The Best NFL Divisional Round Ever, Hands Down

After a mostly boring wild card round with 4 of 6 games resulting in blowouts, NFL fans were desperate for some strong, competitive football and the divisional round this weekend more than delivered. The 4 games were all decided by 1 score and each game was won on the final possession as time ran out or in OT. Of the 4 matchups, 3 were upsets by road teams and the only home win was the best game of the weekend, and one of the best games of all time, with a Kansas City win in OT. There was a huge Tom Brady comeback, a 13-second drive to tie a game and send it to OT, a blocked-punt TD to tie a game, and an interception with 20 seconds left that led to a game-winning FG, to name a few. I’m not even close to an NFL historian, but I can’t imagine a more compelling weekend of football in the history of the game than the 2022 divisional round this past weekend.

The weekend kicked off with the Cincinnati Bengals fresh off their first playoff victory in 21 years looking to upset the #1 Tennessee Titans on the road and make their first AFC Championship game since 1988. The Mike Vrabel led Titans had time to rest and prepare for the insanely young and impressive talent of the Bengals and got great news that workhorse RB Derrick Henry would be off IR and ready to roll. It was a low-scoring game led by the defenses and it’s only appropriate that a defensive play, a Logan Wilson interception with 20 seconds left, set up the game-winning 52-yard FG for the Bengals. This is likely the beginning of a strong run for the Bengals, because the main weapons in Cincy are all 25 and under, QB Joe Burrow, RB Joe Mixon, WR Ja’Marr Chase, and WR Tee Higgins and they are led by a 38-year old head coach Zac Taylor. The road walk-off FG was just the beginning.

Saturday’s game #2 was the vaunted 49ers vs Packers matchup that was the 72nd overall time they have met and 9th time in the playoffs. Everyone knows what the weather will be like in a night game at Lambeau Field in January and it didn’t disappoint with temperatures in the teens, wind chill in the single digits and below and snow flurries. Green Bay set the tone early with an opening drive TD capped off by New London, CT native and former Boston College star RB AJ Dillon. It seemed like we would see more offense than the first game, but the game slowed to a crawl. Neither team scored again until a FG from the 49ers with 8:31 left in the 3rd quarter. A Packers FG early in the 4th pushed their lead back to 7 points and it remained that way until the 49ers blocked a punt and ran it in for a TD with just under 5 minutes to go, tying the game at 10. After a 3-and-out for the Packers, Jimmy Garoppolo was able to give K Robbie Gould a 45-yard FG try, which he nailed as time ran out to win 13-10. Saturday recap: 2 games, 2 walkoff FGs, 2 upsets on the road.

As the Los Angeles Rams vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game began on Sunday, it felt like the close-game magic had worn off. For the Bucs, the first half drives consisted of a punt, punt, FG, punt, missed FG, and interception, while the Rams were able to score on their first 3 drives and go into halftime up 20-3. It could have been an even larger lead if it wasn’t for the Rams 1st of 4 lost fumbles in the game. After exchanging punts to start the 2nd half, the Rams added another TD and took a commanding 27-3 lead, but with Tom Brady on the other side of the field, there was too much time left. Aided by 3 more lost fumbles, the Bucs scored 24 unanswered points and tied the game at 27 with 1:43 seconds left to play. The collective NFL fanbase was thinking, “Are you f*$king kidding me?” The Brady magic was still alive somehow, but Matthew Stafford had other plans. The Rams went 63-yards on 5 plays to setup a 30-yard Matt Gay walkoff FG for Los Angeles. The road-team, FG walkoff streak was still on with 1 game to go. 3 games down, 3 walkoff road upsets.

The final game was the QB matchup I was most excited for: Josh Allen vs Patrick Mahomes. Both QBs can beat you with their arm or legs, which instantly makes the game a must-see and boy oh boy it did NOT disappoint. From kickoff, both teams looked aggressive and ready to lay it all on the line for the W. The Bills converted 2 4th downs on their opening 13 play, 71 yard TD drive and made a statement. Mahomes and KC returned the favor with an 11 play 74 yard TD of their own on their first drive and it was time to buckle-up and enjoy the ride. The teams were tied 7-7 after 1, 14-14 at half and KC took a 2 point lead after 3, 23-21. Then came one of the greatest quarters I’ve ever seen, well, actually 2 of the best minutes I’ve ever seen. KC was up 26-21 at the 2 minute warning and little did we know there would still be 4 lead changes/ties and 25 points left to be scored BEFORE the game headed to OT. Let’s break down the final 2 minutes…

