offense almost answered the call with a play-action-heavy drive to open the second half, but a sack killed it in plus territory. The Saints immediately drove for their second touchdown, and even a 14-3 lead feels almost insurmountable for an offense that is averaging just 17 yards per drive.

Scott Spratt: Did Jim Nantz just imply that Phil Mickelson had Alvin Kamara on his fantasy team in Week 16 when he scored six touchdowns and still lost the championship game? I desperately want to know who the loss was to and who everyone in the league is.

Aaron Schatz: The Bears' backups have finally given way. Bad tackling by Kindle Vildor on Lil'Jordan Humphrey let Humphrey get a first down, then holding on Vildor cancelled a 14-yard sack by Khalil Mack.

Bryan Knowles: So -- and I know I'm calling this with nine minutes left, and with Nickelodeon Valuable Player Mitchell Trubisky coming back onto the field -- we'll get Buccaneers at Saints and Rams at Packers in the divisional round.

I'm assuming Saints-Bucs will be closer to the relatively close Week 1 game and not the throttling we saw in November. At least, I'm hopeful.

Vince Verhei: God, Sean Payton was trying SO HARD to get Taysom Hill his hero moment. First-and-goal, Hill runs for no gain; second-and-goal, Hill throws an incomplete pass. At least the pass drew a DPI for a new set of downs, and Payton just turned to his best player instead, and Kamara scores to make it 21-3 with 8:50 to go.

Still holding out hope for those Bears, Bryan?

Bryan Knowles: I'm holding out hope they fail to convert a third or fourth down and all my "offensive futility" research this weekend doesn't go to waste!

Vince Verhei: Trubisky throws wide on third-and-9, the Bears are white-flag punting down 18 points in the fourth quarter, and I think you're going to get your wish.

Scott Spratt: I think Bears fans will get their wish as well for the Bears to move on from Trubisky this offseason. I got the feeling they risked an extension if he pulled the upset today.

Vince Verhei: So how do we feel about the seventh playoff team now? I think it added some drama to Week 17, especially in the AFC, and we did get Colts-Bills yesterday, which might have been the best game of the weekend. But then today we get ... this.

Bryan Knowles: It would never happen for obvious reasons, but I wonder if there couldn't be some kind of quality threshold for adding extra wildc-ard teams. Like, stick with six per conference, but every team with at least 10 wins makes it in.

I mean, that's obviously a disaster with scheduling and bye weeks and competitive fairness and selling rights to all of your football games and all that, but I'd rather have seen Chiefs-Dolphins this weekend then Saints-Bears.

Scott Spratt: It's too much football to watch for an old man like me, Vince. But in terms of matchups, I don't think you can assume that every seven seed will be like the Bears. I mean, the Kyler Murray Cardinals could have had a seven seed, and they're incredibly fun if not necessarily great.

Aaron Schatz: Yeah, this was a lot of football, two tripleheaders. Maybe I'm old now but I preferred a four-game weekend.

Andrew Potter: The lack of a second bye also nuked some of the drama from Week 17, though, so I think that was a wash. We justifiably berated the NFC East throughout the season and lamented their guaranteed home playoff game, but the Bears with their former No. 2 overall pick at quarterback look considerably worse than Washington with a couch free agent. Philosophically, I can see an argument that the No. 5 seed might be better than the No. 4, and that's worth a playoff game. I can even see that argument for the No. 6 versus the No. 3. By the time we get to the No. 7 versus the No. 2, that's a very tough argument to make.

Vince Verhei: I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought six games was too much. I woke up today just completely exhausted. I thought maybe that was because the Seahawks loss was so ugly, but no, I think we're all just burned out.

Scott Spratt: I guess it's fair to point out that we're all coming off obsessive coverage of the regular season since it's our jobs. Maybe this is more fun for fans who don't live this every single day all season?

Scott Spratt: Sean Payton just allowed Drew Brees to jump over the top to (maybe) score a meaningless touchdown in the final three minutes, already up three scores. That is hubris.

Dave Bernreuther: Almost every time they've put Taysom Hill out there I've hated it (although I do agree with Aaron about the idea with the deep ball on the fumble play) and said they'd be better off just running their normal offense.

Now, late in a blowout, Payton leaves Brees in for a jump over the top that gets him hit. If ever there actually WAS a good time to park him on the bench in favor of Hill...

Bryan Knowles: And, the biggest tragedy of the game: the Bears just converted a third down. My stats, they are useless!

Vince Verhei: Jimmy Graham with the leaping one-handed grab for a totally meaningless touchdown and just morosely jogging straight into the locker room is such a perfect ending to this game.

Cale Clinton: In an Internet hijacking, Mitchell Trubisky has won the fan-decided NVP award from Nickelodeon. He won 49% of the vote. They're going to have to give him this trophy on-air. People have already updated his Wikipedia. What bizarre salt to throw in the wound of a guy who tried to end his Bears career on a high note.

Tom Gower: Finally getting to recap the second half of this game, I was going to say something about how it felt like the Saints offense was incredibly successful in the second half, though they only scored 14 points. But New Orleans only had the ball three times in the second half, which almost assuredly ties the record for fewest possessions by one team in a half, and their one drive that didn't end in a touchdown finished with Drew Brees just barely not scoring on fourth-and-goal from the one. These were all very much current-era Saints possessions, extended drives with the offense repeatedly executing, even if not regularly gaining yardage in chunks. But they kept going and going.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears were still the Bears. A couple of Allen Robinson catches got them into borderline field goal range on the opening drive of the second half, then a Trubisky sack knocked them out of it, and even I don't blame Nagy for punting on fourth-and-15 down 7-3 with almost 27 minutes to play. And they had two bad drives, and then they were down 21-3 with two minutes to play.

Cleveland Browns 48 at Pittsburgh Steelers 37

Bryan Knowles: First snap of the game, Maurkice Pouncey snaps the ball over Ben Roethlisbergers' head, the Browns scoop it up in the end zone, and Cleveland takes a 7-0 lead. Welcome back to the playoffs, Browns!

Scott Spratt: Possibly an intentional move by the Steelers so they can pass the ball 60 times without criticism?

Vince Verhei: That is the play that should have been on Nickelodeon with the slime cannons.

