Walkthrough
A look at the upcoming week in the NFL, from the players on the field to the fans in the stands

Walkthrough: Brady's Wish

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

In the villainous CGI lair of a superhero blockbuster filled with special effects and spoilers...

MAXWELL LORD: Muahahahaha! I, 1980s businessman stereotype and comic book B-lister Maxwell Lord, have transformed myself into a human wish-casting monkey's paw and granted wishes with ironic consequences to everyone from my fellow greedy suspender-modelling masters of the universe to Ronald Reagan! In fact, I don't think there's anyone else on earth who is gluttonously self-absorbed and obsessed with personal glory enough to…

TOM BRADY: Hey man, I have a wish. I want my road to the 2020 Super Bowl to be as easy as possible.

LORD: Excellent! In exchange, I will take away most of the football world's enthusiasm for watching you play! You will excel, but some will resent you while others grow bored with you!

TOM BRADY: That's the story of my last decade. Make with the wish.

LORD: Very well! Observe on my Television Monitors of Supervillainy!

MATTHEW STAFFORD: Oh no! All of my coaches have contracted COVID!

DANIEL JONES: You know what? I'm gonna start throwing to Sterling Shepard instead of Evan Engram!

MIKE McCARTHY: Looks like that receiver trapped the ball against the ground on third-and-long. Eh, throwing a challenge flag takes a lot of effort.

JALEN HURTS: Watch out, Washington! An upset win will guarantee that I am the Eagles Quarterback of the Future!

MATT RYAN: Nope, nothing has changed here in Atlanta.

TOM BRADY: Ah, the wish is working. Not only will I get to coast to the playoffs against three terrible teams, but it looks like I might face the worst playoff team in history if the Giants squeak in at 6-10! Now if Drew Brees somehow gets the Tyrod Taylor treatment, I … say, what is this rope doing around my ankle?

HARLEY QUINN: Renounce your wish, pretty boy!

BRADY: Wait, aren't you supposed to be Wonder Woman?

HARLEY: Nah, my comic books actually sell. Now do what I say before I rollerskate over there and clock both you and Mando on the head with my baseball bat. Don't you see what havoc your wish is causing?

BRADY: I … I see it now. The Giants making the playoffs would be an absolute travesty. And I've gone a little too far down the "win at all costs" road already. If I still have a point to prove, I need to prove it on my terms: by beating quality competition. Or at least competition with a quality defense. I renounce my wish!

(On the monitors)

DOUG PEDERSON: F**k winning. F**k everything.

CHASE YOUNG: Bring on Tom Brady!

MATT RYAN. Nope, still no changes here.

BRADY: That's better. It may be harder to reach the Super Bowl now, but that will only make it sweeter if I can do it. How can I thank you?

HARLEY: You can watch my Birds of Prey movie and my cartoon series. They're both funny, and they are much more thematically and emotionally mature than you might think.

BRADY: I will do that. Say … what's that noise?

UNNAMED PROTAGONIST FROM TENET: I, the guy from Tenet, am firing bullets backwards through time to stop Tom Brady from…

BRADY: Ugh, let's get out of here before this gets any more confusing.

UNNAMED PROTAGONIST FROM TENET: Fine. I'll just try to take out Pederson. It makes more sense than the actual plot of my movie.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Football Team, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

The best way to defeat Tom Brady is to pressure him without blitzing much. His next opponent is capable of doing just that. But pressuring Brady is easier said than done because of his supporting cast and pocket presence.

Those three sentences could well have been written in a 2007 Walkthrough.

The template for defeating Brady's Buccaneers without a functional offense was established by the Bears in their 20-19 victory in Week 5. It involved lots of pass pressure, of course. The Buccaneers also committed 11 penalties for 109 yards, many of them false starts and holds: if you can't get to Brady, you can at least rattle the guys who must do everything in their power to make sure you can't get to Brady. Creating negative plays on early downs, which flows naturally from forcing sacks and penalties, is also key: Brady got stuck in lots of third-and-forever situations in the Bears loss.

It's easy to forget after the last few games how much of a workout the Brady Excuse-o-Matic got here in Walkthrough for the first three-fourths of the season: make life hard on Brady, and the Bucs are beatable. The last few Buccaneers opponents weren't built to make life hard on Brady, or anyone else, really.

The template for the Washington Football Team defeating a quality opponent was established when Washington beat the Steelers 23-17 in Week 13. Washington's defense ranks second in the NFL in fewest plays per opponent's drive with 5.59 (the Steelers actually rank first with 5.48) and third with 1.74 points per drive. So even if Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and company don't get to the quarterback -- Ben Roethlisberger was not sacked in Week 13 -- Washington forces lots of short drives, field goals, punts, and fourth-down stops: Washington opponents were just 9-of-24 on fourth-down conversions this season. Washington stopped the Steelers at the goal line once and forced several three-and-outs, keeping the game close enough for Alex Smith to spark a comeback simply by floating a few short passes over the heads of pass-rushers.

So it's not hard to imagine a Washington path to victory. Unfortunately, Washington is not as good as even the Nick Foles Bears, Brady is not remotely as creaky as December's version of Roethlisberger, and Alex Smith is the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and may have to rotate with Taylor Heinicke on Saturday night.

When looking at a pair of upsets to analyze a playoff game, it's important to remember that you are looking at a pair of upsets: games where lots of things went wrong for the favorite and right for the underdog which are unlikely to happen again.

Prediction: Buccaneers 29, Washington 13

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, 4:40 p.m.

Frick versus Frack.

Look out everyone, here comes Sean McVay's zeitgeist-changing offense full of constricted formations, jet sweeps, play-action concepts, and varying tempos. Remember how it blew your mind in 2017 and 2018? Remember how Bill Belichick vivisected it in the Super Bowl? Well, it's the same offense two years later, with luxury-sedan game manager Jared Goff still throwing to most of the same guys. And yeah, they still have Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, plus the nine best defenders that salary cap sofa-cushion change can buy. It's stale, it's increasingly unsustainable, but it's good enough to beat NFC East opponents and quarterbacks named Chris Streveler. That's all that matters in the NFC in 2020!

Look out everyone, the Seahawks let Russ cook this year! And guess what happened? Russell Wilson played like an MVP for a few weeks, then discovered that Jon Schneider has spent years stocking the pantry with canned sauerkraut and dehydrated oyster, while Brian Schottenheimer's cookbook is a reprint of Doctor Bowelseptic's Recipes for the Terminally Irregular (1954 edition). Once opponents figured out that the Seahawks still don't have a No. 3 receiver and that Greg Olsen is now 35 years old, they could adjust to DK Metcalf's emergence and force Wilson to start improvising again, leading to a loss to the Giants and scares from Washington and the 49ers down the stretch. Oh, and their defense is now a smeared eighth-generation mimeograph of the Legion of Boom. This formula didn't work in 2017, 2018, or 2019, but perhaps the fourth time's a charm!

The "been there/done that" element of this game may be why it looks like an important rivalry between legit Super Bowl contenders on paper but feels like the late-afternoon kickoff that no one on the East Coast watches because FOX is showing Cowboys-versus-whoever.

Writing these teams off because of their familiarity is also a little unfair. The Seahawks have improved by one win per year since 2017 and have gone from 15th to 12th to eighth to fifth in DVOA over the last four years. It's not easy for a strong team to sustain improvement in the NFL, and additions like Metcalf and Jamal Adams (and improvement on the offensive line) have made a legitimate difference. McVay's offense has evolved -- they run more empty-backfield packages now than in year's past, to cite one easy-to-spot difference -- and low-cost additions such as Darious Williams have made a real difference on defense.

The Rams have still not announced their starting quarterback, but it will likely be Goff, since John Wolford looked like every other scrambling rando spot starter last week. McVay probably just wants the Seahawks to waste practice reps on spy and containment tactics, and perhaps he'll install a Wildcat wrinkle, but there is a slim chance that the no-longer-a-boy not-quite-a-genius is in the process of outsmarting himself. My New Year's Resolution is to get football fans to stop overreacting when some mobile backup runs for a few first downs and surprises the defense with one or two deep shots in a narrow victory full of defensive touchdowns and field goals, but I cannot do that if coaches keep overreacting to the same thing.

Ramsey and Williams should once again shut down Tyler Lockett and Metcalf, and a healthy Goff should pick apart the Seahawks pass defense. If the Rams avoid having one of those games where their mistakes snowball early, they should win. Of course, they average about one snowball game per month, so this is a very tentative prediction.

