Raiders Seal Final Playoff Spot

Las Vegas Raiders K Daniel Carlson
Las Vegas Raiders K Daniel Carlson
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 18 - 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.

Kansas City Chiefs 28 at Denver Broncos 24
Saturday, January 8

Scott Spratt: On the Chiefs' opening drive, Patrick Mahomes hit Broncos cornerback Michael Ojemudia in the chest with a fastball, but Ojemudia dropped the interception. It feels like all of those 50/50 balls became turnovers in the first half of their season and none of them have in the second half of their season.

Bryan Knowles: Gotta love these Saturday schedules that mean we get the eliminated Denver Broncos in a national window. Good times.

The broadcast described the Chiefs' opening touchdown drive as "methodical," which is as good as anything else—17 plays, 91 yards, more than half the quarter chewed up, four third downs converted, and so on and so forth. It's a nice reminder that, no, the Chiefs don't need a big splash play to have a successful drive; they can chew out yards when needs be (though it helps when, as Scott pointed out, opposing cornerbacks drop interception balls). Nothing longer than a 21-yard gain from Mecole Hardman, and that was a short pass that became something bigger due to bad tackling.

The Chiefs take a 7-0 lead and ever-so-temporarily reclaim the top spot in the AFC. They'll need the Titans to get massively upset to keep it, but they're doing what they can, at least.

Scott Spratt: Chiefs injury watch could be on. Harrison Butker just bit it trying to kick off after that opening touchdown, and he apparently slipped in warmups and already changed cleats. The field seems wet and in rough shape.

Bryan Knowles: I suppose you could say the Broncos are winning the special teams battle. A kicker slipping and a roughing the punter call are replicable, yeah? Add in the trick play—a direct snap to Courtland Sutton, who hit Noah Fant to get the ball inside the 10—and the three biggest plays of Denver's touchdown drive did not involve their regular offense in any way, shape, or form. Still, tie game!

Scott Spratt: Sutton has more passing yards than Drew Lock two Broncos drives in, so yeah.

J.P. Acosta: Wasn't a bad throw either!

Scott Spratt: Chiefs injury watch update: Tyreek Hill injured his heel in warmups and may sit the rest of the game. Unclear if the turf caused the injury, but the Chiefs may not need him to win this game in any case. It seems prudent to rest him until the playoffs.

Bryan Knowles: Well, maybe hold back on that for just a moment, Scott. For the second drive in a row, the Chiefs drop back on third down and pay no attention to the quarterback, letting Drew Lock scramble through the middle of the defense and score a touchdown, taking a 14-7 lead. Lock's no Lamar Jackson or anything, but he has some decent wheels, and Kansas City looks entirely uninterested in trying to stop it.

Aaron Schatz: This is a good example of why trying to guess motivation in the final week of the regular season drives me bonkers.

Bryan Knowles: There are, apparently, about 14,000 no-shows for this one; tickets sold but not used, per local Denver television. It's unclear how many of them planned to start for Kansas City's defense, as we go into the half with the Broncos holding a surprising 14-10 lead.

To be fair, it's not like the Chiefs are being carved up by the Broncos. Drew Lock has 35 rushing yards compared to 27 passing yards, which doesn't feel like a recipe for sustained success. Maybe it points to a little bit of a weakness in Kansas City's containment, but I wonder if it more points to a bit of a letdown after losing to the Bengals last week—the Chiefs need a significant upset to get back to the No. 1 slot, so there's not as much motivation here, I suppose?

If the Chiefs do lose this one, they could get knocked out of the No. 2 seed with a win by one of Cincinnati, Buffalo, or New England, and get knocked all the way down to No. 4 with a Bengals win and either AFC East team coming out on top. The AFC wild-card picture is enough of a mess at the moment that it's hard to say how much that would really hurt, but it could easily be the difference between playing, say, a Pittsburgh and playing, say, a Buffalo next weekend.

I still would guess the Chiefs come out of the locker room strong in the second half and win this one, but eef. Not exactly putting your best foot forward as you end the regular season, no matter how little that actually means.

Bryan Knowles: And the Chiefs get right back into things on their first drive of the second half, featuring their star weapons, uh, Jerick McKinnon, Derrick Gore, Mecole Hardman and Patrick Mahomes' legs. I think they just ran a fake wide receiver screen into a running back screen. Well, you can never call the Chiefs' offense predictable, I suppose. Back up 17-14.

Aaron Schatz: Melvin Gordon 47-yard touchdown run. He got past the defensive line, Tyrann Mathieu whiffed on him, and there was nobody behind Mathieu to stop Gordon. The Kansas City defense has not tackled well today at all.

Bryan Knowles: Denver is living with low-percentage conversions—this drive stayed alive when Lock hit Tim Patrick on a 31-yard gain down the sideline on third-and-13. Possibly Lock's best throw of the season, and one of those passes which makes you remember why he was a highly drafted prospect to begin with, if only he could provide that more than once or twice a month.

And then, two plays later, Melvin Gordon bursts through the line, two Chiefs defenders crash into one another, and he's off to the races for a 47-yard score as we go back and forth.

Bryan Knowles: Advice for run game coordinators—if you have two tight ends lined outside Melvin Ingram, maybe make sure at least one of them chips him, rather than parting like the Red Sea and giving him a direct shot on Melvin Gordon. Gordon fumbles, Nick Bolton scoops it up and runs it back 86 yards for a score in a huge game-changer late in this one. That was unexpected, to say the least, considering that the Chiefs were playing like, well, the September Chiefs, missing tackles and allowing tons of room on the ground leading up to that one. Chiefs back on top 28-21.

Aaron Schatz:

Scott Spratt: Drew Lock had a chance to tackle Bolton near the recovery but failed to. Teddy Bridgewater would have made that tackle, amiright??

Aaron Schatz: Now will the Broncos shy away from the run because of the fumble, or go back to it because it was working until then?

Scott Spratt: The answer appears to be yes, Aaron. Drew Lock just completed two of his longer passes of the afternoon, the first for 29 yards to Tim Patrick and the second for 28 yards to Jerry Jeudy. But those chunk plays have the Broncos in the red zone with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter. If they get the touchdown, they're going to leave way too much time for Mahomes.

Bryan Knowles: But, of course, they don't get the touchdown, as Vic Fangio opts to kick a field goal on fourth-and-9 in the red zone with 4:41 left. I haven't looked at the numbers yet but nope, I don't like it. Fangio is, theoretically, coaching for his job here, and this is not exactly a thunderous argument for bringing him back.

Though if he ends up Jim Harbaugh's defensive coordinator in Las Vegas, if you connect all the various semi-crazy rumors together...

Aaron Schatz: Nope, they kicked a field goal and left time for Mahomes instead. Not sure what the Broncos had to lose by going for it at this point.

Scott Spratt: I'm not sure the Broncos with Lock have a 9-yard red zone play in their playbook. That's just a tough spot for that offense.

Rivers McCown: I know the numbers on this are surprisingly tight, but I would simply not trust that my defense could stop Patrick Mahomes.

Bryan Knowles: Just to put the bow on this—no, the Denver defense did not stop Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs ran out the rest of the clock. Models around the Internet disagree on whether or not the Broncos should have gone for it there (EdjSports was a slight "go," for the record), but I'm with Rivers—trusting your defense to stop Patrick Mahomes with the game on the line is not exactly a comfortable position. Add in the fact that, hey, the Broncos season was already over, and there's just no reason not to go for the touchdown, even on a long fourth-and-9.

Dallas Cowboys 51 at Philadelphia Eagles 26

Bryan Knowles: Are you ready for some football?!?! The Eagles are, uh, not. They only have six starters active tonight: Jason Kelce, DeVonta Smith, Jordan Mailata, Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, and T.J. Edwards. Not only is the sixth-versus-seventh seed distinction very minor, but it depends a lot more on what the 49ers do on Sunday than what the Eagles do tonight. So they're mostly using tonight as a bye game. In a national televised window.

The NFL got a bit unlucky with how everything shook out, but man, this year has not been a great start for the "have some Saturday games in the last week of the season" plan.

Rivers McCown: Idle thought: if they keep making the season longer and longer, I wonder if teams will start treating, say, Thursday Night games the same way the Eagles and Cowboys are treating this one. At a certain point you devalue the individual wins and teams have to start thinking about self-preservation.

Bryan Knowles: There comes a point, for sure—you see NBA teams sitting stars, baseball teams giving days off, etc. I think if there became a sudden trend of teams taking Thursdays off, though, the league would step in in some way; that would devalue something they're trying to sell too much. Maybe that's as simple as guaranteeing a bye week beforehand or something, but I would imagine skipping Thursdays would be a very short-lived status quo.

Oh, as for the actual football game, it's 10-10, which probably doesn't say great things for a Cowboys team playing against backups.

Scott Spratt: Brian Griese just said that Andy Reid drafted both Travis and Jason Kelce about 30 seconds after Steve Levy said it. I can't blame him for not listening to the Monday night telecast, though. Maybe he's watching the Manningcast?

Carl Yedor: Philly is pretty clearly just looking to get their guys to milestones tonight and head to the playoffs healthy, but it could be a fun opportunity to watch some young players who don't always get to play in the second half of this one. Dallas still has starters in here, so they may be more inclined to press forward this evening. Gardner Minshew is still on his rookie contract, so he isn't playing for a bigger job or anything here. It seems like Dallas is making a concerted effort to feed Ezekiel Elliott in the early going, and based on the broadcast's talking points, they are trying to get him to a milestone as well. I think most people watching this one are either fans of one of the teams or people with money on the line in some fashion.

The NFL probably didn't anticipate both of their Saturday choices being this meh, but I can imagine that they were hoping that the rivalry aspect of playing all divisional games during the last week of the season would mitigate that risk to a certain extent. I'm sure Cowboys and Eagles fans are really hoping they win tonight, but I don't know if Broncos fans felt as strongly about their tilt with the Chiefs earlier today.

Bryan Knowles: It is partially just bad luck, too, Carl. Steelers-Ravens would have been ideal for Saturday—tough divisional matchup, loser officially out of the playoffs, winner alive with the right results on Sunday. But the Steelers played Monday, and the NFL didn't want to have a team do the Monday—>Saturday schedule. Because having a team play less than seven full days after their previous game is, of course, madness, and the NFL would never ask a team to do that.

They could have gone with Bucs-Panthers or Titans-Texans as the second half of the doubleheader, but those aren't exactly exceptionally appealing options, either. Things just broke badly for them this year.

Vince Verhei: Part of it, too, is guessing badly with the divisional matchups they had available. Imagine if Bill-Patriots were slotted for Week 18 with the division at stake. Or Cards-Rams. Even Titans-Colts would have been big, with one team fighting for homefield and the other trying to get in. The NFL just had the bad luck to match up most of the first-place teams with most of the last-place teams.

Bryan Knowles: They also do try to rotate these things, so we weren't going to get Cards-Rams (or Chargers-Chiefs, for that matter, another potentially appealing one) because they happened last season. Just some bad luck all around.

Scott Spratt: The Eagles have taken at least 10 plays on all three of their offensive drives tonight and are averaging 6.3 yards per carry. I think the backup Eagles offensive line is better at run-blocking than the starting Panthers offensive line. It's 17-17 in the final four minutes of the first half.

Bryan Knowles: Yes, Scott; this isn't a fantastic performance by DVOA's No. 1 defense against the Philly Reserves. The offense looks fine, and Cedrick Wilson looks like he's looking to make some money in free agency, already up to 3-54-2 with time left here in the first half, but the defense, oof.

Scott Spratt: The Cowboys do have the No. 1 pass defense but No. 18 run defense by DVOA. The Eagles may be a bad matchup for their defense, even if that wasn't clear in the big Cowboys win in Week 3 before the Eagles discovered their run-heavy identity.

