Just eight teams remain on the road to Super Bowl 56 and I would say we have the class of the league left in the playoff race. But who sits where in the remaining eight? Super Wild Card Weekend and injuries have shaken things up a little bit.
As we head into the divisional round showdown with San Francisco on Saturday night, you’ll probably hear at least six names mentioned before you hear Matt LaFleur get his credit. The glare from the Aaron Rodgers sun can sometimes leave the head coach in the shadows. But LaFleur has won 39 regular season games in three years – the best start to a coaching career in NFL history.
Glance at the season stats for the Titans and you’ll see Derrick Henry rushed for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns. You would be forgiven for thinking, ‘not a bad season.’ And then you will be gently reminded that Henry missed the final nine games of the year with a broken foot. The difference-making King Henry returns and the Titans are close to becoming whole again.
The Josh Allen I saw destroy the New England Patriots last Saturday is the one I picked to be this season’s NFL Most Valuable Player. Few in history could lay claim to a performance as dominant as Allen’s and the Bills’ last weekend and they are going to score their points against Kansas City on Sunday. This game is coming down to key defensive plays and Buffalo have guys who can make them.
The Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes have been more patient and always seem to be one step ahead of opposing defenses, but I have one lingering concern. If they start Sunday’s game against Buffalo in the same manner as they did against Pittsburgh (punt, punt, interception, punt, fumble return for TD) they won’t find themselves just seven points down. They might be out of the game.
There is so much to like about the defending champions. Tom Brady shows no sign of slowing down, the defense is active and aggressive and an NFL-high 14 wins have now been secured despite a lengthy injury list. And it’s those knocks, particularly on offense, that have me dropping the Bucs. Tristan Wirfs is a rock at offensive tackle and is a concern for Sunday. That’s a worry given the strength of the Rams’ pass rush.
The Niners are as in-form as any team left in the field, but I cannot place them higher than six because I worry about the potential for a late-game Jimmy G meltdown. Being physical offers their best hope of upsetting Green Bay. Controlling both lines was a key for San Francisco during Sunday’s win in Dallas. The Niners rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns and recorded five sacks. More of the same, please.
The pass rushers will be licking their chops if Tampa fields a banged-up or under-manned offensive line on Sunday. On offense, Matthew Stafford played a clean game in beating Arizona and I think that was important for his confidence. And while we always talk about Cooper Kupp, secondary weapons such as Odell Beckham Jr and the fit-again Cam Akers are going to be key moving forward.
Much is rightly made of playoff quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, but none of them can match the prolific form being produced by Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow. The second-year quarterback has thrown for 1,215 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games and has a quarterback rating over 100 in his last five outings. That is historic.