This weekend, the NFL saw four playoff games open up the postseason, and it was a weekend that provided entertainment from Saturday afternoon to Sunday night. Here’s some takeaways from the weekend:
Marcus Mariota Saved Mike Mularkey’s Job
With the amount of talent and lack of results during the regular season, the blame in Tennessee has gone to HC Mike Murlarkey. Many, including myself, think he would’ve been fired if Tennessee lost. With Kansas City up 21-3 at halftime, it seemed like Mularkey would be the head coach in Tennessee for one more half, but his QB’s efforts may have extended his stay until next season.
Mariota led the comeback with a half for the ages, as he threw a touchdown to himself, threw a dot to a receiver for the go-ahead touchdown, and then had a key block that allowed the Derrick Henry to pick up the 1st down and not allow the Chiefs to touch the ball again. Mariota’s been sub-par all season long, but he showed up at the right moment to save his season and his coaches’ job.
Fair or not, Alex Smith is done in KC
Smith has been the first to be criticized when anything bad happens in KC. Smith went from an MVP candidate when the Chiefs started out 6-0, and then turned to the immediate blame only a few weeks after for the Chiefs struggles. With the Chiefs drafting Patrick Mahomes II in the first round, it’s clear they will move in a different direction than Alex Smith.
Statistically, Smith had a great season, as he finished 1st in passer rating and top 10 in almost every major QB stat category. But, at the end of the day, the Chiefs blew a 18 point lead with the biggest home-field advantage in the NFL. The Chiefs also have the league’s leading rusher in Kareem Hunt, and a defense filled with playmakers including Marcus Peters and Justin Houston. At the end of the day, someone has to take the fall, and this time it will be Alex Smith. Look for many teams pursuing Smith in the offseason, including Buffalo, who I think will be the front-runners for his services.
The AFC needs more elite quarterbacks
Watching Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles struggle mightily was predicted coming into this game due to the dominance of both defenses. But, only one quarterback from this matchup threw for over 100 yards (Taylor) and only one threw a touchdown (Bortles). In the AFC, all four quarterbacks that squared off in round one are not elite. Besides Alex Smith, none are even close.
In the NFC, all four quarterbacks had elite seasons, and 3/4 of them have played/won a super bowl coming into the games. The AFC quarterbacks had little (or no) playoff experience coming into the games, and it really showed. While quarterbacks like Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers, all elite, are sitting at home, the AFC can’t seem to find playoff teams with above-average quarterbacks (besides Brady and Big Ben).
Cam Newton needs help on offense
In an imposing atmosphere facing off against one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL, Cam Newton’s Panthers fell to the Saints 31-26. In arguably Cam’s best game of the season, the Saints were just too much. The Panthers had an opportunity to win after the Panthers’ elite defense stuffed New Orleans on 3rd and 4th down at midfield to get the ball back. But, besides Christian McCaffrey, Newton simply doesn’t have much help.
The Panthers’ two leading receivers were Greg Olsen and McCaffrey, who are not wide receivers. Newton completed 24 passes, and only 9 were completed to wide receivers (37.5%). That shows how good Olsen and McCaffrey are at catching the ball, but it shows how weak the wide receiver core is. Devin Funchess and Kaelin Clay are a below average receiving core.
Cam Newton was under pressure all game long from the Saints defensive line, and the game concluded when Vonn Bell came untouched and sacked Newton as time expired. Newton was running for his life, and with a below average defense, he could barely do anything. With an elite defense and Cam Newton, the Panthers are so close, but they are in dire need of an upgrade at WR and O-Line.
The Atlanta Falcons defense is elite
After the offensive juggernaut that the Falcons unleashed on poor opponents last season, the focus from everyone has been on their struggling offense. But, what many have not realized is that the Falcons defense has dramatically improved. After holding the league-leading offense (30 PPG) to only 13 points, the Falcons are starting to get some recognition on the defensive side.
The Falcons defense has carried the team all season long, as they’re undefeated when they score more than 20 points per game (11-0), which means that despite scoring around 20 points multiple times this season, the Falcons defense has prevailed. They’ve had strong performances against Minnesota (14), New Orleans (17,23), Carolina (20,10), and Green Bay (23).
Last week, they held Todd Gurley out of the endzone, which forced Jared Goff to make plays (he didn’t). In the last five weeks of the regular season (MIN, NO 2x, CAR, and TB), the Falcons had the 2nd best run defense in the league, forcing QB’s to beat them. That’s how every single other NFC team left plays, which is establish the run game and take stress off the QB. Without Carson Wentz in Philly, the Eagles will heavily rely on Jay Ajayi and Lagarette Blount, as Nick Foles is a below-average QB. Minnesota will do the same with Case Keenum at QB, and New Orleans’ revival has been mostly due to Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram.