The best weekend of football has come and gone. Next Sunday will be the best football Sunday of the year: Championship Sunday. Although, the 2016 NFL divisional playoffs might have stolen the title of the best football Sunday of the Year.
Actually, it didn’t really feel like the best “weekend” per se because if it wasn’t for Sunday’s affairs, then the NFL’s divisional round would’ve been a complete dud. Thankfully, Sunday was decidedly chock full of delicious football. I’ll say that one more time: delicious football.
Championship Sunday is set up nicely as the remaining teams are, for the most part, peaking.
Green Bay vs. Dallas: Instant Classic
I’m sure I speak for all football fans when I say this was an all-time great divisional round game.
Entering Sunday, we were really thirsting for some exciting playoff football, weren’t we? The NFL playoffs just couldn’t seem to quench that through the first six games, including all of wildcard weekend and both Saturday games of the divisional round. Not a single affair had yet to go down to the wire — much less a one-score game. Not until the Green Bay Packers took their victory tour through Arlington, Texas, in Jerry World where the Cowboys fought them with everything they had to the end.
Aaron Rodgers, seemingly possessed, throwing another game-defining pass and another 300-yard, three touchdown performance. Dak Prescott leading his team back into the game. Ezekiel Elliott delivering another 100-yard game off the assembly line (or is it just their offensive line). The Cowboys’ defense standing up for a quarter or so to the possessed Rodgers. Three straight 50-yard field goals at the end of the fourth, including one at the gun to win it. Excuse me, I need a smoke.
This was the game that saved us from another boring fourth quarter. Luckily, the unexpected night-cap (thanks to mother nature) brought us another closely fought four-quarter battle. This time with less offense sprinkled into the mix.
Kansas City’s Offensive No-Show
Andy Reid is known for his offensive prowess, but you wouldn’t have guessed that in that unit’s listless showing for every drive other than its first and last. Between those two touchdowns, Alex Smith and the Chiefs’ offense, to borrow a classic line from Jim Mora, couldn’t do diddly poo. Maybe it was the late start, though I’m not sure why it would affect them at home.
Meanwhile, their defense gave up yards between the 20’s — mostly to the Patient Wizard of Run, Le’Veon Bell — but held the Steelers completely out of the end zone. Unfortunately, they could not get off the field one last time at the end of the game when Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for a short completion on third and Foxboro for Pittsburgh. A couple kneel-downs later — thanks to the typically shoddy time management skills of an Andy Reid coached team — Pittsburgh ran out the clock on the Chiefs.
If it wasn’t painful (and cold) enough for Chiefs fans on Sunday night, they are now 0-4 all-time when hosting a divisional playoff game after a bye. You would have thought Reid’s post-bye prowess would’ve negated their historical ineptitudes when given the wonderful gift that is a playoff bye followed by a home game. Alas…
Phew, I must say it’s nice not to lose those types of playoff games anymore as an Eagles fan! I guess I’ll just have to settle for a few more of those defeats in the regular season instead… HEY! Speaking of things that suck for Eagles fans.
The Future Looks Bright in Dallas
How else do you spin the turnaround from a 4-12 disaster of a team with an aging, breaking down Pro Bowl caliber franchise quarterback to a 13-3 team with a fourth round rookie Pro Bowl caliber franchise quarterback?
Ok, let me try this again with three caveats:
- Pretend you’re not Stephen A. Smith (or Skip Bayless just to be safe).
- Forget the team name involved.
- Be honest with yourself as a football fan.
If you told Jerry Jones before the season that his first round pick would lead the NFL in rushing and his fourth round pick would make it to the Pro Bowl at quarterback, he’d most certainly take it with a first round exit. Other than the playoff result, you really have to say that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys season was nothing short of spectacular for that franchise and their scores of fans in the stands and in the media. (Seriously, ratings soar with huge games involving the Cowboys. Damn all their front-running fans!)
That being said, let’s all — minus the Cowboys fans, both in Texas and seemingly everywhere else — enjoy the fact that the Cowboys have now failed to advance past the divisional round for the 21st consecutive season. Say it with me, ironically or not: How ’bout dem Cowboys!
Atlanta Can Score With Anyone
Move over, A-Rod: There’s another gunslinger lighting up playoff defenses. Matt Ryan has the Atlanta Falcons offense really humming. Yes, the Seattle defense is missing a future Hall of Fame safety in Earl Thomas, but that doesn’t give them an excuse to be taken up and down the field all game long. They’re still a formidable defensive unit. Matt Ryan and company just weren’t having it. It’s not all Matty Ice as they go deep at both running back and wide receiver, where they also have future Hall of Famer in Julio Jones.