Bryan Knowles: I will say, when I picked the Steelers to be the team that most underperformed their Almanac projections, this is the kind of team I was thinking of. Took three months for them to arrive.

The Steelers' second drive ends with Roethlisberger airmailing his target under pressure. M.J. Stewart comes down with it, and the Browns offense comes onto the field for the first time in Pittsburgh territory with a seven-point lead.

Scott Spratt: The Ravens went down 10-0 early in their game against the Titans, but this feels different. The Steelers are down 14-0 barely five minutes in. Incredible.

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers also went down 14-0 in the first 10 minutes of their last playoff game, the 2017 loss to the Jaguars.

Also, how crazy is it the last time the Steelers were in the playoffs was the 2017 season?

Dave Bernreuther: So ... Bryan's idea about throwing 60 times went right out the window. Three runs and a punt. Down 14-0. To a team with two corners out. When you haven't run the ball effectively all season.

I mean ... I guess it's a tendency-breaker?

Vince Verhei: It's 21-0 before we can even recap what's happening, and I'm starting to think that in-season practices in the NFL are really, really overrated.

Cale Clinton: One practice this week. Kevin Stefanski is sitting in his basement. Under-staffed and short-handed due to COVID-19. None of it matters. 21-0 Browns after nine total plays of offense.

Bryan Knowles: This would be the fourth playoff game in history where a road team jumped out to a 21-point lead in the first quarter.

Most recently, of course, was last year's Chiefs-Texans game, which started Texans 24-0, and we all know how THAT ended.

I don't think the Steelers are quite as potent, offensively, as last year's Chiefs, however. And the 2009 Ravens (over New England), 1981 Chargers (over Miami), and 1940 Bears (over Washington) all hung on to various levels -- an overtime win for the Chargers in the Epic in Miami, the 73-0 beatdown in the 1940 NFL title game. I'll call it SOMEWHERE between those two results.

Scott Spratt: I guess the silver lining is that all of us worn-out writers can go to bed early.

Scott Spratt: Did NBC have first dibs on the games for Saturday and Sunday night? Because they netted the two worst games, and I don't think that was only in hindsight.

Bryan Knowles: And now, Ben Roethlisberger is intercepted AGAIN, the Browns start with the ball inside the red zone, and I'm calling ballgame in the first quarter.

This is a stunner.

Carl Yedor: If the Browns manage to lose this one somehow after another Roethlisberger pick (this one was tipped) that set them up at the Pittsburgh 15, it would be an all-timer Browns loss though.

Scott Spratt: Also, man, there's another Roethlisberger pick. As a Panthers fan, I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but Roethlisberger could go full Delhomme tonight.

Bryan Knowles: Forget road teams -- no team in NFL playoff history has ever had a 28-point margin in the first quarter. This is impossible.

Vince Verhei: The Steelers only gave up 28 points once all year -- the Eagles got 29 back in Week 4 (and the Steelers still won).

The Browns got 28 points in barely 13 minutes tonight.

Aaron Schatz: Pittsburgh just punted from the Cleveland 38. They are losing by 28 points.

Scott Spratt: Probably not much of an error since the Steelers have to be below a 1% GWC at this point haha.

Tom Gower: It was fourth-and-9. You should consider going for that in a tie game! Down 28, the only person who might be trying to win who would punt might be Mike Vrabel! (I'm clearly not over it yet!)

Bryan Knowles: Alright, here's the question:

Do you pull Roethlisberger?

Scott Spratt: I'd pull him about halfway through the third if things don't get closer. I'd try to keep him from hanging that fourth turnover just for legacy purposes. But I assume the Steelers still feel like they can score some points. There's so much time left.

Vince Verhei: Looking at the score, I would assume they already did.

Bryan Knowles: I think my question is more, does Mason Rudolph give you a better chance of coming back? Probably not, but at this point, what do you have to lose?

Cale Clinton: At this time, I feel it's appropriate to remind everybody that Ben Roethlisberger will be a $41.3-million cap hit for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021.

Scott Spratt: I don't think Rudolph gives the Steelers a better chance to win. After the first few series when Roethlisberger was airmailing everything, his passes seem on target now. That most recent pick was just crazy luck on a batted pass.

Dave Bernreuther: Not going to lie, I was hoping that Mike Tomlin would kick a field goal there, just for the comedy.

Still, they went back to the run ... and if it was goal-to-go, they wouldn't have gotten it. I guess when your quarterback has thrown three picks, running isn't a bad idea. But still, this is the 2020 Steelers.

Right on cue, they score on the ground. So they're on the board and down three scores. Now would be a good time for Tomlin to play coach like Tony Dungy and just keep them calm, remind them that they're facing a team missing its coach and two corners, and just make a point to win the next drive too. And it's not THAT tough a sell.

Still, since we were talking about fatigue ... I guess I'll revert to wishing they had kicked. Because now this means I'm going to watch the second half too.

Scott Spratt: Maurkice Pouncey almost sabotaged that effort, too, when he low-snapped on fourth-and-1 from the 2-yard line. Roethlisberger made a great play to get the ball to James Conner, who churned his way to a new first down the play before the score.

Scott Spratt: I love that the Browns are trying to score more points. In a similar situation in the Super Bowl a few years ago, the Falcons offense kind of turtled with their 28-3 lead, and that allowed the Patriots to catch them when they played flawless offense in the second half.

Vince Verhei: The Browns got 35 points in the first half.

The Steelers had not given up 35 points in a game since a 42-37 loss to Kansas City in Week 2 of 2018, the third start of Patrick Mahomes' career.

So, it's 35-10 at the break. Roethlisberger's up to 30 passes already. Per Stathead, the single-game playoff record is 65 by Steve Young in a 27-17 loss to Green Bay in the 1995 postseason. Does Roethlisberger get there?

Scott Spratt: I think 65 pass attempts is in play for sure. The Steelers started to extend some drives at the end of the first half. I think they could get to 30 points.

Aaron Schatz: Uh ... I tried to turn off my brain but it appears we actually have a game here. The Steelers just scored another touchdown to make it 35-23 with 2:57 left in the third quarter. The Browns are playing some weak zones and the Steelers are moving the ball fairly easily.

Carl Yedor: Don't look now, but it's only a 12-point game. Cleveland had a chance at another interception, but the trapping corner couldn't haul it in. Pittsburgh took advantage of the additional opportunity and continued their drive, punching it in on fourth down on a crosser to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Three minutes left to play in the third quarter. If the Browns don't score here this could turn into quite the nailbiter.

Bryan Knowles: Wellity, wellity, wellity.

The Browns are still in control of this game, but it's no longer seeming quite as salted away as it did early in the second quarter. The Steelers have scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives of the second half -- they missed a two-pointer, so it's just 35-23, but all of a sudden, it's only a two-posession game.

Another Browns score likely would be enough to re-extend this lead out of the question, but if there were to be a comeback, it would start like this.

Vince Verhei: Third quarter ends with Pittsburgh facing a fourth-and-1 just shy of midfield. Roethlisberger is up to 52 passes.

Carl Yedor: Pittsburgh punted on fourth-and-1 from their own 46 (taking a delay of game as they tried to draw the Browns offsides). Disagree with that one, as they give Cleveland the ball back instead of trying to continue their drive while still being down 12 points.

Bryan Knowles: Did Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, and Mike Vrabel get into a bad punting competition this weekend?

Bryan Knowles: Four plays to get back to where the Steelers punted, and then a 40-yard Nick Chubb touchdown to re-ice the game afterwards. I can not believe the Steelers punted in any situation, much less fourth-and-nada from midfield.

Tom Gower: Fourth-and-1 at midfield is literally my go-to example for why you shouldn't just bring the punt team out. And I normally just use first half of a tie game against an equal opponent as the scenario. Down 12, in the fourth quarter, of a playoff game (where teams are definitely trying to win), it's just ... unbelievable. But, uh, I guess at least the Browns scored quickly?

Vince Verhei: Since Pittsburgh's first touchdown of the second half, the Browns have had three drives and run 12 plays -- four runs and eight passes. That includes three clock-stopping incompletions on a pair of three-and-outs. But that doesn't stop Mike Priefer -- he calls five passes and only one run on the next drive, and the last of those passes is the touchdown to Chubb.

Scott Spratt: I take back my earlier comment that this game wasn't interesting.

Vince Verhei: Browns get a field goal to go up 45-29 -- a critical 16-point lead -- with 4 and a half minutes to go.

Baker Mayfield, playing behind a MASH unit offensive line against the best defense in the league, has thrown 33 passes without a sack or interception.

Scott Spratt: Tough look for the No. 1 DVOA Steelers defense to allow the Browns to go 80 and 59 yards over 19 plays in their last two drives, but at least they held this one to a field goal. Now the offense needs two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in the last four and a half minutes to force overtime. Slightly possible?

Aaron Schatz: Interception by Sione Takitaki, so, no, not slightly possible.

Carl Yedor: Roethlisberger's fourth pick comes on his 60th attempt of the night. If the Steelers can get the ball back, it seems like Roethlisberger should have a good shot at the record by picking up a first down or two on what would be a meaningless drive assuming they don't just turtle and call it a season.

Bryan Knowles: Schedule for next week:

  • Saturday has Rams at Packers in the early game, Ravens at Bills in the nightcap.
  • Sunday is Browns at Chiefs early and Bucs at Saints late.

Color me shocked Josh Allen gets the nod over Patrick Mahomes for one of the two prime-time games.

Scott Spratt: That's insurance in case the Chiefs blow out the Browns, right?

Tom Gower: OK, where does this swan dive by the Steelers rank among the worst six-game stretches to end a season, ever? Considering the 11-0 start and then limping to a 1-4 finish and a bad home playoff defeat, it has to be up there.

Bryan Knowles: I don't know about six-game stretches, but it probably at least replaces the 1969 Rams: 11-0, and then lost their last four games and were done.

Tom Gower: That's one of the contenders for worst end to a season. A friend also nominated the 1986 New York Jets, though the 45-3 loss that started their collapse from 10-1 technically falls outside the arbitrary six-game threshold (and oh, yeah, they actually won a playoff game). Among bad teams, another contender is the 1984 Vikings, who went full quitzilla in Les Steckel's only season has head coach and lost their last six games by an average of 27 points.

Tom Gower: Zero sacks, zero QB hits for the defense that ranked first in the league in adjusted sack rate this year. And the Browns were playing without their good left guard, who's on COVID, and lost both their right tackle and replacement left guard during the game.

Comments

79 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2021, 9:26pm

1 Same as it ever was

“the Bears defense was just about holding the dam from bursting while begging the offense to do something, anything, to help.”

Life as a Bears fan in one sentence.

2 DVOA Lesson

I look forward to learning more about DVOA and DYAR when you write up the PITT game. Four picks is terrible, but500 yards, four TDS and 29 passing 1Ds is pretty spiffy.

3 A lot of what-ifs for the…

A lot of what-ifs for the Bears coming out of this one. A play here, a play there, and this could've been a close loss. Costly drops by Javon Wims, Duke Shelley, and Nate Jones.

55 That's a deep joke. I…

That's a deep joke. I watched the game pretty closely, and I'm like "who the eff is Nate Jones?" Then again, I had no idea they had signed Mante Te'o, so I was willing to believe there was a receiver targeted that I had never heard of.

4 Lamar DVOA scrambling vs DVOA passing

I would love to see these splits.  

Cale Clinton's point is understood, it was Jackson's fault for most of the sacks.  However during the first half he had 4 sacks for -14 yards and a 48 yard TD scramble.  I do not know the rest of his scrambling yards, lets leave it at this.  With no other scrambles he has 5 plays, 34 yards and a TD, or what Saquon Barkley calls, a great half.   

However, todays 5 sack game was his most for any game this season. This game was not typical Jackson, he was sacked 29 times in 15 games for -160 yards.   Lets call it two per game for -11 yards.  The risk of being sacked is well worth the reward or him breaking loose and scrambling or throwing on the run after holding the ball awhile.

I did not know until I read this article, that Jackson holds the ball that long.  However, in watching the Ravens at times it appears that the whole point to Jackson on offense is, come, try to get me, no one is open anyway, I will burn you by scrambling or throwing on the run.  If I hold the ball long enough someone might get open.

If the Ravens use quick hitting plays, it assures that the play results in a pass, which by normal NFL standards is a good thing.  Are the Ravens designed to operate by normal NFL standards?  

