It’s a new year, and for the teams that have advanced to the NFL Playoffs, it’s a new season. It’s widely talked about annually at this time that records don’t matter, that every game is truly a must win, and that for everybody involved, my mantra is relevant: “Any given Sunday.”
Before we can advance to watching Wild Card Weekend on Nickelodeon (yup, you read that right), we first must put a bow on the Sunday that was Week 17. This time of year is always rough, because coaches who fell short of expectations lose their jobs, and while they may have hurt your chances of ordering a Super Bowl patched jersey for your favorite team, they are still people who have families that now face uncertainty.
Enough time spent contemplating the dilemma that is schadenfreude! We know who is in and who is out, but what did we learn in the final week of the regular season?
Three Things I Learned in Week 17
1) The Bills are the Kings of the East
Sure, this is evident by the fact that Buffalo (13-3) won the division, but it was further cemented when the Bills canned the Dolphins (10-6) and any hopes their Big Tuna, rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, had in making the postseason in year one. Josh Allen (224 yards, 3 TDs) and head coach Sean McDermott went for the jugular to leave no doubt their division title was pure, beating Miami 56-26, and completing a perfect record in the AFC East.
The Bills didn’t get the bye week that normally comes with earning the number two seed in the conference, but they do go into the postseason with home-field for at least the first two rounds. Helping them break-in the playoffs’ return to upper New York will be the Indianapolis Colts, beneficiaries of the additional playoff team this season. Buffalo has won six straight games and carry a 7-1 home record, going up against a Colts team that was 5-3 on the road.
2) It’s A Wild, Wild NFC West
Two of the most competitive divisions outside of the NFC East (don’t worry, we’ll get there) were the AFC North and the NFC West, each boasting three playoff caliber teams. While all three AFC North teams qualified, the Arizona Cardinals (8-8) failed to get it done against the LA Rams (10-6) defense. After injuries took Jared Goff, John Wolford got his first career start with LA’s season on the line, and an injury to Kyler Murray in the game would give everyone an unlikely battle between Chris Streveler and Wolford.
Streveler tossed a touchdown in the first quarter to put the Cardinals up in the first frame, but while efficient for most of the day, Streveler and the Arizona offense mustered a mere 214 yards of total offense. The Rams’ weren’t much better, but they were able to get into scoring position for kicker Matt Gay to knock in three field goals, with a long of just 34 yards. The pick six from the defense sure helped things too.
The Rams have made it to the playoffs, for which there’s reason to celebrate, but how far they can go will likely be limited by the availability of Jared Goff, and how healthy he is if he plays.
3) Karma Rewarded the Washington Football Team
There’s been enough talk on the Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson’s game-managing decisions in the final game of Week 17, and rightfully so. For a second, let’s look at what happened in the NFC East through a different lens and assume that The Football Team was rewarded. I’m speaking of the Washington Football Team (7-9) of course.
If there was any good to come out of the tumultuous year that was 2020, the Washington Football Team finally dropped their nickname, and Alex Smith once again became a starter in the league just two years after injury threatened his life, let alone his career. The icing on the cake is the story of head coach Ron Rivera beating cancer in October, making his return to the playoffs in just his first year with Washington.
The Football team has yet to adopt a new nickname, do they need to? After all of the drama around the organization over the recent years, something so simple could be just the fit. And hey, with so much going their way this season, most recently making it into the playoffs the way they did, I think the fans should petition to keep it. Congratulations Football Team.
Three Things I’m Watching on Wild Card Weekend
1) NFL Playoffs on Nickelodeon
I know I mentioned this up top, but I still can’t believe it. The Chicago Bears (8-8) will be going to the Superdome to play the New Orleans Saints (12-4) in a game that’ll be broadcast on CBS, Amazon Prime, and the ViacomCBS owned Nickelodeon.
This game likely isn’t going to be All That, is that if someone doesn’t get slimed in the endzone I’m going to be disappointed. Since I’m already aging myself here, can we change the uniforms to color schemes from Legends of the Hidden Temple? If the NFL is going to make decisions like this, they need to fully embrace it. I Double Dare them to.
Maybe Drew Brees could at least dust off his old Nickelodeon jersey (Google it).
2) The Clock in the Ravens @ Titans Game
Derrick Henry just eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing on the season after a monster performance against the Houston Texans that was much closer than I thought it would be. Henry should be a large part of the game-plan for Tennessee (11-5) and the Baltimore Ravens (11-5) should know it. These two teams met last year in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, where the rushing champion not only ran for 195 yards and a score, but he also tossed a score in the 28-12 win for the Titans.
Speaking of 2,000 yards, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson set an NFL rushing record last weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals, topping the 1,000 yard mark for the second consecutive season, the first time a quarterback ever reached the milestone twice, let alone in back-to-back years. The Ravens also have a full backfield and even a group of receivers who look to race up and down the field with Lamar, and the NFL may have to extend commercial breaks because this game could move so fast. Best case scenario? Overtime.
3) The Cleveland Browns in the Playoffs
Yup, that’s right. Now y’all already know that I’m a Browns fan, which I put up front in my first article here on 110 Sports. I’ll let you be the judge, but I believe I’ve been pretty fair in my coverage. That’s not going to change here.
As exciting it is for football fans everywhere to witness Cleveland’s return to the playoffs, the test is a tough one as history repeats itself from the last time the Browns made it to Wild Card weekend. If you haven’t heard it enough, it was 2002, and Cleveland played against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. The Browns lost the game, generating uncertainty within the organization around who should start at quarterback, and the rest is history.
Do the Cleveland Browns (11-5) change the tune against the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) this time?
The year of 2020 brought so much change to the world and in a number of ways, the NFL. That said, 2021 feels like a year of unlimited possibilities. Mitchell Trubisky is the starter for the Bears and Alex Smith is starting for Washington – both comebacks in their own rights. There are so many more stories this weekend too.
Tom Brady has ended the playoff drought in Tampa Bay that was reaching Cleveland proportions, and looks to give Bill Belichick a good game to watch from his couch. Drew Brees may very well be in his final postseason of what has been an amazing career. The Ravens and Titans game is going to be fast, and the Buffalo Bills, now becoming playoff mainstays, are hoping to take the next step. Then there’s Browns vs Steelers III.
For six teams, it’ll be a sweet, sweet victory next weekend. It’s theirs for the taking.
Photo by: Erik Drost / Wikimedia Commons