Categories
Rumors

Divisional Round Preview

A screenshot of a computer

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

We look ahead to the coming weekend’s matchups, potential storylines, and a whole lot more. Follow along this week on all Chiefs Focus social media platforms, the 1st and 10 Podcast, as well as the blog for coverage and insights.

Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

Blowouts. Blowouts, galore. The “Super” Wild Card weekend came and went, and in it we did not see a lot of competitive football. The average margin of victory for the teams that moved on was 17.2 points, and the only two games that were within one score at the final whistle were Cincinnati’s 7 point win over Las Vegas, and San Francisco’s 6 point win at Dallas. The Bills won by 30, the Bucs by 16, Chiefs by 21, and the Rams by 23. A lot of folks on the Twitter are claiming that the extra team in the playoffs is bad, we only need 6, yada yada yada. The bottom line is there was football on all weekend, and we all watched it. Also, I would give those fans a word of advice – don’t fly too close to the sun. When your team is on the brink of a playoff berth, and there isn’t an additional seed, you’re going to regret wishing the extra spot away. 

The divisional round may just be the conference semifinals, but it is the last full weekend of football we have until college football and the preseason come back around. Chiefs fans have grown to appreciate Championship weekend and Super Bowl Sunday quite a bit over the past few seasons, but we cannot lose our appreciate for the divisional round. Look at these matchups. You have collisions of styles in the Titans vs. Bengals and Packers vs. 49ers games. The Rams travel to Tampa to try to unseat Tom Brady and the Bucs. And the final game of the weekend features arguably the two best teams in the AFC in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. 

(4) Cincinnati Bengals at (1) Tennessee Titans – AFC – Saturday 3:30 CST; CBS, Paramount+

On the Call : Ian Eagle and Charles Davis 

  • Cincinnati, coming off of their first playoff win since 1991 against the Las Vegas Raiders, will travel to Nashville to face the 1 seed Titans, who are of course coming off of a bye week. 
  • The million dollar question this week – will Derrick Henry play, and if so how much? The Titans all-world running back was activated off of IR before week 18, but sat the last game and rested last week. Against a banged-up Cincinnati run defense, he could be a key to victory for the Titans. 
  • Joe Burrow hits the road to face a Titans defense that excels at creating pressure with their front 4. 
  • This will be the second all-time playoff matchup between the two franchises. The Bengals defeated the Houston Oilers back in the 1991 AFC Wild Card round by a score of 41-14. 
  • Coaches Mike Vrabel and Zac Taylor will meet for the first time. Vrabel is the front runner for NFL coach of the year, and Taylor has taken the Bengals from 2-14 to the Divisional round in his third season at the helm. 
  • The Titans are currently 3.5-point favorites. 

(6) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Green Bay Packers – NFC – Saturday 7:15 CST; Fox

On the Call : Joe Buck and Troy Aikman  

  • The 49ers, coming off a 23-17 win over the NFC’s 3 seeded Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday, travel to Green Bay to take on the 13-4 Packers. 
  • In a rematch of the 2020 NFC Championship game, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks to avenge the loss to reach his third consecutive title game. Green Bay has not reached the Super Bowl since 2011. 
  • The Packers Davante Adams and the 49ers Deebo Samuel will meet in a matchup of 2 of the 3 wide receivers from this year’s All Pro First Team. 
  • San Francisco enters after back-to-back wins against the Rams in the final week of the regular season and Cowboys in the Wild Card round. This will be a rematch of a Week 3 thriller that Green Bay won 30-28. 
  • Several key players on both sides are either slated to return from injuries, or are nursing new ones, including the Packers offensive line duo David Bakhtiari and Josh Myers, and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa.
  • The Packers are currently 6-point favorites. 

(4) Los Angeles Rams at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – NFC – Sunday 2:00 CST; NBC

On the Call : Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth

  •  Los Angeles takes on of the longest road trips in the NFL as they head to Tampa to take on Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Bucs 
  • Both teams won in the Wild Card round with relative ease, with the Bucs handling the Eagles 31-15 and the Rams dismantling division rival Arizona 34-11. 
  • Buccaneers starting offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen are both nursing ankle injuries (Wirfs is in a walking boot) – something that could play a huge role against a Rams team that can generate pressure from the interior with Aaron Donald and and on the edge with Von Miller.
  • Tom Brady will be in search of his 36th playoff victory (tops in NFL history by a mile), Rams QB Matt Stafford will be looking to notch his 2nd career playoff victory. 
  • The Buccaneers are currently 3-point favorites. 

(3) Buffalo Bills at (2) Kansas City Chiefs – AFC – Sunday 5:30 CST; CBS

On the Call : Jim Nantz, Tony Romo 

  • These two teams had the most impressive offensive performances, particularly from their quarterbacks, in the Wild Card Round. Buffalo’s Josh Allen was 21 for 25 for 308 yards and 5 TD against New England, and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes went 30 for 39 for 404 yards and 5 TD against Pittsburgh. 
  • This will be the teams’ second meeting this season. Buffalo won a week 5 contest in Arrowhead Stadium by a final score of 38-20. It is also a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, one that Kansas City won 38-24 at home. 
  • Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and cornerback Charvarius Ward will be available to play in this game. They both missed the week 5 matchup with Buffalo due to injuries. Buffalo will be without cornerback Tre’Davious White who tore his ACL against the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving night. 
  • Mahomes holds the advantage in the 3 contests these quarterbacks have squared off in thus far at 2-1. 
  • Mahomes and the Chiefs have a 6-1 record at home in the playoffs including last week’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. 
  • Kansas City is currently a 1.5-point favorite. 

Stay tuned to the blog all week for coverage on these games, as well as in depth coverage on the Chiefs and Bills Sunday night matchup at Arrowhead Stadium!

Categories
Rumors

Divisional Round First Look : Chiefs Welcome Bills Back to Arrowhead

Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO on October 10, 2021

This weekend we see a rare double rematch – the teams met in week 5 of this year’s regular season, with Buffalo winning at Arrowhead 38-20, as well as in last year’s AFC Championship game (also at Arrowhead) where the Chiefs won 38-24.

Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

News & Notes

  • AFC 3 Seed Buffalo Bills visit AFC 2 Seed Kansas City Chiefs 
  • Bills enter having decimated division rival New England in the Wild Card round 47-17
  • Kansas City comes off of a 42-21 win at Arrowhead Stadium against the 7 seeded Pittsburgh Steelers 
  • The Chiefs will look to improve their home playoff record to 7-1 in the Patrick Mahomes era in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. Kansas City won that game 38-24, and this year’s contest will be played nearly a year to the day of last year’s (January 24, 2021 AFCCG; January 23, 2022 AFCD) 

There are some teams and players that, through the course of competitive evolution, you just grow to dislike. The Chiefs and Bills have certainly reached this point. The two teams began their respective ascents at around the same time, with the Chiefs taking Patrick Mahomes with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft and a year later the Bills selecting Josh Allen with the 7th pick in the 2018 draft. The rosters have been built in different ways to showcase different strengths, but the beginning of their climb to their current states started with the independent but similar decisions to christen new faces of the franchise. And both decisions have paid off, to different degrees. Last season, Allen led the Bills to their first playoff win since 1995 when the team defeated Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the Wild Card round. Buffalo rattled off wins against Phillip Rivers and the Colts in the Wild Card round in 2021 and Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in the divisional round before their eventual loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game. 

Mahomes has obviously led the Chiefs the heights that no one could have expected when they drafted the “project” quarterback out of Texas Tech in 2017. Mahomes victory over Andrew Luck and the Colts in the 2019 divisional round was the first home playoff win at Arrowhead Stadium since Joe Montana outdueled Neil O’Donnell and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993. He didn’t stop there, though. After falling short in 2019, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2020 and went back in 2021 to fall short of the Lombardi. But they are back in familiar territory in 2022 against a familiar foe, with a AFC Championship and a definition of each young star’s trajectory on the line.  

When you talk about the best quarterbacks in the league, particularly young ones, these two comes to the forefront of every conversation. Allen is a full-fledged specimen at the position. He’s 6’5”, 237 with a rocket arm and legs that can hurt you just as bad. This season, Allen became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 750. Last year, he became the first quarterback in league history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 8 rushing touchdowns. He’s also the first player in league history to reach 100 passing touchdowns and 30 rushing touchdowns in his first 4 seasons. His 135 total TD in 4 years trails only Dan Marino (144) for the most in NFL history in that span. The Bills have won the AFC East in back-to-back years for the first time since the span between 1988-1991 when they dominated the division and went to 4 straight Super Bowls. Patrick Mahomes is no slouch, in comparison. The columns in the record books that he has toppled are plentiful, and if you’re having a slow day at work you can find where I’ve covered them here and here. And while Allen has the individual stats and relative team success to hang his hat on, the organizational transformation that Mahomes has brought to Kansas City is unparalleled by anyone who is not currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or named Tom Brady. Since Mahomes took the helm in 2018, the Chiefs have been to the AFC Championship game every season, losing in 2019 before winning in 2020 and 2021. They have been to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl 54 – in which Mahomes earned the game’s most valuable player honor. 

While the heart of the debate for both fanbases stems almost directly to the quarterback comparison in most cases, the completeness of the teams and the individuals who have built them have turned this into this generation’s version of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s Patriots/Colts rivalries. Two teams who share a conference but from separate divisions who have bigger goals than division championships and playoff appearances in their minds coming into every season. Buffalo has been a darkhorse pick in the AFC that has emerged this season as a full-fledged contender, and Kansas City is the former upstart who have now found themselves as the team with the biggest target on their backs in the NFL, let alone the AFC. Not many would argue that these two are the class of the AFC, so a divisional round matchup seems premature, but it will be star studded, nonetheless. 

There is no lack of depth on either roster. Names like Tyreek Hill, Stephon Diggs, Travis Kelce, Dawson Knox, Chris Jones, Jerry Hughes, Tremaine Edmunds, Micah Hyde, and Tyrann Mathieu will all suit up to join their all-world quarterbacks in battle on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Two teams with rosters that are constructed as well as any in the NFL, coached as well as any in the NFL, and players that don’t particularly like each other a whole lot.  So how far has each team come since their week 5 showdown in Arrowhead in October? Let’s start with the Bills. 

Buffalo started out on fire this season. After losing the first game of the year to Pittsburgh at home, they rattled off 4 wins in a row capped by the 38-20 whitewashing of Kansas City in Arrowhead Stadium. They looked like they were the best team in the AFC and the NFL at 4-1, and many national media outlets took notice and were boisterous about declaring them as such while simultaneously touting the fall of the Chiefs empire. However, a different narrative developed over the next 8 weeks of the Bills season. After losing a close game to the Tennessee Titans the week after their win against the Chiefs, Buffalo got back on track with a win against the (then) lowly Miami Dolphins. After that? A mindblowing 9-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over the next 6 games, Buffalo would lose 4 including a blowout loss to the Colts and a loss to division rival New England at home. Halfway through December the Bills were 7-6 and on the outside looking in at a division championship. Wins in their next four games against Carolina, New England, Atlanta, and the Jets propelled them as New England sank back, losing key games down the stretch, and giving Buffalo their second consecutive AFC East title. Then, last Saturday, the Bills appeared to get the strong urge to reintroduce themselves to the world in their Wild Card win over the Patriots. The Bills scored touchdowns on all 7 of their drives against New England, while holding the Patriots to 305 yards of offense and shutting down their vaunted rushing attack. Allen threw for 308 yards and 5 TD. 

As for the Chiefs, they rebounded nicely with a convincing win over the Football Team in Washington in week 6, before hitting 2021 rock bottom with a humiliating 27-3 week 7 loss to the Tennessee Titans. What happened next defined the Chiefs season, and set the stage for a matchup when the week 5 score has to be thrown out the window. KC has won 10 of their last 11 games since the loss to Tennessee behind a defense that has moved from dead last in the NFL to points allowed per game to 8th, and an offense that couldn’t find the answers anywhere in the first 7 weeks finding themselves as the league’s 3rd most prolific unit by the end of 2021. Which they will need going up against a Buffalo defense that has been the league’s best in both points allowed and yards allowed over the course of the 2021 season. 

So we know both team’s trajectories heading into the Divisional matchup that has game of the week written all over it, but what has each gained and lost since the last time they played? Well, Buffalo has stayed healthy for the most part. They did lose reserve offensive lineman Ike Boettger to an Achilles injury against New England last Saturday, but kept everyone else off of the IR. Their biggest loss of the season, and one that will most definitely impact their approach against the Chiefs compared to the last time the two teams squared off, is that of cornerback Tre’Davious White. White was lost on Thanksgiving night against New Orleans with a torn ACL, and the Bills defense hasn’t looked quite the same since. While they slipped minimally against the pass, it was against quarterbacks like Cam Newtown, Matt Ryan, Mac Jones, and Zac Wilson. The only quality QB they played in that timeframe was Tom Brady, a game they lost while allowing Brady 363 passing yards and 2 TD. Leonard Fournette also had 113 yard rushing in that game, an area where the Bills have slipped noticeably since White went out. in the four games following his exit, Buffalo allowed 135 yards per game on the ground – 39 more than they had prior to his injury. 

Buffalo did hold New England to 89 yards rushing in their wild card matchup after allowing 371 combined in their 2 regular season matchups, but with the way the Buffalo offense jumped out on New England running the ball was not an option late in the game. White is also a huge presence in Buffalo’s strategy of taking Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill out of the gameplan for KC. Without him, it is going to be difficult to body those two, along with the other Chiefs receiving threats that have emerged in recent weeks. 

In Kansas City, a lot has changed. The first time these two teams played, Daniel Sorensen played every defensive snap at free safety and gave up 2 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Chris Jones missed the game with a wrist injury. Charvarius Ward was inactive. Frank Clark started and played well, but it was his first game back from a hamstring injury. It was Willie Gay’s first game off the IR. Jarran Reed only played 27 snaps. All 4 of these defenders, plus Melvin Ingram who was added at the trade deadline and a catalyst for the Chiefs now vaunted pass rush late in the season, will be healthy and active against Buffalo on Sunday. Sorensen has been (for the most part) shifted into a most situational role that fits his abilities much, much better by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith had just 4 NFL starts under their belt when they took the field in October, and Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown had 4 with the Chiefs. That is a unit that has gone from a question mark to the most dominant in the league. Make no mistake about it – the Chiefs invested a lot of resources (both cash and draft capital) into their offensive line after the result of Super Bowl 55, and it has paid off for them immensely. A defensive front 7 featuring Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Melvin Ingram, Nick Bolton, Willie Gay, and Anthony Hitchens is much more daunting for the Bills offensive line than Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Mike Danna, Ben Niemann, Anthony Hitchens, and Nick Bolton. While the latter provide depth and will contribute, there is a distinct difference in what the Chiefs will sport up front against the Bills on Sunday compared to what was trotted out in early October. 

While the same two clubs with take the field against each other on Sunday that shared the same field in October, the players who will be clashing will be much different. Both quarterbacks are susceptible to questionable play when pressured. We’ve seen it with Mahomes early in the year, and Allen has been consistently erratic when he is contained and knocked down. Against New England, Allen had time to throw the ball. I do not see that happening against this version of the KC defensive front. When the two best teams in the AFC (and possibly the NFL) take the field on Sunday, they will both be ready to bring everything they have up their respective sleeves to end the other’s season. They key to this, which we will dive into deeper later in the week, will be who wins the battle up front on both sides of the ball. The quarterbacks will be the story, but the play in the trenches will be the reason that one of these two teams move on to the AFC Championship.  

Categories
Breaking News News

Wild Card Week 2022 : Chiefs Dominate Steelers 42-21

Kansas City Chiefs vs Pittsburgh Steelers, GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO on January 16, 2022

The Chiefs handed the Steelers their second blowout defeat in four weeks at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday night to set up a rematch with the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round.

Chiefs Fcous @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

  • Kansas City Chiefs 42, Pittsburgh Steelers 21
  • Patrick Mahomes : 30 for 39, 404 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT 
  • Jerrick McKinnon : 12 rushes, 61 yards; 6 receptions, 81 yards, 1 TD (142 scrimmage yards on 18 touches)
  • Travis Kelce : 5 receptions, 108 yards, 1 TD receiving, 1 TD passing 
  • Kelce passed Julian Edelman and Michael Irvin (6) for the second most 100 yard receiving games in playoff history. He now only trails Jerry Rice (8) all time. 
  • Mahomes became the first quarterback in NFL history with 4 games (regular season and playoff) with 400 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. He did so in his first 72 career games. Players with 3 – Peyton Manning (292 games), Dan Marino (258 games), and Joe Montana (187 games). He joins Ben Roethlisberger as the only two quarterbacks in league history to achieve this line in the postseason. 

All season long there has been a feeling in the air in Kansas City that when the Chiefs finally put everything together and have the offense and defense clicking in the same game, they will look damn near unbeatable. Well, it happened last night. While the defense carried the offense for the first quarter of the game, and the Steelers scored the game’s first points on a forced fumble by Cameron Heyward that was recovered and taken to the house by TJ Watt, the Chiefs offense rebounded as well as any team could (given the circumstances of how the game started) on their way to a dominating 42-21 win where the Chiefs comfortably controlled every facet of the game. It was a statement win to cap off a week of questions leading into the game of whether the Chiefs offense could handle a healthy TJ Watt and the impact he brings to the Steelers defense. Those questions were answered with a resounding yes in a performance that looked more like the team was saying oh, I think y’all forgot who we are. The offense, spearheaded by another virtuoso performance from Patrick Mahomes – something that is becoming routine for the Chiefs signal caller in postseason play – was balanced, killed the Steelers in short to intermediate passes, and beat them deep. All in the same game. Give credit where credit is due – the Steelers came out on fire with a plan that stalled the Chiefs out early, but the adjustments were made by the Chiefs coaching staff to have this one on ice by halftime. 

Speaking of that rough start, if you looked at the Chiefs first 5 drives of the night, the final score (or the fact that the team led at one point 35-7) would seem like an impossibility. In the first 5 drives of the game, Tommy Townsend punted on the first 3, Mahomes threw a pick that was tipped by TJ Watt and eventually caught by Devin Bush deep in Steelers territory, and on the fifth Mahomes was stripped by Heyward, Watt picked up the fumble and ran it in for a TD to make the game 7-0 in favor of Pittsburgh. But there was a difference in the attitude of the team after these two offensive turnovers. They did not get conservative. Mahomes did not get rattled. Collectively, with all the energy of Arrowhead Stadium behind them, they got pissed and came out swinging. That was not good news for the Steelers. 

The next 6 drives for Kansas City resulted in touchdowns of all shapes and sizes from the KC offense. A 7 play, 74-yard drive ended with a dime from Patrick Mahomes to Byron Pringle from 12 yards out. the next 6 play, 80-yard drive ended with a 48-yard touchdown from Mahomes to Travis Kelce. To start the second quarter scoring, Mahomes found a new target in the endzone – on a designed trick pass to Nick Allegretti for a 1-yard score after he tossed TJ Watt to the ground like a rag doll setting up the release. After the Steelers fumbled on their next possession, Jerrick McKinnon lost 2 yards on the first play for the Chiefs before Mahomes found Tyreek Hill on a 31-yard frozen rope to the front right corner of the north endzone at Arrowhead Stadium. To end the touchdown frenzy, the ball was in Travis Kelce’s hands on another designed outside the box trick play where he found Byron Pringle in the endzone for his first career passing touchdown. 

With so much going into the performance of this game, it’d be easy to just say that the team as a whole performed well and we’re on to Buffalo. But several individuals on both sides of the ball made big impacts, some that you see in the box score, and some that you don’t. Defensively, L’Jarius Sneed ended the night with no interceptions, but that’s only because he dropped 3. Granted, one would have been negated by a roughing the passer call on Alex Okafor, but Sneed was all over the field and stuck on the Steelers dangerous receivers all night long. Nick Bolton proved his worth again as he led the team in tackles and was a catalyst in the Chiefs holding Pittsburgh rookie sensation Najee Harris to 29 yards on 12 carriers. Credit the defensive line for that as well, specifically Jarran Reed, Chris Jones, and Derrick Nnadi for making the midline run something that the Steelers absolutely could not go to last night. The pass rush had Ben Roethlisberger uncomfortable again, with Tershawn Wharton reintroducing himself to Big Ben and Mike Danna getting home for a sack as well. 

Defensively the Chiefs looked fast, looked like a team swarming to the football, and a team that if given enough chances will turn some of those dropped picks into costly mistakes for opponents in the latter rounds of the postseason. While the personnel decisions were still questionable (Willie Gay only got 17 snaps – will be interesting to see if this is because he was banged up, or a Spags decision to play Niemann instead), Spagnuolo seems to have eaten his crow in decided to get Juan Thornhill back into the starting lineup. Thornhill looked like a mini-John Lynch on the field on Sunday, delivering big hit after big hit and setting the tone in the secondary from a physicality standpoint. The secondary was physical all night long, lining up in press coverage for 68% of the passing snaps against Pittsburgh. That is the highest press coverage rate of any team in the last 6 seasons in a single game, and 28% higher than the Chiefs season average of 40%, which led the NFL. 

Offensively, where do I start? Jerrick McKinnon was Jerrick McCookin last night. McKinnon had 142 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and looked like the Chiefs best back all night long. With Darrell Williams limited coming off of the toe injury against Denver, and Derrick Gore’s number not getting called, it was the McKinnon show all night long, and he took advantage of the touches. The greatest thing about this is that McKinnon is in theory the fourth guy in the room for the Chiefs at RB, but can hurt a playoff opponent just like a number 1 RB. This is going to be huge as Darrell Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire return from their injuries. Both can assist in pass protection better than Gore (the primary reason I believe he didn’t get many snaps last night), ands have the ability to hurt teams out of the backfield in the passing game just like McKinnon. Jerrick has the hot hand, and I believe we keep feeding him, but the benefit of having a running back by committee type back field is that when his hand gets cold you have fresh legs to plug in and make plays as well. The Chiefs will need all 4 of these backs to compliment each other in order to make a deep run into the playoffs, and McKinnon got that off to a hot start last night with his freshness and ability to help in pass protection. 

Going back to the first quarter, it looked like the Chiefs were going to be in trouble with TJ Watt and Tre Norwood giving Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie fits early. How did the Chiefs solve that? By throwing people, and plays, in their direction. The first touchown drive of the game for Kansas City featured both, with Mahomes finding McKinnon on screens directly towards Watt, and Noah Grey and McKinnon helping to chip on the all-world defensive lineman to negate his impact. Again, on the second touchdown drive, Kansas City went back to the same methodology, and coupling that with the threat of Patrick Mahomes scrambling ability (the QB rushed 3 times for 29 yards) the Steelers defense was officially on their heels, and by the time they figured out what was going on it was too late. Travis Kelce also destroyed the Steelers from the inside out. It started with feeling the middle of the defense out, and a couple of incompletions, but eventually the levy broke. 

Kelce reached 100 yards receiving for the seventh time in his playoff career. That is an all time NFL record for tight ends, and puts him alone in second place behind Jerry Rice, who had 8 such games in his Hall of Fame career. He also now only trails Rob Gronkowski by 204 yards in all time receiving yards in 8 fewer games, and is number 12 overall in playoff yards in league history. As a tight end. Playoff Kelce was something I noted to watch for in the Twitter Space before the game, and boy did he prove me right. 

And then, there’s Patrick Mahomes. With all of the talk about the performances of Josh Allen and Tom Brady in the Bills and Buccaneers respective playoff whippings over the weekend, you would have thought that the media outlets covering the Wild Card Weekend forgot Mahomes was playing Sunday night. Hell, even Joe Burrow was getting more attention than Mahomes after the Bengals won their first playoff game since 1991. So, without placing too much attention on this, I had a feeling that Mahomes needed to come out and make a statement in the game to remind folks who he is and what the Chiefs are about. And man….did he ever. Rough start included, Mahomes put himself alone in the category of most games in NFL history with 400 yards and 5 TD. He was tied with Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana at 3, and is now alone with 4 in his career. It took him 72 games to get there. To put that in perspective, it took Manning 292, Marino 258, and Montana 187. For those questioning if Mahomes still “had it” when throwing the deep ball – on the night, he was 4/5 targeting verticals routes for 111 yards and 2 TD. Advanced metrics wise, he was 31.3% in CPOE (completion percentage over expected) meaning he was over 30% better than the expected completion percentage for an NFL quarterback making those throws. He even gave us a little vintage Chiefs throw back on the two play drive ending with a 31 yard bomb to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown. Patrick Mahomes is back (again), and when this man plays with confidence, there are consequences for teams that get in his way. 

The night full of off-the-wall stats. The Chiefs accrued 269 of their 405 receiving yards after a catch, a number that was the 2nd highest YAC total in a playoff game in the history of ESPN’s Next Gen Stats. Leading the way for KC were Travis Kelce with 66 YAC yards, Mecole Hardman with 37, and Jerrick McKinnon with 106. That is not a type-o – for McKinnon to gain the 81 yards he had in the passing game, he had to actually gain 106. This is because his average depth of reception was around 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Another way the Chiefs took advantage of the Steelers pass rush and flipped the script on them in a masterful way on Sunday night. 

There are some question marks from the dominant win, but question marks that over the course of their performance in the regular season would lead us to believe that they’ll be corrected with a little film review. As I mentioned earlier, Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie at times looked like revolving doors at their respective tackle positions. The Chiefs were able to give them some relief in the form of help from McKinnon, Blake Bell, and Noah Grey, but the results could have been bad had that play calling adjustment not been made. The bottom line is the Chiefs will not see another rush quite like Pittsburgh’s the remainder of the postseason, because there is no one quite like TJ Watt left in play in the NFL. 

But there is the Buffalo Bills, who will travel to KC next Sunday for a rematch of a week 5 regular season game that the Bills won 38-20. To say that this is not the same Chiefs team that the Bills defeated in the regular season would be an understatement. When asked about the challenge, Patrick Mahomes said “[The Bills are] a really good football team that’s gonna play really hard. We’re expecting a fight. We’re expecting a battle. They have a great offense, great defense, great special teams. We played them in the AFC Championship Game last year, we know that it’s going to be another first for us if we want to try to move on to the AFC Championship Game this year.” 

Mahomes is right, it will certainly be a fight. Buffalo is not an opponent to overlook or discount. But if this version of the Chiefs shows up next Sunday, I like their chances at making their fourth straight AFC Championship game. And depending on how things play out in Nashville between the Titans and Bengals, we could be looking at a fourth straight AFC Championship game in the house that Lamar built. The Chiefs have taken step one in this postseason run, now the fun really begins. We’ll be back tomorrow with a first glance at the Buffalo Bills and a look at the entire divisional around across the league. Happy Victory Monday, Chiefs Kingdom. 

Categories
News

Officiating issues and how it affects the outcome of crucial games.

Poor officiating has been an issue all season in the NFL, and not just for any specific team either. There’s been excessive taunting, non-existent defensive pass interference, and push-offs by wide receivers not being called.

The excessive taunting calls have been heavily criticized by fans and the media alike. I don’t think any football fan will argue that legitimate taunting should be removed from the game. There’s no need for it. You should never disrespect an opponent. However, what is being called taunting, is not taunting. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was called for taunting in the week 11 game against the Cowboys for pointing at a Cowboys defender and was also fined. There are countless other examples as well. The taunting calls have been more relaxed here lately which makes me wonder if the league quietly asked the officials to relax the calls.

One non-Chiefs example of a game that was poorly officiated was the week 9 Steelers vs. Bears game. Cassius March had a controversial taunting call after a sack on third down when all he did was stare down the bench of the Steelers. There was also a low-block call on the Bears that called back a Justin Fields touchdown. Additionally, there was a missed late hit on Justin Fields that forced the Bears to kick a 65-yard game-winning field goal that fell short, instead of a 50-yard field goal which is within former Chief Cairo Santos’ range.

Then we have the week 17 Chiefs vs. Bengals game which was one the most poorly officiated games in my recent memory. Nothing against Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Ja’Marr Chase or the Bengals as a whole, Chase is a good receiver and the Bengals are a good team, however, there were multiple push-offs by Chase that weren’t called. There also was the phantom pass interference call on L’Jarius Sneed on 3rd down that eventually led to the Bengals scoring a touchdown that gave them their first lead. There were multiple other examples but I’m not gonna list them all because we all remember them.

So far in the playoffs, we’ve seen some poor officiating as all. It began in the Bengals vs. Raiders game Saturday. There was the whistle that was blown on the Tyler Boyd touchdown. Rule 7 section 2 of the NFL rulebook states the down should be replayed and whatever happened on the play doesn’t count if there was an inadvertent whistle while the ball is in the air. It’s clear as day it shouldn’t have counted. On the Raiders’ last drive, there was a roughing the passer called on Bengals defensive linemen Khalid Kareem where they claimed he hit Derek Carr’s helmet when he didn’t hit it, he hit neck which isn’t a penalty. In the Bucs vs. Eagles game, the Eagles were called for roughing the passer for hitting too low when it was Tom Brady’s hip that was hit. The playoffs are on track to be poorly officiated.

What should be done to prevent this is a question being asked by most fans. One thing I’ve seen suggested is making officials full-time officials. If they are full-time then officials wouldn’t have to have day jobs. Retied official Ed Houclie is also a lawyer, just as an example. More frequent use of a so-called “sky judge” has been suggested as well. This allows the league office in New York to give officials on the field instruction on what to do in a given situation. Microchip technology has been suggested to take some of the guesswork out of things like first downs, touchdowns, etc.

Whatever the league and Alberto Riveron, the NFL head of officiating, do to fix the issue, it needs to be done soon. NFL fans are getting frustrated and running out of patience. Before too long, some fans may stop watching until the issue is fixed. It’s no secret money talks, and the money is going to start screaming to fix it soon from sponsors.

Categories
News

Wild Card Playoff Preview : Pittsburgh Steeler (9-7-1) @ Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)

Kansas City Chiefs, NFL Wild Card playoff schedule

Number 7 seed Pittsburgh travels to ice cold, snow covered Kansas City to take on the number 2 seed and 2 time defending AFC Champion Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. 

chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

Date: Sunday, January 16 | Time: 7:15 PM CST
Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, MO)
TV: NBC (Sunday Night Football) | Radio : 106.5 The Wolf
Odds: Chiefs -12.5, O/U 46

A Kansas City winter is something that might not conjure fear to those who have never been here to experience it, but for those who live here there is a more than healthy respect for the season. The brisk northern winds, temperatures that seem to always find their way into single digits at least once in January, and a high humidity that make the air sting a little extra make Great Plains winters some that are certainly not for the faint of heart. But those temperatures seem a little crisper, you can feel the defined physical chill in the air, and the winds blow a little more recognizably when the winter morning you are waking up into is the morning of a Kansas City Chiefs playoff game. 

I’ll get into the X’s and O’s and keys to the strategy of this game in a second. But I want to set a stage and create a mindset for the entire Kingdom – both those watching from home today, and those at Arrowhead Stadium. 

With this being a 7:15 PM kickoff, gates are supposed to open at 2:45 PM. You pull up to the exit ramp off of 435, 70, wherever you’re coming from, and cars, trucks, busses, sprinters – everyone is already lined up all the way back to the highways to get in. So the gates open early, and 150,000+ Chiefs fans – some there just for the tailgate – begin a journey for today that has been planned, packed for, and is about to be executed. In the next few hours, 77,000 fans enter the gates of Arrowhead Stadium, a vast majority being members of Chiefs Kingdom, and take the place by storm. For those ~3 hours of gameplay, the fans and Arrowhead Stadium become one. They work together to create what is undoubtedly the most distinct home field advantage in the NFL, and likely in all of north American professional sports. The metal paneling on the way up the tunnels to the 200 and 300 level mezzanines serves as a collective drum for the entire Kingdom, in each of the 4 corners of Arrowhead. Inside, the back of the seat belonging to your neighbor in front of you (in the best cases, a fellow Season Ticket Member who you’ve been seeing on Sunday’s for years) is your drum. It’s what you’re going to slap your (hopefully gloved) palms against for the next 3 hours, creating chaos for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. It’s jumbotron acts as your TV, phone, computer – everything when you’re in the stadium. And the team on the field is what is going to will these fans and the stadium they have running through their veins to make more noise than any other place on the planet today. 