FO outsider stats show Ravens leading receiver Marquise Brown for the season had 6 drops, 4 missed tackles, and many (I do not recall the number) deep balls with 7 receptions for first downs with no TD's. Wow that is awful, I wish I recall where I saw your stat so I could put in the deep pass failure. 

The local Baltimore radio pregame show today said that of Jackson's first 10 passes in a game, the number of passes that Brown caught for the season was zero. He is their leading receiver!!! That is 150 passes with Nothing, Ngata (Baltimore spelling).  So today was Brown's first catch of the season on Jackson's first 10 passes of the game, from a guy that averages only 25 passes per game.

My point regarding the DVOA splits on scrambling vs passing is that on any given play do the Ravens really want Jackson to throw?  Especially from the pocket. 

On 3rd or 4th and long, it seems that the best play is drop back to pass, wait, then take off and scramble.  If he gets sacked here, well they were going to punt anyway if the result is an incomplete pass.  Occasionally on the way to the line of scrimmage someone will break open like Marquise Brown did against Cleveland on MNF on 4th and 5, on a last gasp play that saved the Ravens season.

32 Two things

1. Lamar has taken a step back this sesaon in executing the regular drop-back game.  Interesting piece in The Athletic last week, which includes a discussion with Lamar's offseason QB coach Josh Harris.  
https://theathletic.com/2309677
Their offseason workplan got DESTROYED by covid.  Harris estimates that they only did about 10% of the work they'd planned to do.  So, where some QBs like Josh Allen took enormous strides this season, Lamar was the opposite.  When the Ravens started having OL troubles early in the season, his mechanics went to hell.  Then he missed some weeks for covid.  It's been a slog back.  Lamar is still not executing the quick game as well as he did last season (though better than he was earlier this season).

2. There's a guy who tracks statistical stuff for the Ravens, and does articles & podcasts.  (Had me on a couple times!)  He did a piece in the offseason, about when QBs are "forced not to pass": that is, dropbacks that result in sacks or scrambles.  These plays are wins for the defense, right?   
https://www.filmstudybaltimore.com/a-complement-for-passer-rating
For 2019, on dropbacks where the defense forced the QB not to pass (so, on sacks & scrambles), Lamar averaged +5.2 yards per play, to lead the league.
Haven't run the 2020 numbers yet, but they're certainly going to show a fall-off.

37 Great chart

In reply to by JimZipCode

Lamar must regress I agree, as he more than doubled all but two QB's.  FNTP is not ideal for any QB other than Jackson, but for Jackson it is a win.  It is absurd that someone can average over 5 yards per play on FNTP counting all of those negative plays that sacks represent.

Taking out sacks and looking at last year when Jackson scrambled he gained 429+106=535 yards on 39 scrambles, an incredible 13.7 yards per play.  Which goes to my point, it is the best play that the Ravens have   I assume that this is true for some other teams, but for the Ravens I assume that it is the most extreme number.

The chart that you shared is great.

I would like your opinion on two points:

1.  FNTP (forced not to pass) for Jackson is often in reality CNTP (chooses not to pass).   

2. If you agree on point number 1, another point that I would like your opinion on:  CNTP is something that Lamar Jackson does more than any other QB as a percentage of his drop backs.

 

5 Sunday games

I don't understand all the fussing about the Titans first TD as the defender was draped all over the receiver prior to the receiver basically saying 'get off of me'.  This whole 'obvious push off' ignores the entire rest of the route.  Sensible no call if anything.

 

Sean Payton's bizarre fascination with Hill is going to cost the Saints in this playoffs.  Hill is a limited player and teams are now very much aware of the play calls associated with Hill. Not the least of which when Hill is playing qb he will almost always run the ball.  Payton's usage of Hill is not that different from McCarthy needing to get John Kuhn the ball on short yardage even though the success results did not merit this approach.  

 

Sure seemed like the league's hands off approach to offensive holding (get it!) calls was a boost to the Browns offensive line.  That crew was manhandling defenders (as did their Pittsburgh counterparts) which gave Baker the ability to make his throws.  Pittsburgh also has a weird need to run the ball on short yardage and that too bit them.  Mike Tomlin has won a lot of games and some big games in the NFL.  But neither he nor his staff covered themselves in glory last night.

 

I think the Steelers would do well to flush out some of the 'old blood' on that team and start fresh.  Not just a monetary decision.  THings are stale.  

22 The Browns line didn't seem…

In reply to by big10freak

The Browns line didn't seem to be holding egregiously. They studiously attempted to throw quick, and broke the Steelers' back with a screen pass.

6 I agree with Vince about the…

I agree with Vince about the Nickelodeon broadcast.  It was fun and refreshing, but eventually I switched to CBS because Nick was showing effectively zero replays.  It was incredibly frustrating.

8 Turnarounds.

The Browns-Steelers game featured two teams that completely turned things around during the latter half of the season.  The Browns started the season looking like the Same Old Browns; by November/December they looked like an entirely different team, a well-disciplined club with a juggernaut rushing attack and enough of a passing attack to keep defenses honest.  The Steelers started the season 11-0; after that they staggered to the finish line and looked like a shadow of their former selves in the playoff game.  Nothing like this would have seemed remotely possible in September/October.

It's a credit to the Browns, both to the players and the coaches, that they didn't give in to despair early in the season when they looked like nothing more than what they had been for years, a warmup punching bag for the Steelers and Ravens.  They just kept working to improve, and their eventual turnaround has been a wonder to behold.

I haven't been fooled into thinking that they're now a superteam.  Their defense isn't all that good.  They benefited from an easy schedule, and they won some close games that could easily have gone the other way.  But I do believe that they have turned the corner, that they're now a legitimately good team for the first time in Lord knows how many years.

It's been a long time coming.

10 They’re clearly overmatched…

In reply to by OldFox

They’re clearly overmatched against Kansas City, but they’re playing with the proverbial house money.  No matter what happens next week, even if they lose by 40 points, 2020 has been a wildly successful season.

15 KC has the 31st rush defense…

KC has the 31st rush defense in the league by DVOA, which surprises me since the Chiefs have the Ravens' number.  Cleveland is not the best matchup for them.  The Browns also scored 48 points against the best defense in the league by DVOA (granted, the turnovers helped them a lot).  If they get everyone back, they will not be a walk in the park for KC.

