Scramble for the Ball: The Killer Bs
Andrew: Hello and welcome to Scramble for the Ball, where this week finds your humble Scramblenauts discussing what might well be a true once-in-a-generation conjunction. This past weekend, the Bills, Buccaneers, and Browns each won a playoff game. Any single one of those wins would have qualified as historic: the Browns hadn't won in the postseason since 1994, the Bills since 1995, and the Buccaneers since 2002. The 1990s were the only other time all three won a playoff game in the same decade; this is the first time they have ever made the postseason in the same year. (Though they staggered each other very neatly between 1980 and 1982, with each of the trio missing out exactly once across the three seasons.)
So first we had the two longest playoff droughts in the league end; now three of the seven longest active playoff win droughts have ended too! And all it took to make it happen was the most challenging full season in living memory!
Bryan: It'd be tempting to credit the expanded postseason for this trifecta, but no -- all three of these teams would have been in under the old 12-team format as well. So there's no need to overly asterisk their performance.
It's not entirely unusual for multiple teams to end decade-long playoff droughts at the same time. In 2017, both the Bills and Rams made the playoffs for the first time in at least a dozen years, and we have had multiple decade-long droughts end multiple times in eras with smaller playoff pools, usually after expansion (the Giants and Jets in 1981 and the Eagles and Falcons in 1978 both benefited from an expanded wild-card rule to end long playoff droughts).
But to have three different teams win a game for the first time in over a decade? That's a horse of a different color. That has happened exactly once in NFL history: in 1991, the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, and Detroit Lions all managed to win their first playoff games in at least a dozen seasons (but they didn't manage to do it in the same weekend -- the Lions had a first-round bye).
Andrew: That postseason is particularly noteworthy, of course, as it's the only postseason since the AFL began play in 1960 in which the Lions have won a playoff game. In fact, the only teams who have ever won a postseason game in the same year as the Lions are the other playoff winners from 1991. The previous Lions postseason wins all came so long ago that the playoffs as a regular event, rather than an occasional game deciding a tie for the division ahead of the NFL Championship, didn't even exist yet. Thus, every one of those pre-merger years, the Lions were still the only team to win a postseason game. They were quite successful in the 1950s! But 1991, which will now be 30 seasons ago, remains their only win since. Yet the Lions still, somehow, don't hold the active record for years of playoff futility. That honor belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals, who somehow haven't won a playoff game now in 31 seasons and counting.
Bryan: Ah, but the Lions do hold a different playoff futility record: they have lost their last nine playoff games. Cincinnati is merely 0-for-8 since they last won a game. There are a number of ways to measure postseason sucktitude!
But the Lions example brings up a good point: just because you break a drought doesn't mean the future's necessarily bright and rosy. Long-suffering fans in Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and especially Cleveland have a ton to celebrate this week, but that doesn't guarantee that we're about to enter a new golden age for each of these teams. Not to rain on any parades, but you only have to look at Detroit's early 1990s celebrations to know how fleeting success can be. Do we have a trio of Lions on our hands, or are we looking at teams with bright prospects?
Andrew: Well, even the 1990s Lions still made the postseason in five of the next eight seasons. That would be the most successful period for the Browns since the 1980s. Cleveland is reasonably well set up to make a run like that, too. A lengthy period of stockpiling resources has given them a lot of young players with room to grow together, at a point at which the notorious Steelers appear to be coming to the end of their current team cycle. The problem, naturally, is that the Ravens have an even younger, even better quarterback than Baker Mayfield, and a longer track record of success in each of drafting, player development, and coaching, and of offense, defense, and special teams. Cleveland is set up well for the future, but this division could be very tough, very quickly.
Bryan: I'm not as confident as you about Cleveland going forward; they ended the year with a negative DVOA, after all. Still, even just being competitive is a welcome change for the franchise. Their 17-year streak without a playoff game was bad enough, but in 13 of those 17 seasons, they were in last place in their division. Calling that a record is a little unfair, because they had the "benefit" of playing in four-team divisions, but still, it's a feat no other team has ever accomplished. It's not just that they weren't making the playoffs; they were rarely even close.
Andrew: It's also worth noting that their success this season came against the third-easiest schedule in the league: even accounting for their tough divisional opponents, Cleveland's average opponent had a DVOA of -5.3%. Only Pittsburgh and Indianapolis had an easier time of things, and we saw what happened to those two this past weekend. The Browns won't get to play the AFC South and NFC East again next year!