There is no place like Arrowhead, an overly used line that becomes more and more true as this franchise continues to blossom from a chippy playoff team with a QB that doesn’t lose you the game to a perennial favorite who is looking to 3-Peat as AFC Champions and get another crack at a Lombardi trophy after last season’s disappointing end. The Patrick Mahomes era of Kansas City Chiefs football has seen it’s fair share of instant classic playoff games inside of the walls of Arrowhead Stadium. Tonight, another chapter will be written in the story of this quarterback, this team, and this stadium. 

Pittsburgh enters this game on a bit of a mini-roll. They closed out the season with 3 out of 4 wins, 2 of which were against teams squarely in the AFC playoff picture. Behind the likely Defensive Player of the Year worthy play of TJ Watt, the Pittsburgh defense showed its teeth late in the season, particularly in games against the Tennessee Titans (forcing 4 turnovers) and Baltimore Ravens (holding their hated rival to 13 points in a win or go home game for both teams). We all know where Big Ben is at at this point in his career. He’s not who he used to be, but he can still hurt, you, especially if you let the Steelers hang around in games. They have the ability to hand the ball off to Najee Harris, which is a benefit a lot of NFL teams would like, but they haven’t been able to really get him going like they’d like to in the back half of the season. If Pittsburgh can commit to running their offense through Harris, allowing their wide out talent to capitalize once defenses are drawn in, and play surgical football, their offensive can be dangerously effective. 

But the fact of the matter here is that these two teams played against each other the Sunday after Christmas. Week 16 of the regular season Pittsburgh visited Arrowhead for the first time this season, in a late season must win game for the Chiefs, an atmosphere that resembles but does not replicate the atmosphere of a playoff game at Arrowhead. If you’re reading this, you know what happened that day. The Chiefs did not, in fact, let the Steelers hang around. And they did so with an offense that did not include Travis Kelce, a defense that did not include Nick Bolton, and a kicker named Elliott Fry who performed admirably, but had more “Linn Elliott Fry” twitter drafts discarded that he likely had positive tweets towards him. The Kingdom appreciates his service, Twitter is just a mean place. 

I wrote about the main key to this game earlier in the week, and I’ll stick by my assessment – if there is a plan to negate or minimalize TJ Watt’s impact on the game assuming he is in for a majority of the game, the Chiefs should offensively be able to craft some good strategies around that. Utilizing Blake Bell, Noah Grey, Darrell Williams (likely on a limited basis coming off of a toe injury), and Jerrick McKinnon in pass pro situations, even with just a chip, is going to be needed. The offensive line, who has played at an unbelievable level this season, is going to have to be on top of their game not just physically, but from a communication standpoint. “Help” and “mine” are going to be words uttered a lot down there today dealing the Steelers front. But if they can get this done, and Playoff Travis Kelce does what he has always done in the playoffs – produce – the Chiefs offense will be a in a position to score points early and often on Pittsburgh, 

Defensively the Chiefs are going to have to find out a way to have eyes and pads on Najee Harris at all times. Yes, the Steelers have dangerous receivers that can hurt you in a lot of ways, but Roethlisberger does not have the arm at this point in his career to hurt the Chiefs secondary downfield the way guys like Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow have at times this season. That can’t be placed entirely on the Chiefs corners, either, but I’ve been clear about my position on Spagnuolo’s play calling and personnel so I won’t dive into it today. But, having said that, it has to be different if we don’t want this to be a stressful night. Nick Bolton and Willie Gay will be a welcome combination this time around against Pittsburgh. Bolton led the Chiefs in tackles this season, but did not suit up against Pittsburgh in week 16. But, again, let’s all be real about what can and likely will happen tonight that will key the Chiefs defense to a successful evenings. Remember those chairs and that paneling I was talking about people beating on all night tonight inside of the stadium. Those come alive on every down now days, but especially on third downs, when an opposing offense is trying to operate. Big Ben may have work arounds, but the current incarnation of the Steelers offensive line appeared to have no idea how to maneuver it in December, and it’s going to be worse tonight. The pass rush, behind Chris Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Frank Clark, should be able to produce at the very least pressure, and more than likely a few sacks tonight against an immobile quarterback with a leaky offensive line. 

Offensively it’s the same prescription we’ve been calling for all season. Balance. Establish the run and stick to it, behind these rhinos on the offensive line. Allow Mahomes to work himself into a rhythm, and take advantage of the deep shots that the running game and intermediate passing game are going to give you when they are gone to consistently. It’s going to be the same song and dance with Tyreek Hill, especially if he’s got Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick to deal with in a bracket scenario (likely won’t be the whole game, but he’ll see that combo more than once). Teams have essentially said “beat us somewhere else”, and the Chiefs have figured that out as well, making them one of the league’s most dangerous assassins on the offensive side of the ball. If Darrell Williams toe is good, and all signs are pointing to yes on that, he should be able to establish a thundering running presence with Derrick Gore there to change the pace on the Steelers D and Jerrick McKinnon to eat a little in the run and pass game. 

I am one of the most superstitious sports fans in the world. ESPN nailed it with their ad campaign about sports superstition – it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work. I will not be at Arrowhead Stadium today, like I have been in years gone by. But I will be at home watching. I’ll be wearing the same socks, underwear, and shirt/hoodie combo that I have been wearing for weeks. But I will admit I had to reshuffle a couple times before settling in to this in week 8. But I will be there in spirit with the 77,000+ members of the Kingdom in attendance willing the Chiefs to what will be, no matter how it ends, the first step of the Chiefs 2022 playoff run. It does not end here tonight. I’ll leave you with the most overwhelming stat I saw this week. Patrick Mahomes is 49-3 in his career – a .942 winning percentage – when the team the Chiefs play does not reach 30 points. The Steelers are not getting 30 tonight against this team in this stadium. I like our odds. 

Chiefs 31, Steelers 16

Categories
News

The Unsung Priority in Chiefs Kingdom Offseason

He may not have all the INts but he’s more consistent than most all Corners in the league

Tyrann Mathieu, Jaren Reed, Ben Niemann, Alex Okafor are all free agents this upcoming season and you could make an argument that all four need to be retained.  However, there is one member of the Kansas City Chiefs defense that will be a free agent and has been a quiet foundation piece.  A reliable starter, and has helped this defense go from worst, to reliable. I am not talking about Melvin Ingram, who is a whole other argument. I am talking about Charvarius Ward.

While a couple of weeks ago against the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year, I am sure, many fans were questioning Number 35’s role on the team.  However, Jamar Chase has been embarrassing corners and defenses all year long.  Also, let us give credit where it’s due, Steve Spagnolo trusted Ward to cover Chase 1-on-1 in a crucial moment of the game. Had the blitz gotten to Burrow on that Third and 27 play, those questions would not have been as loud.  Also, if we did not have to see Ward hit the Griddy on Chase early in the 2nd Quarter after a pass break-up.  Not mad at the dance but as Chiefs Kingdom knows, celebrations before the end of the game never end well. 

Ward has had a great season so far.  In 13 games this season he has been targeted 76 times, the second-highest of his career, allowing a 51% competition rate. For comparison, Jalen Ramsey, arguably considered the best corner in football was targeted 98 times (16 games) this season with a 59% completion rate.  On the other hand, L’Jarius Sneed, the Chiefs CB1 who was targeted 80 times (15 games) for a 69% competition rate.  Do these numbers mean that Ward is better than these two CB’s? No, but it shows he is not a liability and he is a cornerstone of our defense. 

Not many teams can have two corners that can cover, make plays, and tackle. Ward alone had 67 tackles this season, while Sneed had 76 and we often look at Sneed as the better tackler.  The knock-on Ward is that he does not create turnovers very often; he only has two interceptions this season and four for his career.  Chiefs Kingdom has lived with a turnover machine but was a liability in tackling, or coverage in Marcus Peters, while he made the big turnover (19 Interceptions while with Kansas City); he was often caught off guard or out of position while going for those plays.  Ward is not caught off guard very often, and those big plays on him are usually exceptional execution by the opposing offense.  

Other than his game against the Jamar Chase and the Bengals, Charvarius has not allowed over 100 yards this season.  The highest QB rating allowed was against the Las Vegas Raiders (158.3) and he was targeted 2 times for 14 yards.  He has been reliable every game this season, and will only get better (age 26). Chiefs Kingdom needs to ensure that this offseason that Charvarius Ward is a priority, only behind Tyrann Mathieu if you had to rank them.  I do not think we can find a better, perceptive corner in free agency.  He believes in the system, does what is required and is a player we can rely on day in and day out…. If Spags can only give him some help when he is covering the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Jake White. @jakewhite58

Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus

Categories
Rumors Statistics

Patrick Mahomes vs Joe Burrow Season Comp. 15 games each.

