The Worst Thing that Happened to Your Team: Divisional Playoffs Edition
New Orleans Saints
We start with the most obvious worst thing that happened to any team this week, and possibly one of the worst things to happen to any team all season. Saints safety Marcus Williams whiffed on a tackle that let up the game-winning Stefon Diggs touchdown with 10 seconds left while the Vikings had no timeouts.
The play is actually a lot worse than that brief description. Not only did Williams whiff on the tackle, but his attempt was so bad that he actually ended up making no contact with Diggs whatsoever. The Saints may as well have played with 10 on the field instead of 11. Not only did Williams miss worse than a Wii Tennis rookie, but he ended up taking out the only other person with a shot of chasing down Diggs as Williams tripped up cornerback Ken Crawley (#20). Basically, Williams blew up this whole play and let up the game-losing 61-yard touchdown with no time left on the clock.
First off, despite this abysmal play, Saints fans should go a little easy on Marcus Williams. To his credit he faced the media after the game, owned up to his mistake, and seemed genuine and sincere throughout his bloodshot-eyed response. Williams said after the game, “Man, it was just my play to make”. He also said he would do everything in his power to assure that nothing like that ever happened again. Additionally, Marcus Williams had a hell of a rookie season, is only 21 years old, and had a pretty nice leaping interception earlier in the game that was part of the reason the Saints were even able to come back from the 17-nothing hole they were in to start the game. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner tweeted similar sentiments:
It is really a shame that the Saints season ended this way considering Drew Brees might not have many years left, and considering just how good the 2017 Saints were. Brees was playing like his usual pro-bowl self, Michael Thomas was stepping up and playing up to his potential, Tedd Ginn was catching passes with his hands for the first time in his career, the Saints had two of the best running backs in the league to compliment Brees, and the defense was looking better than it has in years while 11th overall pick Marshon Lattimore was flourishing.
After three straight years of 7-9 seasons, the Saints made their first playoff appearance since the 2013 season. For once, the Saints offense had so much talent that they were able to execute a balanced and efficient attack that allowed Drew Brees to set a new NFL record for completion percentage in a season with 72%, while also allowing Brees to have his lowest passing yardage total since 2005 (which was still no snooze of a stat because he had 4,334 yards this year), and Brees threw his fewest touchdown passes (23) since the 2003 season.
For the record, not that this is breaking news or even significant news, but Brees said after the game when asked about how much longer he wants to play for “I’m more toward the end of my career than the beginning. That’s all I’ll divulge”.
New England Patriots
This half-assed attempt by Bill Belichick to throw a challenge flag:
What the garbage was that
In all seriousness the Patriots dominated the Titans towards the end of the game and advanced to another AFC Championship, so Patriots fans don’t have a whole lot to complain about right now. The Patriots’ secondary is learning to play together and not blow assignments, and their offense looks as stellar as usual. Per Football Outsiders, in 2017 the Patriots led the NFL in plays per drive, yards per drive, points per drive, and touchdowns per drive, scoring on 28.9% of drives in the regular season.
The Patriots continued the spectacular offensive efficiency into the postseason by hanging 35 points on a Titans team that many claimed had an elite defensive line that would cause issues for the Patriots. The Patriots also outgained the Titans by nearly 200 yards (438 to 267), and ran a balanced offense that saw Brady top 300 yards and 3 scores while running backs James White and Dion Lewis each added a touchdown of their own. Next week the Patriots will have a more difficult task as they face a defense with a truly elite defensive line, speedy linebackers, and the best defensive backfield in the league.
Pretty obvious what this one is. This game was an embarrassing blowout by the end, the Titans season is over, and two of their most important players suffered injuries in the process. The Titans added to their embarrassment during the game when they gave the Patriots a first down because they false-started on a friggin punt:
Anyways, back to those injuries. Marcus Mariota injured his quad in the first quarter of the game, and this probably hindered his effectiveness considering mobility is a significant aspect of Mariota’s game. That mobility would have been especially useful against the Patriots as well considering Titans starting right tackle Jack Conklin ended up tearing the ACL in his left knee during the game. Conklin is expected to have surgery in two weeks and has a possibility of beginning next season on the PUP list, per The Tennessean.
The Titans are in an interesting spot now. They surprisingly fired head coach Mike Mularkey after the game (and after discussing a contract extension), and the next head coach’s primary goal will probably be figuring out how to efficiently extract every ounce of talent Mariota has and get this offense clicking.
The fact that this Ben Roethlisberger fake lateral actually faked out anyone on the planet—let alone NFL athletes—is a fucking embarrassment:
But Jags fans have to be ecstatic right now regardless. No one in the national media thought that the Jags would be in the AFC Championship before this season. From the average fan’s perspective on the outside looking in at this Jags team, even in October of this year most people still would probably have picked the Jaguars to miss the playoffs.
