Chief-Bengals has ‘70s playoff rivalry feel

The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Oakland Raiders five years in a row in the playoffs in one of the best rivalries in NFL history.

No two teams have done that since.

In the last three years, the teams played in AFC title game and the winner won the Super. The first game was the Immaculate Reception game in 1972 but the Steelers lost to the Dolphins the next week. In 1973, the Raiders beat the Steelers, but also lost to the Dolphins. The Steelers wound up winning three of the five games.

This history is relevant because the Bengals and Chiefs play Sunday in the AFC title game for the second year in a row.

They appear to be the two best teams in the AFC and nobody will be surprised if they meet again next year. They are likely to be the top two seeds again next year although Buffalo might rebound after its one-sided loss to the Bengals last week.

It would be unusual in the salary cap era for two teams to remain on top.

But both have young quarterbacks and Joe Burrow is on his rookie deal and Patrick Mahomes has signed a long term deal so it will be interesting to see how  long they can keep it going.

And since both seem likely to continue to dominate their divisions they will keep meeting in the regular season every year.

That will be the game of the regular season each year.

Get the popcorn ready. It could turn out to be one of the best rivalries in NFL history.

Previewing the NFL conference title games

Three of the four teams in the conference title games last year are returning this year.

The Kansas City-Cincinnati game is a rematch of Cincinnati’s 27-24 victory over the Chiefs last year. San Francisco lost t the Rams 20-17, but Rams didn’t make the playoffs this year and the Eagles have the top seed.

These two games will be critical for the reputations of the two coaches and quarterbacks who advance to the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes has made it to the AFC title game five consecutive years. And made it to the Super Bowl twice, winning one and losing one. He didn’t play his rookie year so he has made it every year as a starter. He has already lost three times to Joe Burrow in the last 13 months so he would probably be the underdog even if he didn’t have a high ankle sprain.

Andy Reid has a 20-16 record in the playoffs with three Super Bowl appearances and one win.

Burrow is in his third season and made the Super Bowl in his second year last season but lost to the Rams.

Zac Taylor is in his fourth season as the Bengals coach and is 5-1 in playoffs with one Super Bowl loss.

Jalen Hurts is in his third season and his second as a starter and is in his first conference title game with a shot at his first Super Bowl.

Nick Sirianni is in just his second year as the Eagles and is aiming for his first Super Bowl appearance.

Mike Shanahan is in his sixth year as 49ers coach with a 6-2 playoff record and this is his third appearance in a conference title game in the last four years. He has one Super bowl appearance and lost. He also was the offensive coordinator in Atlanta in the 28-3 Super Bowl game against the Patriots.

Brock Purdy is only the fifth rookie to start a conference title game. The other four lost so he is trying to become the first rookie to make it to the Super Bowl as a starter.

NFL Division Round in review

The NFL is overdue for some good matchups and exciting finishes in the playoffs.

It didn’t get them in the divisional round, which is often called the best weekend of the season. but was disappointing this year.

The two lowest seeds who were big underdogs, Giants and Jaguars, lost as expected. The Giants were routed by the Eagles and while the Jaguars kept it close because Patrick Mahomes played the second half on one leg, they were guilty of two late turnovers and allowed backup Chad Henne to put together a 98-yard drive in the first half. They also didn’t put much pressure on Mahomes  when he was hobbling in the second half. 

The two Sunday games were expected to be classics but the Bengals dominated the Bills and the Cowboys made too many mistakes against the 49ers. Two picks by Dak Prescott were devastating. The Cowboys have now gone 27 years in a row without making the conference title game with Jerry Jones as the owner. Jones should hire a GM, but he likes running the show. 

The Bills were the underdogs because the Bengals were missing three offensive linemen but the backups blocked well and Joe Burrow got the ball out quickly as he picked apart the Bills defense. The Bills have lost in the playoffs now four years in a row and they may need to give Josh Allen a better supporting cast..

Burrow now takes on Patrick Mahomes, who will likely be limping because of his high ankle sprain. Burrow has already beaten Mahomes three times in the last 13 months so he could be on his way to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row. The 49ers are in the conference title game the third time in the last four years. They are 1-1 in the previous two games.

The Eagles, the only top seed left, will host the 49ers in a duel between Jalen Hurts and rookie Brock Purdy.

The NFL hopes these two matchups will be .the best of the playoffs. So far, the playoffs have not been memorable.

New city, but same old Chargers

In 2004, the San Diego Chargers selected Eli Manning with the first pick in the draft, but he never played a down for them.

Eli was adamant he wouldn’t play for the Chargers so they traded him to the Giants, who gave them Philip Rivers, the player they drafted with the fourth pick.

Not much has changed for the Chargers except they moved to Los Angeles to share a stadium with the Rams since then. They haven’t appeared in a Super Bowl since 1994. It was their only appearance and they were routed by the 49ers.

