By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- I love the playoffs. Boy do I ever. Postseason football is the best. Yet ... the end of the regular season is always such sweet sorrow.
There's just a certain level of comfort and peace of mind to know that you have yourself a million football games all happening concurrently every Sunday from the end of the summer through the start of the winter. Combined with your Thursday/Sunday/Monday night action, it all works to create a pace to life.
And as the schedule ramps down in December, and we start losing our Thursday games, and they start dishing out Saturday games before taking away our final Monday night game, we know that this day is coming. The day without a full football slate on a Sunday.
Nevertheless, it comes every year. And while we've got plenty of time to party for some playoff football this weekend, let's first round out some odds and ends and leftover thoughts from the 2018 regular season that was.
--I'm ready to make one of those statements that ends up getting retweeted by Old Takes Exposed seven years down the line and makes me look really, really, REALLY stupid. Are you ready for it? Are ya? Well here goes:
Of the QBs drafted in 2018, I think Baker Mayfield's got by far the brightest future.
I recognize it's always risky to throw your support behind any rookie quarterback, because almost all of them end up stinking out loud within a year or two. BUT, I was wholly impressed with the way this guy had complete control over the offense. From the very moment he stepped on the field in that Thursday nighter against the Jets, he looked like a veteran signal caller with the way he made calls at the line, put his receivers in the right spots pre-snap, and read defenses. It's not even the numbers or the physical throws -- though those have been pretty darn good -- that stood out the most to me. It's just that the concepts of the NFL appear to come to him the best.
--That being said ... Sam Darnold throws a pretty nice ball.
--Speaking of Darnold, the New York Jets are nuts to not fire their GM. Maybe he hasn't had enough time to implement his vision or whatever BS a GM might say. But the Jets are 24-40 during his tenure, and they just keep getting worse. Now they're going to hire a new head coach ... and what if they go 6-10 next year and then decide to fire the GM? Then that new GM will likely want to hire his own head coach, so this new 2018 head coach will be on thin ice from the very start of the 2019 season. They'll have to fire him if things go south ... and then just like that, Darnold -- a No. 3 overall pick -- will be on his third head coach in three seasons.
Continuity, people. You need it. You should seek it. By keeping Mike Maccagnan as the GM, the Jets are all but assuring themselves of remaining far, far away from it.
--Speaking of that aforementioned aspect of there being no Monday Night Football in Week 17? Yeah, let's change that. Do the opposite of what's done for the final Sunday night game of the year. Instead of two teams battling for a playoff spot, can't we get two bum teams out there to close out the year? It would provide a great opportunity for some new rules/idea to be experimented with and implemented, such as but not limited to:
--A game without referees
--Make judgment calls reviewable (i.e. pass interference)
--60-yard field goals = four points
--Losing team can claim player from other team at halftime
--Just make it an XFL game
I dunno, just an idea!
--What are we going to do about Nick Foles, people? What are we going to do? Nothing makes sense about this fella. Not a single damn thing.
Foles, 2012-13: 62.5%, 33 TDs, 7 INTs, 101.0 passer rating, 9-7 record
Foles, 2014-16: 58.6%, 23 TDs, 20 INTs, 77.4 passer rating, 11-9 record
Foles, 2017-18: 66.9%, 12 TDs, 6 INTs, 90.3 passer rating, 6-2 record ... Also a 3-0 postseason record with 6 TDs, 1 INT and a SUPER BOWL MVP AWARD
I know that big, bad NFL players aren't allowed to be afraid of anything, but the Chicago Bears have got to be petrified of having to face this guy this weekend. And let's say Foles does the impossible and leads the Eagles to another Super Bowl. What do we do then? Do we just accept Nick Foles as our new omnipotent leader?
What are we going to do, people? We ought to start figuring it out.
--I feel as though it went underreported that Aaron Rodgers' season ended early with a concussion in Week 17. That would be the third documented concussion of his career, and he once shared stories of sort of losing his vision after suffering a concussion during a game. Feels like it could be a big story for the 35-year-old QB as he heads into an important offseason.
--The Regret Game is a great one to play, and I can't help but assume that Mike Vrabel wishes that he had not gone for two ... twice ... in London against the Chargers and failed both times. Obviously there's no guarantee of winning after tying the game with a PAT, but I distinctly remember that first two-point attempt looking so bad, so grisly, so miserable, that there was absolutely no reason to give it another try after a penalty was called on the defense. Yet they tried it again, and failed again.
The Titans missed the playoffs by one game.
Of course, they lost out on that playoff spot to the Colts, who had their own Regret Game to play for Frank Reich's decision to go for it on a fourth down in OT against the Texans in Week 4. So, yeah, ifs/buts/candy/nuts. But this is typically why we see coaches call games so conservatively. People don't forget.
--All I want in this world is for the Miami Dolphins to surprise everyone and hire Rex Ryan as head coach. It would just be amusing -- at least to me -- for Rex to get hired and fired by every other AFC East team, all during the second half of Bill Belichick's tenure in New England. That's funny, right? Right.