Bryan: Let me put it another way -- while the Browns broke a 23-season stretch without winning a playoff game, they had lost exactly two playoff games in that stretch -- to Pittsburgh in 1994, and to Pittsburgh again in 2002. That makes beating Pittsburgh this season triply sweet -- not only did they break such a long stretch without any success, but they did it against their long-time rivals, the one specifically keeping them down for decades.
We're pretty sure they're one-and-done this year, though, right?
Andrew: Sanity says yes, but I picked Kansas City in my Lock of the Week, so I guess we can take this opportunity to pre-emptively congratulate the Browns on their AFC Championship Game appearance.
Bryan: One other article we were considering writing was looking at playoff underdogs who popped up and punched favorites in the mouth early. The Browns' 28-0 first-quarter lead against Pittsburgh was the biggest first-quarter shock-and-awe play for an underdog ever in the postseason, and I wanted to look ahead and see if that boded well for teams in the future, if underdogs coming out and looking unstoppable actually meant anything.
Turns out, no. Six teams had previously turned in at least 17-point first quarter leads as underdogs. Five of them lost in the next round, and the sixth -- the Texans last year against the Chiefs -- didn't even manage to convert that lead into a divisional win. The best example the Browns have to lean on, ironically, are their rival Steelers. The Steelers were underdogs against Peyton Manning and the Colts in the 2005 divisional round, jumped out to a 14-0 lead, then won that game and ended up winning Super Bowl XL. But other than that, it's a bunch of one-and-doners.
Andrew: In other words, it does mean something. It means that despite their strong starts in those individual games, their general standard of play was still enough to make them underdogs. Most NFL squads are capable of a random burst of excellence now and again, even against good teams. It's not necessarily more predictive for happening in the first quarter, even the first quarter of a postseason game. That's a bit of a boring take though, I admit.
The team of our trio that is set up the best for the future shouldn't really be arguable: it's the Buffalo Bills. Josh Allen made a massive breakthrough in Year 3, continuing his career trend of improvement from one season to the next. The Bills have a deep and talented defense, a quarterback who has overcome his early-career Blake Bortles comparisons, a very strong roster of backs and receivers, and a division with no clear contenders now that the Patriots have returned to the realm of us mortals.
Bryan: Josh Allen's third-year breakout, how it happened, and what it means going forward, is going to be about half of next year's Almanac chapter. It's fascinating to watch -- not quite unprecedented, but close to it.
Allen improved by 1,994 passing DYAR between his first and third seasons. Annoyingly, that's not the all-time record. Jared Goff improved by … 1,995 DYAR. You have no idea how much that irritates me when I'm trying to write superlatives.
Andrew: Comparatives, when the comparison is to Jared Goff, aren't all that exciting, either. Though I do think we can safely say that Allen leapfrogged Goff this year.
Bryan: Well, the only other two quarterbacks to top a 1,500 DYAR improvement are Matthew Stafford and Troy Aikman, so there are better names up there, and I don't think you can make the same "oh, it's just the scheme" criticisms for Allen as you could for Goff.
Here's another thing Allen has over Goff -- his team might well be the Super Bowl favorites at this point in time! I firmly believe that the survivor in the AFC is going to win the Super Bowl, and right now, I really think that's going to be the Bills.
Andrew: Alright, now you're actively trying to jinx them. Do you hate my defense of the Staff Fantasy title that much?
Bryan: I mean, yes, but that's an entirely different and unrelated prospect!
I have flip-flopped on Chiefs/Bills for the past month. I'm eager to watch the Chiefs-Browns game -- have the Chiefs been just LeBronning it for the past six weeks, coasting through the regular season before switching into a higher gear for the games that matter? Or does letting teams hang around all season long indicate a more fundamental set of flaws? If it's the latter, I think you have to like Buffalo going forward.
Andrew: On the other hand, if the Bills play defense like they did against the Colts, Travis Kelce is going to eat them alive. However, I have already noted that the only games the Bills lost during the regular season all came in weird circumstances: the continually rescheduled Titans game, the rescheduled Kansas City game the following week, and the Hail Murray loss in Arizona. They're very good, and I suspect they will remain very good for quite some time.
