Playoff Judgements I: Why it's never too late to start believing in St. Nick
So now the Eagles go to New Orleans, where the Saints are the NFL’s top-rated team … where they crushed Philadelphia earlier this season … and where Drew Brees has never lost a playoff game.
So it'll be the Big Easy, right? Maybe not. And here's why.
They call him “St. Nick” in the Philadelphia, and he just reminded us why. The guy’s won nine of his last 10 starts from December forward, is 4-0 in the playoffs the past two seasons, has the best passer rating (105.2) in playoff history, just overcame the Chicago Freakin’ Bears with a last-minute TD … and, oh yeah, is the reigning Super Bowl MVP.
What’s more, he's the first quarterback in NFL history to win playoff games in consecutive years despite starting fewer than five regular-season contests in each year. And he did it with bruised ribs.
So why would you ever bet against him or the Eagles now? Answer: You wouldn’t.
Philadelphia won its last four this season with Foles, and the Eagles act as if they’re playing with house money … which, essentially, they are. Because they wouldn’t be here were it not for Minnesota losing at home last weekend.
But that’s another story for another day.
The bottom line is this: These guys are the defending Super Bowl champions, and they’re playing like it. More important, they believe in St. Nick, and he just proved … again … why. He can’t lose. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Rams in L.A. Or Houston at home. Or the Bears in Chicago.
He. Can’t. Lose.
“They built a statue of him,” Eagles’ defensive end Chris Long said after Sunday’s 16-15 defeat of Chicago, “and he hasn’t changed a bit.”
Which is why I’d never underestimate him.
Granted, the Saints dropped a 48-7 hammer on Philadelphia in November. But that was seven weeks ago, and it was with Carson Wentz … not Foles. Plus, those Eagles were a different team.
But so are these Saints. In their last five games (one of which they played without Brees), they scored 14 or fewer points three times. And in their 31-28 defeat of Pittsburgh at home, they were fortunate – scoring the go-ahead TD with 1:25 left.
History tells us not to pay attention; to believe in the Saints because … well, because the NFC’s No. 1 seed reached the Super Bowl four of the past five seasons. So I get that. But how can you NOT believe in St. Nick?
You can’t. Not this time of year.
DANGER, DANGER, DANGER
They have Patrick Mahomes. They have Andy Reid. And they have home-field advantage. But, in the end, it’s always about history when it comes to the Kansas City Chiefs and the playoffs.
Look, you already know they’ve lost 11 of their last 12 in the postseason, including their last six at Arrowhead. And you know Reid is 1-6 in his last seven playoff appearances. So now he and the Chiefs draw Indianapolis in the divisional round of the playoffs … and, uh-oh, here we go again.
The Colts are 4-0 vs. K.C. in the playoffs, including two at Arrowhead, which means … yep, which means they’ve won as many playoff games there (2) as the Chiefs … ever. Plus, Andrew Luck is 3-0 vs. the Chiefs, with two of those victories in Kansas City.
But these Chiefs are the NFL’s highest-scoring offense, you say. And you are correct. But so were the 2003 Chiefs. They also had home-field advantage through the playoffs. In fact, they were 13-3 and 8-0 at home. But look what happened: They met the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs and lost 38-31.
Those Chiefs scored 152 points more than they allowed. These Chiefs scored 144 more points than they allowed. Déjà vu all over again? Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Nothing unusual about AFC wild cards sweeping this weekend. The past three years AFC wild cards are 5-1 the first week of the playoffs.
Now the bad news: There hasn’t been a fifth or sixth seed in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl since the Steelers did it in 2005.
Maybe that Eagles’ win wasn’t so extraordinary after all. Since 1990, No. 3 seeds are 14-15 vs. No. 6 seeds.
There is no such thing as home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Road teams were 3-1 this weekend and are 9-7 in the wild-card round the past four seasons.
Now comes the second-guessing in Chicago, and it’s going to start with that season-ending defeat of Minnesota. If the Vikes had won that game, Philadelphia wouldn’t have made the playoffs, and the Bears would’ve played Minnesota … not the Eagles … Sunday.
Tell me again why Robbie Gould had to go. Since the Bears cut him he’s made 82 of 85 field goals.
Here’s the scary thing about Indianapolis: The Colts have Andrew Luck, a franchise wide receiver, a running game, an offensive line that can protect, the NFL’s leading tackler, solid defense, a terrific GM, Frank Reich and the most cap space ($123.8 million) of anyone in the NFL. Bottom line: They’re here to stay … for years.
Since 2016 the quarterback with the most wins in prime time is … Dak Prescott with 12.
The Chargers are 9-0 in games outside L.A. (includes London). New England is 8-0 at home this year and won its last 15 there -- including a defeat of the Chargers in 2017 and the 2017 playoffs. Something’s gotta give.
