NFL wild-card week in review

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.

NFL playoff Six-Pack

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.

Looking back at NFL Week 17

The two teams that needed to win to get the final two playoff berths – Philadelphia and Tennessee – both did.

The Eagles beat the Giants to eliminate the Cowboys, who beat Washington. The Titans beat the Texans, who were resting their starters, to eliminate the Steelers and Raiders, but they both lost anyway.

The real drama was in the battle for the byes. San Francisco got the top seed in the NFC when Seattle imploded after getting within inches short of the victory. Green Bay got the second seed with the victory over Detroit at the buzzer.

In the AFC, the Patriots lost to Miami and that cost them the second seed when the Chiefs beat the Chargers. That means the Patriots will be a wild card team, and they’ve never won a Super Bowl without getting a bye. Baltimore had already wrapped up the top seed and rested Lamar Jackson but still beat the Steelers.

Positives

—San Francisco needed help from the Seahawks botching the final half minute but the 49ers have the top seed and a shot at their sixth Super Bowl victory and first since 1994. Jimmy Garoppolo gets a chance to join Joe Montana (4) and Steve Young (1) as quarterbacks who have led the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Both are in the HOF and Montana was named one of the ten best ever.

—Green Bay nailed down the second seed by beating the Lions on Mason Crosby’s field goal at the buzzer. Green Bay beat the Lions twice this year while trailing the entire game except when time expired. They now get a bye and at least one playoff game on the frozen tundra. –It was a surreal scene in Kansas City when the fans were cheering late in the fourth quarter even though they had the victory in hand over the Chargers. They were excited because Miami beat the Patriots, handing the Chiefs the bye.

—The Titans nailed down the wild card spot with the victory over the Texans and they let Derrick Henry stay in the game to beat out Nick Chubb for the league rushing title. Ryan Tannehill saved their season and is due for a big payday next year but fell eight yards short of the 2750 passing yards he needed to get a $250,000 bonus. The Titans should give it to them anyway.

—Drew Brees threw three touchdown passes in the easy 42-10 victory over the Panthers. The frustrating thing for them is that they still didn’t get a first-round bye and will likely have to win two road playoff games to get to the Super Bowl if they win the first one at home. Brees finished with 547 touchdown passes, six ahead of Tom Brady, whose career at New England may be nearing its end.

Negatives

—When will Seattle get it right when it has the ball near the goal line in the final minute in a big game. They were inside the one against the 49ers after a Russell Wilson spike with three downs to put it in the end zone. But they got called for delay of game and Wilson’s fourth down completion was inches the goal line. Coach Pete Carroll blamed miscommunication for the mishap. Another word for it is inexcusable.

—Is the Patriot dynasty over? It sure looked like it when they lost to Miami, which cost them a first-round bye. And Tom Brady seems to have stayed a year too long. He should have retired on top last year the way John Elway did.

—The Steelers and Raiders needed victories to have a playoff shot if the Titans lost. The Titans won but they both lost anyway. The Steelers lost to a Baltimore team that rested Lamar Jackson and the Raiders lost to the Broncos 16-15 when Jon Gruden decided to go for the win rather than take the tie and go into overtime. But Derek Carr’s pass was deflected and the Raiders lost their last game as the Oakland Raiders.

—The Rams won their finale beating the Cardinals as Jared Goff threw three touchdown passes but it was a frustrating season for the Rams, who didn’t make the playoffs after losing the Super Bowl last year. Facing cap problems and the loss of two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey, the Rams window may be closing as they move into a new stadium next year.

—What is the future for the Bucs’ Jameis Winston? He threw a Pick Six in overtime against the Falcons to become the first play to throw 30 touchdown passes and 30 picks. Are the Bucs or any other team going to give him a big contract? Can he fix the interception problem? Stay tuned.

Previewing NFL Week 17

Going into the regular season finales, ten of the 12 teams have clinched playoff spots and six of the eight have clinched division titles.

It is a difficult week to handicap because there is only one game – 49ers-Seattle — in which both teams have something to play for and they’re playing for the division title and the top seed, not a playoff spot.

The final two playoff spots go to the winner of the NFC East and an AFC wild card spot. The Eagles win the NFC East if they beat the Giants or if they lose and the Cowboys lose to Washington. The Cowboys get it if they win and the Eagles lose.

The Titans can clinch the AFC wild card spot if they beat the Texans. If they lose, Pittsburgh and even the Raiders have a shot.

The league is having the teams with something at stake playing at the same time although games could be affected by halftime scores.

For example, if New England is way ahead at halftime and on its way to clinching the second seed, Kansas City could pull Patrick Mahomes in the second half against the Chargers because the Chiefs would then have nothing to play for.

Game of the week: The 12-3 49ers go to Seattle to play the 11-4 Seahawks, who have been hit by injuries but have the homefield edge. A 49er victory clinches the top seed for San Francisco and relegates Seattle to a wild card spot. Seattle gets the division title if it wins but would need the Packers and Saints to lose to get the top seed. So, the odds are against the Seahawks getting the top seed but they get a home game in the first round of the playoffs if they win instead of playing on the road as a wild card team. The Seahawks will know by kickoff if they still have a shot at the top seed.