As for this game feeling like an undercard, well, the entire NFC schedule feels a lot like an undercard this year.

Prediction: Rams 24, Seahawks 22

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans, Sunday, 1:05 p.m.

Lamar Jackson needs to win this playoff game to silence his doubters.

Josh Allen moved the Bills offense ineffectively, fumbled twice, and played the fourth quarter and overtime like he was on bath salts in last year's 22-20 playoff loss to the Texans, but no one is worried about Allen having a bad game this weekend. He has improved, after all.

Philip Rivers was coming up short in playoff games when Jackson was in elementary school. The playoff victories he has led in this decade -- over the Ravens in Jackson's eighth career start and one of those early-2010s Bengals teams I don't have the patience to look up -- weren't events to write Norse sagas about. But it's fine: he's a savvy veteran and a (maybe) Hall of Famer. Even if he throws three interceptions against the Bills this weekend, it will be cast as a gutsy final charge into the breach.

Baker Mayfield can get his butt kicked this weekend with few ramifications, of course: he led the Browns to their first playoff berth since the days of the dial-up modem, he "matured," the Browns are on the right track, COVID got 'em in the end, etc. Minimal early success means reduced expectations.

Most NFL quarterbacks not named Joe Montana or Tom Brady have spotty playoff records, because every team but one that reaches the playoffs each year ends up losing a big game. Of course, Jackson is different. Another playoff loss will be interpreted as a referendum on him personally, as well as on the option-heavy offense designed for him.

I'm openly rooting for Jackson this week. I don't want to spend Monday fielding questions from radio hosts framed as "What does Sunday's loss mean for Lamar Jackson moving forward?" the sociopolitical undercurrent of the conversation filling me with the urge to swim for my life. I don't want the Ravens offense tossed into history's dumpster next to the run 'n' shoot as a tactic best scrapped for parts but never embraced. I want to see Jackson winning playoff games five years from now, with a half-dozen copycats succeeding or failing to varying degrees, while other teams try to impersonate the Chiefs, others do McVay-Shanahan-Stefanski stuff, and still others tinker with some other new innovation (with not an Adam Gase for miles and miles.)

For anything like that to happen, the Ravens must play better in high-leverage situations than they have in their last two meetings with the Titans. Last year's playoff loss pivoted on a pair of fourth-and-1 stops, followed quickly by Titans big-play touchdowns. Jackson did unravel in last year's playoffs, but it was only after he trailed 14-0 due to a pair of sudden touchdowns. The Titans' 30-24 comeback overtime victory in Week 11 of this year was a strange game that also came down to sudden reversals: Jackson appearing to scramble for a late first down but coming up short, A.J. Brown turning into Jim Brown on third-and-long in the red zone one play after Ryan Tannehill nearly fumbled away a botched snap, and so forth. The Titans outplayed the Ravens to a degree in both games, but just about everything that could go wrong for the Ravens went wrong at the worst possible times.

I think the Ravens roll in this meeting, not just because I want it to happen but because the Titans defense is collapsing just as Jackson and the Ravens have spent a month fixing some of their offensive problems in tutorial mode against the Jaguars and Bengals. Of course, Jackson will then just have to prove that he can win "big games" next week against a tougher opponent. But let's take things one game at a time.

Prediction: Ravens 37, Titans 31

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints, Sunday, 4:40 p.m.

The Bears have a reputation as a defense-first team which, at their best, generates just enough offense to not actively lose games. The Saints have a reputation as a Drew Brees team that sometimes downshifts into a Drew Brees is Injured team or a Drew Brees is Fading team whose fate is decided by someone such as Alvin Kamara, Teddy Bridgewater (last year), or Taysom Hill.

The Saints have the second-best defense in the NFL per DVOA in 2020, the Bears eighth. The Saints defense ranks 32nd in variance, which is interesting, because it speaks to potential inconsistency. But part of that variance stems from the letting the Panthers and Eagles offenses look competent against them (the Eagles in Jalen Hurts' first start, when the Saints couldn't be sure what to expect). The fact that their defense varies from "pretty good" to "OMG they just made a fool out of Tom Brady" is also a factor.

The Saints narrowly beat the Nick Foles Bears in overtime without Michael Thomas in Week 8. Thomas is expected to be available on Sunday, as is Kamara, who will be exactly one day past his COVID quarantine (as someone whose quarantine ended on Christmas Eve, I can relate).