18 Steelers turnovers…

Steelers turnovers absolutely killed them. Browns had a good offensive game, and their OL and scheme severely limited the pressure on Baker, but they only averaged 6 yards per play and that was against a D without its best corner. (Joe Haden was on COVID list.) I don't think that Y/P average is too dragged down by having a big lead either, they didn't turtle.

Meanwhile, the Browns are down multiple corners and probably will be again next week. I don't see how they can stop KC. Browns running backs will get in some body blows but don't think they can keep up with KC.

26 6 yards per play is pretty…

6 yards per play is pretty damned solid. That would rank 8th in the league over the course of the season. Houston (!) led the league with only 6.4 YPP. Once you factor in the defense it becomes more impressive. I suspect DVOA will like this game by the Browns offence. 

27 I guess it's above average…

I guess it's above average but those year long yards per play numbers are very compacted because of the larger sample sizes over a whole season (Houston was at 6.4 but middle of the pack is 5.7). Looking at the team averages over their last 3 games, which gives a better approximation of the level of variance over a short time scale, 6.0 YPP would rank 13th. Over just a team's previous game, 6.0 YPP is ranked the same: tied for 13th.

Not trying to say they didn't have a good game. They did, and probably a very good game once you account for strength of opponent. But if they play at that same level against KC, they'll very likely lose the game because KC will likely torch their defense.

31 Meh, I don't know how much…

Meh, I don't know how much you can take from the Browns offense vs the Steelers. Games like that are just weird - the Browns literally had positive things handed to them one after another and just like that, they're up 28-0. At that point it's more like "okay, don't screw stuff up, and we'll be fine." Kindof just felt like it wasn't until the beginning of the 4th quarter, when it was clear they'd have to actually work a bit to win, that they actually started playing the game.

9 Really happy for fans of the…

Really happy for fans of the Browns, after all they’ve been through in the CLE 2.0 era.  Getting a dominating win over the arrogant and smug team that refers to you as “little brother” must of been especially sweet.

11 Two of the most egregiously…

Two of the most egregiously bad punting decisions I have ever seen last night by Vrabel and Tomlin. Both times I was literally slack-jawed staring at the screen in amazement. I can only imagine fans of Baltimore and Cleveland must have been whooping and hollering as each punting unit trotted out. 

These would have looked like bad decisions 20 years ago, before any semblance of analytics in football. Team management ought to have their coaches in this morning demanding explanations.

12 Scott Spratt: Did Brian…

Scott Spratt: Did Brian Griese call Titans left guard Rodger Saffold a "war daddy?" Is that a thing?

Yes.

https://slate.com/culture/2005/02/the-strangest-compliment-in-football.html

 

13 Huh?

"And I'm glad we'll never have to hear the "Lamar Jackson can't win a playoff game" spiel ever again."

The guys on the broadcast were talking about that, but who, exactly was ever saying that in the first place? Oh yeah, the media, ginning up lame storylines. It's not like the guy is late in his career with a string of surprising playoff losses. How ridiculous.

 

Also, the whistle-swallowing is terrible. Completely changes the game. Holding is still holding.

14 Nate Burleson is a star. I…

Nate Burleson is a star. I don't think that's news, I know he's on NFL Network all the time, but the last NFL player to cross over as a major mainstream TV star was Michael Strahan

Romo?

17 By the way, the 1986 Jets…

By the way, the 1986 Jets almost made it to the AFC championship game.  They had a 20-10 lead with 4 minutes left, and had the Browns in a 2nd and long until Gastineau hit Bernie Kosar late.

19 OK, where does this swan…

OK, where does this swan dive by the Steelers rank among the worst six-game stretches to end a season, ever?

Ever? Or just for playoff teams?

Because one of those losses was a meaningless week-17 game where they started backups.

In 2007, the Lions were 6-2, 1 game behind GB for 1st in the division/NFC. They would close 1-24 (and 3-40), with their one win over a 4-12 Chiefs team that was playing to win the game.

 

24 2019 Patriots

2019 Patriots have a case, after a 10-1 start finishing 2-4. While they won an additional game, they also lost a bye in a Week 17 game to Miami who had nothing to play for, then laid an egg in the playoffs.

Given how 'dominant' they were in their 10-1 start, you could argue it was more surprising.

25 Some cold commentary on…

Some cold commentary on twitter re: the Nickelodeon broadcast

Tom Brady vs Drew Brees next week on the History Channel

 

28 The Bears scored 3 points on…

The Bears scored 3 points on offense till garbage time, but I thought Trubisky played ok, maybe even solid.

Instead, the offense felt like they quit before the game even started and did him absolutely no favors. He shouldn't be the Bears planned starter next year either way, but still, I felt bad for the kid.

I was more shocked and dismayed by the Bears defense, which put up a clinic on missed tackles and soft coverage underneath and blown assignments. That must have been an infuriating experience as a Bears fan to see that. 

33 Yeah, I think that the game…

Yeah, I think that the game showcased Trubisky's limitations - Romo pointed out times where he didn't see open receivers, and he ran out of bounds short of the sticks on 4th down when I think he had a chance to pick it up if he dove forward - but it also illustrated why he's not the only limiting factor on this offense. They didn't lose because he turned the ball over; they lost because they couldn't/wouldn't throw the ball downfield. This is why I think the people who keep saying that all the Bears need is a league-average QB and they'd be a Super Bowl contender are mistaken.

The defense missing so many tackles is indeed frustrating, and it's especially disturbing to see it from guys like Eddie Jackson who are supposed to be hitting the peak of their career (and have been paid as such). Also, I don't know what to make of Miller's ejection. People always want to blame the head coach for "lack of discipline" like that, but you're dealing with grown men playing professionally. If Miller is a knucklehead who doesn't know better than to get himself thrown out of a playoff game when you're already thin at WR, what is Nagy really supposed to do?

IMHO, the real root cause is that because they're thin on talent, they make decisions like keeping a marginal talent like Wims on the team after he does something really stupid as he did in the first Saints game. A team with more depth could send a message to the rest of the team by cutting him.

36 One thing you're missing

Is that they couldn't / wouldn't throw downfield because they know Trubisky is utterly unable to do so. The moment the Bears try to push the ball downfield is when the picks happen.  Just look at the game last week against the Packers.

45 The Javon Wims dropped TD is…

The Javon Wims dropped TD is evidence that he is not "utterly unable" to throw downfield. He does make ill-advised throws far too frequently, and many of them result in interceptions or dropped interceptions. I would argue that's a reason that Trubisky is not a good NFL starting QB, but that is not a reason to avoid throwing downfield in a game where you're a 10 point underdog against a clearly superior team.

Everything Nagy did - the playcalling for Trubisky, being content to go into halftime without scoring, and most of all the inexcusable punt down 21-3 in the 4th quarter, screamed "I'd rather lose the game by 14 than take risks and either eke out a win, or get blown out badly."

39 Seems like the Bears’ roster…

Seems like the Bears’ roster on offense is mysterious, with a bunch of tight ends and very thin at receiver in the best of times. As far as I can tell they only use 2-3 tight ends, and some of that I heard was after a mid season switch to help the blocking. Regardless, it should be relatively easy to have 4 competent receivers, shouldn’t it?

46 You're talking about the…

You're talking about the Bears. They're lucky to have 4 competent receivers in a given decade.

Seriously, though, they were hurt yesterday by Darnell Mooney's absence. For a fifth round rookie, he looks really good. Missing him probably made it easier for the Saints defense to focus on Allen Robinson. After them, they have Anthony Miller (disappointing as a 2nd rounder that they traded up to get, and of course he got himself ejected yesterday), Javon Wims who's just a guy and had his own discipline issues in the regular season game against the Saints, Riley Ridley who is either really bad or not being utilized properly at all by Nagy's staff because he hardly sees the field, and some guy they called up from the practice squad due to Mooney's injury.

As far as tight ends, Cole Kmet looks okay and it's hard to tell with a rookie TE what they'll turn out to be. They got a surprising amount of production out of Jimmy Graham, and then...I couldn't tell you who else is on the roster after them.

59 It’s true that Tennessee and…

It’s true that Tennessee and Baltimore receiving corps kind of undermine my argument but teams like SF, Atlanta and Detroit can seem to put functional WR backups out there or so it seems. And heck NO with the guy who went off yesterday although maybe this is more about Brees than anything. 

I agree Mooney might have been a difference maker.

The 8 TE’s I remember hearing about was probably back in camp.

66 I've become a certified…

I've become a certified Jimmy Graham hater after watching his absolutely lazy effort for the Packers in 2018 & 19, so I feel obligated to point out that he sucked this year for the Bears, too. Even though he scored more TDs this season than he did in his two years in GB, he still finished 31st in DVOA & DYAR for TEs this season. His yards per reception, yards per target, and overall production have basically fallen into "running back who gets 2 screens and 3 dumpoffs per game" territory, but with slightly more emphasis in the red zone.

Kmet's targets were even worse by DVOA... but young TEs require time, and often a lot of it.

35 Where do you go if you're…

Where do you go if you're the Bears management this year? They've made the playoffs two-out-of-three years and their defense has been good-to-great during that time. Teams that jettison coaches or GMs out of situations like that often regret it (see also: the Lions and Jim Caldwell). But Nagy is an offense-first coach and the offense is the clear weakness of the team. The quarterback hasn't developed and the offensive skill players are clearly lacking, beyond Allen Robinson and maybe David Montgomery. Do you take that as pretense for firing Nagy? Or is the GM the bigger problem? I don't know what I'd do if I were in charge of the Bears. I don't think running it back with the same people in charge is smart, but I also don't know who I'd choose to replace. 

38 I don't follow the Bears,…

I don't follow the Bears, but I am hard pressed to blame the coach when the qb is a bust. Sometimes you hit on the qb and sometimes you don't.

I would fire Pace but then what Gm of quality will take the job knowing Naggy is the coach and is likely not the first choice? Likely everyone needs to go.

42 If I was Bears management

I'd find a new GM that wont reup Trubisky and let them decide what to do with Nagy. Pace is the biggest to blame trading up to pick Trubisky over Watson (and Mahomes). Trading up on day 2 to get a RB. Glennon contract. Foles trade. A million TEs including the Graham contract. Trading a lot for Mack w/o a solid QB in place. Etc.

48 See, I'd make the Mack trade…

See, I'd make the Mack trade again in a heartbeat. Guys like that just don't come available very often. And outside of maybe the Eddie Jackson contract, I think the rest of his moves on the defensive side have been solid.

Your point about the QBs is fully valid though, especially the Foles trade. If you muck up the most important position, maybe the weight of that is enough to invalidate whatever good work you did on the other side of the ball?

50 The Mack trade was a good…

The Mack trade was a good one. Mack + 2nd rounder for two firsts is a good trade. As the Raiders demonstrated, neither of their picks came close to a player of Mack's quality.

As for Pace drafting the wrong QB. Again, this is entirely with the benefit of hindsight. All of the mock drafts had Trubisky as higher graded pick. Sure, maybe that was because teams telegraphed their desires for Trubisky and it wasn't a pure player grade, but still...it was not a shock that Trubisky was taken. Should GMs be fired for repeatedly passing on Tom Brady?

Watson was seen as good college qb but maybe not a great pro prospect. And Mahomes was considered a reach.

The draft is not exactly a crapshoot, but it isn't something that conforms to expectations. Sometimes you get Peyton Manning, sometimes you get Ryan Leaf

 

53 Remove the comparisons to…

Remove the comparisons to other QBs and simply look at it this way: Ryan Pace traded up to #2 overall to take a QB who ranked 24th, 19th, 27th, and 24th in DVOA in his 4 seasons playing on a rookie contract. He wasn't even good enough to pick up the 5th year option. The only reason there is even a question if he will be re-signed by the Bears is because they are so dysfunctional and bereft of talent at that position. If he had somehow been the best QB out of the very worst draft class of QBs in history, it still would not have been a good idea to draft him at that position.

52 I thought that at first

But with the Jamal Adams trade and to a lesser extent the Tunsil one, it seems like trading two 1sts (and then to have to pay big bucks) for a non QB isn't worth it . And the Seahawks and Texans had good QBs! Now Houston is a mess and Seattle is rightfully frustrated. Mack turns 30 next month and Chicago looks to be headed to purgatory for a while.