Vince Verhei: Eagles put out a graphic congratulating themselves on a new team record for single-season rushing yards. Yes, 17 games, but that's still a remarkable turnaround for Philadelphia. They were 13th in rushing yards after Week 6, with a string of games where they barely handed off at all in the first half. Now they're first in rushing yards even before tonight. You don't see offenses totally shift their play calling like that midseason very often.

Bryan Knowles: A holding penalty backs the Eagles up during a two-minute drill, forcing them out of the running game and into a pass-happy attack. DeMarcus Lawrence gets a sack, which should take us to halftime most likely ... except the Eagles absolutely shank a punt, giving the Cowboys the ball across midfield with 24 seconds to go. That's more than enough time, as Dak Prescott hits Cedrick Wilson (again!) deep to set up a score a few plays later. That makes things 30-17, which is more of what I was expecting out of a final score rather than a halftime score, but Dallas now is a lot more comfortable going into the half.

Bryan Knowles: Corey Clement, on his return to Philadelphia, scores a touchdown to make things 37-20 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and that should be it. There is no reason for Prescott (five touchdowns), Elliott (who has already topped 1,000 yards this season) or any other Cowboys player of any relevance or importance to play another snap in this football game.

Tom Gower: Back when most coaches had already stopped treating the fourth preseason game as a serious exercise, Jeff Fisher treated it as more akin to a full dress rehearsal, with the starters sometimes playing into the second half. When I made my first trip to Lambeau Field for preseason Week 4 in 2008, Vince Young played the entire first half, and running backs LenDale White and Chris Johnson both early and into the third quarter, while Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the Packers' first-team offense got the night off after a 68-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings on the game's first play from scrimmage. Sometimes, that gave the Titans a performance to build off of, as they held a 16-7 lead at the break that night. Other times, not so much. But at least Dak and the Cowboys' stats tonight are addends that might be treated seriously in an aggregate estimation, so hey, good for them.

Pittsburgh Steelers 16 at Baltimore Ravens 13 (OT)

Scott Spratt: T.J. Watt just set the all-time NFL sacks record, and in a weird way. Ravens center Bradley Bozeman didn't get a snap past his own butt, and that caused a fumble. Tyler Huntley got a hand on the ball, but Watt was in the backfield so quickly, he disrupted the play further and created a turnover. I guess that's a sack?

Aaron Schatz: Bad snap by Bradley Bozeman, who snaps the ball into his own butt. Tyler Huntley tries to scoop it so he can still make a play, T.J. Watt swats it away, and the Steelers land on it. The announcers are going off about how Watt has tied Michael Strahan's sack record but I don't think that's going to be ruled a sack. It's just an aborted snap by Bozeman and Huntley never had full recovery of the ball to have a forced fumble for Watt, plus it was never a pass play so you can't have a sack. It looks like they're not ruling it a sack as of now.

Aaron Schatz: Let's trade picks. First, Tyler Huntley overthrows Mark Andrews and Terrell Edmunds dives to get it. Then Ben Roethlisberger has miscommunication with Ray-Ray McCloud—looks like McCloud stopped when Roethlisberger thought he would keep going.

Scott Spratt: Another weird play in the Ravens game. Tyler Huntley lobbed a deep pass that Terrell Edmunds appeared to nearly intercept and drop. But I guess because Mark Andrews touched him Edmunds was ruled down before the drop, and the interception stands?

Vince Verhei: Both interceptions are worth sharing. Especially Roethlisberger's, where one defender took it away from another.

Aaron Schatz: This is probably going to be the first season in DVOA history where both the Steelers and the Ravens have below-average defense, so of course this game is 3-3 at the half. The Pittsburgh offense is going absolutely nowhere. Najee Harris got hurt early and his backups can't get any blocking. Roethlisberger has barely thrown to Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool, his top two receivers. Overall, Steelers are at 3.1 yards per play. Ravens aren't much better at 4.5 yards per play. The whole Ravens offense seems to be made out of throws to Mark Andrews and Tyler Huntley scrambles. Huntley does not look as good as he did in earlier Baltimore games that I have seen him play, but he has had nice placement on a couple of those balls to Andrews. I know Andrews is your best receiver, but I would think maybe spread the ball around a little more? Although they tried throwing to Marquise Brown in the red zone and it went off his hands.

Oh, and the Ravens stalled out at the goal line in part because T.J. Watt got the record-tying sack on Huntley. He'll have the second half to break Michael Strahan's record.

Bryan Knowles: Wait, you're allowed to find the end zone in Steelers-Ravens games? Is that a recent rules change?

Latavius Murray only had two carries in the first half. On the Ravens' first drive of the second half, he had two more carries—one for 10 yards, and one for 46 and a touchdown on the next play. Ravens take a 10-3 lead in the "hoping for Jacksonville" bowl.

Aaron Schatz: Latavius Murray with big runs thanks to great blocking by his fullback Eric Tomlinson and the right side of the line. Runs of 22 and 27 yards to go with that 46-yard touchdown from earlier in the quarter.

Aaron Schatz: I said earlier that Tyler Huntley might be looking for Mark Andrews a little too much. Just threw late to Andrews in the end zone with three defenders around him. Interception, Steelers back on offense.

Aaron Schatz: Steelers finally get a touchdown drive, needing to go only 50 yards after their defense had held the Ravens to a three-and-out on three Murray runs. Best play on the Pittsburgh drive was Ray-Ray McCloud elevating with a great jump to snag a pass up the middle for 20 yards. Steelers overcame a couple of false starts and the fact that their running game is still going nowhere. It's now 13-10 Steelers with 2:54 remaining.

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers are back on top, thanks in large part to a 20-yard Ray-Ray McCloud catch to move the Steelers into the red zone. Ten plays, 50 yards is about right for the Steelers' level of efficiency, but they're back on top.

A Pittsburgh win would eliminate the Colts, barring a crazy comeback in Jacksonville.

Aaron Schatz: Huntley's still acting like he may not have any receivers other than Mark Andrews, covered or not covered. Hit him a couple times to move downfield, then got stuffed on quarterback power on third-and-2. Justin Tucker hits a 46-yard field goal. Hey, what happens if Baltimore and Pittsburgh tie?

Bryan Knowles: Both teams are eliminated with the tie, so there's no Sunday Night Football nightmare scenario here. Someone's gotta win.

Vince Verhei: Ooh, tough decision for Baltimore. They have a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 28, with the Steelers calling a timeout with 1:17 to go. Do you kick the field goal, giving the Steelers 60-plus seconds (and one timeout) to beat you with their own kick? Or do you go for it, hope your mobile quarterback can get 1 yard, and maybe get a go-ahead touchdown? They kick it, and it's tied with 1:13 to go. Can't blame them, but going for it there sure must have been tempting.

Aaron Schatz: The EdjSports model had the Justin Tucker field goal as a 14.5% win probability error, because you are giving the Steelers the ball back with a tie and time to beat you with a field goal of their own.

Bryan Knowles: Ah, but were they accounting for the Steelers punting on fourth-and-1!

Vince Verhei: But Pittsburgh ends up with their own tough decision—fourth-and-inches at their own 44—and they opt to punt and play for overtime.

Aaron Schatz: That Mike Tomlin decision comes out as a 12.5% error in the EdjSports model.

Bryan Knowles: Ah, but was THAT accounting for the RAVENS punting without wasting the rest of the clock?

Aaron Schatz: In overtime, Huntley throws to Sammy Watkins for the first time all game (incomplete) and then, what do you know, Mark Andrews on third-and-long. And he had him open too, but he threw too high and behind Andrews. Punt. Steelers will get the ball at their own 17 with a chance to score and win.

Aaron Schatz: Ravens having real problems stopping routes on the outside on third-and-long. Steelers convert one to Pat Freiermuth, then another to Diontae Johnson, who makes a great whip cut in-and-out that made Jimmy Smith stumble.

Aaron Schatz: Diontae Johnson dropped a ball over the middle on third-and-8. But he wasn't going to get to the first-down marker anyway. Steelers will go for fourth-and-8 rather than trying a 60-yard field goal in the wind.

Scott Spratt: Oof, I just got blacked out of the end of this game because CBS has the local Panthers game in my market. Not great! And it's still blacked out on my Sunday Ticket.

Aaron Schatz: Steelers convert on fourth down! Low throw to Ray-Ray McCloud over the middle and McCloud scoops it up and backs up past the first-down marker!

Scott Spratt: Phew OK it's back on Ticket. Thank goodness.

Bryan Knowles: Let it be said, I do NOT like kneeling to set up a 45-yard field goal in the rain.

Aaron Schatz: On second-and-10, Najee Harris gets to the outside and manages to turn the corner on the Ravens defender for 15 yards. The Steelers kneel on the ball and bring in Chris Boswell ... and he hits the game-winning field goal! Which means ... the Chargers-Raiders tie scenario is still alive, but so are the Steelers.

Carl Yedor: For pure chaos purposes I was absolutely rooting for the tie in this one. Instead, Pittsburgh takes advantage of their fourth-and-8 conversion and wins the game on a Chris Boswell field goal. The Sunday Night Football tie scenario remains, so I'm sure that's what we'll be hearing about for a good amount of the game as long as it's close. Part of me wonders whether there would be a serious football guy meltdown if the teams got to overtime and chose to (correctly) maximize their playoff odds by playing it close to the vest and preserving the option for a tie. It seems unlikely that we'll end up there, but it also seemed unlikely that the Colts would lose to the Jaguars.

Indianapolis Colts 11 at Jacksonville Jaguars 26

Scott Spratt: I think we mostly laughed off the fact that the Colts hadn't beaten the Jaguars away from Indianapolis since 2014, but probably not now. Under extreme duress, Trevor Lawrence just went 75 yards on 12 plays to put the Jag on top 7-0 early. Of note, Lawrence converted a third-and-13 from his own 22-yard line with an absolutely ripped slant pass to Marvin Jones.

Bryan Knowles: First important score of the day belongs to the Jacksonville Jaguars, with Trevor Lawrence and Marvin Jones hooking up three times on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. This, of course, would be huge—nearly all the chaos in the AFC would depend on the Colts failing against Jacksonville. As everything stands at the moment, with the Colts losing and everyone else tied, Indianapolis falls out of the playoffs and the Raiders slide in.

Also: Rock Ya-Sin and Kenny Moore both were shaken up on that first drive. This one will be interesting, at least for a bit...

J.P. Acosta: Not a great start for Colts defensive coordinator (and Jaguars head coach candidate) Matt Eberflus in what could be his audition for the job. Lawrence went 8-for-8 on that opening drive after being sacked on the second play.

Scott Spratt: I haven't watched a lot of Trevor Lawrence this season, but wow has he looked amazing so far today. He's 13-of-14 for 128 yards midway through the second quarter, and his incompletion was a 40-yard dime that hit Laquon Treadwell between the numbers.

Scott Spratt: The incompletion:

J.P. Acosta: This is the most coherent the Jaguars offense has looked all season. Using multiple looks out of play action, scheming up touches for Laviska Shenault. Where was this the entire season?

J.P. Acosta: Where has this Jaguars offense been all season? Trevor Lawrence is 19-for-25, 208 yards and a touchdown while having another touchdown dropped and a big 40-yard completion also dropped. The bigger story, however, is the Colts offense sleepwalking through a crucial game. Wentz only has 59 yards passing, and they can't get anything going in the run game. It's only 13-3, but Indy might need a defensive turnover to spark this game.

Scott Spratt: So much for the Colts fixing things at halftime. After fumbling the kickoff return but recovering to maintain possession, Carson Wentz gets smashed by a free rusher and fumbles the ball to the Jaguars. This could be a three-score margin shortly.

Dave Bernreuther: Lawrence's start in this one brought back some Gardner Minshew-over-90% completions memories, and while Lawrence's completion percentage has dropped, the point still holds: if you can't get a pass rush going, even "bad" professional quarterbacks can look pretty good. The injuries in the secondary surely don't help, of course.

Even so, the part that's more worrisome for the Colts is the offense. While there is *definitely* a part of me that wants to see the kneel-and-tie scenario tonight come to pass, I still cheer for the Colts, still think they're capable of beating just about anyone, and wouldn't mind seeing it … but man, the last six-plus quarters of play do not support that idea.

Jacksonville repeatedly taking field goals instead of getting touchdowns doesn't feel like it's that optimal for the Jags, unless of course they're actually trying to lock up the first pick. I can't fault the fourth-and-8 decision just now after the Wentz turnover, of course, but it did make a two-score game into a two-score game, which means the Colts still have a shot here, even after turning it over on their own side of the field when down by two scores. Against anyone other than the Jags, that should have been the nail in the coffin.

Bryan Knowles: Carson Wentz finally, finally, throws an interception on the road, and the Jaguars have the ball again.

At this point, do you go for Sam Ehlinger for the fourth quarter? What do you have to lose?

Bryan Knowles: The Jaguars turn Wentz's interception into points, finally finding the end zone again after three straight short field goals. Lawrence made a great play, getting away from coverage and finding Marvin Jones for the score. It's 23-3 Jags and ... I mean, I think it's over. I don't trust the Colts' ability to score 20 unanswered points leaning on their passing game. This is a massive upset for Chaos.

Vince Verhei: Wentz's first pass after his first interception is also intercepted.

Which leads to this Trevor Lawrence touchdown pass.

And there you have it: video proof that Trevor Lawrence is better when bobbling the snap than Carson Wentz is from a clean pocket. (This is only partly sarcastic.)

J.P. Acosta: So we have a situation in Jacksonville. The Colts had first-and-goal and went: lost yards, sack, completion. Then got stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Are we sure the Colts want to make the playoffs?

Mike Tanier: I know I have not contributed to Audibles all year because of my separate content segment, but I just dropped by to say:

LOL, Carson Wentz.

Washington Football Team 22 at New York Giants 7

Bryan Knowles: The Giants do not have a full 53-man roster today; only 51 players are on the roster due to various salary cap problems. Very solid management there by the New York front office.

Fortunately, their offense remains very well designed.

Vince Verhei: A Tress Way punt pins the Giants at their own 3-yard line. Here is what New York did with that possession:

  • Incomplete pass on first down.
  • Timeout, NYG.
  • False start, NYG.
  • QB sneak on second-and-11.
  • QB sneak on third-and-9.
  • Punt on fourth-and-8.

Fire Joe Judge right now. Like, RIGHT NOW. No need to let him get to halftime. Which is still four minutes away, by the way! It's not like he could punt and go into the locker room!

Scott Spratt: Are we sure that wasn't a reasonable move? Here are the last seven possessions in this game:

  • WAS: 5 plays, 19 yards, punt
  • NYG: 3 plays, 2 yards, punt
  • WAS: 3 plays, -2 yards, punt
  • NYG: 3 plays, -3 yards, punt
  • WAS: 6 plays, 39 yards, punt
  • NYG: 3 plays, 2 yards, punt (this was the drive with the sneaks)
  • WAS: 3 plays, -2 yards, punt

Joe Judge may be able to run out the first half with Washington failing to score. Seems like a plausible play to handle that bad field position with his terrible offense.

Bryan Knowles: Per our old friend Bill Barnwell, there have been two other quarterback sneaks on third-and-8-plus since 2008. One was a Fitzpatrick audible when both A gaps were left entirely uncovered; the second was Derek Anderson in a game where he was up 20 points. I'm fairly sure I'm comfortable with not calling it a reasonable move.

Vince Verhei: "My offense is so bad I'm not even going to try" does not strike me as a defensible strategy. Even if you want to run … you have Saquon Barkley! Spread the field and give him the ball and see what happens! (They actually did this with Devontae Booker on third-and-8 on their next possession.) This was back-to-back plays, both in long-yardage, where they went with no wide receivers, three running backs huddled up around Jake Fromm, and just pushed forward like a rugby scrum. Hell, might as well have just taken a knee.

Scott Spratt: I guess I disagree. Pinned against the goal line, teams have to balance the gains they could have on offense with the possible turnovers, safeties, and blocked punts they could suffer. The sneak is unlikely to lose yards the way traditional carries can—the Giants ran for zero or negative yards on three handoffs in that first half. If Joe Judge believed that punting from the 5-yard line was dramatically less likely to be blocked than doing it from the 1-yard line or 2-yard line, then I'm fine with the calculus.

Vince Verhei: The Broncos played a game last year where they literally didn't have any quarterbacks. They still were more aggressive than this.

Scott Spratt: I get that we aren't the play-the-results crowd, but seriously, what do you do from a second-and-11 from the 2-yard line with Jake Fromm at quarterback and 5:38 left in the half to only lose three points in net the rest of the half?

Bryan Knowles: A quick slant. A run up the middle with Saquon Barkley. A triple-reverse flea-flicker halfback-option pass. A surprise pooch punt. Like, nearly anything else.

Scott Spratt: I think all of those plays increase the expected points scored by both the Giants and Washington. I'm not sure who would fare better in net.

Scott Spratt: Well, Jake Fromm threw his pick-six eventually.

Vince Verhei: Fromm responds to the pick-six with what I assume is the best drive of his NFL career. Giants go 69 yards in 14 plays. Fromm throws to Barkley to convert a fourth-and-5, then Kenny Golladay to convert a fourth-and-2, then Darius Slayton downfield for a 22-yard touchdown on third-and-7. First time in his career Fromm has thrown a touchdown to a teammate. Washington lead is cut to 12-7.

Vince Verhei: And Washington responds by trampling the Giants defense as suddenly a shootout has broken out. Their touchdown drive goes 72 yards in eight plays, including 67 yards on seven rushes. Antonio Gibson runs in an 18-yard score and the lead is up to 19-7.

Green Bay Packers 30 at Detroit Lions 37

Scott Spratt: The only part of this game that should be interesting is how long Aaron Rodgers plays—he's still in at the end of the first quarter. But Dan Campbell never fails to delight.

That's a 75-yard touchdown from wide receiver Tom Kennedy to Kalif Raymond. And that ties this game up at 7-7.

Vince Verhei: Dan Campbell and the Lions break the record for fourth-down attempts in a season. Yes, 17 games, but what's really notable to me is the team that had held the record: the Parcells-Bledsoe Patriots!

J.P. Acosta: The Lions have defeated the Packers, which means Jacksonville has locked up the No. 1 overall draft pick, regardless of the result of their game.

Cincinnati Bengals 16 at Cleveland Browns 21

Bryan Knowles: It's a battle of backup quarterbacks here, but this one still has significant seeding impacts. So far, Case Keenum is outdueling Brandon Allen, but only thanks to this most recent drive—the game started with five straight punts, no drive going longer than 23 yards. Ohio Football!

But on this last drive, Keenum found Donovan Peoples-Jones and Jarvis Landry on a couple of big gainers, with Landry scoring from outside the red zone to give the Browns a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. If this stands, that bumps the Bengals down into the fourth seed, with the Bills temporarily jumping up to No. 3. Joe Burrow could have played today, he said; we'll see if the Bengals end up ruing the decision to rest him when all is said and done.

Bryan Knowles: Brandon Allen got sacked by grass on third down, forcing a Cincinnati punt that was mishit, going just 32 yards. That, plus an unnecessary roughness on a late hit to Keenum, sets Cleveland up for their second touchdown of the day. It's a good thing momentum really isn't a thing going into the postseason because, uh, this is not exactly as promising as the big win over the Chiefs.

Bryan Knowles: Fumbles, fumbles, fumbles. Brandon Allen gets sacked by Jadeveon Clowney, and the ball comes lose—Clowney kicks it down field, but fails to fall on it, so it's just your run-of-the-mill 13-yard loss. The Bengals survive to punt on fourth-and-26. But three plays after the punt, Case Keenum gets blasted himself, HE fumbles, and Trayvon Henderson scoops it up for a 29-yard touchdown. 14-7 Browns and this game ... well, I mean, it's happening. I can say that much.

Bryan Knowles: In the other meaningful game going on right now, the Browns extend their lead to 21-10, though it's a bit interesting how they got there. The Browns went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2, but Case Keenum's pass fell incomplete, turnover on downs. But, of course, one of the reasons why it's so good to go for it there is that it backs your opponent up, and indeed, the Bengals get 1 yard before having to punt it right back. With the backup quarterbacks not, uh, looking good, Cleveland takes that good field position and runs D'Ernest Johnson nine times in a row before Keenum polishes it off with a touchdown pass to Felton for the score. That drained half the fourth quarter, and while it's not quite over yet, the Bengals Backups don't seem potentially likely to do much here.

Tennessee Titans 28 at Houston Texans 25

Vince Verhei: No score here at the end of the first as Tennessee is in fact getting a tough game from a Houston team that supposedly has nothing to play for. Each of the first three drives of the game ended in a punt. Tennessee took drive No. 4 into field goal range (thanks mostly to a big catch down the seam by Nick Westbrook-Ikhine), but Randy Bullock's try from 42 yards out was pulled very wide left, leaving us scoreless.

Carl Yedor: This is a general note, but I wonder if some of the teams that need to win but were big favorites are doing a little bit of what Parker Fleming alluded to in the National Championship discussion from the live show this week. These teams need to win, and winning impressively would make things more comfortable. However, they probably don't want to reveal anything they had planned on unleashing during the playoffs as some sort of wrinkle off their base stuff, leading to a somewhat vanilla approach against an inferior opponent. This, combined with the inherent variance of NFL games, may be what is causing these games to be closer than expected.

Aaron Schatz: Every time RedZone is showing the Titans and Texans, the Titans are completing a pass to someone who is not A.J. Brown, which is probably a positive development for their future.

Bryan Knowles: Well, Brown is gimpy; he went to the sideline early and has been in and out of the medical tent, so that may be a negative development for their future. We'll see.

Mike Vrabel just tried to give Jeffery Simmons an offensive cameo, like he has been begging for all season, and the Titans scored a touchdown on the play. But Simmons didn't report in, and he's wearing an ineligible number—that's an illegal substitution, and wipe the touchdown off the board. Oops! Ryan Tannehill finds Anthony Firkser a few plays later so no harm, no foul, but that one stings.

The Titans take the 7-0 lead and get back into the No. 1 seed spot for now.

Vince Verhei: Titans suddenly make things look easy, driving 94 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown. Big catches by Julio Jones along the sideline, then Anthony Firkser to convert a third down, then D'Onta Foreman for 15 yards to set up a first-and-goal. Dontrell Hilliard had a good run in there too. And then, as noted, Firkser with the touchdown. Tennessee only got to third down twice on that drive, and (obviously) converted them both. They're up to 5-of-7 on third-down conversions now, while Houston is 0-for-4 (with one conversion on fourth down).

Aaron Schatz: Two Texans defenders were looking at each other on that Firkser touchdown like, "Were you supposed to have him?" "I don't know, I thought you were supposed to have him." Neither of them had him.

Vince Verhei: Make it back-to-back long touchdown drives for Tennessee. This one went 85 yards in nine plays, and this time it WAS A.J. Brown getting it done—he had catches for 14 and 24 yards on the drive to set up his own 14-yard touchdown. Didn't have a catch before that possession, but now he's up to a 3-52-1 stat line, which is a pretty good half. Tennessee lead up to 14-0.

