By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Before diving in to the picks for this weekend's divisional playoff round, some quick hit thoughts from the goings-on around the NFL.
--Forgive me for not hopping aboard the Jon Gruden hype train. I mean, have you listened to that guy speak on Monday nights for the past few years? He didn't know many of the players he was paid to know. I don't know how that changes now, considering how much ground he'll have to make up.
Plus, any decision that was championed by this guy?
Nope. I'm out. You get all my doubt.
At least if it is a disaster, it'll only set the Raiders back a cool hundred mil.
--Word on Wednesday was that Matt Patricia was in line to get the Giants head coaching job. It's fascinating how all of that hullabaloo about how a T-shirt with a (*clutches pearls*) CLOWN NOSE on the commissioner's face didn't really mean much at all. If the team that benefits from special treatment due to a close friendship between the owner and Roger Goodell still goes out and hires the guy who had the audacity to wear a T-shirt with a CLOWN NOSE on Goodell's face, then certainly any team would be willing to take such a giant leap of faith.
SI's Jenny Vrentas, on Jan. 1: " I have a hard time seeing John Mara hiring a head coach who wore a Goodell clown T-shirt."
Michael Felger, the Local Grumpy Pants Man, back in July: "I think it will, and I think it should [affect Patricia's chances of landing a head coaching gig]. ... Get a haircut, shave, get the stupid fraternity T-shirt off your fat belly, and show that you're serious about being an adult and a professional, and you'll get hired."
Peter King, an Ultimate Dad, in February: "The owners/GMs who interview an exceedingly intelligent and mature man and excellent coach, Matt Patricia, for head-coaching jobs in the future (and that will happen, just the way it did this year) are going to wonder: Do we have to worry about the leader of our team pulling a Delta Chi frat prank?"
PFT's Mike Florio, in a whole post dedicated to the EXPLICIT T-shirt, on Dec. 31: "The 'hard look' at Patricia undoubtedly will look into whether Commissioner Roger Goodell remains upset about Patricia's decision to exit the plane after Super Bowl 51 wearing the Barstool T-shirt with an image of Goodell sporting a clown nose."
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, in February: "It isn't always about the best guy or the smartest guy or whatever. There's politics involved in all of this. Unfortunately, that's how it goes. And they're looking for reasons to nitpick and critique and weed through and keep certain guys out, and stupid stuff sometimes matters with these guys. Some owners won't care, but one or two will. Or their wives will have seen it, or somebody close to them will have seen it, their legal counsel would have seen it, and certain teams are more corporate than others and more politically correct than others. ... It shouldn't matter, but sometimes it is the 'No Fun League.'"
Colin Cowherd, The Smart Sports Man, in February: "Matt Patricia, the defensive coordinator, had a choice to make. Could I go Gronk, or could I go Belichick? Matt Patricia went Gronk and wore a shirt with a clown nose … and he wants to be an NFL head coach. ... He wasn't real smart there."
That's a whole lot of huffing and/or puffing about ... a T-shirt. Looks like it didn't really matter much now.
--Matt Nagy was hired as the head coach of the Bears. Upon hearing this news, you might have asked, "Who?"
You wouldn't have been alone. In fact, I'm not even 100 percent positive that his first name is Matt. But I'm not going to double-check. I'm going to ride it out.
While Nagy's coaching history isn't extensive, I found it noteworthy that for at least the third straight season, a coordinator has come off a horrific failure in a postseason game and then immediately assumed a new head coaching position.
This year it was Nagy who, as offensive coordinator of the Chiefs, only gave the ball to Kareem Hunt (the NFL's leading rusher) 11 times in the team's wild-card round loss at home to the Titans. A 21-3 lead at halftime should generally hold up, barring a complete and utter collapse. And handing the ball to Hunt just five times in the second half? That helps to bring about that collapse. (Proving completely incapable of showing any creativity or adaptability after Travis Kelce got hurt also didn't make the coach shine.) Nevertheless, Nagy was introduced as the Bears head coach three days later.
Last year, Kyle Shanahan had his quarterback take a five-step drop on a third-and-1 when the Falcons were in field-goal range in the fourth quarter; it led to a strip-sack and a critical turnover. On the Falcons' next drive, Shanahan again called for a pass play with his team in field-goal range ... twice. The first led to a 12-yard sack, the second led to an offensive holding penalty. The Falcons had to punt. They lost the Super Bowl. It's been mentioned once or twice. Still, the 49ers had already hired Shanahan, who was introduced as San Francisco's head coach two days later.
In 2015, Doug Pederson guided the Kansas City Chiefs on a drive that took 5:11 off the clock when his team trailed by two touchdowns. The problem? There was 6:29 on the clock when the drive began. The Chiefs scored a touchdown at the end of the methodical 16-play drive, but they did not recover the onside kick. They lost the game. When he was introduced as Eagles head coach days later, Pederson explained that they took their time because they didn't want to give Tom Brady the ball back. That's a unique approach.
Hey you could even go back to 2014, when Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator somehow didn't lose their jobs after making arguably the worst play call in football history to lose the Super Bowl.
You look around the NFL and you wonder why the power rankings of NFL coaches basically goes "Bill Belichick and then everybody else," and maybe it's because these glaring warning signs are often overlooked because some guy was impressive in a job interview. I don't know. I have no grand point. But I found the trend interesting.
--I took a beating last week in the picks. Like ... an 0-4 kind of beating. I went all favorites. The dogs had their day. What the flippin' heck?
I've racked my brain to see where I went so horribly wrong, and for the life of me, I can't feel terrible about any pick. I didn't know the Chiefs would melt into a puddle if Kelce got hurt, I didn't know the Rams and their plus-149 point differential and their near-MVP running back and their young head coach-QB duo would just be non-competitive, I didn't know that Leonard Fournette would be a complete non-factor against the Bills, and I didn't know that the Saints were only five points better than the Panthers instead of seven.
Life is tough, and frankly, a week like last week makes weak men want to quit. But not me. I am big and strong and brave. And I believe the only way to answer an 0-4 week is to run the table and set that record back to .500 before championship week.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
Atlanta (-3) over PHILADELPHIA
The Eagles were neck-and-neck with the Rams all year, vying to be the best team in the NFL. Neither will make it to the conference championship. Sports ... they will get you sometimes.
The Carson Wentz injury was obviously the turning point for the Eagles, even though they finished the year winning two of their final three games. But one was a skin-of-their teeth win over the dreadful Giants, and the other was a nine-point win over the bad Raiders that was really a three-point victory. The loss was a tough-to-watch 6-0 shutout against the Cowboys. The Eagles may not have needed that game, but considering they're trying to get things together behind Nick Foles, it was an opportunity to at least work on a few things for at least a half?
Any way you look at it, the two teams are passing each other while moving precipitously in different directions. And with Atlanta's defense looking dynamite (12 points per game over the last three), I'm actually fairly confident in taking Matt Ryan on the road in a playoff game. What a world.
NEW ENGLAND (-13.5) over Tennessee
You know, the Titans have a lot of talent. Or at least, more talent than they get credit for having.
Second-year safety Kevin Byard was tied for the league lead with eight interceptions (technically) and made First Team All-Pro. Derrick Henry can look like a monster, like he did last week in Kansas City. Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker make for a pretty good receiving duo, and Delanie Walker is Delanie Walker. Derrick Morgan had 7.5 sacks, and Brian Orakpo had seven; the leading Patriot in that category had 6.5. Marcus Mariota posted terrible stats in his first year back after suffering a broken leg last December, but he's obviously got a great deal of talent. Oh, and the punter led the league with a 49.7-yard average ... so there is that.
It's just that, for whatever reason (Mike Mularkey), the sum is somehow not greater than its parts. It just hasn't really come together for the Titans. Yes, they beat the Jaguars early and then in Week 17 (when the Jaguars had nothing to play for), but other than that, they piled up their wins against the Browns and the Colts and the Texans and the Bengals and the Ravens and the Seahawks ... none of whom made the playoffs.
So while I look at that roster and see enough talent to compete in Foxboro, I just can't do it. The Patriots are well-rested, they're getting healthy weapons like Chris Hogan and James White and Rex Burkhead to return, and they're going to have a real "hey that ESPN story made us mad" vibe to them. I bet.
There's also this: As a head coach, Mike Mularkey is 0-6 when opposed by Bill Belichick. The cumulative score of those six games? Patriots 172, Mularkey 78. Woof.
Tom Brady may not be a Patriot of the Week type of player, but he has thrown 19 touchdowns to just three interceptions against Dick LeBeau-coached defenses.
The Titans have the chance to compete, but if I had to lean one way, it'd be on the team that's won their home divisional game for six straight years (going 5-1 against the spread) with an average margin of victory of 17 points. Last year, the Patriots played like garbage against a bad AFC South playoff team in the divisional round ... and yet still won by 18 points and covered the historically large spread.
I've gone the other way in some past years; I've felt great shame. It's a lousy feeling. I'm looking to bypass it this year.
Jacksonville (+7.5) over PITTSBURGH
Oh, baby. Here we go.
Some folks who watched Blake Bortles struggle to throw the football in that mythically powerful Jacksonville wind will say that the Jaguars have a less-than-zero chance to even compete in Pittsburgh. They might be right. This one might blow up on me.
I feel as though we didn't really see the best of the Jaguars last week, and maybe that top-ranked defense slid a little bit late in the year when getting lit up by Jim Garoppolo on Christmas Eve. Maybe they're cooked. I accept that.
But I just want to believe in Leonard Fournette, despite last week's no-show. While everyone's focused on the Jags' five interceptions against Ben Roethlisberger back in the Week 5 meeting, I don't think those will be as easy to replicate for Jacksonville. But what gets overlooked from that Week 5 game is the fact that Fournette ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
If the defense can play like it should, if Antonio Brown is not nearly Antonio Brown, and if Fournette can lead the Jaguars on some clock-chewing drives, then maybe just maybe the Jaguars can take advantage of a team that seems to be looking past this week's opponent. Maybe. Maybe? Maybe!
Everyone's dumping on Bortles, but the Jaguars beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh by a score of 30-9 when Bortles was only asked to go 8-for-14 for 95 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
We figure to learn a lot about both of these teams on Sunday. I'm erring on the side of Tom Coughlin.
MINNESOTA (-4) over New Orleans
A real head vs. heart in this one.
The Vikings have a marvelous defense. No. 1 in yards. No. 1 in points. No. 1 on third down (by a lot). Marvelous!
But what if Drew Brees is doing something magical as he approaches his 39th birthday next week?
And didn't Brees perform fairly well against the Vikings in Week 1, when both teams were figuring themselves out?
And couldn't the Saints' dual threat at running back rise from the dead after last week's dual fart, putting the weight of the world on that great Vikings' defense?
It could happen, there are just too many ifs. Instead I have to go with my brain, even though a large chunk of it is screaming at me, shouting "CASE KEENUM, YOU IDIOT!" over and over and over again.
So, yeah, a week after going 0-4 picking favorites, I'm picking three favorites. On the one hand, it's smart to avoid an overcorrection. On the other hand, I might be an idiot. Can't wait to find out!
Last week: 0-4
Regular season: 121-123-12
Week 9-Week 15 (just to make me feel good about something): 60-38-7, wow that's a great job, Mike!
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