Philip Rivers says he “can’t wait” to get to Foxboro, but be careful what you wish for. Rivers is 0-7 vs. Tom Brady, including 0-2 in the playoffs, with seven TDs and 10 interceptions.
Here’s why it’s so important for the Rams to play Dallas at home. There, Jared Goff has 22 touchdown passes and three interceptions. But on the road? Ten TDs, nine interceptions.
And since we’re on the subject … Drew Brees has 21 TDs and one interception at home. So it’s his magic at home vs. the magic of St. Nick., and oddsmakers already have made their choice. The Saints opened as 8-1/2-point favorites.
Football is a game of inches … unless, of course, you're a Bears' fan. Then it's a game of double doinks.
So much for Lamar Jackson changing the NFL game.
Ravens’ cornerback Jimmy Smith chastised the Ravens’ “fair-weather” fans for calling for Joe Flacco, saying “No. 8 (Jackson) got us here.” He’s right, of course. But so what? Jalen Hurts was 24-2 with Alabama and had them in the National Championship game a year ago. And then he stunk. So what happened? What happened is that Nick Saban did with Hurts what John Harbaugh would not with Jackson: He replaced him at halftime with freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Result: Another championship. Just sayin.’
If Jackson were Tim Tebow, he would've been excoriated for that performance. One difference: Tebow actually won his first playoff game. In fact, he beat the defending AFC champion (Pittsburgh) and threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in OT.
Key for Chiefs vs. Luck: Their ability … or inability … to get to him with a pass rush. The Chiefs were tied for the league lead with 52 sacks, which is great. But so is this: The Colts surrendered the fewest sacks (18) of anyone anywhere. And Luck, who wasn’t sacked by Houston Saturday, hasn’t been dropped in seven games this season and was sacked no more than once in 12 of their 17 starts. The Colts are 6-1 in games where he wasn’t dropped, winning their last six.
Unsung Chargers’ hero: Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. Using seven defensive backs on 58 of L.A.’s 59 defensive snaps, he minimized the Ravens’ speed and shut down their running game. Moreover, it forced Lamar Jackson to do what he can’t – namely, beat you with his arm. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Chargers this season used seven DBs on only 50 snaps … or 5 percent of the time.
Let’s call it what it is: Frank Reich is Houston’s Kryptonite.
This is why you cannot … under any circumstances … turn off next week’s Indy-Chiefs game, no matter the score: Teams that lead by 21 or more at the half are 49-2 in the playoffs. The only exceptions: The 2013 Indianapolis Colts, with Andrew Luck, and the 1992 Buffalo Bills, with Frank Reich.
Indianapolis sure doesn’t look like someone that needs Le’Veon Bell.
Interesting stat, courtesy of Philadelphia’s Howard Eskin: Since 1980, quarterbacks playing in the first playoff games of their careers are 14-32, including 0-3 this weekend.
Aaron Rodgers isn’t in the playoffs. So why all these insufferable State Farm ads? Enough already.
It’s been 11 years since Rivers and Brady last met in the playoffs (the 2007 AFC championship game). But it was 12 years between playoff games for Brady and Ben Roethlisberger (2004, 2016), and Brady won both.
Mitch Trubisky deserved better. The Bears put the ball in his hands to win the game, and he delivered. Unfortunately, Cody Parkey did not.
THE WEEKEND OMG
There were 58 first-half points scored Wild Card Weekend, the second fewest in the last 15 seasons (50 in 2015). Only the Colts and Cowboys scored first-half TDs.
SUNDAY’S GOLD JACKET QUOTE
“One of the worst feelings in the world. I did everything in my power to go make that kick, and for whatever reason it hit the crossbar and the upright, and I still couldn't do it. I feel terrible." -- Bears kicker Cody Parkey on his 43-yard missed field goal.
WEEKEND’S BIGGEST WINNER
NICK FOLES. He not only won again; he picked up another $1 million check for playing 33 percent of the snaps in the playoffs and winning a postseason start. Plus, the Eagles promise they’ll work on a solution for Foles barely missing out on a $1 million incentives payout this season.
And a close second …
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS. Very simple: They don’t draw Baltimore in the playoffs. So why's that a big deal? Because Tom Brady is 19-3 at home in the playoffs, and two of those losses are to Baltimore. Oh, and then there’s this: He’s 7-0 vs. Philip Rivers, including 2-0 in the postseason.
WEEKEND'S BIGGEST LOSER
BALTIMORE RAVENS. They lost more than a playoff game. They lost GM Ozzie Newsome, too. Newsome announced last year he would retire after the season, and the season’s over. But what a run. The guy has two Super Bowl rings and a litany of draft success that would make him an Hall-of-Fame GM if he weren’t already a Hall-of-Fame tight end.
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