Passing Yards

Mahomes: 4310

Burrow – 4165

Mahomes Passing TD’s 33

Burrow – 30

INT’s:

Mahomes – 13

Burrow- 14

Comp. %:

Mahomes – 66.1%

Burrow – 69.9%

Rushing Yards:

Rushing Yards Mahomes – 302 w/ 2

Burrow – 108 w/ 2 TD’s

Image
don’t make me throw the no look perfectly > LIKE I ALWAYS DO!!!
Image
Everybody wants to be like Pat (insert line from Bad Boys) He is good, but no Mahomes.

Patrick Mahomes has had an off season, if you consider these numbers “off” A brand new revamped O line, new WRs, lost a WR, a new baby, outside distractions, head coach becoming ill, a certain offensive coach (not Andy) taking away his ability to play his game that made him the most dangerous QB in the game, but yet he still put up numbers that EVERY other starting QB or otherwise only dream of. NEVER DOUBT THIS MAN’S ABILITY, GENERATIONAL TALENT OR HEART!!!!! And remember, the Chiefs had the 11th toughest schedule in the league this season!

We are the most fortunate fan base in the NFl to have him. All the talk and chatter by the so called “experts” were shut down not only by Patrick, the entire team strepped up.

We have the best of the best and will for a very long time!

Categories
News

Red Fridays at the Retirement Home – Wild Card Weekend Edition

A few men in a control room

Description automatically generated with low confidence

A collage of football players

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Your weekly NFL picks brought to you by our staff retired gambler, LaCharles himself

Chiefs Fcous @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

In what was the longest season in NFL history, there were many highs and many lows for each and every NFL team and fanbase. 18 of the 32 teams fans are sitting at home concentrating mostly on what went wrong or why their team is not playing this weekend or next, or fixated on the NFL Draft. 14, however, have a continued hope and sense of excitement that nothing else in professional sports can quite duplicate. The NFL playoffs are the ultimate pro sports postseason experience, and I’m not just saying that as a self-proclaimed football guy. The NBA, MLB, and NHL all have their postseasons set up in a series format. The PGA Tour has 4 rounds to every major. The only comparison to the NFL playoffs is March Madness, which is right there with the NFL playoffs, but we’re talking pro sports here folks. I’ve proven with my track record of picks in the College Football Playoff (which sucks) that I cannot pick college sports. It’s impossible. Back on track – the NFL playoff format is win or go home. It’s all on the line this weekend for 12 teams, with the two 1 seeds (Tennessee and Green Bay) watching from home as the 2 through 7 seeds battle it out in efforts to blaze their own trails to Super Bowl 56. 

It’s here. It’s finally here. It’s the first playoff Red Friday of the year, and we are officially one day away from the beginning of Wild Card Weekend. There are 12 fanbases across the country who are more than likely in need of some type of anxiety medication at this point. Some more than others, but even if you’re an overwhelming favorite there is no certainty when it comes to the NFL playoffs. It’s sudden death each and every round, and if you’re unprepared, looking past your opponent, or just off your game on a given Saturday or Sunday (or Monday this year – which is terrible) you’re setting tee times with your friends instead of marching deeper into the playoffs. As players, coaches, and as fans this is the most intense time of the year. This is truly where the rubber meets the road. Postgame press conferences do not include phrases like “We’ll watch the film, make adjustments, and try to be better next week.” There is no next week if you don’t show up this week. 

Before we start this preview, let’s look back at the regular season that was from a picks perspective. We started this column in week 9 of the regular season, which is right around the time that I started writing for Chiefs Focus. 10 weeks worth of picks, self-deprecation, and disclaimers to not utilize my picks in any of your own personal gambling endeavors later, we have our final regular season tally. On the year your ol pal LaCharles finished 94-53 (63.95% accuracy) on straight up picks, and 86-60 (58.90%) against the spread. A strong 11-5/12-4 week 18 showing helped propel us to a very respectable end of year total.  In hindsight you would have been fine to use these, but I will still advise you not to. The wheels could come off at literally any point. 

In action this weekend will be a number of teams, and specifically quarterbacks, that aren’t very familiar with playing on Wild Card weekend. This will be the first wild card round start for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has had byes in his previous 3 playoff runs in the Wild Card round. Tom Brady only played in the wild card round 4 times in his 16 appearances with the New England Patriots, going 2-2 in that round including a 2020 loss to the Tennessee Titans, but will be playing in his second consecutive wild card round with the Buccaneers and 6th overall out of 18 playoff appearances in his career. Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Kyler Murray all make their wild card (and for the most part outside of Jimmy G – playoff) debuts this weekend. Dak Prescott has been once and won, and Matthew Stafford has been 3 times as a member of the Detroit Lions and has a record of 0-3. Ben Roethlisberger leads this weekend’s QBs in Wild Card appearances with 7 in his career, where he holds a 3-4 record in the opening playoff round. 

I spent a good bit of time contemplating whether to do a full playoff prediction blog, or to stick with the week to week format. With COVID, and injury possibilities in play over the course of the next few weeks, I decided to remain week to week. Player availability is more up in the air than ever, especially with COVID cases on the rise nationally, so I thought I’d try to protect my sterling reputation with our readers by being conservative. 

Well that’s that. No sense in beating around the bush any further. Let’s dive right into the picks. We’ll be utilizing a little bit of a different format this week, and a longer form preview style as there are only 6 games to cover, and they mean a lot more than a mid-December Jags/Texans game. We’ll work our way from Saturday to Monday. 

(5) Las Vegas Raiders 10-7 at (4) Cincinnati Bengals 10-7 – AFC – Saturday 3:30 CST; NBC

Bengals -5; Over/Under 48.5 Betway

There has been a lot of talk surrounding Joe Burrow and the Bengals over the course of the past few weeks, and who can blame the people talking? Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase particularly had been spectacular in the final two games that they played in to conclude the regular season. The Bengals rushing attack, led by Joe Mixon, has been one of the best in the league in 2021. Defensively, Cinci has excelled in stopping the run which has been instrumental in their attaining a division title in the AFC North where Baltimore, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh all like to run the football. There have been some stumbling points along the way, but for the most part this has been a breakout year two for Burrow and the young Bengals. But why are we ignoring what Derek Carr and the Raiders defense have done since Thanksgiving? 

After 3 consecutive losses to the Giants, Bengals, and Chiefs, the Raiders went into AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX and outdueled the NFC East champion Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day.  2 losses followed – 1 to the Washington Football team in a pillow fight and one embarrassing loss to the Chiefs at Arrrowhead Stadium – but since then 4 consecutive wins to lock up the AFC’s 5 seed behind a defense that has clamped down on opponents. 

The Raiders face an uphill battle Saturday against the Bengals in Cincinnati, but if there is a team in these playoffs that has fought up hill all season long, it’s Las Vegas. So what do they have to do to have a chance to win? It starts with pass rushers Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. If the Raiders pass rush, the best aspect of their otherwise suspect defense, can get to Joe Burrow and not just pressure him, but take him down, the Raiders will make this a tight game to the end. The Bengals offensive line makes this a reality, ranking in the bottom third of the league in most major metrics from most major analysts. I don’t know how to say “they’re not great” in a more politically correct way. Offensively for the Raiders, with no real big play threat, they will need to take a dink and dunk approach to beating the Bengals underneath. They have the tools to do it, between Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones, and Darren Waller mixed in with some strong running from Josh Jacobs. But will it be enough if…

Joe Burrow finds his stride? There are no signs pointing towards Burrow slowing down based on recent evidence. Even with help from the officials in the Chiefs game, the Bengals looked like an offense that way dialed in and in sync with one another. A week off to heal up some lingering ailments was likely good for Burrow, who was gimpy coming off of the field against KC before Brandon Allen took the final two kneels downs to set up the game winning 20 yard field goal. The weather was a concern for the Bengals high flying offense early in the week, but it now looks like it will be 31 and partly cloudy when the game starts. Cold, but wind gusts only up to 10mph. This should not impact the Bengals passing game as much as previously expected. On defense for the Bengals, they’re facing a Raiders team who was top 3 in the league in penalties, and a right tackle in Alex Leatherwood who led the NFL in false starts. If I recall correctly, Paul Brown Stadium got pretty loud a couple weeks back, and we were still in the regular season. Expect the Bengals defense to feast a little on the Raiders iffy offensive pass protection, and Cincinnati to move on to the next round and collect their first playoff win since 1991. 

Cincinnati, 30 Las Vegas 21  (Bengals -4, Over 48.5)

(6) New England Patriots 10-7 at (3) Buffalo Bills 11-6 – AFC – Saturday 7:15 CST; CBS

Bills -4; Over/Under 44 Betway

Betway If you like scoring, this might not be your game. In a matchup between the league’s top two defensive units, New England heads to Buffalo Saturday night where the kickoff temperature (optimistically) will be around 8 degrees. Not 18, 8. That’s cold. There will not be the tornadic level winds in play that crippled the two teams week 13 snooze fest in Buffalo, but the frigid temps will undoubtedly play a factor in this rubber match between the top two teams in the AFC East. The Patriots are genuinely built for this type of game. With an offense that is predicated on running the football, and a defense that excels in confusing opposing offenses and taking the ball away, these conditions lend themselves a lot more to the Pats style of play than the Bills. But they have to play the game. How do the frigid temps impact the Bills, particularly Josh Allen? 

Allen somehow has only played 5 games outdoors in his career where temperatures are below freezing. On the season he had a 63% completion percentage, threw for 259 yards per game, and sported a 2.4 to 1 TD to interception ratio. In cold weather games in his career? 50.3% completion percentage, 167 yards per game, and 6 touchdowns to 7 interceptions. You would think this would be a damning thing for the Bills offense, but they actually have come out of those 5 games ahead at 3-2. The x-factor with Josh Allen, and what makes the Bills offense so dangerous, if that he can kill you with his arms and his legs. The Patriots will have to account for Allen’s ability to run the football, and have the expectation that the Bills running game as a whole will be better than the first time they visited Orchard Park as Devin Singletary has come alive out of the backfield for the Bills in the latter part of the season. 

This one is going to come down to experience. Mac Jones certainly doesn’t have as much experience in postseason play as Josh Allen, but the Patriots roster as a whole has mostly been there before. Guys like Devin McCourtey, David Andrews, Matthew Judon, Trent Brown, Damien Harris, Don’t’a Hightower, and Lawrence Guy have all been here before. Bill Belichick has more postseason wins and Super Bowls than any coach in the history of the NFL. And they’ve done it in just about every single way. The lynchpin will be Jones. Can he do just enough to get the Patriots a road playoff win in his first start? He has to avoid the big mistake, and he has to stay poised. Which, on the road in Buffalo, with Bills Mafia jumping through tables shirtless in the parking lot before coming in and rooting for the championship run they have been dreaming of for decades? I give the edge to Buffalo one, with the assist to the home crowd.  

Buffalo 20, New England 17 (Patriots +3, Under 44)

(7) Philadelphia Eagles 9-8 at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-4 – NFC – Sunday 12:00 CST; FOX

Buccaneers -8.5; Over/Under 46 Betway

When you think Tampa, you think 70 degree weather and sunny in the winter right? Not Sunday. This game is going to kickoff at 1 local time after about 12 consecutive hours of thunderstorms that will continue right through the game, and 20-30mph winds that will undoubtedly change plans for both offenses. But who benefits? 

You would think Philly, who comes in sporting the league’s best rushing attack. But the answer here is Tampa, and here’s why. The Bucs defense isn’t necessarily built to stop teams like the Eagles, but they’re very good at it. Vita Vea and Devon White in the middle of the defense make it very difficult for opposing offenses to get much going on the ground. Tampa was the league’s third best rushing defense this season and only gave up about 92 yards per game to all opponents. They also have Lavonte David and Leonard Fournette coming off of injured reserve, which will help bolster their ability to stop the run and to run the football. 

Let’s not write off the Eagles just yet, though. The Eagles running game is one thing, but their passing game has been methodical, particularly through and to tight end Dallas Goedart. Goedert has 5 or more catches in 4 of the Eagles last 6 games, and could be a problem underneath for a Buccaneers defense that plays a lot of Cover 3.  But in looking at everything side by side, this is about the only real advantage I could find for the Eagles offense against a Bucs defense that might have to carry this team throughout the playoffs if they expect to make a deep run. Tampa corner Sean Murphy-Bunting is questionable with a hamstring injury, which is certainly something to watch and could make Devonta Smith a lot more dangerous than he already is. 

I waited long enough, the key here is going to be Tom Brady’s ability to dissect the Eagles defense in bad conditions. And the Buccaneers, while missing Antonio Brown (cut) and Chris Godwin (knee), are still built to slice and dice you over the middle of the field in short chunks. Brady has been surgical in this offensive style in his career, particularly in his days with Rob Gronkowski. The Eagles defensive style will lend to this as well – the Eagles blitz less than any team in the NFL (19%), are third worst in sacks, and 7th worst in pressure. While they won’t clear the middle of the field out with the blitz and allow Brady to find wide open targets, they will give him time. And when you give Tom Brady time, you’re going to get hurt. I would expect heavy doses of Gronk, heavy doses of Leonard Fournette, and a lot of mesh/crossing patterns to Mike Evans with the weather being atrocious in Tampa on Sunday. The Bucs move on. 

Tampa 27, Philadelphia 20 (Philadelphia +8.5; Over 46)

(6) San Francisco 49ers 10-7 at (3) Dallas Cowboys 12-5 – NFC – Sunday 12:00 CST; CBS

Cowboys -3; Over/Under 51 Betway

Without a doubt the toughest game of the weekend to call. Dallas comes in on fire, and when they’re hot they’re as good as anyone in the NFL. But I’ve said this multiple times over the course of the last 8 weeks, and I believe it- San Francisco has the best roster in the NFL outside of the quarterback position. Turns out, that’s a big one. But they’re literally good at everything – dangerous receivers, world class tight end, can run the football, can stop the run, can defend the pass, and good on special teams. The problem is, so are the Cowboys. The teams strengths are met with opposing strengths, and the weaknesses are essentially negated by the opposition’s own weaknesses. 

The Cowboys, as we detailed in our Case For and Against every NFC team, have a propensity to give up the big play. Trevon Diggs is having a fantastic season from a takeaway perspective, but he and the Cowboys secondary are addicted to giving up big plays and committing penalties, keeping opponents drives alive. While the Niners could have luck in their receivers drawing penalties on the Cowboys secondary, there is little to no hope of Jimmy Garoppolo taking advantage of the Cowboys propensity to allow the big play, especially with an injured thumb. Conversely, San Francisco struggles when teams are able to limit or take away George Kittle. Turns out, Dallas is 21st in the league defending tight ends this season, so we have a wash there as well. 

This game is going to be high scoring, and it’s going to be entertaining. Dallas plays well with a lead, but San Francisco has proven, as recently as last week, that they can mount a comeback. The keys to this game are going to be the ability of the Niners secondary to keep Amari Cooper and Ceedee Lamb from causing too much damage, and for the Cowboys sometimes suspect run defense to be able to contain not just the 49ers running backs, but also the threat of Deebo Samuel out of the backfield. Two huge x-factors to watch for San Francisco will be the play of Jauan Jennings, and the availability of Trent Williams. Jennings went off against the Rams last week to the tune of 6 catches for 94 yards and 2 TD. If he can come close to those numbers this week, Dallas might be in trouble. Micah Parsons and the Cowboys pass rush are arguably the most dangerous aspect of this defense, and if San Fran is again without the league’s best left tackle, it could be a long day for the 49ers. 

Right now, with so many key players for San Francisco questionable to play Sunday (Williams, Elijah Mitchell, Jaquiski Tartt), I’m going to have to go with Dallas. I will not be surprised if either team wins, whether it’s close or a blowout. This is the toughest game I’ve had to pick this year. 

Dallas 33, San Francisco 30 (Cowboys -3; Over 51)

(7) Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7-1 at (2) Kansas City Chiefs 12-5 – NFC – Sunday 7:15 CST; NBC

Chiefs -12.5; Over/Under 46 Betway

I’m going to make you guys wait for this one. I’ll have a full game preview for the Chiefs wild card matchup with the Steelers out tomorrow. 

(5) Arizona Cardinals 11-6 at (4) Los Angeles Rams 12-5 – NFC – Monday 7:15 CST; ESPN/ABC

Rams -4; Over/Under 49.5 Betway

Selfishly, there is no non-KC team that I want to win more this weekend than the Arizona Cardinals. I love the way they play offense, their defense is very aggressive, and when Kyler Murray is on and healthy, he’s one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL. 

But, as I mentioned in the NFC blog yesterday, the Cardinals are so, so banged up. News this morning is saying that JJ Watt is “trending towards” being able to play on Monday night, but what does that actually do for the Cardinals at this point other than provide depth? Markus Golden and Chandler Jones are better options on the edge than Watt at this point in his career. Depth is obviously important, and a player like JJ Watt can never be discounted, but as far as on the field product goes, I’m not sure that’s a needle mover against a Rams team that appears primed for make a somewhat deep run into the postseason. 

But what if I’m wrong? The Cardinals were 8-1 on the road this season. They’re playing this game in Los Angeles. JJ Watt is historically one of the best defenders in league history. What if he has multiple sacks and causes a turnover or two, something that Matt Stafford is no stranger to. Sure, the Cardinals are missing Deandre Hopkins, but Christian Kirk and Rondale Moore have had great seasons, and the Cardinals still have Zach Ertz at tight end to make life difficult for newly re-signed 37 year old Rams safety Eric Weddle. James Connor and Chase Edmonds are questionable, but both expected to play to add to the Cardinals ability to be balanced offensively. 

This game is going to come down to turnovers in my opinion. If Matthew Stafford can protect the football and stay upright, the Rams will likely come out victorious. If Jalen Ramsey, Aaron Donald, Von Miller, and the Rams defense can find ways to get to Kyler Murray and force bad decisions from the Arizona signal caller, the Rams will likely come out victorious. If the opposite is true in either case, or both cases, the Cardinals will take it. Another tough one, but I am taking the Rams to win this game and move on to the divisional round. 

Los Angeles 27, Arizona 24 (Cardinals +3; Over 49.5) Betway

I was legitimately nervous writing up every single one of those previews. We’ll see how it goes – I’m not counting on my regular season batting average to hold up in the postseason, though. We’ll be back tomorrow morning with a full scale preview of the game you’re all waiting for – the Chiefs and Steelers. Until then, happy Red Friday Chiefs Kingdom! 

Categories
Rumors

Eric Bienemy Rumor Mill Update

Denver Broncos coach search: Eric Bieniemy, Nathaniel Hackett in mix

We reported on Monday that the current Chiefs offensive coordinator would certainly be taking on a new role with a different team in 2022, here’s an update on how that is progressing.

Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

On Monday numerous outlets reported what we knew on Sunday – that the Denver Broncos had requested permission to speak to Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy about their head coaching vacancy left after the firing of Vic Fangio on Sunday. Since then EB’s name has come up, as expected, in numerous coaching search conversations and rumors – both for head coaching roles, and offensive coordinator positions around the league. Let’s dive in to who’s interested and what steps have been taken by each franchise. 

Minnesota Vikings 

The Vikings fired Mike Zimmer on Black Monday, leaving their head coaching vacancy wide open. Sources have told us that Minnesota is eyeballing Bienemy as Zimmer’s replacement, requesting an interview and being fairly open about him being the “front runner” for the job at the moment. Bienemy would inherit an offensive football team with Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen, with a decision to make on whether or not Kirk Cousins is indeed the quarterback of the future in the Twin Cities. 

Miami Dolphins 

Some reports are listing Bienemy as the favorite for the Dolphins job as well, and they have requested an interview, but given Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ track record, this might be a long shot. Ross is notorious for setting up interviews simply to meet all requirements under the league’s “Rooney Rule” for minority coaching candidates. Our sources have gone as far as to say that Ross hired Brian Flores initially because he knew there would be draft compensation coming his way eventually. 

New York Giants 

The Giants have yet to formally request an interview with Bienemy, but have certainly kicked the tires and will request one in the coming days. The last couple head coaching hires the Giants have made with offensive backgrounds have not panned out (Ben McAdoo and Pat Schurmur) but Bienemy’s resume as an offensive coordinator and the results he’s (helped) produce have been far superior to both McAdoo and Schurmur. 

Anonymous West Coast team 

In the past 2 days there have been murmurs from a team on the west coast (cannot release the information yet, as they have not made a decision on their current head coaching situation) that there is interest there in Bienemy. Rumors are that the team is considering whether or not to retain their current coach, the coach is contemplating retirement, and if they do keep him and he decides to stay, the likelihood of Bienemy accepting a role as offensive coordinator with a “Head Coach in Waiting” tag. There is a lot to pan out with this scenario, and we will keep you up to speed as we know more. 

Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Football Team 

These three squads are in the market for new offensive coordinators, and Bienemy is squarely on their radar. To our knowledge, no formal requests have been made at this point, but should Bienemy not land a head coaching job, one of these three teams would be a likely landing spot for him next season, as Mike Kafka is poised to be the next offensive coordinator in Kansas City. 

Check back for more updates as the week progresses. As is the case with all scenarios of this nature, the information is always changing and evolving. We will keep the Kingdom up to speed in real time as updates come our way.

Categories
Breaking News Rumors

Eric Bienemy Rumor Mill Update

Seahawks hiring Eric Bieniemy as OC and future HC would make sense

We reported on Monday that the current Chiefs offensive coordinator would certainly be taking on a new role with a different team in 2022, here’s an update on how that is progressing.

chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769

On Monday numerous outlets reported what we knew on Sunday – that the Denver Broncos had requested permission to speak to Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy about their head coaching vacancy left after the firing of Vic Fangio on Sunday. Since then EB’s name has come up, as expected, in numerous coaching search conversations and rumors – both for head coaching roles, and offensive coordinator positions around the league. Let’s dive in to who’s interested and what steps have been taken by each franchise. 

Minnesota Vikings 

The Vikings fired Mike Zimmer on Black Monday, leaving their head coaching vacancy wide open. Sources have told us that Minnesota is eyeballing Bienemy as Zimmer’s replacement, requesting an interview and being fairly open about him being the “front runner” for the job at the moment. Bienemy would inherit an offensive football team with Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, and Adam Thielen, with a decision to make on whether or not Kirk Cousins is indeed the quarterback of the future in the Twin Cities. 

Miami Dolphins 

Some reports are listing Bienemy as the favorite for the Dolphins job as well, and they have requested an interview, but given Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ track record, this might be a long shot. Ross is notorious for setting up interviews simply to meet all requirements under the league’s “Rooney Rule” for minority coaching candidates. Our sources have gone as far as to say that Ross hired Brian Flores initially because he knew there would be draft compensation coming his way eventually. 

New York Giants 

The Giants have yet to formally request an interview with Bienemy, but have certainly kicked the tires and will request one in the coming days. The last couple head coaching hires the Giants have made with offensive backgrounds have not panned out (Ben McAdoo and Pat Schurmur) but Bienemy’s resume as an offensive coordinator and the results he’s (helped) produce have been far superior to both McAdoo and Schurmur. 

Anonymous West Coast team 

In the past 2 days there have been murmurs from a team on the west coast (cannot release the information yet, as they have not made a decision on their current head coaching situation) that there is interest there in Bienemy. Rumors are that the team is considering whether or not to retain their current coach, the coach is contemplating retirement, and if they do keep him and he decides to stay, the likelihood of Bienemy accepting a role as offensive coordinator with a “Head Coach in Waiting” tag. There is a lot to pan out with this scenario, and we will keep you up to speed as we know more. 

Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Washington Football Team 

These three squads are in the market for new offensive coordinators, and Bienemy is squarely on their radar. To our knowledge, no formal requests have been made at this point, but should Bienemy not land a head coaching job, one of these three teams would be a likely landing spot for him next season, as Mike Kafka is poised to be the next offensive coordinator in Kansas City. 

Check back for more updates as the week progresses. As is the case with all scenarios of this nature, the information is always changing and evolving. We will keep the Kingdom up to speed in real time as updates come our way.