The religious nature of Sunday and the NFL’s dominance of the day typically coincide peacefully; heck, The Professor has been to churches in Texas where they might not have been able to relate the messages of the Bible if they could not use football analogies. This Sunday was different; the games were spectacular for football fans, but the religious folk may not have been thrilled with what was in the hearts of the day’s heroes.
“When it’s grim, be the Grim Reaper and go get it,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told quarterback Patrick Mahomes, with the team down three with 13 seconds on the clock in a game they would win in overtime.
“I would have loved to have been taking a knee up three scores, but it’s a whole lot more fun when you’ve got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody’s soul,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said after his victory in a game that the Bucs had tied with 42 seconds left.
The quarterbacks they vanquished, Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady, were brilliant in their own right, but it wasn’t enough against Mahomes and Stafford. Saturday’s games were thrilling as well, with the Bengals and 49ers picking up their wins on walk-off field goals, but neither featured the sort of late-game heroics NFL fans witnessed in the Sunday slate.
The souls are now stolen and the final four teams are set. The people in the NFL office who waste their time discussing irrelevant nonsense can debate how Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill is ruining the NFL and the world in general by throwing up peace signs; we will take a first look at the AFC and NFC Conference Championships. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Rise of the 9s, Fall of the 12s?
Matthew Stafford and Joe Burrow were selected first overall by the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals in their respective NFL Drafts, which is a rough way to start an NFL career.
As Stafford showed on Sunday, supreme talent at the game’s most important position is not enough to overcome the curse of the Lions, but it is enough to put most NFL teams into Super Bowl contention. Lions fans surely woke up wondering how the hell they will ever win anything if they couldn’t win with Stafford.
The Bengals seemed to suffer from a similar curse; Cincinnati once made the playoffs with Carson Palmer at quarterback, only to see him injure his knee almost immediately on an incredible throw against the Steelers, then watched Burrow flourish in his rookie season before inept offensive line play led to another season-ending knee injury for a Cincinnati quarterback.
It speaks to Burrow’s presence, or his “it” factor, that he overcame the knee injury and Cincinnati’s history to lead the Bengals to the AFC North title and wins in his first two NFL playoff games. Granted, the AFC North did not have an Aaron Rodgers blocking Burrow’s way the way, as Stafford did during his years in Detroit, but Burrow’s accomplishments are remarkable for a penny-pinching Bengals organization that won’t pay for an indoor practice facility.
Both number 9s are now in the Championship Round, Stafford a favorite against a 49ers team he has gone 0-2 against this season, Burrow an underdog against a Chiefs team he went 1-0 against. While they move on, two of the NFL’s famous number 12s are going home, as Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both fell short this weekend after finishing neck-and-neck in the NFL’s MVP discussion. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already announced his retirement, and the NFL’s annual exodus could include three future Hall-of-Famers if Rodgers and/or Brady join him, but with quarterbacks like Burrow, Stafford, Mahomes, and Allen in place, the NFL is in good hands at its most important position.
Mahomes vs. Burrow
The Chiefs-Bengals game is at Kansas City -7 on DraftKings, a larger spread than any of the games in the Divisional Round, but given that Burrow and the Bengals defeated the Chiefs a few weeks ago, the AFC Championship is anyone’s game.
Tennessee has done many things right in constructing their roster under head coach Mike Vrabel, but as fortunate as they were to acquire quarterback Ryan Tannehill to replace Marcus Mariota (with the Dolphins picking up part of Tannehill’s salary that season), Tannehill’s limitations may cap this team’s potential moving forward. In an AFC that features Mahomes, Allen, and Burrow, not to mention another rising star in Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and a former MVP in Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, Tannehill may lack the ceiling to push the Titans over the top. That was the case on Saturday, when Tannehill’s first and last throws were interceptions, with the first setting the Bengals up with an early lead and the last setting Cincinnati up for the game-winning field goal.
Cincinnati’s offense has not played at the same level since they beat the Chiefs in the regular season, and Mahomes and his offense have been unstoppable since Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt scored a defensive touchdown against them in the Wild Card round, but Burrow, receiver Ja’Marr Chase, and the rest of his pass-catchers have the talent to rise to the occasion. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and the rest of Kansas City’s defensive front will be licking their chops after the Titans sacked Burrow nine times, but while the Bengals need to make significant upgrades on the offensive line this offseason, Burrow has shown he can overcome their poor play, so Mahomes could need to continue his recent hot streak for his team to advance to the NFL’s final round.
The 49ers and Rams engaged in a fierce bidding war to acquire Matthew Stafford’s services this season, which some analysts questioned at the time. The coaches, San Francisco’s Kyle Shannahan, and Los Angeles’ Sean McVay saw it differently (Shannahan’s appearance on McVay’s Flying Coach podcast this offseason is worth revisiting, particularly the bit where they discussed this trade). After Stafford’s performance on Sunday, most NFL fans understand why.
San Francisco was able to take down the Packers in Lambeau despite an unremarkable performance from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, but outside of linebacker Fred Warner’s brilliant forced fumble on Green Bay’s second drive, when came at a point when it appeared that the Packers would move the ball with ease, the 49ers’ win had more to do with Green Bay’s inability to do basic things, such as blocking the opponent’s rushers on field goal and punt attempts or putting eleven players on the field when the opponent is lining up for a game-winning field goal attempt.
The 49ers rallied from down 17-0 in their second game against the Rams, and after the Bucs nearly did the same thing to Los Angeles on Sunday, McVay’s focus this week will likely be on his team’s ability to step on their opponent’s throat if and when the lead is in hand. San Francisco’s defense is loaded, particularly in the front seven, but there are reasons that the Rams are 3.5 point favorites despite losing both of their games to the 49ers this season, and the most important one is that both head coaches wanted Stafford to be their guy moving forward, and only one could get him. Many of the NFL’s offseason storylines fail to live up to the hype; the Stafford sweepstakes is an obvious exception, and if he can get the win this weekend to set the Rams up for an appearance in the NFL’s championship game, which will take place in Los Angeles, it will make for an epic documentary.
Kansas City is the favorite to win it all on DraftKings, at +120, while the Rams come in at +200, the 49ers at +450, and the Bengals at +800. These odds make sense, if for no other reason than the Chiefs and Rams have the superior quarterbacks, but as this NFL season has shown, anything can happen.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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