1. The Titans upset the Chiefs in the regular season matchup, but it not surprising the Chiefs are favored. The Titans were at home and it was Patrick Mahomes first game back from his injury. This time, the Titans are on the road and Mahomes is at the top of his game after overcoming a 24-0 deficit in one quarter against the Texans.
2. The Titans have been outgained in yardage in both of their surprising road playoff wins. Both times they were aided by mistakes or turnovers by the Patriots and Texans. If the Chiefs don’t turn the ball over the way the Ravens did four times, the Titans may be hard pressed to pull off another upset.
3. The four coaches in the conference title game have one thing in common. They haven’t won a Super Bowl. But except for Andy Reid, they’re young coaches who are also making their first appearance in the conference title games. That is why Reid has the most at stake. He’s 1-5 in conference title games and lost his lone Super Bowl appearance. The lack of a Super Bowl is a glaring hole in his resume.
4. Derrick Henry has been the workhorse for the Titans, but Ryan Tannehill will be the key to the Titans chance for an upset. The Chiefs are going to put points on the board, which may make it difficult for the Titans to stick with their ground and pound offense built around Henry. They need Tannehill to counter Mahomes if they fall behind.
5. Aaron Rodgers is the only one of the four quarterbacks who has played and won in Super Bowl. And he’s the underdog facing a better team. But don’t look for Rodgers to repeat his poor showing against the 49ers in the regular season when he passed for only 104 yards, lost a fumble and was 0-for-13 on third down in a 37-8 loss. Look for Rodgers to make it close against the tough 49er defense and it wouldn’t be surprising if he pulls off an upset.
6. It is not surprising the two home teams are favored in the conference title games so a Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl is the chalk. But it would be fitting in the NFL’s 100thseason for it to end with a Packers-Chief Super Bowl. That was the matchup for the first Super Bowl before it was called the Super Bowl as the Packers won for their fourth title in their five-title run in the 1960s.
1. The mark of a great player is showing up great in big games. Patrick Mahomes did that against the Texans. His first two drives were stopped when receivers dropped third down passes and the Chiefs fell behind 24-0. But he then led the Chiefs on seven consecutive touchdown drives to win easily. By halftime, he had turned a 24-0 deficit to a 28-24 lead and he kept going in the second half.
2. Bill O’Brien is not considered a good coach. And his decisions to kick a field goal on fourth and short while up 21-0 and then to go for a fake punt on his own territory had the Texans fans calling for his head. But it wasn’t the Texans strategy that was the problem. It was the way his defense prepared or didn’t prepare to stop Mahomes. They had no idea on how to stop him.
3. If the TV networks are going to have a yellow line to mark where a team needs to get for a first down, it should be accurate. Many fans were confused why Green Bay got the first down that clinched the game because the receiver didn’t get to the yellow line. The problem was that the yellow line was past the first down marker. Meanwhile, the Seahawks not only didn’t make a stop, but they punted on fourth and 11 with 3:22 left, taking the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands. Will Pete Carroll ever win another Super Bowl after being a yard away from winning two in a row and then throwing a pass a few years back. And they were in Green Bay in the first place when they botched things from the one-yard against San Francisco in the regular season finale.
4. Did the Ravens make a mistake resting Lamar Jackson and several key players in the season finale? The Ravens have to wonder if the 20-day layoff was a reason for their mistake prone game in the loss to the Titans.
5. Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback left who has won a Super Bowl, which means he has a shot at joining the ranks of the quarterbacks who’ve won two or more Super Bowls. The Packers will be the underdog against San Francisco but Rodgers gives them a chance to pull an upset.
6. Kirk Cousins will again get the flak for not winning the big ones after the loss to San Francisco. But the Vikings were simply overmatched against the 49ers and had the disadvantage of playing a bye team on a short week after a wild card victory. Cousins never really had a chance against the dominant 49ers defense.
1. It is not unusual for a rookie to lose his first playoff game. That is what happened to Lamar Jackson last year when he struggled in his playoff debut against San Diego. Now he’s back in the playoffs against the Titans as the season MVP and the top seed. He says he is using last year’s showing as motivation. He says he is treating every game like the Super Bowl because a loss means he’s doesn’t make it to the big game. Now the spotlight is on Jackson to take the next step.
2. The Patrick Mahomes-Deshaun Watson playoff duel was likely destined to happen after they were both snubbed on the first round in 2017 when the Bears took Mitch Trubisky and both were picked by AFC teams. And it likely won’t their last playoff duel. The winner likely faces Lamar Jackson in the AFC title game.
3. Ryan Tannehill’s job against the Patriots was not to make any mistakes as the Titans protected a one-point lead in the second half. But that won’t be enough against the Ravens. They can’t win just running Derrick Henry. Tannehill has to make plays and put points on the board to keep up with Lamar Jackson to give the give the Titans have a shot at an upset.
4. Kirk Cousins showed last week he could win a big game and win in the playoffs. But that just leads to another big game against the 49ers. The pressure will be on him to have another big game. And the game brings back memories of two memorable playoff games the two teams had in 1987 and 1988. The Vikings won the first in an upset when, according to the book Blindside, the 49ers didn’t have a left tackle to block Chris Doleman in a game that featured Bill Walsh pulling Joe Montana for Steve Young. The next year, the 49ers did block Doleman and won.
5. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson will duel in a battle of two quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls when the Seahawks play at Green Bay. Both are in quest of that elusive second one. One of them will advance to the NFC title game.
6. Jimmy Garoppolo once backed up Tom Brady. Now Brady is out of the playoffs and Jimmy G. has a shot at advancing to the NFC title game when he duels Kirk Cousins.
1. It is now obvious that age is catching up with Tom Brady. But what is Bill Belichick’s excuse? How could he not get Brady better weapons this year? The Titans were obviously convinced that as long as they didn’t make a mistake, the Patriots’ offense couldn’t pull the game out. So, they ran the ball and punted the entire second half with a one-point lead. Whether Brady stays or leaves, Belichick has to rebuild the offense if the Patriots are going to win another Super Bowl anytime soon.
2. The Saints have now lost in the playoffs on the final play three years in a row? They actually had a shot at three Super Bowls in a row. Or at the very least one. And they wound up with zero and have to wonder if their Super Bowl window is closing since the future of Drew Bree’s is up in the air.
3. Jadeveon Clowney should have been called for a penalty for the helmet hit that knocked Carson Wentz out of the Eagle-Seahawk game and virtually ended any chance the Eagles had of winning. The official said Wentz didn’t give himself up, which he should have done, but two wrongs don’t make a right. Even though it was a bang-bang play, Clowney could have avoided hitting him in the helmet. They can’t say they are serious about protecting the QB and avoiding concussions if they don’t penalize that paly.
4. The NFL should end its ill-fated attempt to make pass interference reviewable. Kyle Rudolph obviously got away with pushing of on his game winning touchdown catch even though director of officials Al Riveron said they were hand fighting. If they aren’t going to make that reviewable, kill the rule. For Viking fans, it was a makeup call for Drew Pearson getting away with pushing off on the 1975 Roger Staubach Hail Mary.
5. Kirk Cousins, who has lived with the tag of not being able to win the big one, got that monkey off his back by leading the Vikings to the victory over the Saints. He came in 6-30 against winning teams and 0-9 in MNF. But there is always a big game the next week unless he wins the Super Bowl. Next up is a trip to San Francisco.
6. The wild-card round featured exciting games. But did it make any difference which teams won. The teams that had a bye have won six consecutive Super Bowls. If the Ravens, Chiefs, Packers or 49ers win it all this year, it will be seven in a row. If all four win this week – and all four are favored – the streak will continue.
1. The New England Patriots obviously aren’t the team they once were and they probably blew a chance to get to the Super Bowl when they cost themselves the bye while losing to Miami last Sunday. That means they will likely have to win two road games – probably against the Chiefs and Ravens – to make the Super Bowl. The Patriots have never won the Super Bowl when they haven’t had a bye. But they’re home this weekend against the 9-7 Titans and they’re favored so it won’t be a surprise if this isn’t Tom Brady’s last game in a New England uniform. If the Titans pull off an upset, it may be his last game as a Patriot because for the first time in his career, he is heading into the offseason without a contract.
2. Both road quarterbacks Saturday – Josh Allen of the Bills and Ryan Tannehill of the Titans – will be starting their first playoff game. It is not surprising that Allen be making his first playoff start in his second season. But somewhat surprising that a veteran like Tannehill never made the playoffs in Miami before jump starting his career with the Titans. Since replacing Marcus Mariota, he’s 7-3 as a starter. But the odds are against Allen and Tannehill this weekend. According to walterfootball.com, the last 37 quarterbacks to make their first start won only 15 times. Carson Wentz will be in the same situation Sunday when the Eagles host Seattle.
3. How does Seattle bounce back from the loss to San Francisco at home Sunday night as they face a cross country trip to play at Philadelphia? The Seahawks were inside the one in the last half-minute against the 49ers and inexplicably got a delay of game penalty that helped cost them the division title and relegated them to a Wild Card status. It was a devastating setback for the Seahawks and a case of déjà vu since they were within a yard of beating the a Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back. Now they have to try to rebound against the Eagles, who are slight underdogs in playoffs for sixth time since 2016. They are 4-1 in those games including a Super Bowl victory. So they can’t be overlooked despite 9-7 record.
4. The Texans declined to put J.J. Watt on the injured reserve list and kept him on the active roster after he went down on Oct. 27 with a torn pec muscle. The move paid dividends because he will return against the Bills. But the big question is how long can he play and how effective will be?
5. Despite Watt’s return, the Texans have a shaky defense so the task for Allen will be to outscore Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, who figure to put points on the board even though Buffalo has a solid Buffalo defense.
6. The Vikings may have the toughest assignment of the weekend, going to New Orleans to face Drew Brees. And the Saints have a lot of motivation after being bounced from the playoffs two years in a row in games they probably should have won. And then there’s the Kirk Cousins factor. He is not noted for coming up big games. A Viking victory would be a major upset.