We live in the court of public opinion, and let me tell you: This courthouse sees some TAKES!
I'm used to shooting down overreactions, and they are flying after the penultimate Sunday of the 2021 NFL regular season.
So, let's debunk some common, prisoner-of-the-moment pronouncements, Schein Nine style.
1) Home-field advantage isn't an advantage for the Packers
With a 37-10 blowout of the Vikings on Sunday night, the Packers clinched home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. This is the third time Green Bay has nabbed the No. 1 seed with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. How'd the previous two occasions go? Not spectacularly ...
- 2011 playoffs: The 15-1, defending champion Packers were blown out of their home stadium by the Giants, 37-20, in Green Bay's playoff opener.
- 2020 playoffs: After beating the Rams in the Divisional Round, the Packers lost to the Buccaneers at Lambeau Field, with Matt LaFleur infamously opting for a field goal late, instead of giving Rodgers a chance to tie the game on fourth-and-goal.
So, yeah, dwell on that history if you'd like. Rodgers and Co. haven't always been invincible at Lambeau in the postseason.
But they've been pretty darn good in the friendly confines this season: 8-0 with a 13.9-point average margin of victory. And Mr. Rodgers? Yeah, he's essentially sewn up a second straight MVP. In fact, I think he's playing the best football of his first-ballot Hall of Fame career. Since the Week 1 debacle in New Orleans, Rodgers has thrown 35 touchdown passes against two picks. He's completely locked in. His connection with Davante Adams is uncanny and unstoppable -- the receiver has 634 yards and eight touchdowns in his last six games.
Furthermore, the surrounding cast is stout. Green Bay has a legit two-headed monster at running back in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. The defense, which ranks eighth in points allowed, could be getting some reinforcements back from injury for the playoffs. And regardless of last year's controversial NFC title game decision, LaFleur is clearly a terrific coach, having logged 13 regular-season wins in each of his first three years on the job. He never gets the credit he deserves.
The NFC playoffs go through Green Bay, and these Packers are poised to deliver on that home-field advantage.
2) Matthew Stafford is a liability for the Rams
Another pick-six? Yup, that was ugly. Three turnovers for the second straight game? Can't have that, especially against a banged-up Baltimore defense that just got torched by Joe Burrow one week prior.
But in the second half, Stafford was 14-of-14 for 162 yards. He rallied the Rams late, connecting with Odell Beckham Jr. on a do-or-die fourth down and then the game-winning score. It was Stafford's 45th game-winning drive, the most in the NFL since he was drafted in 2009. When Los Angeles needed it, Stafford delivered in pulsating fashion. That's the headline. That's the story. That counts as big-moment/big-game experience.
Sean McVay and Les Snead made the Stafford deal to be legit Super Bowl contenders, and that's exactly what they are, sitting pretty at 12-4 with a five-game winning streak heading into the regular-season finale against the 49ers. Think they'd be here with Jared Goff? No. 9's a solution, not a problem.
3) The Cowboys are frauds, per usual
Nope. Don't go there. That's been true of many Dallas teams over the past quarter century, but I'm confident these aren't the same old Cowboys.
OK, Mike McCarthy's game management was goofy and costly -- not having a timeout to challenge that fumble late was huge. But I choose to credit the Cardinals, a talented, desperate team that had lost three straight games before Sunday's 25-22 triumph. Kyler Murray needed a win like that, and he was terrific. Kliff Kingsbury needed a win like that, and he was aggressive. Good on you, Cards.
Still, this is the most balanced Cowboys team in years, with the top-ranked scoring offense and No. 7 scoring defense. No wonder Dallas boasts the top scoring differential in the NFC at +147. These 'Boys are loaded with true difference-makers on both sides of the football. Michael Gallup's season-ending injury hurts, no doubt, but Dak Prescott still has a pair of pretty good wideouts to target in CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper. I think the quarterback will survive.
If we get a Dallas-Arizona rematch in the playoffs, I'm picking the Cowboys.
4) Tom Brady will bail out the Buccaneers
I'm begging you: Please don't take Brady's latest game-winning drive for granted. I don't want to hear that it came against the Jets. The Bucs trailed 24-20 with just over two minutes remaining. The roster's depleted by injuries. Antonio Brown literally quit midgame. And yet, Brady drove Tampa 93 yards in nine plays -- all throws -- hitting Cyril Grayson (WHO?!) with a 33-yard dime for the game-winning touchdown. Vintage G.O.A.T.
All in all, though, the Buccaneers just didn't play very well. And while they famously returned all 22 starters from last year's title team for this season, the lineup's in tatters now. Consequently, I'd rank the Packers, Rams and Cowboys ahead of the Bucs on the NFC side alone. There's too much stuff -- from health issues to defensive woes to DRAMA -- for one 44-year-old man to overcome. It's always dangerous to bet against Tom Brady, but I just haven't felt it with this Bucs team all season.
5) The Eagles are dangerous as a playoff team
I give the Eagles so much credit. I was dead wrong about this team in the preseason. I ripped the Nick Sirianni hire. Give the first-year head coach credit for his midseason adjustments and commitment to running the ball. The Eagles were left for dead at 3-6, but Sirianni and Co. started playing to Jalen Hurts' strengths, and now they're a 9-7 playoff team. That's a fine job in Year 1.
But the Eagles are not winning a playoff game. No chance. To be frank, they just aren't that good. What they are is opportunistic. Philadelphia has taken advantage of an easy schedule. The Eagles have nine wins, none of which came against a team that currently owns a winning record.
Philadelphia is ahead of schedule with this young roster and first-year coaching staff, but the feel-good story ends on Wild Card Weekend.
6) The Colts can't win with Carson Wentz
Wentz doesn't want to blame his bout with COVID-19 for the slow start on Sunday, but he also admitted the obvious.
"Definitely one of the weirdest weeks of my NFL career, if not the weirdest," the quarterback said following the 23-20 loss to Las Vegas.
The guy didn't practice all week, spending five days in isolation due to COVID protocols. And then he had to face a desperate team clinging to postseason hopes. The Raiders were simply better on Sunday. My guy Derek Carr is a fine quarterback and was magical in crunch time yet again. It happens. Indianapolis had entered the game on a three-game win streak; it was only the team's second loss since Halloween. Let's not pretend the sky is falling.
The Colts still have Jonathan Taylor, a great offensive line, a fantastic defense, a superb head coach and a quarterback with a 26:6 TD-to-INT ratio. They'll beat the moribund Jaguars on Sunday, clinch a playoff spot and be a handful for whomever they face in the tournament.
7) The Raiders are destined to hit the playoffs
It sure seems like it, considering what Derek Carr has done with everything going against the Raiders this season, with the absurd amount of adversity this team has faced. It sure seems like it, after the passing of my friend, John Madden, a football icon who has no equal. Don't you feel like these Raiders just deserve their second playoff bid in the last 19 seasons?
But storybook endings are rare, especially in a league as competitive as the NFL. As I said just above, I expect the Colts to take care of business in Jacksonville and nab one of the last two AFC wild-card bids. The other one? Well, that'll come down to Chargers-Raiders on Sunday Night Football. And despite the inconsistencies and letdowns over the course of the season, the Bolts are just a better team. Consequently, I have Justin Herbert and Co. prevailing in Vegas in the last game of the regular season. Sorry, Raider Nation. This team has provided a hell of a ride in a topsy-turvy season.
8) Joe Burrow is a top MVP candidate
I'm no Burrow skeptic. Not at all! Honestly, color me obsessed with Burrow's genius, arm, swagger, leadership and sheer domination. What he's done over the last two weeks has been majestic, following up a historic demolition of the Ravens with a win over Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs. The man has 971 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in his past two outings! With three straight wins, the Bengals have clinched the AFC North. Where are all you haters who bemoaned my placement of Cincinnati in last week's column ranking potential Super Bowl LVI champs? With Zac Taylor letting Burrow sling it like this, these Bengals are quite dangerous.
So, yeah, I love Burrow. I love his weapons. I can easily make a case for Burrow as the Comeback Player of the Year. And if, as an AP voter, I had to compile a list of MVP candidates -- like a top-five ballot -- Burrow would be on it.
But there's no list. There's no ballot. As a voter, I enter one name for MVP. And I cannot put Burrow ahead of Aaron Rodgers, let alone Tom Brady or Jonathan Taylor.
9) The Chiefs are ripe to be knocked off
Slow down, people. The game was in Cincy. I picked the Bengals to win, and they did, in a 34-31 INSTANT CLASSIC. It's not like the Chiefs were blown off the field. They led 28-14 late in the first half. But Joe Burrow -- and rookie sensation Ja'Marr Chase -- did some magical stuff down the stretch. No shame in that road defeat.
Sure, Kansas City no longer controls its destiny when it comes to securing the AFC's No. 1 overall seed. But I think the Chiefs have a better chance of hosting on Championship Sunday than the Titans. Every word of positivity should still be uttered about the Chiefs. They've averaged 37.3 points per game over their last four contests, so those old concerns about offensive struggles are in the past. And the K.C. defense is still stout; Sunday was a tough day at the office against a red-hot quarterback.
Kansas City's the two-time reigning AFC champion for a reason. Doubt Andy Reid's bunch at your own peril.