The NFL playoff picture, Ohio State, the Padres and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. The Chiefs and Packers got rewarded with a bye and not much else
The benefit of earning a No. 1 seed in the NFL playoffs is supposed to be two-fold: The bye provides extra rest and a guaranteed spot in the divisional round, where the opponent is supposed to be the least dangerous team left. While getting the bye is more important with the altered playoff format this season, the bracket did not set up kindly for Kansas City in the AFC or Green Bay in the NFC.
The Chiefs face either the Ravens — winners of five straight by an average of 19.4 points — or the Titans, who just scored 41 points behind Derrick Henry’s 250-yard performance. Unless one of the worst teams to make the playoffs in NFL history pulls off the upset, the Packers will be hosting Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay is riding a four-game winning streak and took the Week 6 meeting by 28 points. At this moment in time, it is hard to argue the No. 3 seeds (Pittsburgh and Seattle) are more dangerous than the teams the Chiefs and Packers will likely have to face.
2. It is not surprising Ohio State finally played up to its potential
It was fair to wonder whether Ohio State could play with Clemson given the Buckeyes’ shaky performances against the two ranked opponents they’d played this season. What that line of thinking discredits, though, is that the Ohio State team that crushed the Tigers 49-28 was not the same one that needed 331 rushing yards from Trey Sermon to defeat Northwestern. The Buckeyes were closer to full strength than they’ve been most of the season and it showed.
While Ryan Day’s team got Chris Olave and others back, Clemson was without offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, lost captain James Skalski to a targeting penalty in the first half and had safety Nolan Turner suspended until halftime because of his targeting penalty against Notre Dame. There is also the reality that the Buckeyes are going to get better with every game they play because they’ve only had seven. Their dominant victory may have been surprising, but the fact everything clicked in the Sugar Bowl is not.
3. A.J. Preller is taking a different approach in San Diego
The first time A.J. Preller attempted to turn the San Diego Padres into a contender, he went out and acquired any proven veteran he could. Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, James Shields and Craig Kimbrel all joined the Padres prior to the 2015 season. San Diego finished 14 games under .500 and manager Bud Black was fired in June. Preller hasn’t been any less aggressive building this version of the Padres. He’s just followed a different process.
Instead of looking to prove the team externally first, Preller waited for San Diego’s vibrant farm system to produce an exciting young core led by Fernando Tatis Jr. Eric Hosmer was added to the mix, followed by Manny Machado. Then came the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2006. The task this offseason was to take them from good to great, which is what Preller did by adding Blake Snell and Yu Darvish at discounted prices. His reward for learning from previous mistakes and blending patience with the unapologetic aggression is a team set up to be among baseball’s best for the foreseeable future.
4. Mauricio Pochettino has never taken up a project like PSG
Mauricio Pochettino earned his reputation as one of the premier managers in the world by elevating Southampton and Tottenham to unexpected heights. Spurs qualified for the Champions League in four straight seasons under Pochettino, culminating in their thrilling run to the final in 2018-19. He is in many ways the opposite of trophy-winning machines like Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho. Pochettino is a legend at the club Mourinho is now in charge of despite never lifting a trophy, which is precisely why Mourinho was brought in to replace him.
It is a bit strange, then, that he is now being tasked with delivering the biggest trophy of all to the club who doesn’t care about anything else. PSG is the type of job built for someone like Guardiola or Mourinho, not Pochettino. His top priority has to be appeasing Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, not implementing his style of play or improving individual players the way he did at both stops in the Premier League. Pochettino has proven his brilliance at getting the most out of less heralded players. Now he has to prove he can work well with some of the world’s most famous.
5. Tom Herman found himself in an impossible position
Tom Herman’s lack of success (relatively speaking) at Texas made speculation about his future inevitable as 2020 turned into another good but ultimately disappointing season for the Longhorns. The controversy that developed surrounding “The Eyes of Texas” more or less forced Herman to choose between backing his players and falling in line with athletic director Chris Del Conte. He couldn’t afford to lose the support of his team or his boss but there was no way to appease both.
Herman opted to stand by his players as much as possible, putting him in dangerous territory with the people responsible for determining his fate. The Longhorns’ results on the field left Del Conte looking for reasons to replace Herman, and he found one in the way Herman handled the contentious “Eyes of Texas” issue. Of course, there’s no guarantee Herman would still be Texas’ coach if he had sided with Del Conte. But his ultimate downfall was failing to successfully play the political game that comes with being the man in Austin. Herman didn’t win enough to silence his critics or build strong enough relationships to make them want to keep him.
Cincinnati is doing exactly what has to be done for a Group of Five team to be in the conversation for a College Football Playoff spot. The Bearcats put up a valiant effort against Georgia and have both Indiana and Notre Dame on their schedule next season. Any path to the Playoff includes multiple marquee nonconference wins. Kudos to Cincinnati for recognizing that.
Photo by Paula R. Lively / Flickr