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Top takeways from the NFL Divisional Playoffs

Sportsnaut logo Sportsnaut 1/14/2019 Vincent Frank, Sportsnaut
a man standing in front of a crowd © John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

After seeing a ton of competitive games during NFL’s Wild Card Weekend, the divisional round disappointed to a great extent. We were expecting big-time games from road teams — something that didn’t come to fruition in Los Angeles, New England and Kansas City.

But now that the games for Championship Sunday are set, there’s still a lot to look back at. Andrew Luck and his Colts proved they weren’t ready for prime time. The same thing can be said for Jason Garrett and the Cowboys Saturday night in Los Angeles.

When the clock turned to Sunday, the New England Patriots absolutely dominated the Chargers in nearly every way — making a return trip to the AFC Championship Game.

The best outing of the weekend was in New Orleans Sunday evening. Philadelphia opened up a 14-0 lead — only to see the Saints make a game of it prior to halftime. When all was said and done, New Orleans came out on top with a stirring performance.

These are among the top takeaways from the NFL Divisional Playoffs.

Drop, poor clock management doom defending champs

a football player kicking a football ball on a field © John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles had an opportunity to pull off yet another upset road win Sunday evening against the New Orleans Saints. Down 20-14 and driving with just over two minutes left, that’s where everything went awry. Instead of letting the clock tick down to the two-minute warning, Philadelphia rushed to the line to get a play off. Nick Foles’ pass was then tipped by top receiver Alshon Jeffery — only to be intercepted by Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.

We’re not too sure what the Eagles were thinking here. New Orleans had just one timeout remaining. The ball was at the Saints’ 27-yard line. Philadelphia should have let the clock run down and attempted the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds. Instead, they rushed it. The end result was six-point loss for the defending champs.

Andrew Luck clearly wasn’t ready for Arrowhead

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The conditions did not help Indianapolis’ quarterback Saturday against the Chiefs. Luck had an issue driving the ball down the field in the snow at Arrowhead. It led to the Colts changing up their offense a bit to take into account the weather. In turn, that impacted what the team was able to do on offense. This isn’t to make excuses for Luck. It’s just the cold reality.

With that said, Luck did nothing to help his Colts team in a 31-13 loss to the Chiefs. The basic stats tell us a story. He completed 19-of-36 passes for just 206 yards. The tape tells us another story. Luck missed multiple open receivers throughout the game — failing to take advantage of a suspect Chiefs secondary. It led to a horrible overall performance from the Colts’ offense and a blowout loss.

NFL needs to think about changing playoff schedule

a football player on a field © David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

We’re not going to sit back and give the Chargers a pass for their unsightly performance against the Patriots Sunday afternoon. Los Angeles didn’t come to play — a fact that stood out in a big way to start the game. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley utilized a questionable scheme against Tom Brady. There’s a lot of blame to go around here.

Even then, stats don’t lie. After the Chargers were outscored 35-7 in the first half on Sunday, west coast and Mountain Time Zone teams have been outscored 237-75 in the first half of 10 AM PST start times in the playoffs since 2002. That’s the harsh reality. It gives east coast teams a huge advantage — much more than they’d normally have playing at home. And it’s a major problem. NFL now needs to think about changing this dynamic moving forward.

Dak Prescott lost a lot of money

a baseball player holding a bat © Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no other way to go about it. Prescott cost his team an opportunity at a win Saturday night in Los Angeles. He consistently missed wide open receivers on would-be huge plays — failing to convert on third down multiple times. That included Amari Cooper running free throughout the game.

The strategy was sound from Los Angeles’ defense. Take Ezekiel Elliott out of the game by stacking the box and force Prescott to beat you through the air. After performing well last week against Seattle, this youngish quarterback failed at every turn. And with Prescott eligible for an extension this offseason, he might have very well cost himself a ton of cash.

Yes, Patrick Mahomes is still absolutely ridiculous

a man wearing a red hat © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite seemingly suffering a minor knee injury in Saturday’s blowout win over Indianapolis, Mahomes proved once again that he’s the unquestioned NFL MVP. Taking on a Colts team that had won 10 of 11 heading in, Mahomes vastly outplayed Andrew Luck. He completed 27-of-41 passes for 278 yards and added this brilliant touchdown run in the process.

Mahomes’ success through the air opened up running lanes for a back in Damien Williams who went for 154 yards on 30 touches — proving that the loss of Kareem Hunt was no big deal. Now set to host their first ever AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs have to feel good about their chances against Tom Brady and the Pats. Mahomes remains one of the primary reasons for this.

The Magic of Nick Foles is no more 

a baseball player wearing a helmet © Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

For a while there on Sunday evening, it looked like Foles and the Eagles were going to blow out the Saints in New Orleans. The team was up 14-0 early with Foles dominating a suspect Saints defense. Unfortunately the magic of Nick Foles did not make its way to Bourbon Street.

After those initial touchdown-scoring drives, the Eagles were completely shutout in a 20-14 loss to the Saints. While Foles did throw two picks, one of them clearly wasn’t on him. Though, it was that one interception that ended the Eagles’ repeat aspirations and pretty much put an end to Foles’ career in Philadelphia. No storybook ending here.

Patriots get run game going

a group of football players © David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

If we thought a lack of balance in New England this postseason was going to be a problem, we were sadly mistaken. Having ranked in the top five running the ball during the regular year, the run game was in domination mode for the Patriots against Los Angeles Sunday afternoon. New England put up 155 yards and four touchdowns on 34 attempts. That included three scores from rookie Sony Michel.

This came against a Chargers defense that ranked in the top 10 stuffing the run during the regular year and held Lamar Jackson’s Baltimore Ravens in check last week. And if this is any indication, the Patriots’ balance on offense should act as a boon against a weak Chiefs defense in the AFC Championship Game next week.

C.J. Anderson is the Rams’ version of Nick Foles

a baseball player wearing a yellow shirt © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Taking on a Cowboys defense that ranked in the top five of the NFL against the run during the regular year, most people were focusing on whether Todd Gurley could return from injury and do his thing. After putting up 115 yards on 16 attempts, Gurley was more than up for the task.

Though, it was the performance of a player in C.J. Anderson, whom the Rams signed a mere month before, that stood out. Acting the part of a true wrecking ball, Anderson gained 123 yards on 23 attempts — scoring two touchdowns in the process. This came on the heels of the veteran putting up 299 yards in his first two games as a member of the Rams to close out the regular year. Yeah, this dude has quickly become the Rams’ version of Nick Foles. My word.

Colts missed Malik Hooker in a big way

a man wearing a helmet © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One of the rangiest safeties in the game, this second-year player has been a major cog for an improved Colts pass defense. He recorded 44 tackles, four passes defensed and two interceptions during the regular year. The former Ohio State standout did a tremendous job in the back end of the defense. It was certainly a shock to learn prior to Saturday’s game that Hooker would be inactive due to a foot injury.

Like clockwork, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs took major advantage. He hit All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce seven times for 108 yards — taking advantage of Hooker’s absence in the process. It’s not known if Hooker would have been able to contain Kelce. But his absence made it clear that the Chiefs would be able to target a weakness in the Colts’ defense.

Wade Phillips shows out for Rams

Wade Phillips wearing a blue shirt © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The idea for Los Angeles was pretty simple Saturday night against Dallas. Take Ezekiel Elliott out of the game and force Dak Prescott to beat you. This plan worked to perfection as Elliott went for just 47 yards on 20 attempts. Remember, this came against a Rams defense that yielded a league-high 5.1 yards per rush attempt during the regular season.

Again proving himself to be a legendary defensive mind, Phillips stacked the box against Elliott. At times, the Rams had nine defenders in said box — forcing Prescott to make throws against man-to-man coverage. Prescott failed at nearly every turn. It led to a grounded Cowboys offensive attack and a Rams appearance in the NFC Championship Game. Phillips should receive a ton of the credit.

Ho-hum divisional round

Bill Belichick talking on a cell phone © Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into this weekend’s action, we were expecting some really competitive and drama-filled games. That was magnified by what was a tremendous Wild Card Weekend around the league. Unfortunately, it did not come to fruition. All four home teams came out on top with only two of them ending in one-score affairs. We had to wait until Sunday evening for the most competitive game to take hold.

It’s not going hurt the NFL. Ratings were at an all-time high. Even then, fans who tuned into the two-day extravaganza that was the divisional round found themselves routinely disappointed by less-than-compelling games.

Colts shouldn’t hang their heads

a man wearing a hat talking on a cell phone © Indy Star-USA TODAY NETWORK

Indianapolis didn’t play good football Saturday afternoon in Kansas City. We can make all the excuses we want. The conditions were not conducive to success. The fans in Arrowhead made it difficult. That’s all fine and dandy. But the Colts proved they were not yet ready for prime time against the AFC’s best squad.

In no way does this mean the Colts’ 2018 season was not a success. They won 10 of their final 12 games after starting 1-5. Andrew Luck returned from injury — only to prove himself to be a legit MVP candidate. First-year head coach Frank Reich worked well with Luck. Meanwhile, Chris Ballard put together one heck of a 2018 NFL Draft class. Only brighter things are ahead for these Colts.

Championships go through Kansas City and New Orleans

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Both the No. 1 seeds earned playoff-opening victories this weekend. They did it in dissimilar ways with Kansas City dominating Indianapolis and the Eagles pulling off a late-game win over the Eagles. But here they are. It goes through Arrowhead and the Bayou.

Home teams have won each of the past five NFC Championship Games after road teams won the previous three. In the AFC, home teams have come out on top in each of the past five conference title games as well. This bodes well for both the Saints and Chiefs. It does not bode well for New England and Los Angeles.

Jason Garrett should be fired

© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no simple way to put this. Wait, actually there is. Jason Garrett should not be the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach in 2019. Sure he’ll be on the sideline — acting the part of Jerry Jones’ lap puppy. But in no way is a return to the Cowboys justified after the pitiful coaching performance we saw Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Garrett might not call the plays, but those who he tasked with doing just that failed big time against Wade Phillips. It was obvious from the get that the Rams were looking to take Ezekiel Elliott out of the game. Instead of taking shots down the field, the Cowboys employed the interesting strategy of going intermediate against man coverage. And on defense, Dallas failed to stack the box in the face of a dominating Rams rushing attack. Now with just two postseason wins in nine years, Garrett should be fired. Period.

Related slideshow: NFL playoffs (Provided by USA Today Sports)

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