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Friday, December 2, 2022

SOFX Original Article | NFL Wild Card Weekend, Who Shined and Who Didn’t | Steve Balestrieri, SOFX Contributing Editor

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After a crazy NFL season, the league had an entertaining and intriguing Wild Card Weekend. Some teams and players made compelling cases for themselves to be standing at the end, while others played their teams right onto the golf course for the offseason.  

We’ll break down all of the games below but before we do that…so, who shined this past weekend? You’d have to start with Josh Allen of the Bills who was “en fuego” on Saturday night. He was historically good as he dismantled the Patriots defense that was #2 in scoring defense during the season. Tom Brady showed that Father Time is still far in the distance as he finished off a stellar season by dismantling the Eagles with ease.  The Chiefs may have struggled for a good part of 2021 but their getting hot at the perfect time. Joe Burrow and the Bengals are looking like the real deal.  

But where there is excellence, there is also subpar performances. It has to start with Bill Belichick’s defense, that was curb stomped by the Bills. Kyler Murray was so flustered on Monday night, he looked like a shell of the player we’ve come to know. Speaking of shells of themselves, Ben Roethlisberger looked done and probably played his last game. And the Raiders and Cowboys? Both seem primed for changes at the top.  

Let’s take a look around the games this weekend 

Cincinnati 26 – Las Vegas 19: 

This was a coming out party for Joe Burrow and Bengals, heck for the entire city of Cincinnati. The Bengals hadn’t won a playoff game in 31 years. To say that the team and the fanbase were ready is an understatement.  

Burrow was drafted to take the Bengals to the next level and on Saturday, he appears well on his way. His 95-mph fastball in the 2nd quarter to C.J. Uzomah was one of those moments where everyone just goes…”WHOA”. That BB went for 29 yards. Of course, the play of the game, and the most controversial was his athletic rolling out to his right and then throwing an impossible touchdown in the back of the end zone.  

But an inadvertent whistle coulda/woulda/shoulda caused the score to be waved off. Raiders interim coach Rich Biasaccia will probably be replaced. The Raiders already let GM Mike Mayock go. They had a shot to tie the game, but called a final play which was an interception on the Bengals 9-yard line. Rumor has it that Jim Harbaugh could be leaving Michigan for Vegas. That will be one to watch, but for now, they’re interviewing a lot of candidates for the head coaching job.  

Buffalo 47 – New England 17:  

The Bills and Josh Allen exorcised a lot of demons on Saturday night. For two decades, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots absolutely owned the Bills and the AFC East. Yes, last year the Bills took the division, but Brady had just left and with COVID, the Patriots had eight players opt out.  

This was much, much different. Belichick had fast-tracked the rebuild and New England made the playoffs with a rookie QB in Mac Jones. New England had control of the division until a Week 16 beatdown in New England where Allen torched their defense. Saturday night, before a kneel down in the last minute and a half, the Bills had seven possessions…and scored seven touchdowns. And in doing so, they only faced six (6) third downs. And yes, they converted all six as well as their red zone opportunities. 

Did the Bills run it up? Damn straight they did. They were sending a message, that the division doesn’t go through Foxboro anymore and that they are ready for bigger things. Belichick saw that his team needs a big influx of speed on both sides of the ball. But they have found a keeper in Jones who has great poise in the pocket.  

Tampa Bay 31 – Philadelphia 15:  

Forget the final score, this was a beatdown. The Eagles scored two touchdowns in garbage time, but the story of this one is that Tom Brady, at age 44 shows no sign of slowing down and with his defense starting to get healthy, they have a legitimate shot to repeat.  Coincidentally, the last team to repeat as Super Bowl champs were the 2003-2004 Patriots, quarterbacked by…Tom Brady. And 17 years later, he’s still playing at an incredibly high level.  

The knock on Philly was that they feasted on bottom-feeders and were 0-6 against playoff teams. And they still have to decide if QB Jaylen Hurts is going to be “the guy” for them. Philly showed that they have a lot of work to do, but Hurts’ performance throwing the football has to give the coaches and front office pause.  

Philly and Hurts can run the ball on anyone. But as they showed against the Bucs, when facing a good defense, their passing game is not anywhere near where it needs to be. Their defense was picked apart by Brady and the short-handed Bucs, while Brady still processes plays faster than anyone on the planet.  

San Francisco 23 – Dallas 17:  

The 49ers are a tough team running the ball and defensively, although their boundary corners can be passed against. They were dominating this game and appeared poised to blow out the Cowboys on the road.  

Up 23-7, Jimmy Garoppolo missed a wide-open deep pass that might have blown the game wide open. He then threw a horrible interception that changed the complexion of the game. He’s the “X-Factor” on a team that otherwise could run the table. I’m not sold on him and with the competition tough from here on, I’d not want to bet on him putting the team on his back.  

Dallas is hard to figure out, as is Dak Prescott. At times he looks unstoppable. Then at others he makes head-scratching mistakes. Head coach Mike McCarthy may be on thin ice. Some of his play calls (the QB run at the end of the game…ugh), and his clock management is definitely suspect. I’d think that Jones will go with either Dan Quinn or Kellen Moore to take over.  

The Niners will stick with Jimmy G. as they go to Green Bay to take on the Packers, but I think Kyle Shanahan will have a full-blown QB competition next summer. If the rookie is ready, it may be time for a change.  

Kansas City 42 – Pittsburgh 21:  

Earlier in the season, many thought the Chiefs were suffering from that dreaded, “Super Bowl Loser’s Hangover” when they were scuffling along at 3-4. No longer.  After the Steelers defense shut them down in the 1st quarter and scored a defensive touchdown to take a 7-0 lead, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense took off. By halftime, the Chiefs were up 21-7 and rolled up over 300 yards of offense. They never looked back. Mahomes finished an impressive night completing 30-39 passes for 404 yards with 5 TDs and 1 INT.  

The Steelers have a lot of work to do. Ben Roethlisberger is a Hall of Fame QB but he’s done. And they don’t have a successor in place. The Steelers defense is tough and can get after the QB but they were just outmatched on Sunday night. They have to make a decision to try to draft a QB (the Steelers have always built through the draft) or try to bring in a free agent QB.  

Andy Reid has the Chiefs peaking at just the right time. This week’s game against Buffalo should be a treat. More to that one below. But Mahomes and the offense has a plethora of weapons and they’ll be a favorite to represent the AFC again.  

Los Angeles Rams 34 – Arizona 11: 

Midway through the season, the Cardinals looked like the team to beat. They looked primed to make a deep postseason run and were my midseason favorite to go to and win the Super Bowl. But one of the hallmarks of Kliff Kingsbury’s teams are late season swoons. This year was no exception. The Cardinals looked like they didn’t belong in the playoffs and Kyler Murray was terrible, looking completely flustered and out of sorts.  

The Rams were in control of this one from the opening snap, and they cruised to an easy win. They mortgaged their future to win now and they’ve pushed all their chips into the center of the table. But the problem with assembling talent is that it isn’t necessarily building a team. While they looked incredible on Monday night, the Cardinals made it easy for them.  

Matthew Stafford finally won his first playoff game, but I’m still on the fence about him in a big game. Look, I think he has all the talent in the world, but he has a penchant for making big mistakes at crunch time and even this year, threw 17 interceptions, including 4 pick-sixes. Stafford has led the league in pick-sixes the past two years with seven. If the Rams fall short of the Super Bowl, this season is a bust. And the pressure is on their QB who the Rams gave up a starting QB Jared Goff, two 1st round draft picks and a 3rd round pick. We’ll see how it all plays out, but “Dream Teams” don’t normally make champions.  

NFL Divisional Round:  

 Saturday, Jan. 22-
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans, 4:35 p.m. ET (CBS)
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers, 8:15 p.m. ET (Fox) 

Sunday, Jan. 23
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 3:05 p.m. ET (NBC)
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS) 

Who’s Ready for Some Football? 

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