Bryan Knowles: After a scoreless first quarter, the Titans have begun to actually remember how to play football, and it's "throw the ball to the receivers the Texans are not covering." That's at least two guys on any given play. And best news for the Titans—A.J. Brown looks fine, now with three receptions for 52 yards and the most recent score. 14-0 isn't quite ballgame for Tennessee, but the Texans' longest drive to this point has been 25 yards, so, uh, yeah.

Bryan Knowles: OK, I'm calling this one; the Titans are your No. 1 seed. The Texans got the ball back with 1:24 left in the half and managed to drain 31 seconds with a quick three-and-out. They then seem to get an interception on a deep shot, but a pass interference call instead moves the Titans inside the 5; Tannehill hits Westbrook-Ikhine on the next play, and it's a Titans 21-0 lead. Well, at least one game this week didn't have much drama!

Vince Verhei: OK, looks like we're done here. Third-and-10, Tannehill lobs a prayer to Racey McMath. Eric Murray, playing deep safety, comes over and collides hard with McMath and they both go down, giving Lonnie Johnson an easy interception … but Murray is flagged for a 45-yard DPI instead. It's exactly the kind of DPI foul I hate—Murray was looking back for the ball, making no attempt to interfere, and just bonked into somebody else going for it. And he's penalized as much as he would have been for hitting Tannehill in the head three plays in a row.

Regardless, it's first-and-goal, and Tannehill hits Westbrook-Ikhine for a 4-yard touchdown, and Tennessee is up 21-0. Houston's six possessions have ended in five punts and a kneeldown, with 67 yards in total offense. I don't see them getting three touchdowns in the next two quarters.

Vince Verhei: Signs of life in Houston? First-and-10, they go with a flea-flicker, and Davis Mills hits a wide-open Chris Moore for a 28-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 21-7.

Bryan Knowles: It's time to un-call this game for a bit. In the second half, the Titans have a total of 11 yards, while the Texans have marched up and down the field—two touchdowns, a field goal, and a two-point conversion. It's 21-18 Titans with 11:40 left in the fourth, and the Chiefs' hopes for the No. 1 seed are reviving...

Vince Verhei: Oh, dear. Titans have opened the second half with three straight three-and-outs, while the Texans have answered by going touchdown-field goal-touchdown. The last was largely produced by Danny Amendola, who had a 37-yard catch to start the drive and a 7-yard score to end it. Nico Collins also had a 30-yard catch on the drive. Texans go for two and get it and the lead is down to 21-18.

Bryan Knowles: The Texans had a chance to stop the Titans and get a major stop, but then Ryan Tannehill did this.


And it took 18 weeks, but Julio Jones finally has a touchdown as a member of the Tennessee Titans. It's 28-18 now with seven minutes left—the Texans have time if they can keep their second-half offense going. Big "if," but we're not done just yet...

Vince Verhei: Ryan Tannehill may have just saved Tennessee's season. Third-and-5, he escapes a sack and finds Westbroook-Ikhine for a 36-yard gain. Third-and-6, he finds Firkser down the middle for 24. Second-and-goal, he finds Julio Jones for a 3-yard touchdown. That's Jones' first touchdown this year.

Aaron Schatz: I think "saved the Titans' season" is a bit much since they would still win the division even if they lost this game, but those were very nice plays by Tannehill and the first-round bye is a nice thing to have!

Vince Verhei: Yes, I admit I am prone to hyperbole. But I like Tennessee's odds of winning two home games a lot more than their odds of winning three, with probably one or two coming on the road.

Bryan Knowles: The Texans punch back! Danny Amendola has a 7-catch, 113-yard, 2-touchdown day, and it's a 28-25 Titans lead with 4:04 left! One defensive stop, and this gets very exciting,

Vince Verhei: Amendola's second touchdown was a pretty little throw by Mills.

Vince Verhei: Titans escape. Hilliard runs for first downs on third-and-2 and second-and-10 (!) and Tannehill kneels it out from there.

Given Houston's outlook coming into the year, the improvement they showed throughout the season, and the fight they showed today, it makes little sense to fire David Culley. But it's the Texans, and most things they do make little sense, so I expect they'll can him.

Tom Gower: Through 30 minutes, this game was completely one-sided. The Texans kept trying to run, with basically all the success you'd expect from DVOA's 32nd-ranked rush offense (Rex Burkhead and David Johnson a combined nine carries for 10 yards), and it was quickly obvious to me whether a particular Houston run play had any chance at all of gaining yards. The theme of last week's email was that the first half of the Dolphins-Titans game was more competitive than the 17-3 score. This week's Titans lead was not. The third touchdown in the final minute was fortunate—you don't expect to get seven points when you're at midfield with no timeouts and 31 seconds left—but the level of dominance was comprehensive even with Randy Bullock missing a field goal. And then the second half happened.

I was at today's game, so I'm not going to swear this is exactly what happened in the second half that led to Houston's offensive turnaround. But I can double-check the box score and see that the Texans only called one run play on first down, and it was Rex Burkhead on first-and-goal from the 4 (it lost 3 yards), compared to 14 passes, and despite the comeback, it wasn't because they were running pure hurry-up. They just realized (or decided, or whatever) that starting drives by putting themselves in second-and-long was, maybe, y'know, upon due consideration, in light of everything, not the best idea. More in the realm of impressions I can't immediately support is that the Texans, because they blithely abandoned the run, were much more willing to line up in formations that didn't present a run threat and instead made Davis Mills' day easier, spreading the field and letting him identify specific matchups. This put a lot of pressure on Houston's unimpressive offensive line against a Tennessee front that even people outside Nashville had called the NFL's best four at various points this season. And from a live observation perspective, Mills almost always had enough time to make some kind of decision. The Titans were credited with 3 QB hits today: Kyle Peko on a coverage sack in the first half and Jeff Simmons on back-to-back plays in the third quarter (the first a bit of weird fortune for the Texans on a deflected pass caught by Nico Collins, the second a sack on the ensuing first down to help hold that drive to 3), but this wasn't the kind of pass-rushing performance that made me encouraged for two weeks from now.

But they did get that sack, and after the third-quarter offensive doldrums, Ryan Tannehill nailed the key third-down throws that he did against San Francisco but hadn't regularly as a Titan. Jacob Martin had him dead to rights, and he got away from that (shades of Vince Young against Mathias Kiwanuka in 2006 for you old-school two-tone blue) and found Westbrook-Ikhine. Then Anthony Firkser, who had specialized in screwing up third downs (fourth-worst receiving DVOA/DYAR among tight ends with 20-plus third-/fourth-down targets), comes open late to turn a dodgy field goal attempt up three into first-and-goal. And then the four-minute drill to seal the game and the No. 1 seed.

After a terrible first half, I thought Davis Mills looked pretty solid in the second half. There was still some ugly in his game—some of which, like the Collins completion I mentioned, even worked—but unless the Texans actually have an attractive quarterback option this offseason (looking at the potential quarterback carousel and assuming a Deshaun Watson trade, eh), I think it would be OK to roll with him and see if you have something worth building around for the last two years of his rookie deal. I didn't really expect that from him coming into this season, but given his short track record at Stanford, he's one of those guys where your opinion should shift more. But, uh, consider doing something different if you want to try to run the ball regularly?

Chicago Bears 17 at Minnesota Vikings 31

Vince Verhei: Bears lead 14-10 in the fourth quarter, with a fourth-and-goal at the 1. Andy Dalton play-fakes, hangs in the pocket forever, tries to reverse direction and scramble, and is taken down for a sack and a 15-yard loss. It's fourth down! Just throw the ball somewhere!

Week 18, everyone!

Bryan Knowles: To make matters worse, Vince, it's Dalton's third sack on fourth down today.

Vince Verhei: Between third-and-long sneaks and fourth-down sacks, a scoreless tie in the night game would not be the worst thing I saw today.

Vince Verhei: That gives Dalton five fourth-down sacks this season, most in the league this year. He passes Baker Mayfield, who had four.

Vince Verhei: Here's Minnesota's latest touchdown pass. I'm sharing to note that there actually wide-open Vikings receivers in BOTH corners of the end zone.

Vince Verhei: More fourth-down fun for Andy Dalton. He's now up to three sacks and this pick-six for Patrick Peterson (who plays for Minnesota now, and I wouldn't blame you if you had forgotten that.)

Vince Verhei: For historical purposes, I want to note that the last play of Dalton's game and season (and career?) is a completion for 13 yards on fourth-and-19.

San Francisco 49ers 27 at Los Angeles Rams 24

Bryan Knowles: Jimmy Garoppolo is active. Trent Williams is inactive.

I am not pleased by that second development.

Vince Verhei: Fifteen minutes in and we have only had two complete drives. Rams marched 62 yards in 13 plays, but settled for a field goal after Matthew Stafford was sacked on third down in the red zone. 49ers then managed to run six plays without reaching their own 30, which is a very San Francisco thing to do, then punted. Last play of the quarter was Cooper Kupp converting a third-and-4 near midfield.

Bryan Knowles: The Rams running attack so far: 11 carries, four yards.

The Rams passing attack so far: 11 completions on 12 attempts, 123 yards, and a touchdown.

I may have a note for Sean McVay on how he should continue to call this game.

Rams take a 10-0 lead.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers' ensuing offensive drive:

  • Garoppolo sack-fumble, recovered by SF for a loss of 14 yards.
  • Garoppolo sack for a loss of 3.
  • 1-yard Elijah Mitchell rush.
  • Punt for a net of 12 yards.

Rams score a touchdown three plays later, and it's 17-0 Rams. It may be time to go to Trey Lance, especially if this next drive does nothing.

Bryan Knowles: Garoppolo throws a TERRIBLE interception, as it's clear he cannot grip the football. This is the third game in the past two years where Garoppolo has tried to gut through an injury, and the third time he has put up an absolutely DISASTROUS performance. No one's questioning Garoppolo's toughness, but the man needs to know when to sit down when he's not right. He's not right.

Vince Verhei: Total yardage so far:

LAR: 136
SF: -3

Vince Verhei: Here's that Garoppolo interception. Most bad Garoppolo interceptions come when he fails to see an underneath defender. This was different, a terrible decision to try to throw under pressure and lobbing the ball into a crowd of four Rams defenders.

Vince Verhei: Kyle Juszczyk runs! Kyle Juszczyk catches! Kyle Juszczyk blocks! And now … Kyle Juszczyk holds! In the sense of taking the snap on a field goal attempt, not in grabbing a defender's jersey and drawing a penalty. With punter Mitch Wishnowsky out with a concussion, Juszczyk comes in to hold the ball on a field goal that cuts the score to 17-3.

Who knows what will happen if San Francisco gets a fourth down in their own territory. Maybe Kyle Juszczyk will punt too!

Bryan Knowles: Wellity wellity wellity. After Garoppolo leads the 49ers to a field goal at the end of the first half, the 49ers received the second-hand kickoff and march 75 yards, capped off by a Deebo Samuel touchdown. It's 17-10 Rams, and all of a sudden, we have a ballgame.

Scott Spratt: That was Deebo Samuel's sixth rushing touchdown from 10 or more yards from the end zone. That ties him with Jonathan Taylor for the most among all players this season.

Vince Verhei: Rams go three-and-out. 49ers have the ball, and they're still down by seven on the scoreboard, but they have somehow taken the lead in total yardage.

Bryan Knowles: Jimmy Garoppolo? Trey Lance? Pshaw. The 49ers run 10 straight rushing plays, then hand it to Deebo Samuel, who throws to Jauan Jennings for the game-tying touchdown.

Samuel can do everything,

Bryan Knowles: This Jalen Ramsey interception might have just saved the Rams' divisional title hopes, and it certainly is worth looking at over and over again. What concentration!

Bryan Knowles: The Rams turn that Garoppolo interception into a 92-yard touchdown drive, with Cooper Kupp reminding people why he's OPOY (Sorry, Mike.) 18-yard rush, 30-yard reception, 4-yard touchdown for Kupp on that drive; he had been held quiet for most of the second half but you can't keep him down forever! Rams take a 24-17 lead with 2:29 left.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers went three-and-out and punted after the two minute warning after the Rams touchdown. They did, however, have all three time-outs, and were able to get a three-and-out and the ball back, needing to go 88 yards in 1:27 to tie the game.

They took less than a minute, thanks to a 43-yard catch and run from Deebo Samuel, and then Garoppolo hitting a wide-open Jauan Jennings on a coverage bust for the score to tie us at 24.

Still 26 seconds left, so they maybe scored too early. That's preferable to the alternative.

Bryan Knowles: We're going to overtime.

By the by. A tie gets the 49ers in as the No. 6 seed and make the Rams the No. 3 seed and NFC West champions. Just food for thought.

Scott Spratt: I'm not sure 10 minutes is enough time for the 49ers to have one touchdown drive, Bryan.

Vince Verhei: If the 49ers take this kickoff, kill all 10 minutes, and kick a field goal with zeroes on the clock, I will weep tears of joy.

Bryan Knowles: I am entirely fine with the 10-minute clock-killing tie, Scott.

Scott Spratt: I love that Ambry Thomas just sealed that 49ers win after how unflattering we have been about his play as a substitute. Congrats, Bryan!

Bryan Knowles: It's not a 10-minute field goal drive, Vince; it was a 7:21 field goal drive. That mean the 49ers had to hold on for a little over two minutes, just keeping the Rams out of the end zone.

A DPI gives the Rams a first down on third down, and then, after the two-minute warning, Stafford airs one out, only for Ambry Thomas, who I have called the worst cornerback starting for a playoff team, to send the 49ers to the postseason with an interception.

I need several beers and a shower.

Vince Verhei: OK, we have our NFC wild-card matchups:

  • No. 7 PHI at No. 2 TB (Thanks for coming, Eagles.)
  • No. 6 SF at No. 3 DAL (Seems like a good matchup for Dak and company.)
  • No. 5 ARI at No. 4 LAR (Ooh! I am intrigued!)

Scott Spratt: I dunno, Vince. The Cowboys are dramatically better in pass defense than run defense. I feel like the 49ers should move the ball fine in Dallas with their rushing offense.

Vince Verhei: Well, by "Dak and company" I specifically meant the Cowboys passing offense. This year, of all years, everybody's got some weakness to exploit!

Seattle Seahawks 38 at Arizona Cardinals 30

Vince Verhei: On the second play of the game, Chandler Jones—Chandler Jones!—is unblocked off the edge. There is also pressure up the middle so Russell Wilson has nowhere to scramble. Jones punches the ball free, and Zach Allen gets the scoop-and-score for a 7-0 lead.

A flu bug has ravaged Seattle's offensive line. I can't keep track of who's in and out. It showed there. But still—somebody should block Chandler Jones!

Vince Verhei: Well, maybe the flu bug has spread to Arizona's secondary. Sixth play of the game, third-and-2, Tyler Lockett is left totally uncovered on a corner route for a 43-yard touchdown. It's 7-7 not even three minutes into the game.

Vince Verhei: Kliff Kingsbury with some major cajones on Arizona's current drive, going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 20 (!!!) and fourth-and-4 in Seattle territory. James Conner converted the first on a dive, and Seattle jumped offsides on the second. Cards have a third-and-1 at the 31 at the end of the quarter.

Weird numbers for Kyler Murray so far—he has completed 7-of-9 passes, but only gained 32 total yards as Seattle's defense is forcing checkdowns and making tackles.

Vince Verhei: Well that's a classic Kingsbury drive right there: go for it on fourth down deep in your own end, go for it on fourth down at midfield, but once you're in scoring range, take the points. Fourth-and-3 at the 23-yard line, Matt Prater boots the 41-yarder to put Arizona up 10-0.

Final numbers for the drive: 19 plays, 66 yards, five first downs, three points. Come to think of it, that was a classic 2021 Seahawks defense drive too.

Vince Verhei: The Cardinals are blitzing Seattle like crazy, and the results are predictable: lots of sacks and incompletions forced by pressure, but also lots of opportunities for big catches downfield. Arizona's longest catch has gained 13 yards; Seattle's average catch is better than 16 yards. The last of those was a 5-yard touchdown to Lockett to put Seattle up 14-10. Wilson converted third downs with 8, 8, and 10 yards to go on that drive. Since that rough start, this is the best he has looked in a long time.

Vince Verhei: Cardinals keep blitzing Wilson on third downs and it keeps not working. Third-down conversion to DK Metcalf is wiped out by OPI penalty on Gerald Everett, but Wilson just converts the ensuing third-and-16 to Lockett anyway. Chandler Jones was covering Lockett there as Byron Murphy rushed the passer, which seems not ideal. Then third-and-6, Wilson lofts an easy floater to Everett in the end zone, but Everett drops what should have been a touchdown. What a frustrating season this has been for Everett. Seattle still gets a field goal for a 17-10 lead.

Vince Verhei: Cards opt to not call timeout after a second-down sack and go into halftime down 17-10. That score, boosted by a defensive touchdown, dramatically undersells how dominant Seattle has been so far. They lead 11-7 in first downs, 229-89 in total yardage, 6.7-2.9 in yards per play. Arizona's only offensive score required multiple fourth-down conversions.

Arizona's late-season swoon isn't nearly as bad as their late-season swoon last season—they did beat Dallas last week—but they're still at risk of going into the playoffs having lost four of their last five games. The caveat here is that Seattle has been a pretty lousy second-half team this year, and the lead is only seven points, so this is far from over.

Vince Verhei: Seahawks came into the week giving up 66.2 receiving yards per game to running backs, worst in the league by more than 10 yards. And there's no Bobby Wagner, which doesn't help. James Conner takes a little swing pass, breaks tackles by Jordyn Brooks and Quandre Diggs, and goes into the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown. That's 41 receiving yards for Conner early in the third quarter.

We're tied 17-17 here, almost exactly the same time the 49ers tied the Rams at 17-17 as the NFC West is delivering the late afternoon drama.

Vince Verhei: So remember when I said Seattle was a lousy second-half team? Third down, Wilson is under pressure and lobs a pass 4 feet over Travis Homer's head. Jalen Thompson gets the easy interception and returns it to the 1. Conner runs it in shortly thereafter, and Arizona's up 24-17.

Vince Verhei: Following an exchange of punts, Rashaad Penny gets a 25-yard run, and then Arizona blows coverage. Two guys go inside with DK Metcalf, nobody stays outside with Freddie Swaim, and Wilson hits Swaim for a 25-yard touchdown that ties the score 24-24.

Vince Verhei: Cardinals first drive after the Swaim touchdown:

  • First down: Sack.
  • Second down: Murray scrambles away from sack for short gain.
  • Third down: Sack.
  • Fourth down: This:

Way to finish up strong, Arizona. Also, Travis Homer's amazing special teams season continues—he now has returned an onside kick for a touchdown, scored a long touchdown on a fake punt, and that quasi-blocked punt.

So Seattle's first play of the fourth quarter is a first-and-goal. Wilson scrambles in for a go-ahead touchdown on third-and-goal and now lead 31-24.

Vince Verhei: So now the news here is injuries. James Conner runs for a first down on third-and-18 (!) but takes a hard hit to the ribs. He goes into the locker room. Jonathan Ward has already left today, and Chase Edmonds was already out today with his own rib injury, so it's Eno Benjamin the rest of the way for Arizona.

Then Quandre Diggs has a "we're not going to show you a replay" leg injury. He's carted off in an air cast. He's sobbing. Teammates are weeping. Cardinals players are disconsolate. This is the same field where Kam Chancellor's career ended, and where Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas played their last games for Seattle.

Vince Verhei: The good news for Arizona is that they got a field goal to cut the lead to one score. The bad news is that they are next to last in second level yards allowed—in plain English, they give up 10-plus-yard runs all the time. Like this one, for example:

Rashaad Penny is now over 170 yards in back-to-back games. He's about to be an unrestricted free agent and make a LOT of money.

Vince Verhei: Cards kick a field goal after Zach Ertz is called for offensive pass interference. That's the third OPI in this game—the Seattle one I mentioned earlier that wiped out the Metcalf catch, and one by A.J. Green in the first half.

Still trailing 38-30, Arizona will try the onside kick … and Jordyn Brooks, of all people, catches it on the fly. Cards do have three timeouts, but with 1:12 left, it's not looking good.

Vince Verhei: Penny runs for a first down on two carries and Seattle wins. Arizona's a wild-card team. The Rams are division champions, whether they rally in overtime or not.

For all the turmoil and drama in Seattle this year, given the hands-off nature of Jody Allen, I bet this end-of-season surge will be enough to save everyone's jobs. Most likely, they'll re-sign Penny and just bring everyone back next season, for better or worse.

New Orleans Saints 30 at Atlanta Falcons 20

Bryan Knowles: The Saints need a win and a 49ers loss to get in. So far, so good, as they march 84 yards on the opening drive behind some solid Alvin Kamara carries. Adam Trautman is left alone inside the red zone, Taysom Hill finds him, and the Saints jump out to a 7-0 lead.

Bryan Knowles: Taysom Hill was knocked out of this one, so we're back to Trevor Siemian for the time being—and possibly for longer, as Hill is limping off the field as we speak. We'll see if that matters for next week, and it looks like there may well BE a next week, as Siemian hits Tre'Quan Smith for a touchdown to go up 14-6.

Bryan Knowles: Things are falling apart for the Atlanta Falcons. They got the ball with a minute left in the half to try to build something ... but Mike Davis fumbles the first play, giving the Saints the ball inside the 25-yard line. That's two turnovers on two consecutive drives, leading to 10 Saints points. They're up 24-6 and have a very, very comfortable lead...

Bryan Knowles: It's being reported that Taysom Hill has a Lisfranc injury, so that's really bad for them, should they survive this week. Trevor Siemian time.

Carolina Panthers 17 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41

Scott Spratt: The Panthers just went 75 yards on 14 plays for a touchdown on their opening drive. And while that might sound strange from their offense against this Bucs defense, I think the Cowboys win last night took a lot of the incentive out of this game for the Bucs. Correct me if I'm wrong, Bryan, but I don't believe the Bucs can fall to the fourth seed now that the Cowboys won on Saturday. They could get to the No. 2 seed with a win, but they would need the Rams to lose as well.

Bryan Knowles: The Bucs fall to No. 4 if all three upsets happen—49ers, Panthers, and Seahawks all win. Cowboys would get No. 2 on conference record, Rams would get No. 3 on head-to-head.

Scott Spratt: Also, Jim Nantz isn't calling this Panthers-Bucs game with Tony Romo because of COVID protocols. I guess I can't really joke about something so serious, but it's a pretty great time for an announcer bye week.

Scott Spratt: The Panthers just went for a fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line while up 7-0 in the first quarter. And they converted!

Scott Spratt: The Panthers just went for a fourth-and-6 on the edges of field goal range, and Sam Darnold threw deep. DJ Moore couldn't make a leaping catch down the left sideline, but has Matt Rhule picked up Ron Rivera's Riverboat mantle?

Scott Spratt: Noted Antonio Brown substitute Cyril Grayson appeared to pull a hamstring and was ruled out for the rest of this game immediately. That is bad news for the Bucs. The injuries are really stacking on that part of their depth chart.

Aaron Schatz: Scott, what's wrong with Tom Brady so far today? Has he just run out of receivers?

Scott Spratt: Brady's biggest problem so far is his defense because the Panthers have controlled 21:10 of clock versus 6:50 for the Bucs. The Bucs have had just three possessions in the first half, and one went 10 plays. The most recent one was backed up against the Bucs' goal line and was a difficult spot against a good defense.

Scott Spratt: Cue the Tom Brady two-minute drill. The Bucs are going to be leading 10-7 at the intermission even while getting crushed most of the first half.

Scott Spratt: Mike Evans was sitting down on the field for a minute looking at his arm with trainers. That would obviously be a catastrophic loss for the Bucs at this point. But he popped up and jogged off the field. As best I can tell, he's OK.

Bryan Knowles: The Buccaneers are just not going to have any receivers left for the postseason.

Scott Spratt: Mike Evans is back in.

New England Patriots 24 at Miami Dolphins 33

Aaron Schatz: Disastrous start for the Patriots. Miami marches down the field fairly easily for a touchdown on a sweet third-and-1 play-action fake and throw to Jaylen Waddle wide-open in the end zone. Then on the next series, Mac Jones tried to hit a slot out route on third-and-2 and Xavien Howard came off his man and read it perfectly. Pick-six, Dolphins up 14-0 very fast.

Aaron Schatz: Terrible luck for the Patriots. The Dolphins just ran a fake punt on fourth-and-3, and punter Michael Palardy slid short of the first down. Flag thrown for unnecessary roughness because it looks like Brandon Bolden hit Palardy's helmet trying for the tackle. But on replay, it's clear Bolden didn't hit Palardy's helmet. That's the kind of stuff where they need a sky judge or to make all plays reviewable. By the naked eye, a bang-bang play, you can't see whether the helmet hits or not. I can't really blame the officials for throwing that flag.

Aaron Schatz: Here's the penalty on the Patriots I was referring to.

Aaron Schatz: The Patriots scored one touchdown but it's still 17-7. Quite a turn of field position on the last few plays. The Patriots got the ball on their own 42, only made it 13 yards, punted from the Miami 45. It bounced into the end zone, so 25 net yards on the punt. Dolphins then go three-and-out ... and Michael Palardy gets the bounce on his long punt, meaning his punt goes 63 yards before it gets downed with no return. That's a 38-yard switch.

Aaron Schatz: Another wussy decision by Bill Belichick after Kendrick Bourne gets 17 yards on third-and-18, dragging tacklers for a few yards at the end. He's about a foot and a half short at the 50 and instead of going for it, the Patriots, do the "draw them offsides" thing and then Mac Jones takes a step backwards and so that's a false start and they punt. Sigh.

Aaron Schatz: It's 17-7 Dolphins at halftime. The Patriots have outplayed the Dolphins today—not by much, but by a little bit—except for one gigantic play, the pick-six that Xavien Howard took to the house. Patriots leading in yards per play, 5.8 to 4.4. Dolphins running game has been better than expected given the quality of their offensive line. The two running backs have 82 yards on 18 carries. But the Dolphins haven't had much of a passing game since their first touchdown drive. Patriots started getting more pass rush in the second quarter. The Patriots running game hasn't been as good as their passing game today, with only 19 yards for Damien Harris. But really, this game has turned on two plays: the pick-six and the unnecessary roughness on Brandon Bolden when he didn't actually have a helmet-to-helmet hit with Palardy, which led to a field goal.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots get their running game going on the first drive of the second half. But Mac Jones takes a sack on third-and-5 in the red zone when the Patriots can't pick up twin stunts from the Dolphins defensive line, even with 21 personnel. (21 personnel on third-and-5? Talk about old school, Belichick.) Nick Folk field goal is good, so 17-10 Dolphins.

Aaron Schatz: It doesn't matter what Tua Tagovailoa does if the Dolphins can run like they have been today. Dolphins come right back after Patriots' field goal with 27-yard run by Duke Johnson, then some more runs, then a 24-yard DPI on Jalen Mills. Finally, at the goal line, the Patriots can't keep contain on the right side and Johnson goes around the corner for the touchdown. Patriots getting gashed on the ground here, mostly outside but also inside. 24-10 Dolphins.

Aaron Schatz: Center David Andrews went to the sidelines with some sort of injury, Ted Karras moved over to center, and there's a bad snap ... and the fumble bounces right to a Dolphins defender. There's that fumble recovery randomness right there. That turnover may kill any chance the Patriots have to come back in this game.

Aaron Schatz: Going back to my last message, David Andrews apparently had an equipment issue, not an injury. Just terrible luck for the Patriots to have him go out and have the Dolphins recover the aborted snap. The Dolphins made it into field goal range and Jason Sanders sent it through from 49 yards so now we're at 27-10 Dolphins.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots force a three-and-out, then on the first play of their drive Jones keeps the play alive scrambling around and finds a leaping Jakobi Meyers on the left sideline for 39 yards. A scramble, a couple of short passes, and a DPI get the Patriots to the 1, and Damien Harris puts it in. That DPI was very similar to the one called on the Patriots a couple drives ago when the Dolphins scored their last touchdown. Dolphins pass rush is getting to Jones but he showed good pocket awareness. Now the Patriots have to stop the Dolphins' running game and prevent a first down. 27-24 Dolphins, 2:53 left.

Aaron Schatz: Patriots stopped the Dolphins on first and second down but then Tua Tagovailoa shook off pressure and scrambled up the middle for a first down on third-and-8. That will be the ballgame, and the Pats go into the playoffs with a close loss. They have got to stop falling behind early in games, like they did here, and against the Colts a few weeks ago. And they need to worry about their run defense, which got gashed by a Miami running game that was only 30th in run DVOA coming into today.

New York Jets 10 at Buffalo Bills 27

Scott Spratt: In windy conditions in Buffalo, the Jets entered this game with a run-focused game plan similar to what the Patriots used to win there in Week 13. But unfortunately for them, the Bills have since learned how to run the ball, and they just went 75 and 70 yards and were an overturned second Stefon Diggs touchdown away from a 14-0 lead. It's 10-0 in any case. We will see if the Jets can stick to their game plan.

Scott Spratt: The bad Jets news continues with a blocked punt. The Bills recovered and are set up in Jets territory already up by multiple scores in the first quarter.

Vince Verhei: Cue the Yakety Sax!

Los Angeles Chargers 32 at Las Vegas Raiders 35 (OT)

Bryan Knowles: The Raiders open the game by running plays, so any fears of taking the snap, standing around for 15 minutes, and playing for the tie have been assuaged. Game on.

Scott Spratt: The Raiders seemed to have missed an unbelievable opportunity when Derek Carr overthrew Zay Jones streaking downfield for what would have been a 64-yard touchdown. But they forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing punt and go back on offense just outside the red zone. The Chargers messed up on special teams, no way.

Bryan Knowles: And, indeed, the Raiders turn a Chargers special teams miscue into points, with Hunter Renfrow finding the end zone to give the Raiders a 10-0 lead. It would be very, very Chargersesque to lose this one on plays like that.

Scott Spratt: The Raiders could use a few more Chargers special teams gaffes because L.A. just went 75 and 90 yards on back-to-back drives to take a 14-10 lead in the final two minutes of the first half.

Aaron Schatz: Chargers are running surprisingly well in the first half. Twelve carries for 73 yards against a top-10 run defense by DVOA.

Bryan Knowles: Raiders just got gifted a 42-yard DPI on a pass that was pretty clearly uncatchable—it hit some freaking fans, for goodness' sake. The Chargers are up to five penalties for 80 yards, and they have been big ones, as the Raiders retake the lead 17-14.

Bryan Knowles: The dots on the DPI are pretty hilarious.

Vince Verhei: Jesus Christ. The receiver's not just miles away from the ball, he's actively going the other way. What the hell are we doing here?

Aaron Schatz: Well, there certainly will be debate about Brandon Staley going for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 18. I'm getting some numbers now...

Scott Spratt: The Chargers are well on their way to losing this game in classic Chargers fashion. They have fumbled away a punt return, missed a field goal, and now failed to convert on a fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory. That gives the Raiders the ball in the red zone already up 17-13 in the third quarter.

Aaron Schatz: Let the record show that NGS had that fourth-and-1 go as actually fourth-and-1.3 yards.

Vince Verhei: A reminder that the Cardinals also went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 20 today.

Bryan Knowles: I don't mind going for it on fourth there at all (though it was fourth-and-1.31, per Next Gen Stats, so a LONG "one"). But an uncreative dive up the middle? I know it's easy to criticize the play call when it doesn't work, but eef.

Aaron Schatz: The EdjSports model favored the Chargers going for it by 5% win probability, in part because their offense is so strong overall.

Carl Yedor: I'm officially rooting for the Chargers now to preserve my sanity tomorrow if I go anywhere near Twitter. That, or that the Chargers don't score for the rest of the game to make those three points meaningless.

Bryan Knowles: Penalties, again, rearing their head. The Chargers got called for defensive holding twice on the Raiders' most recent drive, including once on third down to turn a probable field goal attempt into a fresh set of downs, which in turn leads to Hunter Renfrow's second touchdown of the night. To make matters worse, the Raiders go for two and miss it, meaning it's a 26-14 Raiders lead. How are we going to get The Tie with a 12-point lead?!

Carl Yedor: I think the most plausible path would be a touchdown for the Chargers, a field goal for the Raiders, and then a touchdown followed by a two-point conversion for the Chargers to maximize the chaos at 29-29.

Scott Spratt: This is a reminder that the Raiders were outscored by 68 points entering this week. That's just 97 net points behind the Seahawks. What a bummer they are probably going to the playoffs.

Aaron Schatz: They're outplaying the Chargers tonight on both sides of the ball, plus they got the help of that ridiculous DPI. Those things are much more important than the failed fourth-and-1 go.

Aaron Schatz: Storm Norton of the Chargers at right tackle is getting brutalized by Maxx Crosby.

Bryan Knowles: Well, we're not done yet—the Chargers score a touchdown on fourth-and-21. And, down nine, they go for two and make it, so analytics gets bailed out a little bit. 29-22 with 4:28 left...

Oh, and credit to Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth for getting the entire "go for two or not" discussion out on the air quickly and clearly, and arguing both sides.

Scott Spratt: Wow, Justin Herbert. I think the Raiders defenders thought they were close enough to undercut Josh Palmer on that fourth-and-21. But Herbert got the ball 23 yards in a blink, and this is a game again at 29-22.

Vince Verhei: The dots on Herbert's touchdown. His arm strength looks like a Madden glitch.

Vince Verhei: I hollered at the top of my lungs on that Carr fumble. Raiders so lucky to fall on it.

Scott Spratt: This would be tracking toward the tie except I sort of expect Brandon Staley to go for two if the Chargers get the two-minute touchdown.

Scott Spratt: Every pass to Mike Williams is either a ridiculous catch, a near-injury, or both.

Aaron Schatz: Herbert just keeps making fourth-and-long after fourth-and-long, including just getting one when the Raiders held Jared Cook. The dream of a tie refuses to die.

Aaron Schatz: This last Chargers drive is completely insane.

Vince Verhei: Well, this game's ending is mad.

Bryan Knowles: 19 plays. 82 yards. 2:06. Seven third- or fourth-and 10s. And we are TIED going into overtime. Sorry, Mike, get ready to re-write that Walkthrough intro.

Vince Verhei: Chargers game-tying drive: 19 plays, 83 yards. Three conversions on fourth-and-10. 2:06 in game time. 23 minutes in real time.

Carl Yedor: I don't think I have ever seen a drive with that many plays take that little time on the game clock. I think that's usually because those endless drives feature a ton of running, but 19-play drives in general are pretty uncommon. It's almost midnight on the East Coast, but I can't go to bed now.

Bryan Knowles: The Raiders take the ball downfield in overtime and have to settle for a field goal—which is good by, like, maybe an inch. I think I saw paint fly off the upright, so tight did it squeak through. 32-29, and The Tie is alive...

Scott Spratt: I'm ready for another 23-minute drive.

Aaron Schatz: The Chargers convert another fourth-and-long to Mike Williams. They are 6-for-7 on fourth downs today. They get stuck and kick a field goal and the dream of a tie lives on. 32-32.

Bryan Knowles: Oh, nothing so dramatic, Scott; just another massive fourth-down conversion, which sets up the Chargers kicking a field goal. That could never go wrong, right?

It's good, we're 32-32, and there's 4:30 left until ... The Tie.

Bryan Knowles: The Steelers owe Josh Jacobs a fruit basket or something. Jacobs runs the ball into field goal range, and the Raiders call timeout with two seconds left. That's objectively the wrong call, because it keeps the possibility of a blocked-field-goal-touchdown in play, where as letting the clock go to zero would have guaranteed them a playoff berth. It does not matter, however—Daniel Carlson is true, the Raiders kick the field goal, they win 35-32, The Tie is dead. The Chargers go home, the Steelers go to the playoffs.

What a football game. I love Week 18.

Aaron Schatz: I'll just point out that while I was in favor of playing for the tie at the end ... once the Raiders got into field goal range, it made sense to at least try the field goal because you would rather travel to Cincinnati than travel to Kansas City next week. And they get the field goal, and the Chargers will go home.

Tom Gower: Raiders win. I feel so let down. We were oh so close to the tie, after so much drama, and the Chargers run defense allows Josh Jacobs to convert third-and-4 after Brandon Staley calls timeout. Better luck next year, Justin Herbert, and I'll try to enjoy what'll probably be one more game of Ben Roethlisberger.

Dave Bernreuther: That was an awesome game, and it's really a shame that the Chargers couldn't stop Jacobs on that last run.

We're all a lot worse off for the result of that one though; Ben Roethlisberger getting to the playoffs while Justin Herbert sits at home is a terrible outcome.

Aaron Schatz:

compiled by Andrew Potter


54 comments, Last at 11 Jan 2022, 2:41pm

#1 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 10, 2022 - 7:45am

This game will just be a historical footnote added to the long list of “Chargers gonna Charger.” Also, we’re all gonna have to burn a time slot watching the Steelers get annihilated at Arrowhead. What a shame.

Points: 0

#2 by Independent George // Jan 10, 2022 - 8:20am

Goddammit, Indy. All you had to do was beat Jacksonville. Jacksonville!

I assume Bobman is hung over this morning. Is this what we were missing all season while Urban Meyer was doing his thing?

Points: 0

#23 by turbohappy // Jan 10, 2022 - 1:24pm

The Colts looked awful, but even more surprisingly the Jags looked like a competent team. Just a shocking game, literally the Colts worst loss of the season regardless of opponent strength. Before this they were in it until late even in all their losses. They were just never in the game, the only way they ever had a chance in this one was a Jags meltdown which never happened. All the people who got COVID a few weeks ago have looked wayyy worse since then, several of which were unvaxxed, coincidence...?

Points: 0

#3 by big10freak // Jan 10, 2022 - 8:32am

The Chargers right tackle may be having Max Crosby nightmares for some time.  


Not an original statement but have to say Mr Staley, your 3rd and 4th down calls from inside your 20 were really stupid.  Did you black out and forget you have this guy Justin Herbert as quarterback??


I would not trust a Chargers receiver to pass the butter without expecting it in my lap.  Good lord gents.


So someone explain to me why the Chargers would get a DPI or defensive holding but a Raider defender would have to use Miss Piggy karate chops to get an official to notice?

Points: 0

#31 by eggwasp // Jan 10, 2022 - 3:56pm

Yeah, Raiders well known for getting benefit of bad calls, thats why they were the leagues least penalised team again this year… smh. 

Points: 0

#41 by TomC // Jan 10, 2022 - 7:53pm

It's fairly hilarious that Staley calls dives up the middle with that passing offense, while the Bears' offensive braintrust dials up 7-step drops for Andy Dalton on multiple 4ths-and-1. 

Points: 0

#4 by big10freak // Jan 10, 2022 - 8:39am

Did he spray some passes?  Yes.  Could he have improved pocket awareness?  Maybe but since Raider rushers were in his lap some plays before you can blink that is not so worrying.   Did he likely hear "Sorry man" about 27 times last night between his receivers and linemen?  At least


Is he one tough son of a b8tch who went down guns blazing?  D8mn straight.



Points: 0

#5 by big10freak // Jan 10, 2022 - 8:49am

Watching the last several weeks my sense is that a number of crews were focused on calling the stuff that 'had' to be called (illegal procedure, offsides, setup) but anything subjective was pretty much off the table.


Raiders/Chargers excepted.  


Anyone else notice this in their games?  

Points: 0

#9 by Anon Ymous // Jan 10, 2022 - 11:43am

In the NE/Mia game, Miami was awarded a free set of downs for a personal foul penalty when the offending party didn't even make contact.  Gave Miami the 3 points that ultimately decided the game.  Later, Miami was given the ball at the one-yard line after a 24-yard DPI penalty that wasn't DPI by even the loosest definition of the term.  And then, on Miami's final third down conversion, this happened:

So, things didn't quite play out that way in their game.

Points: 0

#12 by RickD // Jan 10, 2022 - 11:53am

The officiating in the last two divisional games has been execrable.  It's reaching the point where it seems deliberate.  As Auric Goldfinger said, "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action."  

When all the bad calls favor the same team, it feels like enemy action.

The salt in the wound was saying Josh Allen whine for a late hit flag in Buffalo, which was promptly granted.  Same field, much less impact than the hit on Mac Jones two weeks earlier, but the latter flag was picked up.  

Points: 0

#33 by mehllageman56 // Jan 10, 2022 - 4:42pm

Which game are you complaining about with Josh Allen?  If you are referring to the second Pats/Bills game, there were a couple of plays early on that could have been called for unnecessary roughness against New England and weren't.  Judon tripped Allen well after the play was over and nothing was called.  There was also a head to head hit against Allen after the ball left his hand that wasn't called either, although it was soon after and I only saw the replay once, it may not have been as bad as I initially thought.  I agree the hit or rather, grabbing, of Mac Jones should have been called, but that crew was not throwing flags on questionable QB hits all day.  The taunting call was ridiculous, but all the taunting calls have been ridiculous.

Points: 0

#11 by RickD // Jan 10, 2022 - 11:48am

Each crew seems to have their own style.  It's well documented that some crews call a lot more penalties than others. 

Also: a lot of them are less than competent.  

Points: 0

#13 by big10freak // Jan 10, 2022 - 12:01pm

Aware that crews have penalty attributes.


Just don't often see multiple games in a rows with the Packers where DPI and defensive holding just get set aside as options.


That's all

Points: 0

#6 by Pat // Jan 10, 2022 - 9:39am

My frustration with Staley's decision making isn't the timeout - it's the drive before. That was terrible decision-making.

Once they got into field goal territory, with that 47-yard completion, going for the touchdown was diminishing returns. You can already get what you want with a field goal and bleeding time off the clock.

If the Chargers had run the ball 3 times after that completion, there would've been ~3 minutes left on the clock for the Raiders. At that point the Chargers could easily force the Raiders hand by keeping the clock running, and I doubt the Raiders would've bothered.

Points: 0

#15 by gopherthegold // Jan 10, 2022 - 12:28pm

Is there much difference in 4 something minutes left vs. 3 when the opponent only needs a FG?  You still effectively need a stop somewhere along the way


Points: 0

#22 by Pat // Jan 10, 2022 - 1:20pm

If they need the win, sure. I don't really think the Raiders were playing hard for the win. Once they got down to the 2 minute warning all they did was rush left three times. The fact that it got them into field-goal range was just a bonus. 2nd and 11, under a minute and a half and they ran the ball and didn't bother calling timeout. If they had really cared about winning they would've called a timeout there to ensure that if they just go the first (which would've been a 53 yard FG) they would've had a play or two to push it closer.

If they had started off with only 3 minutes, suppose the first two plays go the same. Now you're at the 2 minute mark near midfield. I think you'd just rush it three times and settle for what happens.

Points: 0

#7 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 10, 2022 - 9:48am

Scott Spratt: Brian Griese just said that Andy Reid drafted both Travis and Jason Kelce about 30 seconds after Steve Levy said it. I can't blame him for not listening to the Monday night telecast, though. Maybe he's watching the Manningcast?

To be fair, I don't listen to anything Levy says, either.

Points: 0

#20 by justanothersteve // Jan 10, 2022 - 1:13pm

I can't watch Steve Levy without thinking he looks like Barney Rubble, age 50-something 

Points: 0

#25 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 10, 2022 - 2:18pm

Dang, I'm not going to be able to not see that, now.


Points: 0

#26 by Independent George // Jan 10, 2022 - 2:56pm

Gaaaaaaah! Same. I even read that line in my head in Barney Rubble's voice. 

Points: 0

#8 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 10, 2022 - 10:10am

Re: Jests and Buffalo - I don't think anyone was selling the wind hard enough yesterday except for Buffalo's radio team (and Eric Wood has played in these games.) Haack still had a terrible day, but Wood commented that one Jersey's punts started backwards when they were kicking into the wind. I'm guessing Quick Reads will focus on how terrible Allen was in quarters 2 and 3 and how good he was in 1 and 4.

Points: 0

#10 by mehllageman56 // Jan 10, 2022 - 11:45am

Didn't watch the game but watched every passing play from Zach Wilson.  Did not look like the wind effected him, more like missing his top 4 receivers and 4 out of 5 linemen against the #1 defense.  

Points: 0

#16 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 10, 2022 - 12:33pm

It was generated by Buffalo's front four constantly whooshing past that horrible OL in front of him.

Points: 0

#27 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 10, 2022 - 3:03pm

When every throw is in panic, it's hard to tell, I'll give you that.

However, if we look at what happened by quarter:

1st: Jets had a 3 and out and blocked punt after a 4 and out. I will say that Mann absolutely crushed the punt on the first one, into the wind. Otherwise, the longest pass Wilson completed was 16 yards into the wind, and I recall that one not being all air yards.

4th: Every Wilson pass is marked short left or short right by ESPN, and the longest went for 10 yards. Mann had a 28 yard punt (the one referenced by Wood). Mann's punting was pretty good, he did a much better job of driving it into the wind than Haack did.

The wind effected the game. Not as bad as the NE game, but it definitely did. There's a reason those 4 Super Bowl teams were among the league leaders in rushing - these games happen in OP. Allen's "I can throw it anywhere, anytime" mindset still needs a bit of tempering in those conditions.

Points: 0

#34 by mehllageman56 // Jan 10, 2022 - 4:45pm

Those teams also had Thurman Thomas.  That guy was more of a Jet killer than Kelly, and Kelly was a pain to play against.  It was as if Kelly had a bone to pick with the Jets about someone "giving him the business".

Points: 0

#14 by JMM // Jan 10, 2022 - 12:22pm

I have been thinking about ties and overtime. I have for some time believed that overtime in the regular season should be eliminated and teams forced to decide the game in regulation. The main reason is to eliminate the arbitrary tie breakers for playoff seatings. In prior years I either didn’t have the time or inkling to run a quick look. After yesterday's games (I'm a Steeler fan), I decided to eliminate OT and recut the seedings for this season's playoffs. This is a quick and dirty first-cut type look. I’ll post the summaries, the spreadsheets are roughly 16 x 45 and a bit clumsy to post.

In the official standings, there were 3 two way ties for playoff seedings and one 3 way tie. There was also one 3 away tie for the last seed. The rules to determine seeds are clearly stated if not widely understood. I went through the schedule and tried to put back in ties and eliminate the wins and losses in OT. I think I got it right. I broke it down 3 ways:  I looked at games won,  NHL type - 2 points for a win and one for a tie, and % wins of just wins and losses. I also did a look at the non-playoff teams draft order. I excluded the teams that would make the playoffs using that seeding approach.

The official seedings had 5 two way ties to break and one 3 way. The 3 no OT methods reduced the number but by less that I thought it would. % played gave 4/2 (2 way ties/3 way ties), NHL points gave 4/1 and % of wins/losses gave 2/1.

The draft order was less impacted: official 0/2/0/1/1 (2 way/3 way/4 way/5 way/6 way). total wins 1/0/1/0/2, NHL points 1/2/3/0/0, % wins of w/l 1/3/0/0/0.

The impact on individual teams was significant in some cases. In the AFC: TT. lost the 1st seed in all 3 alternatives to the winner of a BB/KCC tiebreaker. The LAR dropped from 4th to 10th to 12th depending on the alternative and were the team most impacted. PS dropped from 7th to 9th or 10th.  These two were replaced by some combo of IC, MD and LAC depending on the method used.

In the NFC: NOS squeeze in replacing either PE or SFG depending on the method.

These changes were much less impactful that I assumed going in. I had assumed that having more potential outcomes would allow a clearer sorting. Maybe 16 or 17 (or 18) games isn’t enough to make a difference. Maybe it is just this year. I still believe eliminating OT and forcing teams to win or lose in regulation will make more games like the 2 OT games yesterday or the 2 Balt games where OT was ignored and they went for the win.


Points: 0

#18 by Lost Ti-Cats Fan // Jan 10, 2022 - 12:47pm

Regardless of the impact on end-of-season tiebreakers, I'm in favor of eliminating OT during the regular season because the current OT rules are stupid and there's no need for every regular season game to end in a W or L.  Play 60 minutes then go home and get ready for the next game.

For the playoffs, turf the current OT rules in favor of playing one complete quarter.  If still tied, play another complete quarter.    

Points: 0

#38 by justanothersteve // Jan 10, 2022 - 7:34pm

Neither team lost. Saying a team lost when they worked hard enough not to lose disrespects every player who played. I'm guessing you've never played any team sport. 

Points: 0

#40 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 10, 2022 - 7:48pm

Neither team half won! Disrespect lol would give them incentive to play and there's a reason a point in EVERY season in EVERY sport where that just doesn't cut it anymore. 

Points: 0

#44 by LionInAZ // Jan 10, 2022 - 10:21pm

You're making the mistaken assumption that a draw means neither team was playing hard. 

The idea that there always has to be a winner and a loser is simple barbarianism.

Points: 0

#45 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 10, 2022 - 10:42pm

But this is further confirmation you guys don't watch CFBs superior OT. 

Barbarianism lol geez

Points: 0

#51 by justanothersteve // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:08pm

No. We watch it. We just think it's garbage. Much like many of your comments and opinions. 

Points: 0

#52 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:17pm

Yikes. No wonder yall give up on rookies two games in. 

But imagine thinking NFL OT and ties is better than CFB in that regard 😂😂😂😂😂😂

Enjoy the mckaskeys 🤣

Points: 0

#54 by LyleNM // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:41pm

Ties are so much, much better than the nonsense that is CFB overtime. It's sort of like deciding a tied basketball game with a free throw competition.

Why is everybody so irritated by ties anyway? It's a perfectly legitimate result.

Points: 0

#17 by mansteel // Jan 10, 2022 - 12:47pm

Scott is absolutely right in stating that the Giants were correct to run a QB sneak from an expected points standpoint. Consider: the Giants' offense has been outscored by the opposition's defense (either directly through Pick 6's and safeties or indirectly via drives of <25 yards following turnovers) by a count of 40-20 over the last three weeks. They would have been better off running QB sneaks the whole game, let alone inside their own 5!


Edit: If, in the last four games, the Giants' D forced 3-and-outs every single drive that didn't follow a turnover, they would still be 0-3 with one game headed to OT. Basically, if a whole game was spent with the only Giants' offense on the field, they still couldn't win.

Points: 0

#19 by RickD // Jan 10, 2022 - 1:10pm

Rivers McCown: I know the numbers on this are surprisingly tight, but I would simply not trust that my defense could stop Patrick Mahomes.

Given that there wasn't an option for the Broncos to score a TD and run out the clock, there wasn't any path to victory for the Broncos that didn't require stopping Mahomes.  Even if they'd gotten a TD, they'd have needed to stop Mahomes from running a game-winning drive.  

Given where the ball was at the end of the game, I don't see how that was more likely if the game had been tied instead of the Chiefs having a 4-point lead.

Points: 0

#21 by RickD // Jan 10, 2022 - 1:16pm

By the naked eye, a bang-bang play, you can't see whether the helmet hits or not. I can't really blame the officials for throwing that flag.

I can.  They're not suppose to flag near-misses.  If that's too hard, the NFL needs to find people who can do that.  Or change the officiating system.

That non-contact personal foul drove a stake into the Patriots.  They were already down 14-0, but had the chance to get the ball in good field position.  Instead, the zebras gave the Dolphins another chance, one they didn't deserve, and they extended the drive to get 3 points.  Instead of 14-3 or possibly 14-7, it was 17-0.




Points: 0

#39 by morganja // Jan 10, 2022 - 7:38pm

If you don't want to get called for an illegal hit, then don't lead with you helmet in a clear, illegal attempt to injure. That tackle attempt deserved the penalty by itself. The fact that he barely missed is extremely fortunate. 
He could have, and probably should have, been ejected.

Points: 0

#24 by dmb // Jan 10, 2022 - 2:02pm

That non-contact personal foul drove a stake into the Patriots.  They were already down 14-0, but had the chance to get the ball in good field position.  Instead, the zebras gave the Dolphins another chance, one they didn't deserve, and they extended the drive to get 3 points.  Instead of 14-3 or possibly 14-7, it was 17-0.

It was certainly a significant call!

But it happened in the first quarter. While this was happening, the 49ers faced an identical 17-0 deficit against a much stronger opponent than the Dolphins, and managed to overcome it.

Drive-extending calls are always relevant -- especially on a 4th Down! -- and it's painful when the refs blow one against your favorite team. I'm sure it have a very real effect on the win probabilities. But if the outcome was determined at that moment, it's not because of the officiating, it's because of the Patriots' shortcomings throughout the rest of the game.

Points: 0

#42 by Anon Ymous // Jan 10, 2022 - 8:21pm

To your point, Mac Jones fumbled a snap while in FG range that also cost NE at least a FG.  

Still, I don't think it's improper to say NE was fully responsible for digging the initial hole and that the refs kept snatching the shovel and bashing the Pats over the head with it when they finally started filling it back in.  

Points: 0

#30 by ahzroc // Jan 10, 2022 - 3:08pm

The 49ers were 0-40 when down by 17 points or more.

The Rams were 45-0 when leading by 17 or more at halftime.

Yet the 49ers won ( with a huge amount of phantom 2nd half defense from the Rams) and the Saints are out.


Points: 0

#36 by ahzroc // Jan 10, 2022 - 5:54pm

Like when they did NOT whine about the NFL forcing them to play the Dolphins on the scheduled night despite having 24 players and coaches out with the Protocol( the only so badly affected that was NOT allowed to delay the game) - 2 players were being fitted for their 1st Saints uniforms in the locker room before the game.

You mean when they DIDNT whine about having to move the entire team and training camp to Dallas for over a month after Hurricane Ida Sept 1.

You mean when they DIDNT whine about Devin White ending Jameis Winstons burgeoning rebirth season (career?) with a an illegal Horsecollar tackle he didnt need to make? Winston had never been seriously injured before....Saints were 4-2 beat the Packers and Winson had 13 tds, only 3 picks, after White's Horsecollar they lost 5 straight

Points: 0

#43 by mrh // Jan 10, 2022 - 9:36pm

Charger end zone DPI - refs don't seem to rule an uncatchable pass much anymore.  Clearly the defender made illegal contact; I don't think the pass was catchable so I don't think it was DPI (and I wanted the Raiders to knock the Chargers out of the playoffs).  But why couldn't the rules allow for an illegal contact call?  A five yard penalty and 1st down would still be a significant boost for the offense but not nearly as severe as what happened.

In general I'm sick of offenses getting rewarded for bad throws where the receiver tries to get to an underthrown or off target pass and the DB is unable to avoid contact.  The spot foul rule needs to be changed - 15 or even just 10 yards and a 1st down are penalty enough.  I could live with the occasional deliberate DPI.

Points: 0

#48 by Mike B. In Va // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:48am

I hate the fact that it was PI as well, but it's a judgement call - it's not like the ball was out-of-bounds or ten feet in the air, it was in the field of play. It would have been a great play, but he was denied the opportunity to even make the attempt, so I can see the reasoning, even if I disagree with the results.

Points: 0

#46 by ammek // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:01am

Vince Verhei: Part of it, too, is guessing badly with the divisional matchups they had available. Imagine if Bill-Patriots were slotted for Week 18 with the division at stake. Or Cards-Rams. Even Titans-Colts would have been big, with one team fighting for homefield and the other trying to get in. The NFL just had the bad luck to match up most of the first-place teams with most of the last-place teams.

That's a fair comment. However, I do think the schedule has been clustering too many divisional matchups toward the end of the season. Often these games are boring not only from a (non-)competitive point of view, but also because we get too many of them in too short a span.

Take this year's NFC East, where the division title was effectively sewn up by Thanksgiving. Washington's last five games were all against divisional opponents, as were all four of Philly's after its bye; Dallas played four of its last five against NFC East rivals, and the Giants three of their last four.

If one Eagles-WFT matchup wasn't unappetizing enough, here you get two in the space of a fortnight, and during the final stretch of the season to boot.

Clustering divisional games in this way also intensifies the impact of injuries. The Ravens didn't play a divisional game before week 7 this year, by which time their treatment room was already heaving with bodies. Baltimore's divisional opponents benefited disproportionately directly from their accumulated injuries late in the season.

I also think the scheduling wasn't just down to luck. It was entirely foreseeable, for example, that the reigning champion Bucs would be in the 2021 playoff hunt, and that matching them up with the Panthers twice and the Jets for the final three games of the season was not going to set the nation's pulse racing.

Points: 0

#47 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 11, 2022 - 9:39am

I think they should be split even, early and late.

And like you said it wasn't all luck. Surely they knew Indy and TN would likely be competing but Jax and Houston wouldnt

Points: 0

#49 by mrh // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:15pm

True, but imagine the uproar and conspiracy theories if the league said hey, one of our scheduling criteria is these two teams will be winners and these two will be losers this year, so we will schedule the winners to play each other Week 18.

Points: 0

#50 by ammek // Jan 11, 2022 - 12:24pm

Well, there were two Week 18 fixtures between teams that had finished first and second in their division in 2020. Alas for the schedulers, one of these featured Washington and the NY Giants.

Points: 0

#53 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 11, 2022 - 2:26pm

But scheduling an entire 17 games over 18 weeks for 32 is always going to be wonky. I dont get the arguments though that you cant play division games early might be sloppy or something. As if between non divisional is ok? I don't get it. Having them play 2/3 weeks doesn't seem best though

Points: 0

Save 10%
& Support the Writers
Support Football Outsiders' independent media. Use promo code WRITERS to save 10% on any FO+ membership and give half the cost of your membership to tip the team of writers.