Eli went on to win two Super Bowls for the Giants, while Rivers put up a lot of good numbers but never made it to the Super Bowl.

This is some history that Justin Herbert needs to study and understand that if he spends his career with the Chargers, he will probably be like Rivers. Put up good numbers but never make it to the Super Bowl. There is even a word for the Charger mishaps – “Chargering.” The Spanos family has a history of falling short.

After the 27-0 meltdown against the Jaguars and the decision to keep Coach Brandon Staley, it is obvious the Chargers are still spinning their wheels. They only fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, the grandson of Vince, and quarterback coach Shane Gray. They should have cleaned house and gotten rid of Staley and GM Tom Telesco.

It should have been obvious after two years that Staley isn’t a good fit for the Chargers. To start with, he’s a defensive coach and they should have an offensive guru with an asset like Herbert.

And Staley’s management of the game is suspect. He tends to go for it too often on fourth down and last year his timeout with 38 seconds left in overtime of a tie game against the Raiders in the season finale when a tie would have put both teams in the playoffs helped hand the Raiders a win and knock them out of the playoffs.

This year, he played his starters in a meaningless season finale and lost Mike Williams for the Jaguars game when he broke a bone in his back.

 And Daniel Popper in The Athletic detailed all the mistakes they made on both sides of the ball once they got the 27-0 lead.

With less than three minutes left they had a 3rd and 1 at their 27 and Lombardi sent in two plays – an interior run or a jet sweet if the Jaguars were stacked against the run. They were so Herbert called the jet sweep. Lombardi sent it in even though they had a negative 21 yards using it four times in the past. They also had a backup at the position who missed the switch in plays and wasn’t looking for the ball. The exchange was fumbled and the Chargers had to punt and the Jaguars scored to make it 27-7.

In the second half, the Jaguars used a dozen no huddle plays compared to three in first half and the Chargers didn’t adjust. The plays averaged 10.5 yards a play and three completions of 20 yards or more including a 39 yard touchdown pass against a busted coverage.

Then there was the undisciplined play as Joey Bosa was called for two unsportsmanlike penalties. He threw his helmet after the second one when officials missed a false start by Jawaan Taylor as Trevor Lawrence threw a touchdown pass. Bosa’s second penalty gave Jaguars a chance to go for two and Lawrence jumped over the top for the conversion and the Jaguars won with a field goal on final play.

In the end, the Chargers lost despite having a 5-0 edge in turnovers. Teams with that margin were 142-4-1 since 2000 and yet the Chargers lost.

Staley seems to be almost oblivious to the way it looked at his Wednesday press conference.

“I have a lot of confidence in the way we’ve done things for two years,” he said.

Huh? Is he serious?

Meanwhile, Herbert has to think about whether he should stay with Chargers. Unless they give him a Deshaun Watson contract — $230 million for five years – he should make a Kirk Cousins move and get franchised a couple of times and then leave as a free agent and sign with a team that has a Super Bowl shot..

As long as the Spanos family owns the team, Herbert is likely to be the next Rivers in a town in which the team plays second fiddle to the Rams.

Previewing the NFL Division Round

The dynamic of the divisional games on Saturday and Sunday will be very different.

On Saturday, the two bye teams, Kansas City and Philadelphia, host Jacksonville and the Giants will be heavily favored to advance to the conference title games.

The question is whether the Chiefs and Eagles will be overconfident or whether the Jaguars and Giants will already consider their season a success.

Jaguars coach Doug Pederson was asked if his team is playing with house money and he said, among other things, that since the Jaguars are in the final four, “Whether we win or lose, our season was a success from that standpoint.”

That is true. Even if the Jaguars lose their season is a success. But Kansas City has already been in the last four AFC title games and two Super Bowls the last four years. Their mindset is Super Bowl or bust.

On the other hand, since week 11, Trevor Lawrence and Mahomes have had virtually identical stats.  Both are 7-1, Lawrence has completed 66 per cent of his passes and has 16 touchdown passes and six picks. He was 4 and 4 in both categories last week as the Jaguars overcame a 27-0 deficit against the Chargers. Mahomes has completed 67 per cent of his passes and is 16-5 in TD passes and picks. 

It will not be a surprise if both the Jaguars and Giants cover the spread. The question is whether either can pull off a big upset.

On Sunday, it is a different story with both the Bills and 49ers favored by less than a touchdown against the Bengals and Cowboys.

The Bills and Bengals, of course, had their last game called because of the Damar Hamlin injury. The Bengals, meanwhile, scored a touchdown on their first drive in the Hamlin game but now have issues on their offensive line.

The Cowboys haven’t been in conference title game since winning their last Super Bowl in 1995. Meanwhile, the 49ers are trying to make it with rookie Brock Purdy, who is 7-0 but has faced only one top ten defense.

Nobody will be surprised if both games Sunday are close.