58 I would argue Mack is a…

I would argue Mack is a different animal in this respect. Both offensive lines and defensive backs are very much about weak links. Top corners bring more value because they Shadow elite receivers, top pass rushers do damage almost under any context. and Tunsil is a bad example because he's not a Hall of famer while Mack was a raining defensive player of the year

60 Counter

Even if he is, Watson and Wilson are that much better at QB it out weighs it. And out weighing it as such we see that they're now without multiple 1sts and it'll be hard for them to restock talent and get much better as they (will) have below average cap space too. So they're likely going to have to make coaching changes to make any significant improvement and we know that's hard.

Being a perhaps (at the time) HOFr and reining _POTY still doesn't provide enough positional value. And pass rushers may be able do damage from different spots but you can also take them out of the game and have the Khalil Macks of the world have 0 sacks in 3 career playoff games, with scheme. 

The Raiders did waste the picks though but that's another story. But if you're gonna go such a trade you gotta have the QB, etc in place otherwise you get this limbo. And even then it's no guarantee but still a lot of capital. 

63 I think you're doing a good…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

I think you're doing a good job of bringing up the pros and cons of trading multiple first rounders for a player.

I don't think we know what the right trade-off should be. There's a lot of value in acquiring a known quantity versus the abstract value of a draft pick. sure that might turn into deion Sanders but it also might turn into an absolute bust.

Btw having DeShaun Watson or Russell Wilson at quarterback to me doesn't really change this equation. those guys are going to eat up a ton of the salary cap and this third player is now going to eat up a ton more, causing you to be extremely top heavy. you can argue it's better to have mack when your quarterback is cost controlled than it is to pair him with Wilson or Watson.

 

as I said from the start I'm not quite sure what the fair value is for a deal like this. I'm not sure two first rounders is an overpay and they did get a second rounder for it. 

 

And again it looks bad cuz Trubisky is bad, but they didn't know that going in. 

64 I don't think the Mack trade…

I don't think the Mack trade has aged well, but it's not like it was world-ending by itself. And if it was like the one big trade the Bears made with their draft picks in this span, then it's not as hard to swallow the cost. The problem is that Pace has traded a bunch of his draft picks away over the years, both for expensive veterans and to move up in the draft to get "his guy," which is a bad strategy in general and, well, look at Trubisky. And now the Bears are capped out with a bad offensive roster (about to get even worse, assuming Robinson leaves), a defense they're not gonna be able to afford to keep together, and not much young talent ready to step up into starting roles. Oops.

73 Thanks

It might be hard to tell since there's no assigned value to known players but I think we're seeing the results play out. And all three examples we have (that I can think of) are kinda...meh. 

Wilson is eating up a lot but remember Tunsil was traded when Watson was in his 3rd year long before his extension (kicked in). Truly is amazing how they're so bad. Even though all 3 guys are good. But it's hard to find high talent in the 2nd+. It's possible but the margin for error is heavily reduced. 

The whole trade was Mack+2nd (Kmet)+7th (Arlington Hambright) for a 1st (Josh Jacobs)+1st (Arnette)+3rd (Bryan Edwards+6th (Bessuan Austin, traded). And 3 years later their respective teams are both 8-8. Raiders due to bad drafting (and not just with the Mack picks) but the Bears due to trading so many picks (including the Mack trade).

I think it looks bad cuz we KNOW Watson and Wilson are good, but they still can't make up for it.

69 Yeah, I still like the Mack trade

The problem is that he didn't stop trading draft picks. When you do something like that it's prudent to start to conserve picks or trade down to compensate for your smaller pool. Instead, he continued to spend picks like there was no tomorrow.

As far as defensive moves that weren't solid, you forgot about Robert Quinn. Though that's easy to do, he was pretty forgettable this season.

78 In hindsight

I'm not sure it's moved the needle enough. But even if they hadn't traded up anymore, for the likes of Montgomery (which yielded a similarly talented RB in Damien Harris), Foles and Piniero, I'm not sure they'd be any better. 

Pace certainly has messed a lot up though including Quinn contract.

49 I don't think there's a…

I don't think there's a single justification for Pace keeping his job. In six years, the Bears have had 1 winning season and 0 playoff wins. More important than the win-loss record, what evidence is there that Pace is a good talent evaluator? If you look at his entire body of work, the closest thing to a brilliant move he made was trading for Mack. In retrospect, the Bears have wasted his prime, and does Pace really deserve a ton of credit for pulling the trigger on a trade that was obviously favorable in terms of Mack's level of talent?

When it comes to QB, there is so much more wrong with Pace than just the fact that he picked Trubisky over Watson and Mahomes. In 6 years he has drafted exactly 1 QB - Trubisky. Think about that. The first 2 years of his regime, he had an aging mediocre veteran in Cutler and opted not to draft anyone at all. If you give him a pass for the next 2 years and say that it was reasonable to only draft Trubisky and then supplement him with veteran backups, that still leaves the last 2 years where Trubisky's future was highly questionable and Pace didn't draft anyone. Note: I am not arguing that QBs drafted in rounds 2-7 are likely to be long-term solutions at starting QB. But it is incredible to think that a team that has not had a solid starter at QB (to put it mildly) would never take a mid-round flyer on anyone, and at least hope to find a competent, cheap backup.

62 IMO, trading a 4th rounder…

IMO, trading a 4th rounder for Nick Foles with that contract in a market where Cam Newton eventually signed for peanuts was a significantly worse decision than trading up to draft Trubisky. And that was a terrible move. They were also burning money on Chase Daniel as the backup before they brought in Foles. And oh my god, Mike Glennon...

Yeah, Pace has had issues at the QB position.

75 The "Cam Newton peanuts"…

The "Cam Newton peanuts" contract clearly has extenuating circumstances going on. You can't even sign a *backup* QB for what Newton signed for - it was clearly a "prove it" contract and Newton was willing to do it for nothing because he probably figured he couldn't fail with the Patriots.

79 Sure, it would probably…

Sure, it would probably better make the point to use something more like Andy Dalton signing with Dallas to be a backup for 1 year/$3 million. Especially since him and Foles ended up right next to each other on the DVOA leaderboard. The Bears are going to end up paying Foles a minimum of $17 million, by the way.