Bryan: Aye -- whether you consider them the favorites, or whether they lose to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens this week, the future is bright in Buffalo, which isn't something we have been able to say for a long, long time.
The future is not bright in Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers knew this coming in -- you don't bring in a 40-plus-year-old quarterback and go "we're set for the next decade!" This is a rent-a-title sort of arrangement, and it's working quite well so far.
Andrew: I guess that depends on what exactly you mean by the future. I have already bemoaned the fact -- and I consider it a fact -- that the NFC playoffs have worked out perfectly for the Saints to lose at home to the Buccaneers in the playoffs after sweeping them in the regular season. The Battle of the Bays in Green Bay is a whole different proposition for Tampa Bay, but that game was an annihilation in mid-October. I still make Green Bay comfortable favorites for the conference, but I would not be shocked at all to see Tom Brady in another Super Bowl as the Buccaneers become the first team to host the game in their home stadium.
Beyond this year though, yes, they obviously have some thinking to do. 68-year-old coach with historic health issues and 43-year-old quarterback doesn't exactly scream "long-term planning."
Bryan: At the very least, Brady joined the Joe Montana-Peyton Manning group of quality carpetbagging play, rather than the Johnny Unitas-Joe Namath axis of pitifully sad performances in unfamiliar uniforms. It was an open question going in! You win the title, and it's all worth it. If they don't then, well, you have just delayed the inevitable rebuild until a couple of years down the line. Still, seeing as how Brady has the Bucs farther than they have been since they won the Super Bowl way back in 2002, it's safe to say it has worked out so far. Unlike you, I do expect their run to end this weekend, but it has been decades since they had chips in the game this far in. You take what you can get.
Andrew: So, I mentioned before that we have just seen three of the seven longest active playoff win droughts end. We have already mentioned two of the four longest remaining. The third-longest ongoing drought is the Miami Dolphins, who narrowly missed out on the postseason this year after losing to the Bills in Week 17. The fourth-longest is the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders, whose last playoff win had been marginally longer ago than Tampa Bay's by virtue of the Raiders being the victims of Tampa Bay's previous success, back in Super Bowl 37. Between them, Cincinnati, and Detroit, who do we think is most likely to end that streak? Are any of those franchises likely to do so in the next, say, half-decade?
Bryan: I think we can cross off Detroit, at least in terms of teams likely to do it next -- they're back in a rebuilding groove as they try to extract themselves from the debris of the Matt Patricia era. There's no guarantee that Matthew Stafford will be there in the future, either, so pencil in question marks at the quarterback position. No likes there.
Andrew: Cincinnati doesn't look likely to get there soon, either. I kind of feel for the Bengals, because they have been so close in the past decade and a half, but on both occasions were ultimately doomed by quarterback injuries against the Steelers: Carson Palmer in 2005 and Andy Dalton in 2015. Now there's a strong chance that Joe Burrow won't play a significant portion of next season. We have already mentioned the strength of that division. I don't fancy their chances if they have to play somebody such as Brandon Allen, Ryan Finley, or maybe a Teddy Bridgewater-/Jacoby Brissett-level stopgap in the meantime.
Bryan: That leaves us with Miami and Las Vegas, and I'm going to have to side with the Dolphins there. They were the better team this season by a substantial margin, they were unfortunate to miss the playoffs as a 10-win team, and they have the Texans' third-overall pick to add a top-line talent to their roster. Plus, they don't have to play the Chiefs twice a year for the foreseeable future, and do get to play the Jets. It feels like it's only a matter of time before Brian Flores and company manage to break through.
For all we have talked about winless streaks and whatnot, I think it's actually the Jets who have taken over the "most cursed franchise" status from the Browns, in what I presume was a quiet, emotional ceremony just before wild-card weekend. Yes, their playoff winless drought is "only" 10 years, but they're also the only team not to make the postseason in a decade. When you have to look back to the Mark Sanchez era for your most recent golden days, well … looks like the Factory of Sadness is setting up new offices in New Jersey.
Andrew: Hiring Adam Gase will do that to a team, one might presume. I have read all manner of amusing rumors about the future of Gase, of which the funniest was him being part of a package including head coach Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in Houston. (Sorry, Rivers.) Sadly, that was quickly shot down by people who were being legitimately serious, rather than trying to come up with worst-case scenarios. The Jets losing out on the top pick by winning games against playoff teams after they were eliminated is the most farcically Jets thing they could have possibly done. It's a long time since their upset postseason wins over the Patriots. Not much has gone right for them since. They're another cautionary tale about putting too much stock in a couple of playoff games over the team's general performance. Not only do they have the longest active streak of seasons without reaching the playoffs, they're now tied for the second-longest streak without a playoff win in franchise history, slightly behind the 13-season run from 1969 to 1981. I don't see that changing next year, which has them in danger of tying their franchise record for futility in 2022.
Bryan: While you're right, I don't want to be too down on the Browns, Bills, and Buccaneers. One game's worth of success doesn't necessarily mean everything for our flock of Killer Bs, but there are times when one game can mean all the world. There have only been 11 streaks in NFL history where a team missed the playoffs for 15 years in a row or longer, and nine of those started well before the age of wild cards and open playoffs. The two exceptions are the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. Ending historic losing streaks like that is absolutely worth stopping and celebrating, even if it doesn't necessarily mean anything going forward. For one week, at least, Lake Erie has proven it can host quality football teams.
Andrew: Oh, I absolutely don't want to be down on these teams. I'm thrilled to see new faces in the divisional round, even if one of the new faces is somehow still Tom friggin' Brady. For the AFC, this may well signify the beginning of a new epoch: all four teams are relatively young and loaded with talent, with strong offensive lines and quarterbacks still on their rookie deals. The Bills and Browns' victories over the last of the old guard, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, might be remembered as the symbolic moment that the torch finally passed from the older to the younger generation of AFC quarterbacks. With none of the remaining passers over the age of 25, the AFC is more open now than it has been in 20 years. With Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Drew Brees, the NFC has a slightly different brand of age-related intrigue.
Bryan: And, assuming the Rams don't upset the Packers this week, we'll have more on that historic age gap next week, in what we're calling both a teaser and a sure sign that the Packers are going to lose, and lose badly.
Andrew: Bryan Knowles and Andrew Potter: jinxing your favorite team since 2016.
Playoff Fantasy Update
Bryan: Every year, I criticize someone's draft. And every year, they end up jumping out to a huge lead.
|2020 Staff Playoff Fantasy Challenge|
Bryan: It's good for The Brand, if nothing else, that our fantasy expert is up near the top of the table, with Scott and Andrew battling out for first place. While neither got through the wild-card round unscathed -- Pittsburgh's surprising exit cost Scott his third receiver, while Andrew had multiple Seahawks drop against the Rams -- topping 100 first-round points, with the majority of your roster intact, including one of the top two quarterbacks in the league (in terms of fantasy, if nothing else) is a pretty nice place to be. They're your co-favorites at the moment. I'd give Scott the slight advantage, as I'd expect Patrick Mahomes to play more games on average, going forward, than Josh Allen will, but assuming we get a Chiefs-Bills AFC Championship Game, the winner of that will be your favorite. Scott's certainly more likely to finish second or third than Andrew is, with all his eggs in Buffalo's basket. Meanwhile, I'm just stunned over here that Cam Akers got 25-plus points and a second game. Shows what I know, right?
The competition certainly isn't over yet, however. The other four of us are all still well in play, if clearly a rung down from Scott and Andrew at this point in time. Vince is right there in score with our leaders; his problems come from the Titans ducking out early, taking Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown with them. He'll be hoping the Buccaneers and Packers win this week, which will at least guarantee him a pair of players in the Super Bowl. Dave is in the same situation, only worse -- a few fewer points in the wild-card round, and losing his quarterback-receiver stack as Russell Wilson and DK Metcalf are done for the year. His remaining six players are all over the place, too, all on different teams, so his path to victory is rather unclear.
I was hoping for more points out of the Saints in the first round, but at least they're moving on. Losing three Steelers certainly hurts -- as does the -5 points the Pittsburgh defense earned me, thank you very much -- but at least both Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron found the end zone on their way out. I was Saints Super Bowl or Bust before this week began, and I'm Saints Super Bowl or Bust still; I have just probably lost out on some of the "Saints lose in the NFC Championship Game but I earned tons of points already" paths to glory. As for Aaron, well, most of his guys haven't even started yet. The Packers are coming.