There are three main differences between the 2016 Jaguars and the 2017 Jaguars that have allowed this team to succeed: Blake Bortles is playing at a higher level than many thought possible before the season started, the Jaguars drafted and developed one of the best if not the best secondary in the NFL, and the idiot Bills traded them all-pro Marcell Dareus for basically nothing (one 2018 6th round pick) to pair with Calais Campbell to give the Jaguars the best defensive tackle/end combo in the league.
The Jaguars battled the entire game and outlasted the Steelers in a 45-42 shootout, and they will need to draw up a similar performance if they want to take down the Patriots next week. Per OddsShark, the early line has the Patriots favored by 9.5. The Jags have the firepower to get the job done, though. The Jaguars defense ranks first against the pass (only allowing 169 yards per game), second in sacks (55), and first in opposing QB rating (QBs average a 68.5 QBR against them).
Despite all the hints the universe gave the Steelers about how they should run the ball or at least get it to Le’Veon frequently, the Steelers ended up giving Bell only 16 rushes in this game and lost. They also attempted this onside kick that ended up going about 4 yards.
The Steelers came into this game facing the #1-ranked pass D in the NFL, but also facing the NFL’s 21st-ranked run defense with a healthy Le’Veon Bell who was second in total yards (1,946) to only Todd Gurley (2,093) in 2017. Bell also came into the game with 406 total touches on his shoulders since the start of the season. Although, it is worth noting that Bell was productive with the touches he did receive as he had 67 rushing yards and a TD to go along with 9 catches for 88 yards and another TD.
Steelers fans, the only thing you can do at this point is take one last moment to appreciate this dime of a throw by Big Ben and the ensuing spectacular catch on 4th and 5 with the game hanging in the balance:
In a classic example of the Falcons choking, Devonta Freeman was only given 10 carries that netted 7 yards despite probably being one of the ten best running backs in the league. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan dropped back to throw 36 times and barely topped 200 yards and only threw one touchdown while the Falcons were outgained by nearly 100 yards and had about 5 less minutes of possession time than the Eagles. In the waning moments of the game, Matt Ryan just stared down Julio Jones play after play despite good coverage by Eagles defenders. The Falcons play-calling at the end of the game was horrendous as well considering two of the final three plays of the game were 50/50 fade balls to Julio that were thrown up for grabs. It didn’t help that the game was heartbreaking for Falcons fans until the bitter end, as the final pass slipped right through Julio’s hands.
The @Eagles make the stop on 4th down! #ATLvsPHI #NFLPlayoffs https://t.co/t9l2GNuiDK
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2018
The game put a cap on a Falcons season that was meant to erase the memory of the 28-3 blown lead against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Instead, the Falcons once again exit the playoffs with a foul taste left in their mouths.
For the record, 5 foot 9 inch Devonta Freeman is a tough little pinball because apparently he played through the 2017 season and last week’s game against the Eagles with a partially torn PCL in his right knee according to ESPN reporter Vaughn McClure. When asked about potential surgery on the knee Freeman said, “I’m not sure yet”.
Nick Foles’ very first pass of the game reminded everyone why we all have so little faith in him.
The wind killed this ball somewhat, but that was still a wobbly and high pass that Foles threw untouched. Either way, Foles also absolutely hucked it into double coverage on his first pass attempt of the game. The game didn’t get much better for Foles and he threw another pass that took the air out of the stadium on a drive that ended in a field goal just before the first half.
That field goal probably gets taken off the board of the Falcons could avoid kneeing the ball all over the field like this is FIFA 14.
Despite Nick Foles looking like he was genuinely trying to lose the game at times, the Eagles now advance to the NFC Championship after stifling one of the NFL’s best offenses. If anyone questioned if this defense and the talent on offense could carry Nick Foles to a playoff win, they now have their answer. The defense obviously played well, and Blount and Ajayi did their part to help the offense and pick up the slack with Wentz out. Star linebacker Nigel Bradham echoed that sentiment after the game when he said during a postgame interview, “No matter what people say, whatever their opinion is, we’re the number one seed for a reason. That wasn’t no easy task”. Valid point sir.
The early line for this game sets the Vikings as the favorite with 3.5 points over the Eagles. The Eagles’ odds to win the Super Bowl are currently set at 5/1.
I am not going to say anything about the Vikings other than you should watch that final play over and over again, and you should watch some of the postgame interviews because you might never see a game-winning play like that of that magnitude again in the NFL in your lifetime. That was a once in a lifetime play and you gotta be happy for Case Keenum considering where he is this year and considering where he was just one year ago. Also fuck Jeff Fisher.
.@STEFONDIGGS FOR THE WIN!!!!!!!!! #SKOL #NOvsMIN #NFLPlayoffs https://t.co/UAoNJ2NJ97
— NFL (@NFL) January 15, 2018
Says it all. https://t.co/zrrmdVBNcj
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 15, 2018