Division Round Observations

I don’t even remember what happened Saturday. The Jags-Steelers was an insane game, and then the Vikings-Saints possibly the most insane I’ve ever watched. It also knocked me out of all my playoff pools and cost me against the spread. I couldn’t fall asleep after it, I was so stunned. It helped to imagine the outcome would have been the same had Drew Brees simply failed to complete the 4th-and-10 pass to Willie Snead, three drives – an eternity – earlier.

• Eagles-Falcons seemed vaguely about bad offensive playcalling by Atlanta and one drive where Nick Foles looked like 27:2 Foles after being bad for most of the game. The Vikings are only 3.5-point favorites in Philly next week, and I’m laying the wood.

• The Pats-Titans was frustrating in part because I had Tennessee plus 13.5, but also because they scored the first TD and then got lost in the Pats gimmickry. The Pats’ pace was like Chip Kelly’s but with sharper playcalling, and  Tennessee was totally unprepared. It didn’t help that Mike Mularkey decided to punt on 4th-and-short from midfield down seven and then later down 21 on 4th-and-8 in the fourth quarter.

I often feel as though the Patriots aren’t good so much as tricky. And the tricks work over and over again until they meet a team that solves them, and then it’s a game based on merit. When that happens, it’s usually a closer contest because the Pats can’t overpower you, and the offense is mostly designed around short throws. Don’t get me wrong, Tom Brady is pinpoint and usually makes the right read, Dion Lewis and Rob Gronkowski are excellent, and Brandin Cooks, who hasn’t been fully used yet, is dangerous too. But so often, the defense is off balance to begin with, and it’s not even a fair fight. I expect the Jaguars defense to give them some problems, though Gronk and Lewis might be the perfect players to solve it (Look what Le’Veon Bell and Vance McDonald did.) Still, I’m taking the nine or nine and a half next week for sure.

• Marcus Mariota made some nice throws, but lost one of his tackles early and couldn’t get away from the rush. They need a new coach before he goes down the Sam Bradford career path.

• Ben Roethlisberger held the ball too long on one play, and made a bad audible on 4th-and-short to turn the ball over on downs, but I’ve never seen four deep balls thrown to covered receivers with that much accuracy in a single game. Credit to Antonio Brown, Bell and Martavis Bryant (who was actually open) for making tough catches, but you couldn’t have thrown better balls if you were three feet from them. Roethlisberger will be back in 2018, and he’ll be a top-10 real-life QB.

• Bell and Brown are such fantasy monsters. It’s every week with them, no matter the opponent, no matter that Brown was out three weeks with an injury. Impossible to fade.

• The Jaguars defense played well despite giving up 42 points. That’s a crazy thing to say, but it’s true. On three of the long TDs, the receivers were not open.

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• Blake Bortles was spotty at times, but he did not shrink from the moment, leading the team on fourth quarter drives to thwart the Steelers comeback. I expect him to move the ball against the Patriots defense too and make plays with his scrambling. He also hasn’t thrown a pick yet during the playoffs.

• Leonard Fournette was a monster in the first half, but I’m concerned about his ankle after it swells up this week.

• It’s crazy Roethlisberger had 469 passing yards and five TDs against the Jaguars pass defense.

• The Vikings-Saints was so unbelievable, and I don’t mean that entirely in a good way. It was thrilling, to be sure, but too random for my taste. It’s better than a questionable PI putting the Vikings in FG range – Case Keenum made the throw, and Stefon Diggs the catch – but I’m not a fan of flukey reversals. Had there been two minutes left, and Keenum made perfect throws to win it on a final drive, no problem. But one prayer misplayed by a defender is too arbitrary for me.

• The strength of the game were the preceding drives where the Saints – once down 17-0 – drove down to make it 21-20, the Vikings got the 53-yard FG to take the lead, and Drew Brees, despite a Michael Thomas drop on 3rd-and-10, led the team for the supposed game-winning kick. The fourth-and-10 conversion on the road against arguably the league’s best defense was Hall of Fame worthy. So I was disappointed to see that wiped out by an error on defense.

• Snead, who made the key 4th-and-10 catch, also missed a wide open Alvin Kamara on a gadget play. I know they probably practiced it a lot, and Snead was a QB in high school, but you have to put some air under it, give yourself some margin of error. I know it’s easy to say from the comfort of my keyboard rather than on the field in the fourth quarter of a playoff game, but my first thought was “I could have made that throw!”

•  This cracked me up:

• I say this every week, but as someone raised on the NFL in the ’70s and ’80s, I’m astounded at the level of field-goal kicking today. Forbath drilling 53-yarders with the season on the line like it’s no big deal, and the Saints not even concerned with getting closer than a 43-yarder for Will Lutz with their season at stake.

• The insistence on trying the PAT after the game is over is so bizarre. I mean the stadium has gone crazy, everyone’s on the field, and they have to execute this formality?