Best of the Rest
Bryan: We advised that taking Ben Roethlisberger and a Steelers-heavy lineup was the safe choice here; the ones most likely to get you two games from your starters, as the Steelers had a higher DVOA than the Browns and Cleveland was without basically its entire coaching staff. Well, that didn't quite work out, but at least Big Ben came through with 35.05 points, and many other Steelers scored double-digits. Not a terrible consolation prize, that.
All of our top-five players so far took James Conner and his 19.7 points, while four each took Robert Woods (14.5), Allen Robinson (11.5), Ryan Succop (13), and the Seattle defense (uh, 0). Jeremy B rode that path to a clear lead, a full 16 points clear of the field. That's great ... except most of those players are no longer active in the competition, leaving him with just Woods, Succop, and Jarvis Landry going forward.
No, it may end up being the more successful play over all to have gambled on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens winning their wild-card game and going on a bit of a run. Two of our top five competitors did just that, but each lost five players in the round and will be counting almost solely on Jackson the rest of the way. No, the people in the best position might be the three squads that not only took Jackson, but still have complete, nine-player squads alive today: EdHoliday, Fizz and Friends, and MGilson86. All are at least 60 points behind the leader at the moment, and having Zack Moss available on your roster isn't going to help the rest of the way, but they probably have the potential to put up the highest scores going forward.
Of the 30 valid entries, 24 are still alive -- that is, they have active players left and aren't being blocked by a player above them in points with the same players available. That doesn't mean the six eliminated players won't do well overall -- Joseph is sitting in fourth place with 106.55 points right now. It's just that his combination of Robert Woods and Dawson Knox is shared by the second-place JCypess, so there's no chance for him to catch up barring something crazy like seven Gus Edwards fumbles. If you can't have a high-scoring lineup, then having a unique lineup is key to longevity in this sort of contest.
Your top five after the wild-card round!
- Jeremy B: 135.65 points (Robert Woods, Jarvis Landry and Ryan Succop remaining)
- JCypess: 119.55 points (Gus Edwards, Robert Woods, Dawson Knox, Ryan Succop and the Packers DEF remaining)
- StMedard: 112.65 points (Lamar Jackson, Jarvis Landry, Mecole Hardman and Ryan Succop remaining)
- Joseph: 106.55 points (Robert Woods and Dawson Knox remaining)
- Comfect: 103.25 points (Lamar Jackson, Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee and Ryan Succop remaining)
Keep Choppin' Wood
The depleted Bears defense put up an impressive fight through halftime of their playoff game against the Saints, somehow keeping the score at 7-3 into the third quarter despite a near-total absence of support from their offensive teammates. The one time the Bears offense made it into Saints territory in the first half (as opposed to the defense giving them the ball there with a turnover), they faced fourth-and-4 at the Saints' 34-yard line with just over two minutes remaining. Mitchell Trubisky dropped back, couldn't find an open receiver, scrambled right, and ... ran out of bounds 2 yards short of the sticks.
Mitch Trubisky ran out of bounds short of the first down lmao pic.twitter.com/Ga9HIlhgmX
— Alex. 👋. (@Dubs408) January 10, 2021
Between this play, Javon Wims' whiff on a deep ball earlier in the same drive, and Anthony Miller's ejection for punching C.J. Gardner-Johnson (something neither Bears receivers nor his own teammates can seem to resist doing this year), the Bears offense made more massive gaffes than strong plays against the Saints. Any one of those would have been worthy woodchoppers, which tells you just what kind of offensive performance it was: the exact same kind of offensive performance Bears fans have come to expect.
Herm Edwards Award for Playing to Win the Game
As we'll get to in a minute, the tendency of the weekend was for the losing AFC coaches to make terribly conservative decisions in avoidable playoff losses. Frank Reich was the exception to the rule, as his underdog team made the aggressive choice to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line with a 10-7 lead in the first half. Alas, the pass to Michael Pittman fell incomplete, and the Bills drove 96 yards anyway to take a lead they would never relinquish. The fact the Bills drove the length of the field anyway demonstrates why the Colts should have been trying for the touchdown. All else being equal, the field goal might have gotten the Colts to overtime. The touchdown could have won them the game outright.