1:54 – Bills have a 4th and 13 on the KC 27 – Josh Allen throws a TD to Gabriel Davis and completes the 2-pt conversion attempt (29-26 Bills)

1:02 – KC scores a TD after a 5 play, 75 yard drive in 52 seconds (33-29 KC)

0:13 – Bills score a TD after a 6 play, 75 yard drive in 49 seconds (36-33 Bills)

0:00 – KC kicks a 49-yard FG to tie the game after a 3 play, 44 yard drive in 13 seconds (36-36)

I’ve never seen a more impressive QB display from both teams in a 2 minute stretch at any level. For both teams to have a 75 yard drive in under 1 minute and for Mahomes to drive 44 yards in 13 seconds to setup the game-tying FG was incredible. Some of the throws and scrambles on both sides were unreal. As it always is, overtime was awful thanks to the NFL rules, but I’ll leave that argument for another day. The Bills never had a chance to touch the ball again thanks to the coin toss going KC’s way and the Chiefs won in OT, preventing the road team from winning all the divisional round games for the first time in history. It was, however, the 4th of 4 games to have the lead change and the game end on the final possession, which is phenomenal to watch and not for the weak of heart.


The regulation time of the final game of the weekend was the best of the NFL. The refs weren’t involved in every play, stupid ticky-tack fouls weren’t being called every other down (4 penalties for 25 yards combined), and the teams and their good (or bad) decisions are what resulted in the tie to send it to OT. The discipline of both the players and the refs produced a much more interesting product for everyone, from the casual fan to the diehard maniac. It’s a shame that the NFL had to muck-up the end result with the still ridiculous overtime rules. The idea that a coin toss decided the winner of that QB match-up is the worst of the NFL. Yes, if you are a fan of KC it benefited you (and hurt you against the Patriots in the 2019 AFC Championship), but don’t you think the Bills and Josh Allen deserved a chance to touch the football in OT? Even KC lobbied to have the rule change after their Patriots OT loss in 2019 (although they aren’t complaining this year).

With a combination of some fresh and some familiar faces in the championship games, next weekend should be fun to watch. Grab some cold beverages and a lot of snacks, because beginning at 3pm next Sunday you won’t want to miss the back-to-back action.

Is Josh Allen an Elite QB?

On Saturday night, led by an amazing performance from QB Josh Allen, the Buffalo Bills embarrassed the New England Patriots in their AFC Wild Card matchup. While the Patriots were clearly outmatched in the contest in all aspects of the game, Allen was the star of the show for the Bills and once again beat the Pats with his arm, legs, and decision-making. In his 4th year in the league, Allen has now had 2 consecutive really strong campaigns with 4,400+ yards and 35+ TDs to go along with a career high 763 yards rushing this season, with a staggering 6.3 yards per carry average. Allen has led the Bills to AFC East dominance with 2 consecutive division titles and now has delivered 3 playoff victories and counting for Bills Mafia. Allen certainly seems to be beloved in Buffalo and the future is bright for the Bills fanbase.

A big question for me is whether Allen has maximized his talent yet or will continue to get even better. He is certainly surrounded by some really nice receiving weapons, including WRs Stephon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and TE Dawson Knox. The depth of fast and talented pass catchers make a QB’s life a lot easier because they can create space and open passing lanes. As a defense, you have to respect each receiving option because Allen has done a solid job of spreading the ball around. When you add in a solid run-game, it makes the defense open up even more for Allen. The biggest growth I’ve seen from Allen the last few seasons has been his decision-making. Overall, he’s been slightly more careful with the ball this season and is making less egregious mistakes while using his legs more when no receiving options are open. He did have more interceptions this year than last (5 more), but he also had 74 more passing attempts and an extra game on the schedule. He doesn’t lack confidence that definitely edges into the cocky-territory, which sometime hurts him, but also allows him to shake off mistakes and keep going.

For me, the most dangerous part of Allen’s game and the piece that improved the most this year is his rushing ability. He’s not a typical QB when scrambling, he is a big and strong runner who is tough to take down and has some burst speed and elusiveness defenders don’t see in QBs very often. While his primary weapon is his arm, his ability to rip off a 10-15 yard run when all his receiving options are covered will keep drives alive and makes the offense significantly harder to defend (just as the Pats defense). This season, he averaged just under 45 yards per game on the ground, 18.6 yards more per game than 2020 when he made the pro bowl. His average per rush jumped over 2 yards compared to 2020 and was the best of his career by a large margin (6.3 yards per carry). His rushing numbers put him in the top 3 for QBs in total yards on the ground and rushing TDs, which is impressive for a pass-first QB. Down the stretch this year, he converted countless 3rd and 4th downs with his legs, both designed runs and improvised scrambles that helped to keep drives moving.

You’d be hard-pressed to find many other QBs that have the skillset of Allen and I believe he is still getting better and will improve over the next year or two. He passes the eye test and his numbers support that he is an elite QB right now and has the potential to get even better. The other teams in the AFC East are going to have to compete with the talented QB 2x a year for the foreseeable future and that’s a scary thought. The Buffalo Bills AFC East dynasty is in full swing, but how long will it last?

Third Time’s a Charm – Patriots vs Bills Playoff Edition

As playoff scenarios began to play out during the inaugural week 18 in the NFL, it was clear to everyone that the Bills and Patriots would meet for the third time this season in the playoffs. Even as the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers game crept into OT and the Pats vs Bengals scenario was still alive, it just felt like the Raiders had to win so the Bills and Patriots could play once more this season. The matchup is everything the NFL could want in a #3 vs #6 matchup on wild card weekend and they put the rivalry game in primetime on Saturday for all to witness.

The previous two matchups this season between the Bills and Patriots have been, well, interesting. The first was the “wind-game” where the Patriots went into Buffalo and ran all over the Bills. Mac Jones had exactly 3 pass attempts and the Patriots managed a 14-10 victory on the road thanks to 41 rushes. Damien Harris had 11 yards rushing on just 10 carries and a TD, while Rhamondre Stevenson rushed 24 times for 78 yards. Mac completed 2 of his 3 passes to Jonnu Smith and Brandon Bolden and the Pats relied on a strong defensive presence to grab the road victory. The game was far from pretty, but a W is a W and led to some sour grapes from Bills coach Sean McDermott who said after the game, “Let’s not give more credit than we need to give Bill Belichick in this one.”

The rematch two weeks ago was a completely different game (not just because there wasn’t a ton of wind). The Bills came into the game looking to punch the Pats in the mouth with their aggressiveness and it worked beautifully. From aggressive play-calling to big plays when they needed them the most, the Bills took it to the Pats. The Bills converted 3 of 4 4th downs and trusted Josh Allen to make the right decisions and in this instance, he did with his arm and legs. The Bills got a massive game from virtually unknown WR Isaiah McKenzie while the Pats mostly shut down WR Stephon Diggs in the first half. To the Patriots credit, they fought back and didn’t give up, but were completely flustered on a picked-up unnecessary roughness penalty in the last minute of the first half that led to other penalties and likely took points off the board.

Prediction

Round three should be another thrilling chapter in the AFC East rivalry. Based on past success, I expect the Bills to come out on fire Saturday night with aggression as their mantra. It worked in their second match-up vs the Patriots and really put the Pats players back on their heals. I would be surprised if McDermont doesn’t try to score quickly and take chances on 3rd and 4th down throughout the game. On December 27th, WR Isaiah McKenzie caught the Pats off-guard while the secondary did a nice job on Diggs and TE Dawson Knox and I expect something similar will occur on Saturday, but with the other receiver options, mainly Emmanuel Sanders and/or Gabriel Davis. The Pats secondary depth is of definite concern right now and the Bills are smart enough to unleash Josh Allen to attack on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels. I also expect a fair amount of passes (mostly screen-type routes) to RB Devin Singletary to get the playmaker the ball in space and keep the defense off balance. If the Bills can exploit the Pats secondary, it could be a long night for the Pats.

On the other side, the Pats have some work to do this week to prepare in all three aspects of the game. The #1 issue they have had over the past month is mistakes. Between bad penalties, turnovers, and mistakes in coverage, the Pats have been uncharacteristically the sloppier team. In almost all of their losses this season, the Pats have been in contention with a chance to comeback or win, but there is usually at least one mistake you can point to after the game that prevented the W. The ability of the Pats offense to move the ball downfield with balance is key to keeping the Bills defense at bay. If the Pats get down early, it makes them more predictable and easier to play against. A balanced run/pass attack will allow Mac to make more comfortable reads with space and allow the offensive line to hopefully hold up a bit better. On the defensive side of the ball, they need to get pressure on Josh Allen and contain him. If they can get pressure on Allen, he will make mistakes eventually, but the inherent risk is that you flush him from the pocket and he takes off for a 20-yard run. When playing well, the Bills offensive weapons are near impossible to cover, but when Allen feels the pressure and is forced into quick decisions, he has a tendency to make mistakes.

When all is said and done, I think the Patriots squeak out a really intense, close game 27-24. In general, I think it’s a pick’em game that could go either way. The team with the most mistakes losses and has all offseason to wonder what-if. I think the Bills options on offense are so strong and deep for the weak Pats secondary to handle, but Allen will make one too many mistakes or McDermott take one too many chances on 4th down and allow Mac Jones to drive down field and win on a late K Nick Folk field goal. I don’t feel even a little confident in the prediction, but in a toss-up game I’m picking the Pats every time.

Patriots Coming Back Down to Earth

After an understandably slow start, the Patriots went on an amazing run to put themselves in the driver’s seat to win the AFC East, sitting at 9-4. They convinced many that a deep playoff run was possible, but after dropping a stinker last week against the Colts, the Patriots got outplayed from start to finish on Sunday by the Buffalo Bills and now no longer control their own destiny in the AFC East. The Pats were beat in all aspects of the game on Sunday and now look like the team we expected: competitive, but don’t have enough talent for a deep run.

One of the most concerning aspects of this team from the offseason until now was their cornerback depth. After the expected, but ugly breakup with #1 CB Stephon Gilmore, the Patriots were left with an improving and impressive J.C. Jackson as their #1 and then a group of average or below players. They combination of Jalen Mills and Myles Bryant is frankly just not very good. The next on the depth chart, Joejuan Williams and Shaun Wade, have barely seen the field as healthy scratches several weeks. The Pats elevated D’Angelo Ross from the practice squad yesterday instead of Wade and Williams, which is pretty telling. They are basically left with Jackson to cover the opponents #1 with no help and then a bunch of nothing to cover every other receiver. They have made it by with support from their safeties, but 1-on-1 coverage against even decent receivers is a struggle.

The Bills intelligently (you won’t hear me say that often) exploited the Pats biggest weakness and threw to Isaiah McKenzie what felt like 49 times. McKenzie had a total of 7 receptions on the season prior to Sunday, when he hauled in 11 receptions for 125 yards in a dominating performance. While he was impressive, the coverage was absolutely pathetic. While Jackson was busy covering Stephon Diggs, the rest of the secondary looked lost trying to cover the McKenzie and as a result, the Pats were forced to play a lot more zone to try and compensate. Josh Allen showed his improved awareness and was able to identify zone vs man seemingly a lot easier than in the past and was in turn able to exploit the matchup. The passing attack opened up running lanes, primarily for Allen if he didn’t see an open receiver (with some designed runs mixed in as well).

The game plan was the opposite of the Colts last weekend, because the teams are built in the opposite way. Last week, MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor did what he’s done to a lot of teams this year and just ran over the defense. Carson Wentz only attempted 12 passes (completing only 5) but that was enough with a superstar running back. The Bills are built as a pass-first team and that showed on Sunday. The Pats got beat in two dramatically different ways in the course of two weeks. Now opponents, if they didn’t already, have a clear blueprint to exploit the Pats defense.

Now let’s give the Bills credit where deserved. They came into the game wanting to be aggressive and with revenge on the mind. From the opening kickoff, they were playing at an extremely high level and took a lot of risky chances, almost all of which paid off. If they are aggressive and aren’t able to convert a few of their 4th and shorts, the makeup of this game could have been very different. It was clear that seeing the Pats a few weeks before helped them put together the perfect game plan to fool Mac and take advantage of the Pats secondary.

The Bills also caught a substantial break before half. With the Pats driving down 10, the refs magically picked up a clear unnecessary roughing penalty that would have put the Pats in field goal range. Mac Jones got pulled down from behind with two fistfuls of jersey, which in the modern NFL is as clear a penalty as possible and has been called that way all season (an for the last number of seasons). Apparently, refs now judge the intent of a hit out of bounds, rather than just following the rule, claiming there was no intent to harm and thus no penalty, which is ridiculous. It is clearly a penalty regardless of intent and the resulting meltdown led to no points for the Pats before half. David Andrews was called for a taunting penalty for yelling at a Bills player in the resulting play, which was just an exclamation point on another embarrassing episode for NFL refs. What should have been a first down on the edge of field goal range for the Pats, turned into being backed up to their own 32 yard-line and essentially ending their chance to swing momentum. Even worse, it gave the Bills all the momentum going into the locker room.

There is a lot to process with the last two games for the Pats, including offensive line struggles, Mac Jones looking like a rookie, and Jonnu Smith and N’Keal Harry still sucking (other than Harry’s blocking), but the embarrassment of the secondary doesn’t seem to be fixable and will likely be the achilles heal other teams will attempt to exploit. While a deep playoff run is likely out of the question now, the Pats will probably have to play on the road if they make the postseason. The good news? The Pats are 6-1 on the road in 2021.