The playoffs are set. Here's who will win.
What a ridiculous Week 18. Now, the real fun begins...
This has been a very Brandon Staley-friendly space all season. The Los Angeles Chargers head coach appears determined to eliminate kicking from the sport so, hey, sign us up.
But what an unforced error last night. Yikes. This was Staley’s Chris Webber Moment.
With the Chargers and Raiders grinding out a tie in overtime — which would’ve put both teams in the playoffs — Staley called a timeout on third and 4 with 34 seconds left. Immediately afterward, Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr admitted to NBC that the timeout changed the Raiders’ thinking. Running back Josh Jacobs broke loose for 10 yards, a win was suddenly in reach and the Raiders decided to boot a field goal to win.
Staley justified his timeout by saying he wanted to put in a defensive group that’d stop the run.
Instead, the Raiders had a chance to take a deep breath and go for the win.
Former NFL lineman Rich Ohrnberger put it perfectly:
What a disappointing finish for a team that could’ve upset just about anyone in the AFC. Justin Herbert’s fourth quarter performance last night is right up there with anything we’ve seen this season. He converted three fourth downs on an epic 19-play drive to tie the game. He’ll get many more cracks at the playoffs but, for now, the Chargers are heading home.
Here are your first round matchups with some initial thoughts. As always, share your takes in the comment section below.
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Saturday, Jan. 15
Raiders (10-7) at Bengals (10-7), 4:30 p.m. (NBC): Cincinnati did the right thing to sit Joe Burrow in a finale that didn’t mean anything. He was sacked 51 times this season, more than any quarterback in the NFL. He’s taken some real vicious shots, too. Don’t count on Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase losing any of their mojo with the time apart. Their connection is special. Las Vegas sure has shown guts this season and all Derek Carr did was break the franchise’s single-season passing record, but they won’t have an answer for Burrow. Further, the Bengals’ totally reconstructed defense has been making big plays in big moments all season long. Bengals 34, Raiders 16.
Patriots (10-7) at Bills (11-6), 8:15 p.m. (CBS): Feels like yesterday that we could not fathom how New England won a football game throwing the ball three damn times. That MNF game in the 50 mph winds still boggles the mind. Since then, New England and Buffalo have trended two opposite directions. The Bills deserve a ton of credit for rewiring their offense through December and January, too. They’re actually attempting to run the ball. The last time this team was in the playoffs, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called 20 straight pass plays to start a game vs. Baltimore and never really tried to run in Kansas City. Both Devin Singletary and Josh Allen are keying a run game equipped to win this time of year. Bills 30, Patriots 27.
Sunday, Jan. 16
Eagles (9-8) at Buccaneers (13-4), 1 p.m. (Fox): Uh-oh. The AB drama now feels more like a one-day tropical storm that left minimal damage behind. He went berserk, the Bucs moved on, Tom Brady is back to throwing four touchdowns at a time. After crushing Carolina on Sunday, Brady finished with 5,316 yards and 43 touchdowns on the season. Nick Sirianni deserves all the praise for getting Philly into the playoffs — what a job he did. But expect Brady to dispose of the Eagles with ease. And if Leonard Fournette returns at full strength, this offense is capable of winning any type of game in the NFC. Green Bay and Tampa Bay could be on another NFC Championship collision course. Buccaneers 40, Eagles 21.
49ers (10-7) at Cowboys (12-5), 4:30 p.m. (CBS): San Francisco is the last team anybody should want to play right now. Deebo Samuel is truly a 1-of-1 talent, Elijah Mitchell is the sort of decisive slasher Kyle Shanahan loves at running back and they’ll likely welcome back the best left tackle in football (Trent Williams), too. Defensively, it’ll be a challenge to keep up with all of Dallas’ weapons but they’ve got the right brain in the middle of the chaos in linebacker Fred Warner. And did we mention Samuel? Goodness gracious, he’s fun to watch. His speed. His strength. His versatility. There’s zero way for anyone to adequately prepare for the 6-foot, 215-pounder, one who made the 1st All Old School Team at Go Long. Samuel finished the season with 1,405 receiving yards, 365 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns, even throwing one in a thrilling win over the Rams on Sunday. OK, now let’s all get back to YouTubing those classic games in the 90s between these two teams. 49ers 28, Cowboys 21.
Steelers (9-7-1) at Chiefs (12-5), 8:15 p.m. (NBC): A shocking Jaguars upset of Indy helped Pittsburgh sneak in, but what else can we say about Mike Tomlin? And T.J. Watt? And… everything in the water down in the Steel City. Since October, the Steelers have been winning ugly, gutsy games — and, hell yeah, that means something. They’ll upgrade at quarterback this coming offseason, too. Of course, they’re 12.5-point underdogs in this one for a reason. KC just smacked ‘em 36-10 a couple weeks ago and will likely do it again. Chiefs 35, Steelers 12.
Monday, Jan. 17
Cardinals (11-6) at Rams (12-5), 8:15 (ABC): Matthew Stafford has been a bad quarterback these last three weeks. Really bad. So even though Arizona wobbled to the finish line this season, losing four of their last five, I like them on the “road.” Yeah, there’s really never any homefield advantage for these Rams. What a scene that was last night with 49ers fans taking over SoFi Stadium. With or without star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals should be able to keep L.A.’s defense off-kilter. And bank on Stafford gifting Arizona a pick late. He threw four pick-sixes this season and 17 interceptions in all. For all of the good — and, no doubt, he has helped Sean McVay open up new pages in his playbook — Stafford is mostly the same quarterback he’s been the last 13 seasons. Cardinals 27, Rams 20.
Meanwhile, it’s also Black Monday. Teams that didn’t make the playoffs will need to ask themselves some hard questions.
Will John Mara finally… once ‘n for all… maybe clean house? That was the focus of our story that ran Saturday, Part III of “The Autopsy.” Those most familiar with how the Giants do business are skeptical ownership will do the right thing. Subscribers can read all three parts right here: