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The Game Manager, Wild card round: Double doink!

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Defense is back, No. 6 seeds are hot, and the Seahawks lost. Kickers were huge, young QB’s failed, and Dallas ended Seattle’s season. Also: The playoffs are continuing, but the Seahawks won’t be in them anymore.

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NFL: NFC Wild Card-Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears
Alshon Jeffrey exchanges postgame pleasantries with Bears fans in a heartwarming display of sportsmanship.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are here!

And I thought I was excited.

The playoffs are a time of excitement, of tension, of high drama. It’s also a time when our burning questions are answered.

I’m talking about serious questions. Like, can a team still win in the playoffs with running and defense in this age of offensive dominance? Didn’t work out for the Bears or Ravens, but the Cowboys aren’t complaining.

Can one of the young QB’s making their first starts in the playoffs lead their team to a championship? That’s a no on Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson, but Patrick Mahomes will have something to say about that.

How much does home field really matter? Like, almost not at all — all four road underdogs covered the spread, three winning outright.

How much does seeding matter? Ask the Colts and Eagles.

How much do kickers matter? Ask Bears fans. On second thought, try Eagles fans instead.

You could say we learned a lot. But the inherent problem with saying these playoff games teach us anything is the same danger in reading too much into any small sample. All we know for sure is our perception has changed.

Growing up, I was told eggs were good for you. When I got older, I was told eggs were actually bad in large quantities, potentially causing heart disease. Then I heard it was the egg whites you should eat, and avoid the yolks, since that’s where the cholesterol is. Now the consensus on that has evolved to the point many think yolks get a bad rap, and eating the whole egg is considered healthier. Eggs didn’t change, just our perception of them.

The same is true in sports, except teams aren’t a constant, but a constantly evolving organism. So you may believe in them with good reason, then later doubt them with just as good reason. It’s a fluid process, and no one week defines a team. Take last year’s Jaguars, who turned in a pathetic offensive effort in the ugliest playoff win I’ve ever seen over the Bills 10-7, then lit up the heavily-favored Steelers 45-42 and gave the Patriots all they could handle. No matter what you thought of the Jags at any point in that postseason, you were about to be proven wrong.

Consider that as we look at how our perceptions may or may not have changed this past weekend.

Colts 21, Texans 7

What we thought we knew: Watson is young, but already an elite QB, maybe the kind you can ride to championship.

What we think we know now: Watson is not ready for prime time. His line stinks, but he missed open receivers all day. His worst moment came when striking a pose toward the Colts bench after a first down trailing 21-0 at the end of the first half. I get wanting to let your opponent know you’re not going to quit, and if he led Houston to a touchdown before the half, you could say it worked. But when he ended the drive missing an open DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone, it’s a bad look.

What we thought we knew: Bill O’Brien can’t be trusted in a big game.

What we think we know now: Correct. O’Brien’s decision to go on fourth and 1 in the red zone at end of the above-referenced drive was the right call — Houston needed a touchdown. But the formation and play call were terrible. In the booth, Jason Witten and Booger McFarland had their best exchange of the year ahead of the play, both wanting a run option for Watson. Witten called for a read option, while Booger wanted a bootleg with the option to run or throw. O’Brien called an empty backfield pass with no run possibility. And not a short, quick pass designed to get a yard, but a pass into the endzone.

Even the best play call may not have led to a touchdown, and even that would’ve only cut the lead to 21-7, so the call may not have had an impact on the result, but it sure didn’t help.

Broadcast highlight: Witten singing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over” at the end in a nod to another ex-Cowboy-turned-MNF announcer, “Dandy Don” Meredith.

Cowboys 24, Seahawks 22

What we thought we knew: Seattle does playoffs right. Ever since Pete Carroll showed up in Seattle, the Seahawks have shown up for big games. Once Russell Wilson joined the fold, that improved exponentially. They’re the opposite of the Cowboys who are known to be choking dogs.

What we think we know now: These aren’t the Cowboys of yesteryear. These are the new Cowboys, who look a whole lot like the old Seahawks.

