Honestly, I don't know what to say. Not even sure I slept last night -- or ever will again. My heart's still racing. My head's still spinning. YOU GOTTA LOVE SPORTS!
The Divisional Round is routinely touted as "The best weekend in football." So, was this the best ever?
Sounds like the perfect way to begin a Divisional Round edition of FACT OR FICTION, Schein Nine style!
1) Best. Divisional. Round. Ever.
FACT. I subscribe to the idea floated above: The Divisional Round is the best weekend in football. For my money, it's the best two-day event in sports, bar none. And this Divisional Round was indeed the best edition EVAAAAAA!! I mean, seriously: What more could you want?
The first three games saw three road teams win with tie-breaking field goals as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Evan "Money Mac" McPherson hit a 52-yard bomb to knock off the top-seeded Titans and give the Bengals their first road playoff victory in franchise history. Robbie Gould eliminated the top-seeded Packers with a 45-yard boot in the snow globe that was Lambeau Field. Matt Gay converted a 30-yarder to stave off complete embarrassment for the Rams and abruptly end the Buccaneers' repeat effort. And then, as the gargantuan cherry on top, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen engaged in a legendary duel that appeared to end three separate times in the final two minutes of regulation before the Chiefs finally punched their ticket to a fourth straight AFC title game in overtime.
Are you not entertained?!! All four Divisional Round games ended with no time remaining in regulation or in overtime -- the most such finishes ever in an ENTIRE postseason, per NFL Research. The four contests were decided by a combined total of 15 points. That's an average margin of victory of 3.8 points -- the lowest figure ever in a playoff round with at least four games. Truly historic stuff, people. Especially that finale Sunday evening ...
2) Chiefs over Bills = Best. Game. Ever.
Let me sell why this is a fact. Even before the Divisional Round kicked off, I thought the winner of Bills-Chiefs would be the Super Bowl favorite. Then, on Saturday, both No. 1 seeds were eliminated, fully accentuating my initial instinct.
Entering the game, we knew it would feature two of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, as well as a pair of the league's finest head coaches. Top-notch coordinators on both sides? Check! Explosive playmakers in each huddle? Check! Spectacular setting in one of the sport's loudest stadiums? Check plus! We all knew this would be a heavyweight title bout. We didn't know it'd be an Ali-Frazier masterpiece.
Truthfully, this was a marvelous game through the first three-and-a-half quarters, with the budding AFC rivals going back and forth in a charged environment. But it was that closing stretch that took this game from marvelous to mind-blowing. Just look at the drive log of the final five possessions:
- BILLS TD: 17 plays, 75 yards, 7:01
- CHIEFS TD: 5 plays, 75 yards, 0:52
- BILLS TD: 6 plays, 75 yards, 0:49
- CHIEFS FG: 3 plays, 44 yards, 0:13
- CHIEFS TD: 8 plays, 75 yard, 4:15
The teams combined to score 25 points in the final two minutes of regulation. It was the first playoff game in NFL history with three go-ahead touchdowns scored in the final two minutes of regulation. Just check out the quarterback numbers from the two-minute warning through overtime:
For the game, Allen and Mahomes combined to put up 844 total yards with eight touchdowns and zero giveaways. This was freakin' art. And I haven't even mentioned the fact that Bills WR Gabriel Davis set a postseason record with four touchdown receptions, that Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce piled up a combined 19 grabs for 246 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner.
I could go on forever, but I must stop -- just like the game eventually had to ...
3) The NFL overtime format was unfair to the Bills
Look, this is fiction. And that's saying something, coming from me.
It's pretty well-documented how much I adore Josh Allen, going back to the 2018 NFL Draft. I believed in his raw talent when many figured his talent was just too raw. And seeing him go out and play like he did on Sunday -- in both postseason games, racking up nine touchdown passes against zero picks -- was further validation to those of us who've been on the bandwagon all along. The guy's a superstar. And yes, it stinks that he didn't touch the ball in overtime.
But Buffalo should've won this game in regulation. The Bills needed to squib kick with 13 seconds to go. Take time off the clock and limit Mahomes to one play from scrimmage. It's elementary. And a little defense would've been nice. There are three phases of football. All apply. And there's coaching. The Bills didn't get screwed by the overtime rule; they made their own bed.
Now, would I like to see a little tweakage to the overtime format? Sure. But nothing as drastic as many of the overcooked suggestions flying around. In the past, I've offered this solution: No flip of the coin to begin overtime. Home team gets the ball first. Everyone knows it. It's not fluky. It can impact strategy in fourth quarter. And in the postseason, home-field advantage is earned, so it's a just reward.
Not into that? OK, how about this: You just add overtime possession into the initial pregame coin flip. You can elect to receive the ball at the start of the game or in the second half and overtime. Clean and simple, with no one feeling like they got bamboozled at the very end of a well-fought battle.
4) Tom Brady knows his future
Fiction. We saw multiple reports last week -- including a Sunday dispatch from NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport -- that Brady's undecided on his future. In the wake of last night's season-ending loss, Bruce Arians said, "We'll see. Brady himself? Well, judging by his postgame comments -- as well as the demeanor and tone with which they were delivered -- one thing is for sure: The 44-year-old has some serious thinking to do.
This was a challenging season for Brady and the Buccaneers. Injuries really hurt the defending champs. So did the Antonio Brown circus. And yet, Brady is still playing at the G.O.A.T. level, having led the league in passing yards (5,316) and passing touchdowns (43). The Bucs still won the NFC South and tied the Packers for the best record in football (13-4).
