First, I would like to start things off here today by saying that I’m glad to see that the city of Cleveland is still standing. I wasn’t sure how Browns fans were going to respond to the fact that their team lost the craziest game of the weekend.
That game gave us a wild fourth down call by Andy Reid, an illegal hit that didn’t get called and a brutal injury to Patrick Mahomes. It’s a good thing that Browns-Chiefs gave us four quarters worth of a suspense, because we didn’t really get any in the other three games that were played over the weekend.
Actually, we did get some in New Orleans, but then Drew Brees threw it away with three interceptions. If he ends up retiring, his final game will be the equivalent of riding off into the sunset, but then falling off your horse.
Alright, we’ve got a lot to cover today, including one official coaching hire and one coaching hire that’s probably going to happen plus all the playoff stuff you could ever want, so let’s get to the rundown. As always, here’s your daily reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the newsletter. All you have to do is click here and then share the link.
1. Today’s Show: Divisional round winners and losers
It’s Monday, which can only mean one thing: I stayed up until 3 a.m. last night recording a podcast with Will Brinson and Ryan Wilson and this one was extra special, because not only did we podcast, but we also went live on YouTube, Periscope and Twitch during the fourth quarter of the Buccaneers-Saints game so everyone could witness me melting down in real time over a bet I made on the Saints (I parlayed the Chiefs money line with the Saints money line and would have won $150 if the Saints won, but Drew Brees hates me).
One thing we do every week is hand out our weekly winners and losers from Sunday’s action. For our losers this week, Wilson gave it to one of the losing quarterbacks, Brinson went after one of the losing coaches and to no one’s surprise, I gave it to Drew Brees.
- Winner: Browns fans. Yes, the Browns lost on Sunday, but Ryan Wilson still considers Browns fans a winner in his book and that’s because they got to witness a lot of things they’ve never witnessed before: Not only did the Browns earn their first playoff appearance since 2002 this year, but they also picked up their first playoff win since 1994 and their first playoff road win since 1969. They also had their first 10-win season since 2007 and their best regular season record (11-5) since 1994. That’s a lot to cheer for in Cleveland. That’s probably why they didn’t burn the city down after the loss.
- Loser: Lamar Jackson. Jackson finally won a playoff game so he doesn’t have to worry about another offseason of people asking whether he can win a playoff game, but once again, he fell apart in a big game. The Ravens quarterback totaled under 200 yards and threw an interception before being knocked out of the game with a concussion in the second half.
- Winner: Sean McDermott. When you lead your team to their first AFC title game since 1993, you get to be on the winner’s list and that’s exactly why Brinson has McDermott here. The former defensive coordinator helped put together a game plan that absolutely shut down the Ravens high-powered offense, holding them to just three points. Now he just needs to create an even better game-plan against the Chiefs.
- Loser: Kevin Stefanski. After a regular season where Stefanski was one of the best coaches in the NFL, the Browns first-year coach had somewhat of a meltdown during the second half of his first playoff game (He didn’t coach the team last week). Not only did he lose a timeout due to a bad challenge, but he also called for a punt late in the game even though the Browns hadn’t stopped the Chiefs all game. With 4:19 left, the Browns punted the ball away and they never saw it again.
- Winner: Andy Reid and Chad Henne. There are 32 coaches in the NFL and I’m guessing 31 of them would have punted over having their BACKUP quarterback run a play on fourth-and-inches from midfield with 1:17 left in the fourth quarter of a five-point game, but not Andy Reid. Reid made a huge gamble and that gamble paid off when Henne converted the first down with a pass to Tyreek Hill. Henne did have one ugly interception, but otherwise, it was a phenomenal performance from a guy who had never thrown a playoff pass in his 12-year career before Sunday.
- Loser: Drew Brees. In what might have been the final game of his NFL career, Brees basically gave the game away by throwing three interceptions. If Brees wasn’t sure about retirement before Sunday, I’m guessing his performance against he Buccaneers probably convinced him that it’s definitely time to hang up his cleats for good.
Not only did we list our winners and losers, but we also recapped every game from Sunday. If you want to listen — and you definitely should — you can click here. There’s also a separate podcast in the feed covering Saturday night’s games.
2. Patrick Mahomes injury update
If I started a separate newsletter that only gave Patrick Mahomes injury updates, that thing would probably get 7 million subscribers this week and that’s because all eyes are going to be on Mahomes as he recovers from his concussion.
Here’s the latest news: According to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Chiefs have “a lot of confidence that he’ll be able to go” against the Bills. The reason for that is because the Chiefs believe Mahomes might have been “choked out” on the play (If you watch the replay, you’ll notice he never actually hit his head). Since there was no direct head trauma, it seems the Chiefs are optimistic that he’ll be able to play. That being said, Mahomes is in concussion protocol and he’ll have to be cleared by an independent neurologist before he’s allowed to play.
As noted by Cody Benjamin, here are the recovery steps that Mahomes will have to go through:
- The player rests until signs and symptoms return to baseline status, and undergoes neurological, cognitive, and balance tests
- The player begins cardio exercise and/or stretching and balance training under the oversight of the team’s medical staff
- The player increases exercises and/or sport-specific activities and begins supervised strength training
- The player continues training and resumes non-contact football activities (e.g. throwing, running, etc.)
- The player is cleared by the team physician for full contact and passes an independent neurological exam, then returns to practice
Personally, I do think Mahomes will play, but considering everything that has to happen before he can play, I’ll be surprised if he’s on the practice field before Friday, if he even practices at all this week.
3. Most controversial play of the weekend
If you know a Browns fans or if you live within 600 miles of Cleveland, there’s a good chance that there’s only going to be one play people will be talking about this morning and that’s the fumble by Rashard Higgins at Kansas City’s one-yard line that went out of the end zone to give the Chiefs the ball.
The play is controversial because Higgins took a helmet-to-helmet shot from Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen an instant before the fumble. CBS rules analyst Gene Steratore, who spent more than 15 years as an NFL official, thought for sure that Sorensen should have been flagged for illegal contact on the play.
“It’s not an easy play to officiate in real time especially when you’re dealing with that football, the pylon, the goal line and a fumble. By rule, that’s illegal use of the helmet,” Steratore said during the broadcast.
If you want to see a replay of the hit, be sure to click here.
At the time of the play, the Browns were trailing 16-3. If the Sorensen hit gets flagged, the Browns would have kept the ball and would have either come away with a touchdown (likely) or a field goal, which would have made the halftime score either 16-10 or 16-6. Instead, the Chiefs got the ball after the Higgins fumble and went straight down the field to get a field goal, which gave them a 19-3 lead at the half.
After the game, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski ducked a question about the fumble by claiming that he didn’t see Sorensen’s hit.
“Honestly, I did not see the replay. I was told about it, but I will let the league handle those types of things,” Stefanski said.
That being said, Stefanski did let it be known that Higgins shouldn’t have been reaching out with the ball at the pylon because that goes against the team’s policy.
“I will never ever doubt Rashard Higgins’ effort or our guys’ effort. Our rule there is not to reach the ball out when it is first and goal, and he knows that,” Stefanski said. “Again, appreciate his effort. He battled like he always does, but we have to fight that urge because it is such a big loss if it does end up being a touchback.”
In a twist that probably wasn’t lost on Browns fans, Higgins’ fumble marked the first time the Browns had lost a fumble inside the 10-yard line during a playoff game since “The Fumble,” when Earnest Byner lost the ball in the 1987 AFC Championship Game.
After losing on the “The Drive” and the “The Fumble” in 1986 and 1987, Browns fans can now add “The no-call” to their list of harrowing playoff defeats.
4. Crazy facts from the divisional round
It’s hard to keep track of all the records that were broken over the weekend, but the good news for you is that I know someone who knows someone who keeps track of this type of stuff. Even though there were only four games, there were still plenty of highlights, so let’s take a look at some of the craziest nuggets from the divisional round.
- The Chiefs are hosting the AFC title game for the third straight year. The only other team to host a conference title game in three straight years was the Philadelphia Eagles (2002-04). Those two teams are connected by the fact that they were both coached by Andy Reid.
- Tom Brady is now the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start a conference title game in three different decades (2000s, 2010s, 2020s). I’m kind of starting to hope that he sticks around forever.
- Tom Brady is also just the fourth quarterback in NFL history to lead his team to both an AFC title game and an NFC title game. The other three to do it are: Joe Montana (49ers and Chiefs), Jay Schroeder (Washington and Raiders), and Craig Morton (Cowboys and Broncos).
- Let’s do one more Tom Brady fact: Tom Brady is now headed to his 14th conference title game, which is impressive when you consider no other quarterback has even been to eight.
- Packers coach Matt LaFleur became just the seventh coach in the Super Bowl era to reach a conference title game in each of this first two seasons. The last coach to do it was John Harbaugh (2011-12).
- Aaron Rodgers has thrown multiple touchdown passes in eight straight playoff games, which is tied with JOE FLACCO for the most consecutive postseason games with two or more TD passes.
- Taron Johnson’s 101-yard pick-six for Buffalo is tied for the longest pick-six in NFL playoff history (He tied Green Bay’s George Teague, who did it against the Lions in 1993).
- The pick-six by Lamar Jackson was the first red zone interception of his CAREER. Before the pick, Jackson’s career numbers were ridiculous, he had thrown 49 touchdown passes without an interception, but that streak is now out the window.
- The Bills only had 32 rushing yards against the Ravens, which is the fourth-lowest rushing total for a winning team in NFL playoff history.
Hopefully you can use these facts to impress your friends this week.