A fierce defense, bruising running back, and athletic quarterback turning hopeless situations into brilliant scrambling first downs to plunge a dagger into their opponent’s heart. Dak Prescott did a pretty mean Wilson imitation.

Conversely, it was Wilson who came up small. (Get it?) He played well, but didn’t make the game-changing plays we’ve come to expect. Possibly because offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was honoring his dad with an homage to Marty Ball.

To make matters worse Seattle’s defense couldn’t get stops late, allowing huge 3rd down conversions due to penalties and missed tackles. And then there was this:

Broadcast highlight: Charles Haley and Roger Goodell chumming it up in the luxury suite, talking with animated expressions and laughing, Haley’s arm around Goodell’s shoulders, Goodell’s hand on Haley’s knee. With the country as divided as it is, this could be just the buddy comedy America needs right now.

Broadcast lowlight: The slow motion replay of the horrific injury to Allen Hurns midway through first quarter which made Joe Buck barf a little in his mouth live on the air.

Chargers 23, Ravens 17

What we thought we knew: Lamar Jackson can run like hell, but his inexperience, inaccuracy, and poor ball security will probably keep him from winning in the playoffs. Sure, he beat the Chargers two weeks ago, but this time they’ll know what to expect, which should allow them to bottle him up better.

What we think we know now: Yup. Jackson was inaccurate, leading to incompletions and an interception early on. He had some passing success in garbage time, but ball control was an issue all day as he fumbled three times. His future may be bright, but the doubts about his readiness were well-founded. As was the feeling the Chargers could adjust to him.

What we thought we knew: The Chargers have a legendary ability to shoot themselves in the foot. The Chargers may be talented, but bad coaching decisions, poor ability to close, and all-out meltdowns have held them back for years. Why not this year?

What we think we know now: The Chargers came out as the far more poised team. Which shouldn’t be surprising since they thrive on the road, especially against good teams. Remember the big comebacks in primetime at Pittsburgh and Kansas City?

Then came the second half, and Los Angeles started Chargering themselves:

  • Tyrell Williams allowed a third and 7 pass to be knocked out of his hands which would’ve given the Chargers a first down on Baltimore’s 13. Instead, they attempted a FG, which was blocked.
  • Virgil Green’s fumble gifted Baltimore a scoring opportunity, and their first snap in LA territory. The defense held, but it still got the Ravens on the board with a FG.
  • A blocked punt gave the Ravens their second scoring opportunity. Luckily for them, the defense held, and Tucker missed the FG.
  • The Chargers allowed a long TD pass to Michael Crabtree up 20 points with 6:33 remaining to give Baltimore a chance, then allowed another long play on the Ravens next drive to move them into the red zone, where they got a fourth down TD to Crabtree. That’s what the “prevent” in prevent defense is supposed to prevent.
  • Anthony Lynn, who’s been known to make some questionable strategic decisions, actually had a good day overall, making great calls to go on a fourth and goal at the start of the fourth quarter (at worst, he’d pin them at their 1-yard line down 12-3), and go for two once they scored (to go up 17, making it a three-score game). But then he went made the very questionable choice to throw on 3rd and 16 at their own 16 with 1:41 left and Baltimore without timeouts. Since the pass was well short of the sticks, it carried all the downside of any pass — possible sack, interception, or incompletion stopping the clock — without much reward.

They won, but not without displaying the foibles which make people doubt the Chargers. Baltimore didn’t take advantage, but I wouldn’t count on the Patriots being so charitable.

What we thought we knew: Missing huge FG’s is the Chargers trademark. They’ve copyrighted it, so that every team that loses due to a missed chip shot or extra point actually has to pay them royalties. If this or any playoff game comes down to the Chargers needing a kick, they’re finished. It’s just science.

Meanwhile, the Ravens have the best kicker in the league in Justin Tucker.

What we think we know now: What kicking problem? Michael Badgley was their top offensive threat, making five FG’s. These are the new Chargers. They came here to chew bubblegum and kick FG’s and they’re all out of bubblegum.

And don’t you know Tucker can’t kick against the Chargers? He missed five FG’s all year and three were against LA. His huge third quarter miss kept Ravens from getting within six.

Broadcast highlight: CBS showing the stat that nine teams that played on Wild Card weekend made Super Bowl from 2000-2012, but zero have since 2013.

Eagles 16, Bears 15

What we thought we knew: The Eagles may not be the team they were last year. Injuries have robbed their depth, and they’re picking up guys off the street Vince Papale-style to play in the secondary. But they have that championship gene. Nick Foles is magic. Doug Pedersen is fearless. If you liked The Philly Special, you’re gonna love The Liberty Bell Surprise!

What we think we know now: Foles and the Eagles made several uncharacteristic postseason mistakes. Foles threw back to back interceptions, both while Philadelphia was driving, the second in the end zone. In two possessions, he threw more picks than he had in his previous four playoff games combined. Twice, Eagles defensive penalties kept Chicago drives alive after the whistle blew to negate third down stops — both led to FG’s. And on the latter drive, Tre Sullivan later dropped an easy interception in the end zone—Philadelphia’s second dropped pick of the drive—to preserve Chicago’s FG attempt.

But Foles regained his magic on their final drive, culminating with the winning touchdown pass on fourth and goal. And Pederson displayed his signature all-in style, letting the clock run down, and spending a valuable timeout to discuss that fourth down play call — each move significantly decreased Philadelphia’s chances had they failed to score -- because he believed they wouldn’t fail. Told you he was fearless.

What we thought we knew: The Bears have a defense capable of shutting teams down and forcing turnovers, and an offense which gets enough big plays out of Trubisky to win. Their only glaring flaw is the kicking game, where Cody Parkey had missed seven kicks in 2018 and hit more uprights in a game than anyone has ever seen (four).

What we think we know now: The Bears are who we thought they were!

So is Cody Parkey.

Sorry, Bears fans. Thoughts and prayers. Does it at least help to know the kick was tipped, making it officially blocked?

Didn’t think so.

Broadcast highlight: Terry McAuley, NBC officiating expert having to admit that he didn’t know the rules after criticizing the replay ruling on Anthony Miller’s non-catch near the end of the first half.

Turns out, the officials got the call right—after they totally blew it.

In McAuley’s defense, Tony Corrente did a horrible job explaining his ruling. Still, McAuley’s Fox counterpart wasn’t about to let that go.

Broadcast lowlight: Al Michaels talking about Matt Nagy’s decision to keep Vic Fangio as his defensive coordinator, quoting Nagy as saying, “When you’ve got a guy like Fangio, you keep him.” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Not that I’m still bitter.

The Divisional round

Quick previews of next weekend’s slate:

Chargers at Patriots

The probably better-than-their-seed Chargers against the probably worse-than-their-seed Patriots, at the place both teams want it -- in Foxboro. The Chargers are 7-1 on the road with the one loss coming at the Rams, which makes them undefeated outside LA. Also, Hunter Henry will play, which has to please Stephen A. Smith.

Colts at Chiefs

The best team in the AFC this year against the best team in the AFC right now. The Patriots will be rooting for the Colts, hoping to host the Championship game. The Chargers will be rooting for the Chiefs, so they don’t have to play in LA.

Eagles at Saints

Last year’s No. 1 seed in the NFC against this year’s No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Saints slaughtered the Eagles earlier this season, but didn’t have to contend with Foles Magic. They’re probably glad they don’t face a rematch with the Cowboys defense that shut them down a few weeks back, but careful what you wish for.

Cowboys at Rams

The Rams have to be similarly happy to avoid a rematch with the Bears defense which completely shut them down, and picked off Jared Goff four times. They still will have to revive their flagging offense against a good Cowboys defense.

Poll

Playoff teams coming off byes are 23-9 since 2010, meaning at least one loses per year on average. Which one is most likely to be upset this week?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    New Orleans Saints
    (11 votes)
  • 23%
    Los Angeles Rams
    (30 votes)
  • 28%
    Kansas City Chiefs
    (37 votes)
  • 40%
    New England Patriots
    (52 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now