The Saints with Brees at his creakiest are a better overall team than the Bears with Mitchell Trubisky at his best: better offensive line, better defense, better coaching, better special teams despite Cordarrelle Patterson's excellence as a kickoff returner. Those simple facts can be easy to overlook when we focus on who has or has not gone on a tepid hot streak over the last few months.

Prediction: Saints 27, Bears 17

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills, Saturday, 1:05 p.m.

Daniel Jones was really terrible this year. But fear not: he'll be awesome once he makes the leap that Josh Allen made from his second season to his third.

Drew Lock is basically Weak Tea Trubisky, but don't worry: he'll be awesome once he makes the leap that Josh Allen made from his second season to his third.

Kyler Murray was great at times but far too erratic in 2020: just imagine how good he will be once he makes the Josh Allen leap.

Dwayne Haskins … nah. But if he could stay out of the cough brothels, we would be having this conversation about Haskins in the offseason, too.

Allen's final gift to us as he finishes his ascent from Source of Incendiary Takes to Actual Franchise Quarterback is that he will serve for years as a wishcasting exemplar for every faltering prospect whom local fans/bloggers/optimists hope will magically blossom into an MVP candidate in his third season.

Among the many details that will be conveniently overlooked when it's time for Eagles fans to explain why Jalen Hurts will be awesome in 2022 despite his disappointing 15-interception, 12-fumble, 45-sack 2021 season (yep, I'm already there) is that Allen improved significantly during his second season; he threw six of his nine interceptions in 2019 in September, for example. Allen only cut down his foolish plays and increased his excellent plays by about 10% or 15% this year from the level he was playing at in the second half of 2019. Murray could become a Pro Bowler with similar improvements. Jones and Lock need to accentuate the positive and eradicate the negative at a precipitously, unrealistically higher rate.

Allen has continued to play well down the stretch, and the Bills defense has improved drastically, particularly against the run. Allen's improvement continues to look like real development, while the Bills defensive improvement appears to be a course correction after a sloppy start. Weighted DVOA ranks the Bills as the best team in the NFL in 2020, and while I'm not ready to go there, I am comfortable nestling them in the No. 2 slot behind the Chiefs.

The Colts, meanwhile, are just an extension of Andrew Luck's flawed wild-card Colts teams of the 2010s, seasoned with Philip Rivers' flawed just-above-.500 Chargers teams of the last decade. The Colts were built from AFC playoff fodder to be AFC playoff fodder. But that's OK, because all of their problems will be solved when Carson Wentz is their quarterback next year.

Yes, that was sarcasm.

Prediction: Bills 34, Colts 20

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 8:15 p.m.

The Browns proved last week that, given a must-win situation and a roster at nearly full strength, they are barely good enough to beat the Steelers backups.

OK, that's a little too snarky and somewhat inaccurate: the Steelers only rested a handful of starters, and the game was not quite as close as the score. But the Browns still need everything to break right to beat a top contender, and everything is definitely not breaking right this week.

Interim coach Mike Priefer, who is expected to fill in for quarantined Kevin Stefanski, sure sounds like a piece of work. The Browns will replace one of the best playcallers of 2020 and a coach who kept a high-strung locker room on an even keel with someone who sounds like the Freddie Kitchens of special teams. It's hard to quantify the absence of a head coach in a big game, because it so rarely happens, but Priefer doesn't need to demoralize the troops with a Westboro Baptist sermon on the sideline to screw things up: little things like substitution errors or formation penalties could be all the advantage the Steelers need to steamroll the Browns.

Matt Schaub and Gary Kubiak's retirements this week got me thinking about Baker Mayfield's late-season run. Schaub earned two Pro Bowl berths, threw for 4,770 yards one season, and contributed to two Texans playoff seasons at his peak. He did it all in a Kubiak system that's the great-uncle to Stefanski's scheme, loaded with play-action rollout concepts that can look unstoppable when the line is playing well and the offense remains on schedule.

Mayfield entered the NFL as a much, much better prospect than Schaub (who started his career with several seasons on the Falcons bench), but he was never an overwhelming physical talent and spent his first two-and-a-half seasons proving he was a spotty decision-maker. I would not be surprised if Mayfield ends up having a Schaub-like career within Stefanski's structure, given the talent the Browns have to work with on the offensive line and at the skill positions.

Kubiak-influenced offenses with caretaker quarterbacks typically find themselves helpless against top contenders in the playoffs.

Prediction: Steelers 33, Browns 21

Comments

21 comments, Last at 09 Jan 2021, 1:55am

1 The Browns proved last week…

The Browns proved last week that, given a must-win situation and a roster at nearly full strength, they are barely good enough to beat the Steelers backups.

OK, that's a little too snarky and somewhat inaccurate: the Steelers only rested a handful of starters, and the game was not quite as close as the score. But the Browns still need everything to break right to beat a top contender, and everything is definitely not breaking right this week.

My only thought with the Browns is that the Browns were absolutely feeling the weight of 2002. They even talked about it; you could see it in Mayfield's devastation after the Ravens game, and they played super tight in the last two weeks.

But now they are playing with house money -- they broke the streak and they are comfortably low-expectation underdogs who are just happy to be there again.

There's a chance you see a much more fully armed and operational battle station.

2 Translation Please?

“the sociopolitical undercurrent of the conversation filling me with the urge to swim for my life.”

What is that undercurrent? My first thought was racism. But I do not see the same criticisms for Watson, Mahomes or Wilson, so what is it?  Of course, all the latter guys can throw accurately outside the hash marks.

3 Goff and Mayfield seem to…

Goff and Mayfield seem to get Jacksonian criticism, too. Goff more so than Mayfield, although Mayfield play style is more like Jackson's.

But for all Jackson's pressure, Wentz is getting just crushed for the same performance decline Jackson experienced without the same narrative. Some of that is because he plays in Philadelphia and the Philly sports media is hysterical and reactionary. 

Jackson occupies a space I would almost describe as Staffordian. The offense functions because Jackson makes it function; it doesn't function at all without him. But because he's so central to its success, he gathers all the blame whenever it fails, even though the complete unit lacks the individual skill or talent to succeed without his improvisational skills. (Honestly, this is not a different situation for Wentz) You saw the same issues, to a lesser extent, in the more irritated Rodgers teams and with Wilson, although they tended to either be more systemically talented (GB) or covered the flaws in different ways (Seattle). Prescott may already be here and Watson is looking at a condo in this building tomorrow.

13 Translations Please

Yes the writers of Football Outsiders seem to have gone very woke. I must admit I root for Jackson .. the other stereotype he actually is fighting is he speaks with a pronounced Southern drawl. He is not nearly as "articulate" sounding as Mahomes, Dak, Watson or Wilson for that matter.

Lamar does not come off as particularly bright and he scored a 13 on the Wonderlic. However, that type of intelligence seems to correlate very loosely with football IQ. I am a big fan of Pat Mahomes and am constantly amazed by his on-field intelligence, decision making  and vision and his off field maturity. He had just an average wonderlic  score .. well below Garner Minshew for example

Jackson is also very young he was born Jan. 1997 . . Mahomes and Watson were born Sept. 1995 and Dak is two years older than that. So there is definitely room for growth.

4 NFC vs AFC

It is very Odd how multiple times in the Rams vs SEA portion the writer seems to bash the NFC, the Conference that ends with 4/5 of the year end DVOA Top 5 Must be the greatest undercard ever.

7 Yeah, I thought so too. GB,…

In reply to by Q

Yeah, I thought so too. GB, TB, NO, and SEA would all easily be the second-best team in the AFC this year, even leaving aside how they compare to KC. It sorta feels like the NFC lacks a middle class this year, the playoff field is either true contenders or fodder. The AFC in my opinion really only has one team that looks like a contender - KC - and a whole pile of good-but-not-great teams. All of the AFC teams are good enough to be playoff teams, but you can't say that about the NFC teams. But the top of the NFC is stronger.

10 The NFC's issue is that all…

In reply to by Q

The NFC's issue is that all the worst teams are lumped into one division. The NFC has no one below -20%; the AFC has four teams. The AFC has one team above 20%; the NFC has four.

But because the AFC bottom-feeders are well-distributed, you didn't get a lot of crap-vs-crap games, whereas the NFC East was only that. But the AFC had nothing like the NO-TB-GB wheel games.

5 Ravens-Titans

The Ravens retooled their D Line after last year's playoff loss to the Titans, adding Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe to stop the run. But when these teams met in the regular season, Wolfe was the only regular D Lineman in the game, which Campbell and run stuffer Brandon Williams both missed with injury.

In the first half, Henry had 13 carries for 37 yards. He had 44 yards after three quarters. But he kept smashing and the undermanned D Line wilted. 7-year vet Justin Ellis played a career-high 47 snaps, and Wolfe played 56. Now Campbell and Williams are healthy (and rested) and rookie Justin Madubuike has played his way into the DL rotation with a strong showing of late. I'm a Baltimore homer, but I like the way this game is lining up - biggest worry is if Marcus Peters continues to gamble and gives up big plays when the Ravens go with single high Safety to add run support in the box (as happened in the regular season match-up). 

17 Peters

In reply to by jimbojonessmith

Ya the guy got absolutely cooked in that game.

To me the big question is which lamar Jackson and Greg Roman combination  will show up.

The Greg Roman who forgot how to beat cover 3 against New England. Or the problem solver that managed to who had the offense humming the past few weeks and adequately adjust schemes to beat pretty much all comers including the super bowl runner up 49ers last seasons

As for Lamar

Are we getting the 2019 version from a judgment perspective. I don't care about how many yards he throws for, its his judgement that has me concerned he made some really uncharacteristically poor decisions this season and I really hold that against him.

Or are we getting the guy who literally pulled a game out of his ass with no help in a vintage john Elway like performance on Monday night football. The guy who could vex even strong defenses by not making mistakes and hitting bombs like againt Seattle last year and Houston this year

 

I dont know wich of these two versions will show

6 I disagree entirely with…

I disagree entirely with your take on the Colts. This team doesn't really resemble any of those teams you mentioned. Their defense is far far better than any of the Luck teams. Their offense is quite a bit worse though and it's going to be really tough for them to win this game, especially with their tackle situation. But they don't seem to be inherently cannon fodder and could realistically win it with D and ST like the GB game. 

8 100% agree.  The writer…

100% agree.  The writer probably didn't watch the Colts play.  Colts can play defense and run the ball.  When they lost to KC in playoffs two years ago Reich abandoned the run to quickly.  If the Colts get down in this game early lets hope he doesn't make the same mistake.  Bills are TD favorites and I would say that is about right.    

12 Piling on

Not one to pile on, but, yup, the T-Man disappointed us here.

Both Luck (esp w Arians in his rookie year) and Rivers (with his giant WRs and Gates) were kind of downfield bombers.  Luck had little run support and I don't recall when LT/Michael Turner/Sproles left SD but SD's playoff history is tainted by a lot of things not named Phillie Rivers (Cheap owners, Norv Turner, McCree's late-game INT/fumble of Brady, etc).  After the 2007 season Rivers had surgery on his ACL *between playoff games* so he could face (and lose to) the same Pats team in the AFCCG (and still needed more surgery afterwards).  So clearly those losses are on Rivers?  Darren Sproles racked up 328 yards in a playoff win (and Mike Scifres nailed at least four punts inside the Colts 15), and that team resembles the 2020 Colts how?  The 2020 Colts ST is above average (but not great) in pretty much every aspect, which makes them a top-10 unit (NB: their coverage is quite good).  I don't foresee two punt return TDs coming.  When this team wins, it's a whole-team effort and Rivers serves it best by avoiding mistakes and connecting on 7-yard crossing patterns and not audibling to passes to keep the run/pass ratio even. And when they lose, it takes a few forms but usually has consisted of the OL missing key guys (check), passing ten more times than running, and playing only one good half of football.  Is that really how the 2012-2018 Colts played?  (IIRC, they won when Luck threw a crap-ton because the run game was so spotty because the OL was a criminal enterprise designed by Pagano to murder Luck). Does that describe the Chargers since 2004? Not to my recollection, but I'm just a fan, not an analyst.

Also, two of the Luck years were ended by playoff games in which LeGarette Blount ran for roughly a mile and 4 TDs in each game.  Is that what we foresee in this game? The Colts run D and the Bills Rush O don't support that.