--The Jaguars and Steelers played arguably the best playoff game of the year last season (non-Super Bowl division). Neither team is doing anything this week. In fact, both teams are sort of in disarray and are kind of a mess right now. Can we have them play each other at 1 p.m. on Saturday as a little pre-playoff warmup? Put something on the line, like an extra third-round pick or something. Or give the winning players some cars. I don't know. What I do know is that I'm full of great, awesome ideas.
I SUPPOSE IT IS TIME TO MAKE SOME PICKS ON SOME FOOTBALL GAMES.
(Home team in CAPS; Wednesday lines)
HOUSTON (-1.5) over Indianapolis
The two teams split their games this year, with Indy winning the most recent meeting by a 24-21 final score. The Colts earned that win behind 199 receiving yards from T.Y. Hilton, who accounted for almost half of Indy's offensive output.
I'd like to think that, with proper preparation, perhaps the Texans' defense won't allow that to happen again.
Still, this game feels tricky, as the first meeting between the two teams was just as close. Houston won that Week 4 contest, 37-34, in a game that wasn't decided until the final minutes.
We tend to perhaps overrate the potential impact of Houston's defensive front. At the same time, it's hard to not expect game-breaking type of plays out of the likes of J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. It's enough to give the home team the slight edge in this one.
Though, if I'm being honest, if I end up being wrong because 67-year-old Adam Vinatieri boots one through the uprights as time expires? I won't be mad at all.
Seattle (+1.5) over DALLAS
I don't know, man.
I get it. The Cowboys' defense is good. But how's it trending? Since stifling the Saints on national TV in Week 13, the Cowboys have allowed 25 points per game in the final four weeks of the season. That's not great.
And when it comes to the critical components of coach-quarterback, don't the Seahawks have the distinct advantage with Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson over Dak Prescott and Jason Garrett? Garrett has coached a whopping three playoff games over the past eight years, winning exactly one of them ... and only winning thanks to some very questionable officiating.
At the same time, the Seahawks struggled against top competition this year, going 2-4 against playoff teams. ... BUT, they also beat the Chiefs. And one of those wins against playoff teams came against ... Dallas.
Picking games? It's not easy folks. But it's not altogether difficult to envision Wilson making the jaw-dropping, game-changing play late in this one.
Los Angeles Chargers (+2.5) over BALTIMORE
Have we finally achieved parity? Is that what we're learning with these lines? I say yes. For this week at least.
Anyway, the Chargers are the most complete team in the AFC playoff field. They're good at everything. Their weaknesses? Hard to find. They run well. They move the ball through the air. They defend well. They're monsters on the road (fun fact: they're 8-0 in games that required a flight this season).
The only thing they haven't done well, really, is beat the Ravens. The two teams met in Week 16, in L.A., and, woof. The Chargers beefed it. Baltimore was all over them in that Saturday evening affair, flipping a 10-6 deficit in the third quarter with 16 unanswered points to win 22-10. Lamar Jackson had his best game as a starter, topping 200 passing yards for the first time while throwing a touchdown with no picks. It was a massive win for Baltimore, and it's likely enough to make many believe that the Ravens are primed and ready to take care of business yet again, this time in their own building.
But not me.
The Chargers are too good, and they've come through on the road too often this year for me to do anything but believe in them. I recognize that it's going to be very strange for everybody to adjust to Pip Rivers leading a team through the playoffs, but there's no use in denying what's going on here. The Chargers are the real deal.
Philadelphia (+5.5) over CHICAGO
I think -- THINK -- that the Bears' defense might actually have the magic elixir necessary to shut down Nick Foles. I think that's the case. Maybe. Possibly. Probably.
But knowing what I know about the Eagles, and the way they manage to fight and scrap and claw, I can't possibly sit here and say that they're going to lose any game by more than a few points. That's a team that had one total no-show all year long, a 41-7 drubbing in New Orleans. Outside of that, though, they lost six games by an average of 4.7 points per game. That's a team that competes.
And under Nick Foles, they're randomly very scary and formidable and dangerous again. They're 4-1 with him under center this year, and they're 9-2 with him at quarterback over the past two seasons. They're kind of 10-2 with him under center, as they were trailing the Rams when he entered for an injured Carson Wentz last December. I don't get it, you don't get it, Nick Foles probably doesn't even get it. Whatever, you know?
Did you see that man resurrect himself to beat the Texans? I did. And I'll tell you what: It was magical.
So while I do think the Bears win the game, I don't think the Foles magic will allow the Eagles to go quietly.
And, if I were to be fully honest with all of you (for the first time of my life), I would tell you this: I don't feel exceptionally confident about any of these picks this weekend. Yet if I were to flip any of them, I'd feel equally shaky. I suppose that is the mark of what should be a tremendously exceptional weekend of playoff football. I suppose we deserve this.
Last week: 11-5
Regular season record: 134-113-9
(Wow that's a really nice record, perhaps you should pat me on the back!)
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