It doesn’t get much better than that. NFL fans wait all year for the best teams to meet in the biggest games and the first weekend of the postseason did not disappoint. Here is what stood out to me from each game.
1. Dak Domination
About this time last week I was writing about how all eyes would be on Dak Prescott for what would undoubtedly be his best shot to reach the Super Bowl to date. This is the best defense the Cowboys have had during Dak’s tenure and he has weapons to boot on offense. Narratives and late season struggles led to the Cowboys only being favored by 2.5 against a putrid Bucs team. On Monday night Dallas played one of its most complete games of the year, led by the man they are supposed to be led by, Dak Prescott.
After a quick three-and-out to start the game, Dak responded with possibly the best game of his career and one of the best playoff games from a QB in years.
Dak simply did it all on Monday night. He got Dallas into the right plays, he set the protection, he hit the open guys, he made plays with his legs, and he protected the football. Brady and the Bucs didn’t stand a chance on Monday, few teams would have.
The competition only gets stiffer from here. Dak will need to repeat this performance if the Cowboys are to go into San Francisco and take out the absolute wagon that is the 49ers.
2. Something has to change in Los Angeles
To the absolute shock of everyone but also yet nobody, the Los Angeles Chargers blew a 27-0 lead and lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars. There was no logical reason to think that Trevor Lawrence and Doug Pederson would pull off one of the great postseason comebacks in league history when Lawrence was handing out interceptions left and right. But yet, when the choke started to commence, when the armour started to crack, when the Chargers started to Charger, we all knew where it was headed. What was the exact moment that you felt it happening?
For me, the most loyal Bolts fan you will find, it was the 3rd-and-inches failed jet sweep to Michael Bandy late in the second quarter. You read that right, A 3RD-AND-INCHES FAILED JET SWEEP TO MICHAEL BANDY!?!?! If there was ever one single play that could encapsulate all of the organizational miscues from the Chargers this year it was that single play.
Every single issue, each minute problem that Chargers arrogantly neglected all season came back to bite them on Saturday night. The issues for the franchise go beyond coaches, players, and the game of football. They are simply doomed for eternity because that’s just how it is. Yes, the Chargers have fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, statistics say they will likely be healthier next year, and they’ll probably find themselves in the playoffs again next year. But what’s the point? This organization is broken. The mental terrorism that the Chargers have heaped upon its fans has reached a breaking point, one that many of the veteran players surely have reached as well.
When my personal depression and anger started to fade away as I sat awake staring at a blank wall on Saturday night, afraid to open twitter or turn on ESPN, I became sad for Justin Herbert. Yes, he inexplicably missed Keenan Allen on the throw above that could have sealed the game but that is so far beyond the point. No player has been failed by his coach, defense, offensive coordinator, and organization like Herbert has. He is forced to play every down on All-Madden while other quarterbacks reap the benefits of non-Lombardi play callers. Herbert should be preparing for a playoff football game today and instead he’s left to wonder what more he could possibly do, and there aren’t any answers for him.
He’s on the Chargers and it’s not fair.
3. The Survive and Advance Bengals
The Bengals are living life right. After running hotter than the sun to get through the AFC playoffs a year ago, Cincinnati escaped the Wild Card round thanks to yet another improbable win in the postseason.
Baltimore did almost everything right. The Ravens ran the ball how they wanted to, the executed their defense how they wanted to, and they got the plays from Tyler Huntley that they needed to get in order to win that game on Sunday night. Everything was going just as the Ravens’ coaches drew it up and preached all week long, until one little play near the end zone.
Why exactly Tyler Huntley thought it was appropriate to go full Ja Morant from the two yard line we will never know. But I am certain that such a play would not have occurred if the Falcons, Chargers, or Lions had been opposite the Ravens in this situation. No, this type of ludicrous fortune is only capable of breaking in favor of certain teams and the Bengals have established themselves as a team on that short list.
While the stats won’t reflect it, Joe Burrow was great in this game. Burrow navigated around a horribly injured offensive line and peppered Ja’Marr Chase with perfectly timed and accurate passes throughout the game. This is important to point out because if the Ravens had won, Burrow would have caught plenty of criticism for losing a home playoff game to Tyler Huntley, and that criticism would have been misplaced. Wins are not a QB stat, there are so many other factors that go into winning or losing a playoff game.
The Survive and Advance Bengals are back at it again, I’d be pretty afraid to be in their way.