Just guessing that Allen was the juicier narrative (which he is) and that Mike T did not see a whole lot of Colts this year (like who did?  Audibles was light on Colts content this year as well).  Rather than rely on hearsay and the narratives of others to flesh out the skimpy Colts portion, he went with his best stuff.  Which, given the time constraints, the density of the first weekend's games, and the really impressive narrative in Buffalo (he really short-changed the rest of the Bills team as well!  If I were a BIlls fan I'd be grinding my teeth like I did as a Colts fan 15 years ago--the team is more than just the QB, people), is understandable.

But still a let-down.

15 This isn’t going to be any…

This isn’t going to be any shocking insight, but the only way the Colts win this game is by being on the plus side of the turnover margin. 
 

The Colts’ defense is pretty solid against the run (except if your RB is Derrick Henry), but Buffalo doesn’t really care that much about running. The Colts don’t have a great pass rush, which leads to their average secondary being exposed. The defense has overcome that this year by forcing a lot of turnovers. That works against subpar offenses, but usually not playoff caliber ones. 
 

If they were playing Josh Allen of two years ago, or maybe even last years version, I’d give the Colts a solid chance. But unless Allen massively reverts and has a couple dumb turnovers, I don’t see this game staying close. 

16 Colts vs Bills and Titans

I don't disagree about the TO margin (or anything else above, really)  and don't think just plus-1 will do it.  Indy has IIRC three INTs in the endzone this year, which is a particular back-breaker for an offense. They'll need 2 or 3 this week.

First Titans game Henry had 19/103/0.

The first game Henry was not ineffective (runs of 8,8,9,12, 20) but he was inconsistent and stuffed a fair amount. (-1 to 1 yard a few times), and in the final two drives McNichols and Foreman ran the ball, not Henry.  By that time they were down three scores, but there were still 10 minutes left, so that puzzles me a bit. Those backups had runs of 7, 8 and 12, but at that point Indy was playing prevent D, so not sure if it was a true weakness, or just in that situation. So Henry could have certainly padded his stats to 150 yards or so and still lost by 3 scores. Which is pretty weird.  As much as anything, it was a whole team win and the score put them in a situation where they were able to somewhat neutralize Henry (with the help of catch-up play-calling).

Second Titans game, missing 2 DL starters due to COVID (including possibly the best player on the team, DT Deforest Buckner), it was 27/178/3.  Henry started out 6,3,9,12,6,10,6,10,5,1,1 TD) That's 12/75/1 in three series to the 9 minute mark in the 2nd period.  More consistent and better production, plus it was the 5th TD in the game to that point--very high scoring.  First team to blink loses.  After Indy punted on the next series, TEN scored and the rout was on, enhancing Henry's usage and numbers (as if they needed it).

So... assuming the Colts D is healthy against a team with a monster RB like Henry, they will also need good complementary football to stay competitive.  In the first game, they were assisted by a blocked punt returned for a TD, further marginalizing Henry.

Now on to the Bills.  I agree with your assessment:  Colts' pass D has been susceptible to big plays (and gives up a high percentage of completions, despite having a low passer rating against them because of INTs), which is a horrible situation for them against the Bills this year.  Unless they manage a few picks.

But none of that was remotely alluded to above. It might even be interesting to point out that the Colts, despite having a very good dense early on (vs poor competition) isn't built to take on the Bills because of A and B and C (which we each noted).  Situational.  Matchups, etc. But instead, the article just went with the low-hanging fruit.  (Actually, your scenario of "If Indy was playing Josh Allen of 2018 or 2019,  this would be a much more entertaining game" would have made a great angle, before returning to the reality of 2021.)

My real issue, however, is Jerry Hughes.  (Bet you didn't see that one coming)  A complete "bust" during the tenures of Jim Caldwell, Ryan Grigson, & Chuck Pagano and yet, multiple pro bowl years and a fine career in Buffalo.  I don't know if it was scheme, if he bloomed late, or if the Colts just let him down, but damn. Don't even get me started on Cornelius Bennett.

14 the seahawks and the rams are tidily matched. but--

The Seahawks are at home, and I think it matters, even though everybody says home field advantage doesn't exist this year.  Yet the Seahawks are 7-1 at home this year, the best in the NFL.  Seattle didn't lose any player-games to covid (I think they're the only team to do that), and Carroll, while lots of people denigrate his game management, at everything-else-but-game-management, he's very good.

Anyway, Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson together hasn't lost a home playoff game yet.  Maybe that's just random, but I don't think so.  I'm pretty confident -- at least for one game.