Game of the weak: The 5-9-1 Cardinals go to the 8-7 Rams, who are possibly the most disappointing team in the league. The Rams lost the Super Bowl last year and went all in on making it back by trading two first round picks for Jalen Ramsey. Now the Rams are cash strapped under the cap and don’t have those first round picks. The Rams are also locked in the same division with the 49ers and Seahawks and likely won’t be back to the Super Bowl any time soon. Whether they finish 9-7 or 8-8 is meaningless.

What to watch for this weekend:

—The Dolphins have been a surprise team, winning four games when the front office was trying to tank the season. But the Patriots are a virtual lock at home against the Dolphins. The Patriots are playing for the second seed and a first-round bye and it’s hard to imagine them not nailing it down even though they have struggled much of the season on offense and are facing questions whether Tom Brady is showing is age and will be back next year.

—The Chiefs are in an unusual situation. They can’t bench their starters because they get the top seed if they beat the Chargers and the Patriots lose to Miami. But they know the odds of the Patriots losing to Miami are slim and none. The Chiefs main goal is to not get anyone hurt. It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs rest their starters in the second half if the Patriots get off to a big lead over the Dolphins.

—The Steelers get a wild card spot if they beat the Ravens and the Titans lose to Houston. And the Ravens are resting Lamar Jackson and several other starters because the they have clinched the top seed. But they Ravens aren’t likely to mail it in because the Steelers are their main rival.

—The Eagles get the NFC East if they beat the Giants but this could be a dangerous game for the Eagles. They are riddled with injuries, are coming off an emotional victory over the Cowboys and Giants’ rookie quarter Daniel Jones is coming off a big game. The Giants have nothing to play for but would like nothing better than to knock a division rival out of the playoffs.

—The Packers get the top seed if they beat the Lions and the 49ers lose to the Seahawks. But since the 49ers-Seahawks game will be played Sunday night, they won’t know going into the Lions game if they have a shot at the top seed. But they do know a victory gives them at least a second seed regardless of what happens in the 49ers-Seahawks game so they have to play to win the game.

Looking back at NFL Week 15

With two weeks to go, eight teams have already nailed down playoff berths and three more teams, the Texans, Cowboys and Vikings, can lock in playoff berths this weekend.

Baltimore and New England are on track to get the first two seeds in the AFC, but the battle for the top two seeds in the NFC is wide open with four teams, the Seahawks, Packers, Saints and 49ers, at 11-3.

The 49ers created the tie by losing to Atlanta on the final play when the replay official ruled Julio Jones had scored the winning touchdown after the officials first ruled he was stopped short of the goal line.

Positives

—The Atlanta Falcons seem to be trying to save Dan Quinn’s job by showing they haven’t quit on their coach. They posted their fourth win in the last six games by upsetting San Francisco.

—The Texans are a hard team to figure. They upset New England, were then drilled by the Broncos, but came back to beat the Titans to put themselves in a good position to win their division.

—The Cowboys and Eagles both won, beating the Rams and Redskins to remain tied at 7-7 and setting up a showdown this weekend with the division lead at stake. Dallas clinched with a victory while the Eagles have to win their last two to win the division.

—The Packers and Vikings both won, beating the Rams and the Chargers to remain one game apart in the NFC North with the Packers at 11-4 and the Vikings at 10-4. They play next Monday night.

—Drew Brees became the all-time leader in touchdown passes as he threw four against the Colts to boost his total to 540, moving him one ahead of Peyton Manning. But he’s only two ahead of Tom Brady. And he had just one incompletion as he completed 29 of 30 passes.

Negatives

—The Rams are not only not likely to back to the Super Bowl, they’re not likely to make the playoffs after being routed by the Cowboys to fall to 8-6. They need to win their last two and the Vikings to lose their last two to get a wild card spot.

—The score looked impressive as the Patriots beat the Bengals, 34-13, but they don’t look like a Super Bowl team. They were actually outgained in yardage, 315 to 291. And Brady passed for only 128 yards, but the Patriots won on five turnovers.

—The Browns continued to be one of the most disappointing teams in the league. After all the hype in the offseason, they didn’t challenge for the playoffs. They lost to the Cardinals in the battle of Oklahoma Heisman Trophy winners Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield and the best the Browns can do now is finish .500.

—The Panthers recently fired coach Ron Rivera but they committed three turnovers in a loss to the Seahawks. The Panthers are now 5-9. It may be the coach wasn’t the problem.

—The Lions fell to 3-10-1 with the loss to the Bucs as Jameis Winston torched them for a career high 458 yards. But the Ford family announced that GM Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia will be back at least for one more year. Probably another wasted year. Quinn fired Jim Caldwell, who went 9-7, to hire Patricia.