4. Josh Allen has to manage the cape
The biggest shocker of the season nearly occured in Buffalo where the Bills had to fight and claw to escape with a win over Skylar Thompson and the Dolphins. If you watched this game then you saw Josh Allen casually fling the ball 60 yards down the field one time after another. Miami was blitzing at a high rate and Allen was doing his best to make them pay with a flurry of throws that tickled the moon. While Allen made enough heroic plays to secure the victory, he also threw two picks and lost a fumble. When Josh Allen puts on the cape and becomes a Superhero on the field there is no player capable of doing more to help his team win.
However, there are times when Allen opts to put on the cape when it is not necessary and it’s actually a detriment to the Bills. A game in which the Bills are favored by 14 points at home is not a game in which Allen should be rushing to put on the cape. Allen was forcing big plays through the air, disregarding easy runs and underneath routes in the process.
There is a time and place to take off and run through defenders like an Ostrich on crack like only Josh Allen can. There are moments when uncorking a bomb to Stefon Diggs is in fact the answer, but it’s not every down. The Bills have good players and good coaches on this team, Allen needs to trust them a little more. All of this is not to say that Allen should put the cape in the closet for good, the Bills won’t beat the Bengals or Chiefs if Super-Allen doesn’t appear from time to time, but it does not need to be every play. The Bills are not a plucky underdog and they shouldn’t play like one.
5. This is just the beginning of the Daboll-Jones era in New York
Minnesota’s absurd run of one-score victories finally came to an end on Sunday and it came at the hands of Brian Daboll, Daniel Jones, and the New York Giants. While fun, the Vikings were frauds all year and everyone knew it, that’s not the story. The story is the start of something potentially special in New York. What Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka have done for Daniel Jones and this offense has been nothing short of remarkable and is a stark reminder of how important coaching is in the NFL.
New York has a painfully average group of receivers and a decent offensive line, yet Daniel Jones is able to consistently march them up and down the field in a playoff game. Yes, it was the Vikings. Doing this against the Eagles will be a far more difficult task. But this isn’t about the 2022-23 Giants. This is about the Giants of the future. The version of this team with a better defense and better playmakers. Daboll has taken a quarterback that Jason Garrett and Joe Judge broke and quickly put him back together. In the right system with the right players and coaches around him Daniel Jones can absolutely be the guy. And luckily for Jones and the Giants’ fans, this is the system and Daboll is that coach. Jones is good, Daboll is great, and the Giants will be a real piece of the NFC puzzle for years to come.
6. Make no mistake about it, Kyle Shanahan is the story out by the bay
The Brock Purdy story is more fun. Way cooler than a tale about some dude in a hoodie that spits fire into a headset 50 times a game. But like it or not, Kyle Shanahan is undoubtedly, unquestionably, unequivocally the story in San Francisco. Shanahan is on his third quarterback of the season and this offense is absolutely cooking from down to down. Guys are always open, the holes are always there, Shanahan has designed an offense that runs itself. Not only is Shanhanan obnoxiously in his bag more than anyone else, but his bag is triple the size of everyone else’s bag and has way cooler stuff in it.
This feels like the year of Kyle Shanahan. The QB has to fire the bullets and make the decisions at the end of the day. Purdy has been incredible given his background, but there’s still a chance this story ends poorly for the 49ers. But with each crosser to Deebo, with each slant to McCaffrey, it feels like 49ers are on a collision course with the Lombardi Trophy, mostly due to the utter brilliance of Kyle Shanahan.
7. What is next?
Just as it is every year, the divisional round is completely loaded with great games. It will be the Jaguars and Chiefs followed by the Giants and Eagles that get the party started on Saturday. KC (-8.5) and Philly (-7.5) are just begging to be teased, but I will not be sleeping on Jacksonville or New York. The Giants and Jags have the offenses and the coaches necessary to make things more than just interesting.
As good as those games are on Saturday, Sunday looks like it will be the best day of the year. A showdown between Josh Allen and Joe Burrow in a rematch of the Damar Hamlin game is about as good as it gets. Except for the fact that the last game of the weekend is probably a bit better. Dallas and San Francisco had the two most impressive performances of the weekend and now are set for a WAR in San Francisco. Can Brock Purdy do it again against that Dallas defense? What does Dak have in store for this week?
This is why we watch, divisional weekend just means more.