5. Early odds for the AFC and NFC championship games
We’ll be covering the AFC and NFC title games here all week, so I won’t dive into those two games very much today, but I didn’t want to completely ignore them, so here are the early odds for each game. Not surprisingly, the two home teams are favored. Since 2013, the one-seed has taken up 10 of the 14 Super Bowl slots, which bodes well for both the Packers and the Chiefs.
Sunday, January 24
(5) Buccaneers at (1) Packers, 3:05 p.m. ET (Fox)
Opening line: Packers -3.5
Current line: NO CHANGE
It’s Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady for the first time ever in the postseason. I repeat, it’s Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady for the first time ever in the postseason. Put the kids to bed early, make some gluten-free popcorn (Tom Brady would appreciate that) and get ready to watch what should be a great game. Actually, this game kicks off at 3:05 p.m. ET, so maybe you shouldn’t put the kids to bed just yet.
Sunday, January 24
(2) Bills at (1) Chiefs, 6:40 p.m. ET (CBS)
Opening line: Chiefs -3
Current line: NO CHANGE
Of the two games this week, this is the point spread you want to keep an eye on and that’s because it could change multiple times based on Patrick Mahomes’ prognosis. If Mahomes misses practice on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, which is very possible, bettors might start backing Buffalo to earn its first Super Bowl trip since 1993.
6. NFL Draft order partially set: Top 28 picks are locked in
Packers fans weren’t the only ones happy to see the Rams to lose on Saturday and that’s because I’m guessing Jaguars fans were also thrilled to see L.A. to go down. The reason why Jags fans were cheering against the Rams is because Jacksonville will be getting their first-round pick this year. Due to their loss, the Rams would have been getting the 25th overall pick, but that pick is now going to the Jaguars as part of the Jalen Ramsey trade, which means the Jags now have two of the top-25 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
With that in mind, here is the official order for the top 28 spots:
1. Jaguars (1-15)
2. Jets (2-14)
3. Dolphins (4-12) (via HOU)
4. Falcons (4-12)
5. Bengals (4-11-1)
6. Eagles (4-11-1)
7. Lions (5-11)
8. Panthers (5-11)
9. Broncos (5-11)
10. Cowboys (6-10)
11. Giants (6-10)
12. 49ers (6-10)
13. Chargers (7-9)
14. Vikings (7-9)
15. Patriots (7-9)
16. Cardinals (8-8)
17. Raiders (8-8)
18. Dolphins (10-6)
19. Washington (7-9)
20. Bears (8-8)
21. Colts (11-5)
22. Titans (11-5)
23. Jets (via Seahawks)
24. Steelers (11-5)
25. Jaguars (via Rams)
26. Browns (11-5)
27. Ravens (11-5)
28. Saints (12-4)
There will be two more spots decided after the AFC and NFC Championship games are played on Sunday.
7. The Kicker!
I almost feel like I should eliminate the kicker section today just so I don’t have to rehash what happened in the divisional round because it was a DISASTROUS weekend for kickers. The true kicker nightmare came in Buffalo, where Justin Tucker and Tyler Bass each missed two field goals. Tucker missed two field goals from inside 50 yards, which was shocking, because he had NEVER missed a field goal from inside 50 yards in the playoffs before Saturday and also, he had NEVER missed two field goals from inside 50 yards in the same game in his career.
Overall, the four kickers in the divisional round combined to hit just 14 of 19 field goals (73.7%), which is the third-worst mark over the past 10 years. Only 2013 (73.3%) and 2018 (72.7%) were worse.
For Tucker and Bass, the wind and cold temperatures both played a factor in their misses, which is kind of notable, because there’s a good chance there’s going to be wind and cold temperatures for both title games on Sunday, so we could see more missed field goals. What I’m trying to say here is that maybe everyone should go for it on fourth down this week.
8. Coaching bonus
There were four open coaching jobs in the NFL when the weekend began, but that number is now down to three and it might be down to two by the time you read this.
The biggest coaching surprise of the weekend came from the Chargers, who decided to take a pass on Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll so that they could hire Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Five years ago, Staley was the an assistant coach on a Division-III football team and now he’s an NFL head coach, which is why you should never give up on your dreams.
On one hand, I think the Chargers should have gone with an offensive coach, but I don’t hate this move and that’s because they’re in the same division as Patrick Mahomes. If you’re going to win the AFC West, you have to figure out to slow down Mahomes and to do that, you need a smart defensive mind. By all accounts, the 38-year-old Staley seems to be a defensive version of Sean McVay: Basically, he’s a young football prodigy who could have instant success.
As for the other coaching hire, the Lions are expected to hire Dan Campbell, who has been with the Saints for the past five seasons. The 44-year-old Campbell is a tight ends coach in New Orleans and he’s never been a coordinator, so this is definitely an out-of-the-box hire. However, those can sometimes work out. In 2008, the Ravens hired a special teams coach in John Harbaugh and that’s worked out well for them. However, the hiring of Campbell probably isn’t going to excite a Lions fan base that just sat through Matt Patricia and his 13-29-1 record over the past two and a half seasons.