WHAT WE LEARNED: NFL WILD CARD ROUND
With the NFL Divisional Round upon us, here’s what we’re talking about heading into the weekend.
HERE IS YOUR DIVISIONAL ROUND BRACKET
Jacksonville Jaguars (10-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-3)
Current line: Chiefs -9
Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) at Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Current line: Bills -5.5
New York Giants (10-7-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (14-3)
Current line: Eagles -7.5
Dallas Cowboys (13-5) at San Francisco 49ers (14-4)
Current line: 49ers -3.5
This bracket is not without its own controversy, specifically on the AFC side. If the Bengals had beaten the Bills in the “Damar Hamlin Game” (and they were up 7-3), then they would have been the No. 2 seed and this contest would be in Cincinnati. If the NFL wanted to make a concession for a potential AFC Championship between the Bills and Chiefs, placing it at a neutral site, then this game too should be at a neutral site and I don’t see how anyone could argue against it. The truth is, they should have planned for that as both Cincinnati and Buffalo were clear favorites once the Wild Card games were announced.
If the Baltimore Ravens had beaten Cincy in the season finale, even with the Bengals officially being the “AFC North Champions,” the field where they would have played that Wild Card game would have been decided by a coin flip. That was all in the post “Hamlin Game” plans. Why wasn’t this addressed since it was the most obvious and likely outcome?
I think Cincinnati has a real gripe here and, if I were them, I would not drop it even in the offseason. If this game is tight at all, like the Bills vs Dolphins last week, but the Bengals lose, this could haunt them for a while.
The Jaguars are rightly the biggest underdogs of the bracket, but cannot be counted out. Doug Pederson probably knows Andy Reid’s coaching tendencies better than anyone, considering he played quarterback for him and coached with him for years.
Your most unpredictable outcomes could be on the NFC side. Brian Daboll has done a phenomenal job with Daniel Jones and the New York Giants. Yes, they look overmatched against the Eagles, but we still don’t know how healthy Jalen Hurts is. I want to see Hurts look like the guy that started the season 13-1. Not the guy that played in the season finale, which happened to be a loss to these very Giants.
The Cowboys vs 49ers game could re-ignite one of the 1990s-era rivalries in the league. Dallas is the sole reason the Niners don’t have eight Vince Lombardi Trophies floating around their head office. These two franchises met in the playoffs in three straight consecutive seasons from 1992-93 to 1994-95 in three straight NFC Championships. The winner of that game went on to win the Super Bowl in blowout fashion. It was the best game of the year the NFL’s true championship game of that era.
They rekindled their postseason rivalry last year in Dallas, with the 49ers ending the Cowboys’ season in the Wild Card Round, 23-17. San Fran would go on to the NFC Championship. Mike McCarthy would go on to shut down the local Golden Corral’s chocolate fountain.
If you flipped these two head coaches, the Cowboys would win this game by 40 points. But, you could also say that if you flipped these two coaches, the 49ers wouldn’t have even made the playoffs. Both thoughts are correct and shows just how stupid Jerry Jones was to toss the keys of the team to Mike McCarthy in the first place.
If McCarthy had lost against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Monday night, Jones would have assuredly fired him. That doesn’t mean his job is safe now. A close loss to the Niners could also seal the deal, landing McCarthy in the trebuchet basket to be fired over the castle wall. A blowout loss absolutely would. A win, though, and McCarthy keeps the job and Sean Payton, who would 100 percent get this team a Super Bowl title in the next three years, will end up coaching another franchise. If you’re a Cowboys fan, I’m not sure what outcome you root for here.
That all being said, last season’s Divisional Round was possibly the best in NFL history. I’m not sure this one could hope to live up to that, especially with some of the teams playing, but we can all hope.
SEAN MCVAY ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE (AND NEITHER IS AARON DONALD)
While some in the media (especially Mike Florio over at Pro Football Talk) were all but playing Taps for McVay’s departure from the Los Angeles Rams, the head coach had other ideas. He just needed a few days off to come back re-energized and ready to send a big portion of his assistant coaching staff packing.
On the player side, Donald made a slip-up with his Twitter bio for a minute and got the entire NFL world thinking he’d hung up his spurs. And this was all after a Jalen Ramsey tweet the week before had reporters thinking he was getting traded. It’s been an eventful offseason already for the 2022-23 Champs.
Offensive coordinator Liam Coen had obviously already been told he would not be retained, so he took his old job at the University of Kentucky before he could be officially shown the door. McVay has also fired special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, offensive line coach Kevin Karberry, defensive backs coach Jonathan Cooley, assistant defensive line coach Skyler Jones and defensive assistant Lance Schulters.
He’s already added former New York Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, brother to former Rams offensive coordinator (and current head coach of the Green Bay Packers) Matt LaFleur, to replace Coen.
The Rams might have their hand forced on a couple more coaching changes. Raheem Morris will most certainly be retained as defensive coordinator, but he’s a hot prospect as a head coach and has multiple interviews. There’s a good chance he’ll get one of the jobs. If he’s willing to coach the Houston Texans, they would hire him tomorrow. LA’s tight ends coach Thomas Brown is also getting head coaching interviews. McVay would love to have Brown back too, but he could be lured by a team like the aforementioned Texans, who might take a hard swing at an up and coming assistant like Brown once guys like Morris turn them down.
Follow Adam Greene on Twitter @TheFirstMan.