Divisional Round Observations

The divisional round of the NFL playoffs is often the best of the year. That was not the case this past weekend. Only two of the games were remotely competitive, and neither was easy on the eyes, especially the Saints-Eagles game that featured long drives dictated in large part by penalties in one direction or the other. And after all that, the game ended on a dropped-pass turned into a gift interception.

It could have been worse, however, for me personally. I went 2-2 ATS and won my best bet, the Chiefs, though I benefited from the ticky-tackiest running-into-the-punter call of all time to seal the cover. (In fairness, Kansas City dominated, and the Colts were only in cover range (never in range to win the game) due to a blocked punt TD. In a year where the top teams seemed less dominant than usual down the stretch, we’re now left with only No. 1 and No. 2 seeds for the conference title games.

I know Michael Thomas’ (16-12-171-1) Twitter handle is @cantguardmike, but he’s Drew Brees’ only regular target, so the Eagles might have deigned to try. Thomas saw 16 of the 26 receiver targets, and most of the routes were a simple 10 yards up and a cut inside between defenders. It’s not like he was pulling double moves or getting behind the defense. I’m pretty sure if the Saints see the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Thomas is not running free in the intermediate areas of a soft zone all day.

Brees played okay, but threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage while targeting an open Ted Ginn. Brees just didn’t have the arm to get it there. He’s still accurate on the intermediate stuff to Thomas and has nice touch on short throws, but a better defense will take advantage.

Nick Foles looked great early and struggled in the second half. The Alshon Jeffery drop/interception cost the Eagles the game, though it’s obviously impossible to know whether they would have gotten the final ~35 yards to win it and done so with little enough clock not to give up a game-winning FG to the Saints on a final drive. I was hoping the Eagles would score with a minute left, the Saints would get the ball, drive it to within FG range, and Wil Lutz would hit the upright and crossbar with the failed kick.

I suppose Foles’ poor second half will quiet any notion of him replacing Carson Wentz next year. It’ll be interesting to see where Foles winds up as the Eagles almost certainly can’t afford both now. As a Giants fan, I’d love to get Foles for a year or two before the top QB crops arrive in 2020 and 2021.

The announcers for this game were conceivably the worst I’ve ever encountered, and that’s saying a lot for someone who’s listened to Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Phil Simms over the years. Charles Davis’ after-school-special tone and delivery creeps up on you, and by the second half I wanted to defenestrate myself. Seriously, he talks to you like you’re five. The other guy, whose name I won’t even bother to look up, was equally bad, affecting the most generic broadcaster cadence he could imitate and never deviating. Whoever thought it was a good idea to pair those two for a playoff game despises the viewing audience.

The Patriots annihilated the Chargers entirely. The margin of victory was only 13 because the Chargers outscored New England 21-3 in garbage time.

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• If you drafted the James White (17-15-97)/Sony Michel (138 total yards, three TDs) combo for your playoffs, you’re off to a good start. Would it have killed the Patriots to get White one more catch in the entire fourth quarter to break the all-time playoff record, though?

Julian Edelman (13-9-151) got open and broke tackles all day. What an unlikely No. 1 receiver at age 32 and coming off so many injuries. The Chargers did such a nice job game-planning and adjusting to the Ravens’ quirky offensive style, but couldn’t replicate that success against the Patriots running and short-passing game.

Philip Rivers once again isn’t advancing far into the playoffs, despite a team loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. His entire career was stifled by teams in his conference with Hall of Fame quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger), and now he has Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and a healthy Andrew Luck with whom to contend. I saw a comparison on Twitter to Dan Marino, but Rivers is more like the midway point between Marino and Tony Romo.

The Pats haven’t missed a conference title game since the 2010-11 season when they got knocked out by the Mark Sanchez Jets, i.e., they’ve made it to the final four for eight straight seasons.

I love this clip from Brady, showing the Patriots perception of themselves. The whole world might see them as Goliaths, but they identify with David.

The Cowboys stuffed Seattle’s No. 1 rush offense last week, but the Rams game was another story. C.J. Anderson (23-123-2) and Todd Gurley (16-115-1) tore through them, while Zeke Elliott (20-for-47) struggled. The Cowboys have become a better passing team of late, but they had no hope with that kind of rushing disparity.

It’s unfortunate the Cowboys didn’t give themselves a chance for a push against the spread by going for two on their final score because it also happened to be the optimal choice for winning the game. Either you make the try and cut it to seven, or you miss, and know you need a miraculous two scores. All things being equal, make the call that will better inform your decision making.

Before the year, I doubted Christian McCaffrey’s fantasy value in part because the Panthers signed Anderson (a bowling ball of a back) to be his complement and presumably steal what goal-line carries were left after Cam Newton took his share. Instead, the Panthers cut Anderson, McCaffrey had a monster year, and Anderson is playing a major role in the NFL playoffs, stealing touches and goal-line work from proven workhorse and goal-line ace Todd Gurley. Granted Gurley had a knee injury, but he looked perfectly fine on his 16 carries.

The Chiefs-Colts was not as close as the score, either, as Indy got its only points in the first 54 minutes on a blocked punt.

Damien Williams (25-129-1, 5-for-25) looked good against a strong run defense, and Sammy Watkins (8-6-62 with a fumble) seemed healthy. The Patriots are a crafty bunch, but asking anyone to stop this offense with a healthy Watkins back is a tall order, especially in Arrowhead.

The play of the Chiefs defense was surprising, but they’re tougher at home, and their pass rush got to the normally untouchable Andrew Luck three times. I imagine the Patriots will attack it with running plays and quick throws next week. If White didn’t get the running back receptions record in the divisional round, maybe he’ll get it this week.