As Broad & Pattison Turns: Wacky Wildcard Weekend

For the majority of NFL teams, the commencement of a new calendar year also represents the end of a long, grueling NFL season.

A season which began with so much promise back in the dog days of summer has unfortunately ended too early for 20 of the 32 NFL teams.  And along with the harsh cold weather that Mother Nature can provide this time of year, the harsh, cold reality has also set in that their dreams of hoisting a Super Bowl trophy come February 4th will remain unfulfilled.

Then there are the remaining twelve that have withstood…those that proved on the field that they deserved an invite to the playoff dance.

Of course, there are always the usual suspects such as the Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs receiving an invite.  Including 2017, both Kansas City & Pittsburgh have made the playoffs in four of their last five seasons, while this season marks the 14th out of the last fifteen that New England has been in the postseason.

But what sticks out about the 2017 playoffs are the “newbies”.

The Jacksonville Jaguars & Tennessee Titans received an invite to the playoff party for the first time since 2007 & 2008, respectively, while the Los Angeles Rams will be making their first appearance since 2004.  But that still pales in comparison to the Buffalo Bills, who have not made the playoffs in 18 years, which was, until last week, the longest current playoff drought not only in the NFL, but in all of sports.

And while only the Rams, out of those four, look like they have a chance to be Super Bowl bound this season, a playoff appearance at least represents some success and an important stepping stone to the other three organizations, and something for their fans to get excited about.

So while the Eagles have the week off and are preparing for their divisional playoff game next Saturday against  what is a yet to be determined opponent, here is a look at the four games that will make up the NFL’s Wildcard weekend:

Titans at Chiefs  4:35 PM  ABC/ESPN  (Sat)

The Chiefs began their season as gangbusters, starting 5-0 before faltering and losing six of their next seven, before ending the season on a 4-game winning streak.

But while 10-6 won Kansas City the AFC West, their midseason slump prevented them from getting a bye and made their playoff path much more difficult.

The Titans also limped to the finish line, ending the season 9-7 after being 8-4 at one point, which prevented them from winning the AFC South and playing at home this weekend.

Kansas City wins at home today and stays alive at least for one more week, while the Titans go home and their coach’s future hangs in the balance.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid dressed up as Santa Claus two weeks ago after the Chiefs won their division.  I predict that he will be dressed like a snowman after today’s game.

Falcons at Rams  8:15 PM  NBC  (Sat)

The Falcons are this year’s recipient of the “Super Bowl blues” hangover, given annually to the loser of the previous year’s Super Bowl.  But what made it even worse for Atlanta is that they suffered the worst collapse in Super Bowl history.

While their offense has remained mostly intact, they have not played up to par when compared to last season.  Ten wins is still a pretty good season though, especially considering they were 4-4 at the midway point.

Rams coach Sean McVay has not only turned the fortunes of his 2nd year QB, Jared Goff, around, but the Rams look to be a team that will be in the playoff picture for many years to come.

Atlanta has a chance only because they represent the team with playoff experience, while most of the Rams players have not experienced much postseason success.  The Rams also are a surprise 4-4 at home versus 7-1 on the road.  Having said that, I still think the Rams are the better team that will advance to the 2nd round.

Bills at Jaguars  1:05 PM  CBS  (Sun)

It is rare when two teams are facing each other in the playoffs, and yours truly hasn’t watched a single one of their games all season.  But that is exactly the case with Buffalo & Jacksonville.

With neither team coming off a successful 2016 season and both in relatively small markets (Jacksonville being the smallest in the NFL), seeing these two teams on a Sunday night or marquee late Sunday afternoon game is a rarity.

The Bills had to beat the Dolphins on the road last Sunday and then watch the Cincinnati Bengals defeat Baltimore in the closing minutes, knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs and sending Buffalo in.

Bills fans were so excited, they started partying like it was 1999 – which makes sense since that was the last time that Buffalo had actually made the playoffs.

While 2008 represented the year of the last major financial crisis, it also represented the start of a “football crisis” for Jacksonville, which went nine straight years without a winning record until 2017.

The good thing is that at least one of these teams will advance to the next round of the playoffs after suffering from losing for so long.  But that’s only because they are facing each other, not because they are Super Bowl material.

If I were a betting man, I’d place my bets on Jacksonville.

Panthers at Saints  4:40 PM  FOX  (Sun)

The Saints rebounded from three straight 7-9 seasons to go 11-5 and win the NFC South, while the Panthers are another team that has made the playoffs in four of their last five seasons.

New Orleans defeated Carolina  in both of their regular season meetings this season, but doing so three straight times is no easy feat, as the third time is usually a charm for the loser of the first two.  For that reason, I’m picking the Panthers as the only road team to win on Wildcard weekend.

Assuming the Falcons lose tonight, the winner of this game would come to Philadelphia next Saturday to face the Birds.  I’ll gladly take the Panthers as our opponent (or the Falcons preferably), as the Saints, with Drew Brees, would give us the toughest test in my opinion.