Selfishly, I never want to stop watching him. But the man has logged 22 NFL seasons. He's won seven Super Bowls and played in three others. Three regular-season MVPs, five Super Bowl MVPs. If he's satisfied with everything he's accomplished, well, he should be! If he wants to move onto the next stage in his life, totally understandable! It just won't surprise me in the least if he's back in training camp when he turns 45 in August.
At this moment, nobody knows what's next -- not even Brady himself.
5) Aaron Rodgers just played his final game as a Packer
When I spoke with Rodgers on The Adam Schein Podcast a few weeks ago, I asked him whether his perspective had changed on Packers brass, if maybe the grass might not be greener outside of Green Bay.
"The grass is greener where you water it," Rodgers responded. "I really believe that. And you know, that's an adage to dissuade people from going out and taking risk and chances, and you know, I think that where you spend your time and energy and what you choose to water will always be the greenest part of your life.
"From one of the first days, (Packers GM) Brian (Gutekunst) and I sat it down and got on the same page, and it's been a really nice fall and winter. I appreciate his approach, how it's been, and it's been very meaningful to me. So I'm thankful for that relationship, where it's at at this point, and that's made my life that much more enjoyable. So I gotta give Brian a lot of credit for meeting me in the middle."
After that conversation, I was convinced there was a real shot for this marriage to continue. But admittedly, at the time, I was thinking Rodgers would not only be winning his second consecutive MVP award in February, but preparing to play in his second Super Bowl. Now, in the wake of Saturday night's brutal loss? I'm not so sure. Losing like that, playing like that, getting zero support from the worst special teams in the game ... It's tough. The Packers are already WAY over the cap for 2022, with Davante Adams set for free agency.
"There are a lot of decisions to be made," Rodgers said in the postgame Saturday. "Key players, a lot of guys who played tonight ... so many guys whose contracts are up or on the brink or salary cap stuff. So, a lot of decisions to be made. I don't want to be part of a rebuild if I'm going to keep playing. So a lot of decisions in the next couple of months."
So, it's anybody's guess. All that drama from last offseason? It was real. If No. 12 doesn't get the commitment to win that he demands from the front office, he's gone. Here's hoping the Packers find a way to keep Rodgers, Adams and most of the band together. But this was another crushing defeat, another wasted season. So, I guess that answer here is ... TBD. It's on you to make it fiction, Packers brass.
6) Joe Burrow is the toughest quarterback this postseason
That's a fact, Jack! Sacked a career-high nine times on Saturday, the second-year signal caller was never rattled. He never even looked flustered. Joe Cool just kept punching the ghosts of Cincinnati's past directly in the face. One week after leading the Bengals to their first playoff win in 31 years, he secured the franchise's first road playoff win EVER, knocking out the AFC's No. 1 seed in the process.
Burrow's connection with Ja'Marr Chase is as omnipresent and dazzling as it was in LSU's national title run. And I love how he gets Tee Higgins and C.J. Uzomah going, too. Of course, Cincinnati will be a substantial underdog in Kansas City on Championship Sunday. But Burrow just beat Mahomes with an epic performance earlier this month. In two seasons, this cat has completely changed the culture and expectations in Cincy. It's a thing of beauty. This team oozes swagger. But with a quarterback who's tough as nails, it's not just empty bombast. Burrow's Bengals are for real. They're here to stay as contenders.
7) The Titans cannot win with Ryan Tannehill
Factual statement. If Ryan Tannehill is the answer, I'd love to know the question.
Three awful picks, with one coming on his first snap of the day and one on his last. The Titans were playing at home as the No. 1 seed. They got 140 rushing yards at a healthy 5.2 yards a pop. A.J. Brown had five catches for 142 yards and a touchdown. The defense piled up nine sacks. And yet, Tennessee's one-and-done.
This is why I never took the cheese on the Titans, especially once Derrick Henry broke his foot. Tannehill just cannot function as The Man.
8) Jimmy Garoppolo saved his job for 2022
Straight up fiction. Yeah, Garoppolo ultimately came away with a playoff win at snowy Lambeau Field, but there were at least six "Oh no, Jimmy!!" moments. The 49ers didn't score an offensive touchdown. They had 212 total yards, with the quarterback supplying 131 passing yards and a ghastly red-zone pick. San Francisco's elite coaching and toughness won this game. Special teams beat the Packers. Deebo Samuel beat the Packers.
Credit Jimmy G for making some plays late, but this will be his last week as a Niner before Trey Lance begins to dance.
9) The Rams will finally get over the 49ers hump
This is happening: Fact! I know Kyle Shanahan always beats Sean McVay. I know he just did it in Week 18, Shanahan's sixth straight win over McVay. I know the 49ers just earned road playoff wins over the Cowboys and Packers.
I also know that the Rams just narrowly avoided a collapse for the ages. They just stared infamy in the face, tempted fate in a game against Tom Brady ... and lived to tell about it! That kind of near-death experience gives you new life. Not to mention, the Rams are more well-rounded, more talented and just plain better than the Niners.
Despite McVay's 3-7 record against Shanahan, L.A.'s head man is a superb coach. Yes, he was way too conservative in the second half on Sunday. Fumbles and miscues killed the Rams, too. But they survived -- and they survived because of their quarterback. Matthew Stafford saved the season. That's why the Rams made the trade. That's why the Rams are going to be the second straight team to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium.