A rematch between Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen headline the NFL Divisional Playoffs, the latest head-coaching rumors and speculation, plus Joe Burrow’s Bengals crash the party
Sunday night inside Arrowhead Stadium one of the NFL’s burgeoning quarterback rivalries renews, and a compelling chess match will unfold as the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills battle for a berth in the AFC Championship Game.
Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
Already after just two games; last year’s AFC title clash and a contest this season, those names harken back to one of the great quarterback rivalries the NFL has ever seen … Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.
This will mark the second postseason meeting between two of the league’s premier passers, and a rematch of the Bills’ 38-20 thrashing of the Chiefs back in Week 5. Therein lies the chess match.
“That’s going to be the game of the weekend, and a tight one at that,” an NFC offensive coach tells FanSided. “It’s very hard to do that to a team twice in one season.”
Sean McDermott and the Bills took their best shot and took it to the Chiefs earlier this season, but Andy Reid, Eric Bieniemy, and Steve Spagnuolo are among the more veteran staffs in the entire league. If there’s a coaching staff built to counterpunch what McDermott and the Bills threw out them three months ago, it’s this one.
“You better have something they haven’t seen before up your sleeve and ready,” the coach adds.
But, for as dominant as Buffalo was and how vital an equally aggressive and effective game plan is, what happens between the white lines may matter way more than the calls coming in from the sidelines.
“It’s very, very tough to do what the Bills did to them earlier this season twice,” a former general manager tells FanSided. “But, as much as I love and value coaches, it comes down to players. Which team is more talented? Which team has a better chance to succeed on certain plays? But, the reason Kansas City is in this spot, the reason they’ve been to two straight Super Bowls is because they have talent.
“Andy Reid is a dang good head coach. I respect him more than life, but it comes down to the quarterback. One’s done it and one hasn’t. Yet.”
Quarterback is unquestionably the most important position in sports, and these are two of the best in the league.
Allen arrives into Kansas City having completed 63 percent of his passes for 4,407 yards with 36 touchdowns to 15 interceptions, and coming off a nearly flawless 308-yard and five touchdown shellacking of Bill Belichick and the Patriots that seemed to exorcise some demons swarming around Orchard Park last Saturday night.
Can Allen, who led the charge with 315 yards and three touchdowns the last time these teams met, do it again? Would it even be enough?
To say Mahomes and the Chiefs are playing the best football of their season at its most critical juncture, wouldn’t be doing justice to the tear the two-time defending AFC champions have been on.
Since the calendar turned to December, Mahomes has passed for 2,042 yards with 17 touchdowns to three interceptions over a span that has seen Kansas City surpass 30 points in five of those games.
The in-game adjustments made by both coaching staffs will be pivotal.
How the Bills attack a Chiefs’ defense that has held opponents to 10 points or fewer in four of their last eight games will be key to Buffalo’s chances of reaching the AFC Championship Game.
But, this game is going to be decided by which star quarterback shines brightest.
“If I had to play against a team, and I could either face Kansas City or Buffalo, give me Buffalo every day of the week because I want no part of Mahomes.”
Coaching carousel news and notes
The NFL coaching carousel is in full swing, and speculation is already rampant inside the league on where some of the top candidates might land.
FanSided has learned through conversations with league sources that Brian Flores is at the top of the Houston Texans’ wishlist to fill the vacancy left behind by David Culley’s firing.
However, according to sources, the organization is expected to stipulate to Flores that Deshaun Watson be traded. Therefore, Flores, who has eyed Watson since last season with the Miami Dolphins, would be forfeiting the opportunity to potentially work alongside his coveted quarterback if he takes the Texans job.
Flores, though, is going to have options as arguably the most sought-after coaching candidate available.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bills assistant general manager Joe Schoen wrapped up his second interview with the New York Giants Tuesday for the organization’s general manager vacancy.
Schoen and Flores crossed paths during their time with the New England Patriots, and it is entirely plausible that the Giants hire Flores, and then aggressively pursue a trade for Watson.
Some believe Flores is Schoen’s first choice, wherever he lands as general manager, having also interviewed with the Chicago Bears.
Another candidate to watch is Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if Daboll winds up following Schoen to his next destination, either.
However, there is a strong feeling inside the league that Daboll is earmarked for the Miami Dolphins’ opening, because of the chance to work with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Daboll was Tagovailoa’s offensive coordinator at the University of Alabama and pushed Nick Saban to play Tagovailoa over Jalen Hurts, in 2017.
Given Daboll’s track record of developing Allen into an MVP-caliber quarterback through his first four seasons, it’s easy to see what would make him an attractive candidate for the Dolphins.
Why no one wants to play the 49ers, and what Packers must do to move on
The San Francisco 49ers have barnstormed into the NFC Divisional Round after surviving on the road against Dallas, but now face their most daunting task to date; slaying Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night in the frozen tundra.
Entering the postseason, the Niners were among the league’s most feared teams, and for good reason after winning seven of their last nine games and outscoring opponents 242-153 over that span.
Sunday, thanks to a menacing pass-rush that sacked Dak Prescott five times, and picked him off once, the 49ers advanced with a 23-17 win over a Cowboys team that some had earmarked as a Super Bowl sleeper.
So, what makes the Niners such a tough draw for playoff-caliber teams — of which San Francisco beat four in the second half of the season?
“They are tough because they know what they are and they don’t deviate from it,” an AFC Scout tells FanSided. “They are going to line up on offense and defense and bloody your nose upfront. They can rush the passer and have fast linebackers. And they have speed all over the place at the skill positions on offense.”
That speed translated on Sunday, as Kyle Shannahan continuously moved Deebo Samuel around, found new ways to get the ball in his hands, and Samuel responded in kind by dashing through the heart of the Cowboys’ defense en route to 110 yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile, running back Elijah Mitchell added 96 yards and a rushing touchdown.
There’s a bit of a team of destiny feel about these 49ers, who had to mount a feverish come-back from 17-0 down in Los Angeles against the Rams two weeks ago, just to qualify for the postseason with an overtime win.
And, with Trey Lance waiting in the wings Garopollo held down the fort, passing for 172 yards with one interception against the Cowboys.
Garopollo’s performance all at once guided the 49ers to an early lead against the Cowboys but he also faded down the stretch with the kind of finish that surely has Shanahan counting down the moments until he can play the No. 2 overall pick in last spring’s draft.
Fizzling down the stretch is something the Niners absolutely can’t afford against Rodgers and the Packers.
“San Fran’s biggest question really is Jimmy G,” the scout says. “He cannot, cannot, cannot make the critical mistake Saturday, because the Packers will make him pay. He can’t miss another wide-open receiver like he did Emmanuel Sanders in the Super Bowl and Brandon Aiyuk on Sunday.
“Both those throws could have sealed wins. They can’t afford to leave those opportunities on the field against Green Bay.”
The Packers are rested, and ready for the NFC’s hard-charging express train out of The Golden City.
Rodgers might be a runaway unanimous MVP after passing for 4,115 yards with 37 touchdowns to just four interceptions, and the Packers haven’t lost a game of any consequence since Week 12 in Minnesota.
Yeah, pulling off an upset of Green Bay may be the highest mountain the 49ers have been asked to climb this season.
If the Packers are going to make the NFC Championship Game for the third consecutive year, and Rodgers is going to get past San Francisco for the first time in his fourth playoff matchup against the 49ers, Rodgers going to need to be the best player on the field for this one game as he has been for the entire season.
“This game’s coming down to the quarterback,” an NFL personnel executive tells FanSided. “Plain and simple. Aaron identifies and knows where the weakness is at. Jimmy Garoppolo can’t do that, he doesn’t see it the same way Aaron does. Aaron knows exactly where he wants to go, when he wants to go there, and the Packers understand what the game plan is.”
San Francisco arrives in Green by with the NFL’s sixth-ranked passing defense in tow, allowing 230 passing yards per game, a worthy counterpart to Rodgers’ brilliance, and as has been the case in the past, his kryptonite.
But, 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Mosley has allowed opposing receivers 9.9 yards per reception, and opposing quarterbacks have a whopping 125 passer rating when targeting Josh Norman.
The Niners have been among the more physically dominating teams over the past month, but the Packers have been the team to beat in the NFC for much of this season.
So, how does Saturday night play out?
“The best team is going to win,” the executive says. “And they’re going to win because Aaron identifies the weakness in a team and attacks it better than any that I’ve ever seen. He’s the best that I’ve been around.”
“Do you want to be running a Hail Mary play from the 50-yard line or do you want to run five verticals form the 25-yard line? So, that’s the decision, it’s the right decision.”
– Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, defending his puzzling decision to call a quarterback draw with Dak Prescott in the waning seconds of Sunday’s NFC Wild Card loss to the 49ers
It’s difficult to defend the final moments, and aftermath of the Cowboys’ 23-17 loss to the 49ers, that ended Dallas’ season in bizarre fashion.
To put McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s final play-call of the game into perspective, we have to harken back to McCarthy summoning a braintrust of former NFL head coaches and current analytics expects to his home to spend a year studying how analytics have impacted football back in 2019.
Sunday, in the biggest moment he’s coached since being on the sidelines in Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV inside the same AT&T Stadium he now calls home, McCarthy proved that his media tour touting an embrace of analytics was little more than a ruse.
Beyond punting with the Cowboys trailing by 16 points with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter from his own 38-yard line, beyond kicking a field goal with the Cowboys trailing 23-7, McCarthy’s final call of the game was simply indefensible and goes against the hallmark of the NFL’s analytics revolution; maximizing every play to give yourself the optimal chance of winning.
Remember, McCarthy’s quarterback is Dak Prescott, who completed seven passes of 40 yards or more this season, his wide receivers are Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb, and instead of trusting his franchise quarterback and his elite playmakers to take perhaps as many as three shots at the end zone in the final 17 seconds from 41 yards out, McCarthy drew up a quarterback draw.
McCarthy and Moore coached scared in the waning seconds.
They took the ball out of their most consistent and reliable playmakers’ hands, and because of the time it took for Prescott to rush for 17 yards prior to giving himself up, and for the umpire to spot the ball, of an opportunity to legitimately try to win the game.
The decision was a loser’s decision to make, a scared coach’s play call, and the type of call that costs coaches their jobs.
McCarthy appears safe, at least for now. But, there should now be very legitimate questions whether he is the coach and leader to get this talented roster any further than a playoff berth in coming years.
Joe Burrow and his Bengals are coming of age before our eyes.
Saturday afternoon in the Queen City, Burrow and the Bengals sent the city of Cincinnati into a euphoria it hadn’t experienced in 35 years; an NFL playoff victory.
But, given Cincinnati’s brand of football, to count these Bengals out three wins shy of hoisting the Lombardi would be fool-hearted.
Next up, the Bengals get a date in Nashville against a Titans team that may be the most underwhelming No. 1 seed in recent memory, as they themselves are peaking at the right time.
If Tennessee can’t control the game on the ground and are forced to rely on Julio Jones and A.J. Brown keeping pace with Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and C.J. Uzomah, it might be a very long afternoon in the Music City for the Titans’ 25th-ranked passing defense.
Burrow enters averaging nearly a first-down per passing attempt, at 9.8 yards and 12.5 yards per completion.
Meanwhile, Chase is as taxing a matchup on an opposing secondary as you’ll find in this league right now, averaging 18 yards per reception while finishing fourth in the league with 1,455 receiving yards and catching 13 touchdowns … as a rookie.
Cincinnati has Bengals fans realistically dreaming of championships.
Even if the Bengals come up short of winning a Super Bowl this season, Burrow has all the talent, the pedigree, the work ethic, and the supporting cast to keep this franchise in the mix for years to come.
There’s a reason Burrow pounded the table pre-draft for the Bengals to choose Chase No. 5 overall. And the connection between this quarterback and this dynamic receiver that dates back to Burrow’s arrival in Baton Rouge in 2018, when over the course of two seasons the pair connected on 23 touchdowns.
They’re only going to get better, especially when considering that NFL receivers typically hit their stride in their third NFL season. If Chase is already this good, this fast, with a quarterback he’s this comfortable with … It’s almost scary to think how high the ceiling may be for these two and this team.
They may even be about to hop on the elevator to the penthouse this month.