John Fox Award for Conservatism
This weekend saw so many astonishingly conservative coaching decisions, from so many coaches, in so many situations, that we can't possibly pick a single winner. First up, we have Pete Carroll punting and kicking repeatedly on fourth-and-medium while trailing against the Rams, including:
- a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter;
- a 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-3 while down 10;
- a punt on fourth-and-4 just shy of midfield on the following drive while down 7;
- a punt on fourth-and-1 near the end of the first half;
- and a punt on fourth-and-6 down 10 with 9:32 remaining following a botched attempt to get a play off in time on fourth-and-1 (more on that in a moment).
Each of those kicks is defensible in isolation, but they add up to a pattern of conservative decision-making that repeatedly cost Carroll's team chances to continue drives.
Sunday's AFC coaching was even worse, though, with both losing coaches making absurdly conservative decisions. Mike Vrabel was by far the worst offender, with his punt on fourth-and-2 from BALTIMORE's 40-yard line, down by four in the fourth quarter, one of the worst fourth-down decisions of the season. Vrabel also punted on fourth-and-2 from his own 40-yard line earlier in the second half, that time trailing by seven. At least it's not like his team is built to be strong in short-yardage, with a mobile quarterback and the league's most tough-to-tackle running back. That sort of thing would make the decision even more absurd.
Finally, though, we have possibly the worst of the lot, with Mike Tomlin choosing to have the Steelers take a delay of game on fourth-and-1 from their own 46, then punt on fourth-and-6, trailing by 12 points in the second half. Trying to engineer a comeback from 35-7 down just before halftime, Tomlin should have been erring on the side of aggression. Erring on the side of conservatism is incredibly poor in-game management.
For our money, the worst decision in isolation was Vrabel's, the worst given the game situation was Tomlin's, and the worst repeat offender is Carroll, but all three deserve a share of the award for the meekness with which they bowed out against teams they had a strong chance of beating.
Jeff Fisher Award for Confusing Coaching.
We talked about Pete Carroll some above, but the decision that led to the punt deserves extra criticism, and so we shall criticize extraly. Taking a false start penalty on fourth-and-1, coming out of an injury delay with the play clock dwindling, is not defensible. But Carroll tried after the game, anyway, mentioning that he was fighting offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer about the play call, which caused the delay, the rushed cadence, and the false start. When asked why he didn't call a time-out -- still an unfortunate outcome after having so much time to think about the play, but at least it preserves the fourth-down attempt -- Carroll responded that he was fine with punting the football in that situation.
If your offensive coordinator is dialing up their best play in a must-go-for-it situation, let him call the offense. If you're going to overrule him, overrule him and don't waste time. Downplaying the moment, as Carroll did in various postgame interviews, is mind-boggling. It makes it seem less like a decision than an act of god -- the Seahawks were always going to punt there because, well, that's just what teams do. For a convoluted and confusing decision making process, Carroll earns every bit of the first posteason Fisher.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The Seahawks announced on Wednesday that they would be parting ways with Schottenheimer.)
'Ask Not For Whom Big Ben Tolls...' Fantasy Player of the Week
Per tradition, this award in the postseason goes to the player with the biggest game who did not get drafted in the Staff Playoff Draft. We would like to go ahead and give it to Taylor Heinicke for a gutty performance off the bench, or Lamar Jackson for Lamar Jacksoning his way through the second half, but no, this had to be Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger finds Claypool for a 29-yard TD
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 11, 2021
501 yards passing on 68 attempts with four touchdowns -- the four interceptions are a black mark, for sure, but an expected one considering the Steelers were forced to throw on nearly every down as they tried an improbable comeback attempt. Fantasy points are often about volume more than efficiency, and only two quarterbacks have ever attempted more passes than Roethlisberger's 68, neither of them in the 21st century. His 47 completions set a new NFL record. 501 passing yards falls into the top 25 all-time, though Norm Van Brocklin's 70-year-old record of 554 remains untouched. The interceptions prevent it from being a historic fantasy day -- Josh Allen actually scored more points this week -- but out of all the players you could have chosen in the Best of the Rest challenge, he gave you the best week.
Garbage-Time Performer of the Week
Jimmy Graham is 34 years old, and now firmly in the "bouncing around the league" stage of his career. If he chooses to call it a career now, we can think of fewer more fitting ways to go out than with a stellar one-handed grab in the end zone in the Superdome, where he was such a feared target for so many years.
— NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) January 11, 2021
A touchdown to make the score 21-9 is about the most garbage-time score one can possibly imagine. And Graham just running down the tunnel after the catch sums up the mood of Bears fans after this game entirely. Ballgame over. Career over. Let's go home.
Comfort in Sadness Stat of the Week
This being the playoffs, most teams have some measure of obvious comfort to take from the winning records that got them here. Not so Washington and Chicago, who arrived through the back door as a 7-9 division champion and an 8-8 wild card. Washington can take comfort for the performance of their young defensive front, who were strong enough to lift their defensive DVOA to a third-ranked -18.3% after finishing No. 27 at 8.9% in 2019. Admittedly, this size of improvement is a red flag for regression, but the Football Team does at least have a strong basis for sustained success in the future, potentially under a somewhat different moniker.
The Bears also arrived on the strength of their defense, albeit a less impressive 10th-ranked -5.8% DVOA. They did so, however, against the toughest schedule of offenses in the league, per DVOA: Chicago played No. 1 Green Bay twice, No. 3 Tampa Bay, No. 4 Tennessee, No. 7 New Orleans, No. 8 Minnesota twice, and the No. 10 Los Angeles Rams. That means half of their schedule came against teams in the top 10 in DVOA. In theory, things should be considerably easier next time out. In practice ... maybe not so much.
Game-Changing Play of the Week
There was not a single lead change in the second half of any of the six wild-card games -- an unusual set of results meaning that there wasn't really one play that was truly game-altering, at least in a traditional sense. So, instead we'll look at a rare result from the first half of the Rams-Seahawks game.
DARIOUS WILLIAMS PICK-6 #RamsHouse
— NFL (@NFL) January 9, 2021
There's some difference depending on how you chart things, but per ESPN Stats and Info, this was the first interception of the 2020 season on a screen pass targeting a wide receiver -- 784 attempts during the regular season and zero interceptions. Part of the appeal of these low-percentage plays -- routinely the worst route in football by DVOA, year after year -- is that it's a fairly safe play with maybe a one-in-10 chance of breaking something big. An interception on such a route is a disaster -- and in this case, a game-changing disaster, as Seattle would never lead again.
Less surprising was the identity of the corner, with Darious Williams taking the ball to the house. That was Williams' third interception of Russell Wilson this year, tied with Tyrann Mathieu-on-Drew Lock for most interceptions by one player of one passer this season. Even less surprising was Pete Carroll's declaration after the game that the solution here is to "run the ball more often and more effectively." We hereby retire the "Sorry, Rivers" joke. Sorry, Vince.
Bryan: Bad luck for both of us last week. Despite the play of Nickelodeon Valuable Player Mitchell Trubisky, the Bears were unable to cover the spread against the Saints -- and because we picked early in the week, even the extra point that never happened wouldn't have saved Andrew. Meanwhile, while I was right that the Baltimore-Tennessee game would be a one-score game, that score ended up being a touchdown and not a field goal, and so we went 0-2. The Wild Card Weekend may have been Super, our picks were not.
Money-Back Guarantee Lock of the Week
Records to Date:
Bryan: I am really, really looking forward to the Ravens-Bills showdown. The Bills ranked just 17th against the run, which is not a very good position to be in against a Baltimore offense that thrives running the ball down your proverbial throat. The Ravens' cornerbacks can be attacked, which is not a very good position to be in against a Buffalo offense that can sling 50-yard bombs off schedule almost at will. At the end of the day, I saw what A.J. Brown was able to do when put one-on-one. I can imagine Stefon Diggs doing that, but more so. The superior Buffalo aerial attack is the difference in this one. Buffalo (-2). And no, I am not at all comfortable picking against Lamar Jackson twice in a row, why do you ask?
Andrew: I'm pretty sure, no matter what now happens, this will be my worst season ever in Lock of the Week. Ah well, never mind. The Browns may have picked up their first playoff win in a quarter-century last weekend, but that was against a Steelers team that looked utterly shocked to be playing past Week 17. A trip to Kansas City is a much different proposition. Sure, we got the sense that the Chiefs were playing conservatively throughout the regular season as they repeatedly failed to cover against inferior opponents. This is the postseason, their major playmakers should be healthy after effectively a double bye, and the league's best offense gets to face the worst remaining defense. In fact, this game features the two worst remaining defenses, making it a recipe for a shootout. That may mean a late cover, but I fancy the Chiefs to win this one going away. Kansas City (-10) vs. Cleveland.