65 As a die hard Bears fan...

As a die hard Bears fan the situation in Chicago and the ups and downs of Trubisky's career have been puzzling to say the least. Ill say this, the main person to blame for the teams struggles starts with Matt Nagy. When you interview for a position the first question you should be asking the GM is what is our situation at QB? Matt Nagy told reporters publicly before the draft that "you can win big with Mitch Trubisky". If he took that job telling management he can develop this kid, he should be on the hook for his lack of development. The HC should know if he can win games with Trubisky right away not after a little over 2 seasons, and if he couldn't develop him why did it take so long to bring in another option? Then if any of you follow whats going on with Bears media, players have been pretty vocal this season about the coaching staff.

"You know, sometimes play calls come in and I know that I don’t have time to execute that play call. You know, I’m the one out here getting hit. Sometimes the guy calling the plays, Matt Nagy, he doesn’t know how much time there is back here'” - Nick Foles

"There's a lot of things we need to do better, a lot of things we need to change. And a lot of it is the culture and what we accept and what we don't" -Trubisky

"The only reason I wasn't good at pass rush in Chicago was because they were holding me back with their coaching staff" -Leonard Floyd

 

In my honest opinion Pace was dealt a bad hand when he first came to Chicago. He was the youngest GM in the league and the Mccaskeys handcuffed him. They hired Ernie Accorsi to consult with personnel decisions early on. Ernie Accorsi was the one who made the horrible John Fox hire, and by the time he was fired there weren't many great HC options available going into 2018. Nagy won the job based on his reccomendations, but if you actually look at his track record, he's played for 1 HC, in the same offense scheme, with the same QB for years! He was an OC for 4 weeks against bad defenses before they lost in the playoffs to Tenneesee where the offense looked BAD and Reid took the blame so he could still land a HC position. And as every football mind says, a team is a reflection of its head coach and if you look at Nagys history of not grooming any Qbs, and only beating the inferior competition, he looks like a spitting image of Mitch Trubisky...

76 To be fair I don't believe…

To be fair I don't believe Vrabel was on any teams radar that year... He was coming off his only year as a DC ranked 20th in yards given up and 32nd in points allowed... I understand they had Injuries that year to Watt and Mercilus that year but first time DC ranking dead last in PA then going to HC, it was an amazing scouting job by the Tennessee GM

68 I'm pretty dead set against the GM

To be fair, I've been against him for some time, but nothing has really changed my mind about him. He just doesn't know how to value players. He finds talent, but he consistently overpays for them (in money or draft p[icks), leading to thin rosters with weak areas that he can't fill out. The offensive line collapsed at points this season and I put that mostly on the way Pace (the GM) constructed the roster.

Nagy I'm ambivalent on; there's some stuff I like. But given how much I want to see a new GM, I'm not willing to hold on to Nagy if that makes it harder to get a GM. He has not shown that he is a special coach.

74 You summed it up nicely with…

You summed it up nicely with "He has not shown that he is a special coach." It seems like fans/media are polarized and either think that it would be insane to fire Nagy, or that he's terrible and must be fired immediately. I can't draw either of those conclusions. I think it's clear he's not a disaster like Matt Patricia, Adam Gase, etc. (Or Marc Trestman, to draw on recent Bears history). But I also think he has done nothing to show that the Bears need to keep him. It sure seems like the solution would be to fire Pace and empower the new GM to decide on Nagy. It's quite possible that the new GM would look at the candidates available (and who is likely to pick the Bears, if they have multiple jobs to choose from) and decide that the best solution is to give Nagy another season.

I just can't see any argument for the idea that Nagy is worse at his job than Pace is at his. While I agree that Pace was heavily influenced to hire John Fox, ultimately it was his hire and he owns those 3 seasons. I am of the belief that missing on Trubisky is alone enough to fire Pace, but as I said above his failure to find QBs goes beyond Trubisky (and really, I keep coming back to not drafting a single one besides Trubisky in 6 years). And the amount of trading up he has done for other players in the draft, with highly questionable results, is another mark against him.

77 I completely agree with your…

I completely agree with your outlook on Nagy.  The priority should be a GM you love, and then let him decide.  I'd be fine with either keeping or firing Nagy at that point.

 

"who is likely to pick the Bears, if they have multiple jobs to choose from"

I don't think the Bears are an especially bad opening for a GM.  Ownership barely meddles at all, and is willing to spend money.  The QB situation is a big negative, but no team looking for a GM is going to have a great roster already (or else they'd be keeping their current GM).

40 Bills the real losers, maybe

Seems superficially like Baltimore is the worst possible match-up for Buffalo. They have a relatively deep secondary with a good number 1 corner. Buffalo’s defense is soft to tight ends and power running. On the other hand the Bills defense with a varied blitzing scheme at least fairly dynamic and may give Lamar some challenges. And KC has been able to control Baltimore with a worse run defense.

Pittsburgh loss theoretically makes things easier for KC playing only one of these teams, although as we have seen that’s why they play the games!

43 As a Chiefs fan, the Browns…

As a Chiefs fan, the Browns win was the best outcome of the weekend.  Because of the Steelers' lack of a run game, PIT would have been a decent matchup for KC, but BAL and BUF were the two toughest opponents for KC after Saturday's game, and the Browns forced those two to play each other.  While CLE's running game will give the Chiefs some problems, the limited Browns' receiving corps, banged up o-line, and suspect D is the weakest opponent the Chiefs could hope for at this stage of the season.  CLE allowed a team with no running game, limited deep threat, and 5 turnovers to score 37 points.  The Chiefs could certainly lose, but I'd rather face CLE than BAL this week.

44 Kudos to CLE for overcoming…

Kudos to CLE for overcoming adversity in beating PIT.  But if there was any opponent that a team would want to face with limited practice time and coaching absences, it would be the one the handicapped team had just played.  Sure, adjustments would be needed and Ben is a different guy to prepare for than Rudolph, but the Browns had a great head start on prepping to play PIT that they wouldn't have had if they'd had to face BUF.

51 A funny thought occurred to…

A funny thought occurred to me.  I wonder what Broncos fans and Chiefs fans feel like right now.

So Denver acquired an elite QB and all of a sudden, it doomed the division. Reid's Chiefs were good teams but perpetually forced into second place because of the presence of Manning. And now, the roles have reversed and its the Chiefs who are the division overlord's. It's almost like Trading Places in football terms.