An additional source of optimism for Falcons fans has to be the play of their less talked about defense. Atlanta’s head coach Dan Quinn, a former Seattle defensive coordinator, had the defense flying all over the field delivering big hit after big hit (all pretty legal too). We don’t know many of their defenders names yet — expect for NFL sack leader Vic Beasley. One way for the Falcons to change that would be to continue winning postseason games and keep laying the boom on defense.
Houston, You Have a Football Team
If we’ve learned anything about the Houston Texans in back-to-back years, they really just need a good passing game. Much of the rest of the ingredients appear to be in place.
The Texans walked into Foxboro as 16-point underdogs after having been shutout in a blowout loss to their opponent’s third string quarterback in Week 3. They then proceeded to play their “superiors” to a near draw at halftime and to within a touchdown after three quarters. While the last 15 minutes went more as planned, you had to leave that game thinking that the Texans were better than we originally thought or … perhaps the Patriots are worse than we thought. This was very much a game despite the somewhat lopsided final score.
Either way, I hope Brock Osweiler enjoyed his one week in the sun after his wildcard victory before tossing a trio of picks in his divisional round defeat. In spite of his faults, I don’t place the blame solely on his six-foot-seven shoulders. The much maligned quarterback tossed a perfect deep bomb that rookie wide receiver Will Fuller dropped in the end zone in the fourth quarter. With that catch, who knows what would’ve happened with the uncharacteristic sloppy play from the Patriots.
Their pass rush is deep and crazy talented. How else do you harass Tom Brady with a week to prepare along with some head coach named Bill Belichick in Foxboro with everything on the line all without the best defensive football player on the planet in J.J. Watt?
Houston had a very solid game plan, but the Patriots made enough big plays in tight spots to pull away. The Texans very nearly made for a nervous night in New England.
Most Exclusive Club in Town: AFC Champions
The NFL will tell you that anyone can win the title in the NFL. On any given Sunday, right? Any team can make a Super Bowl run because of the salary cap, draft, competitive balance, revenue sharing, and … yada yada. The real truth is that there is actually little to no parity in the AFC:
Parity is really only true for the NFC, it seems. Pretty impressive work by those three quarterbacks and, more importantly, their franchises over the past decade and a half. The NFL is really not built for this.
NFL Playoff MVP Race Update
We have what amounts to a dead heat in the race for NFL Playoff MVP. The top two leaders in the NFL’s Conn Smythe Trophy remain the same from last week. Remember that even though there were some impressive performances in losing efforts, if you’ve been eliminated by the divisional round, there’s a zero percent chance of winning the playoff MVP award.
1a. Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh RB
As our take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt clubhouse leader after the wildcard round, Le’Veon Bell did little to disappoint on Sunday night in Kansas City. He is currently lapping the field in rushing with 337 yards. Just for comparison’s sake, no one else has reached 200 yards rushing in the postseason, and the none of the running backs still playing have at least 100 yards. Bell is in a league all by himself in a league that seems to be looking at strong running games in the past. He gets the nod because Pittsburgh just leans on him all game, and he delivers in a league that’s moving away from that success.
1b. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay QB
I should be embarrassed by putting Aaron Rodgers second (even with a “one” in there) in a most-valuable player award after his end of half brilliance in tight affairs against a pair of game NFC East foes. This is a joke because of his 718 yards passing and six touchdowns facing two of the league’s best pass defenses. So I took the easy way out and basically give these two stars a share of the crown with Bell getting to touch the trophy first.
The way things are shaping up, maybe these two will face off in a couple of weeks with all the marbles on the line — including this one!
3. James Harrison – Pittsburgh OLB
James Harrison, you are second in the league in tackles along with 2.5 sacks after two games in the NFL playoffs. What are you going to do next?
4. Dion Lewis – New England RB/KR
When you break an all-time NFL postseason record in your playoff debut, you also coincidentally debut on this list. It’s just the way these things work. I don’t make the rules.
5. Matt Ryan – Atlanta QB
Matty Ice torched the Seattle defense to the point that some of them were pretty much embarrassed and angry about it afterward.
If you can allow us — the non-biased, common fans — the pleasure of watching the big, bad Seahawks whine and cry afterward, you’ve earned your way onto this list. Again, this is how this list works. I don’t make the rules.
(Note to self: You most definitely make the rules for your own column.)
Anyway, here’s to hoping that the Championship Sunday matchups between the Packers-Falcons and the Steelers-Patriots deliver us another candidate for best football Sunday of the year.