While Thanksgiving was two months ago, I’m thankful that the Eagles earned a bye.  Otherwise, I would be freezing my butt off in 5 degree weather at the Linc today to watch the Birds play.  Instead, I look forward to a balmy 38 degree Saturday next weekend.

But whether that will result in Nick Foles playing any better remains to be seen.

Enjoy the games everyone!

 

 

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As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #17: A December Snoozer

The expectation was that Old Saint Nick would bring presents to all of the good little boys and girls on Christmas morning, while a young “Saint Nick” would deliver the #1 seed and homefield advantage to all of the Eagles fans, both naughty and nice, come Christmas night.

But while Old Saint Nick delivered on his promise, young Saint Nick almost delivered a bag of coal instead.

Clinching the #1 seed in your conference is usually a cause for celebration, but as the Eagles trotted off the field last Monday night after a victory over the Raiders, they looked more like they were walking out of a funeral.

And who could blame them?  What we witnessed last week was a less than stellar performance by the offense. What makes it even more concerning was that it was against a team that flew cross country into the cold weather with absolutely nothing to play for save pride.

After the close win against another bad team in the Giants two weeks back, the feeling was that the offense would be fine with Saint Nick at the helm, especially after he threw four touchdowns in the process in his first start this season.

The area of concern was how easily the defense was getting torched against a bad offensive team like New York, but against the Raiders, everything got flipped.

The defense redeemed itself somewhat, but it was the play of Foles and the whole offense which was doing anything but making spirits bright for the 70,000 fans who braved the cold to watch that Christmas Night snoozer.

Foles was hitting them low, hitting them high, but no one was watching the Eagles fly.  More like limp into the postseason.

To be fair, not everything that was happening to the offense was Foles’ fault.  The receivers, who have been quite an improvement from 2016, seemed like they were trying to untangle themselves from a string of Christmas lights, and were unable to get any kind of separation from the defenders.

Two wins in two weeks against two bad teams, yet the way the Eagles played has caused more consternation than optimism.

When the Eagles were blowing out their opponents back in October & November, I made the point that watching the Birds was actually getting somewhat boring.  By the 2nd half, I found myself sitting in my seat at the Linc in a very laid back manner, almost acting more like I was watching one of 162 Phillies game on a lazy summer day at Citizens Bank Park.

But all of the Bird watching boredom (a rarity I know due to all those one-sided contests) has now been replaced by a return to the “mean” for Eagles fans – the teeth clenching, fingernail biting, blood pressure rising is back and here to stay as long as the Eagles are still playing.

Things were just too good to be true back in the fall.  We can’t have it easy – the starting quarterback who seemed to be the golden child of the franchise and who’s play was elevated compared to so many others HAS to get hurt to make things interesting.

The one hit-wonder who once threw 27 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in a single season and who tied a record for most touchdowns thrown in a single game in that same spectacular season, HAS to come down to earth to make things interesting.  Otherwise, it would be just too easy for Philadelphia and we won’t know what to do with ourselves.

No, doing things the hard way is what we’re used to.  It’s what we thrive on, especially with the playoffs approaching.

If the Eagles play their first playoff game in four years at the same level as they did the last two weeks, their playoff push will be short-lived, regardless of whether they face the Vikings, Rams, Saints or Panthers.  And we’re now placing all our hopes with a quarterback who has the ability to throw four touchdowns…or kill a lot of worms while throwing the football.

When Carson Wentz first got hurt, I made the point that while the Eagles “replacement engine” is not as good as the original, it was still capable of doing the job.  And I still feel that way.

But if Wentz was starting last week, the Birds would have looked much more crisp on offense, as he had the ability to mask some of the deficiencies of this team with his play.  Unfortunately, Foles does not have that luxury, so the “wrinkles and grey hair” are starting to show.

The Birds will need to play better in all aspects if they want to make this a season to remember.    But before they embark on that quest, there is the matter of finishing out the string of the regular season first.

The Cowboys will come in with nothing to play for, but will play all of their starters for most of the game (I think) in order to finish the season at 9-7 and with a win.  The Birds would do well to give their starting offense a “tune-up” of sorts before the playoffs begin.

Ideally, the offense comes in and scores 10 or 14 points in its first two drives and is then lifted for the backups.  But if they struggle as they did last week, it will only raise the alarm bells as to whether this team can last even one round in the playoffs.

Hard to predict this game, so I won’t.  But let’s hope that the offense can get back on track and that the defense continues to play as it did last week against the Raiders.   Otherwise, what seemed to be a promising start to 2018 just a few weeks back may be another winter of our discontent.

Amit’s Marquee Matchup of the Week (only one this week):

Panthers at Falcons  4:25 PM  FOX

The Last Word:

Thanks to Amanda Moran for the pic from the Green Legion pregame tailgate at Santa Monica pier prior to the Eagles – Rams game.  With frigid temps in the forecast here at least through next week, I’d go back in a heartbeat.