Many call the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs the best weekend in sport, and rightly so. The fat theoretically will have been trimmed away in the Wildcard round allowing for four quality football games to be played.
This year saw the “YOU LIKE THAT” Minnesota Vikings hit their ceiling and crash out against the strong San Francisco 49ers, the Derrick Henry led Tennessee Titans charge through the unsuspecting Ravens like a cavalry through a wheat field, Bill O’Brien ‘Bill O’Brien-ed’ a 24-0 lead against the superpowered Kansas City Chiefs and the broken down Seattle Seahawks could not muster enough fire to escape frozen Tundra of Green Bay.
But, what did we learn?
Bill O’Brien will only go so far as his talent will take him
Head coaches who roleplay as general managers rarely do well in modern sport. Tom Thibodeau and Stan Van Gundy realised this when it cost them their jobs in the NBA. But after a GM search in the offseason that went badly, the Texans were left with Bill O’Brien as the head coach and the GM.
Despite winning the mediocre AFC South four times in the last five years, O’Brien has shown constantly that when the lights are on and the pressure is turned up, he will not elevate his team to win, but rather become a detrimental factor that Deshaun Watson, his star quarterback, must rail against in order to succeed.
Since taking charge of the Texans, O’Brien’s playoff wrap sheet makes for some tough reading. 2015: 30-0 Wildcard loss to the Chiefs, 2016: Blown out by New England after beating a Connor Cook led Raiders team, 2018: Wildcard loss, 2019: Divisional Round capitulation.
O’Brien will remain head coach of the Texans, but the leash is getting shorter and tighter by the day.
Respect the Titans
After squeaking into the playoffs and knocking off a sub-par and ageing New England team in Foxborough, the Tenessee Titans were a nice underdog story. Despite their success in the round previous, few analysts gave them a chance going into Baltimore and upsetting MVP Lamar Jackson.
Not only did they upset the Ravens. They crushed them.
The catalyst for this somewhat shocking emergence belongs to Derrick Henry. Since getting drafted in 2016, Henry has flashed here and there but failed to really make his mark in a league that is centred around passing the ball. Many wondered whether or not Henry would be able to fit into the wheel of the NFL, but this postseason run, Henry hasn’t just decided to rule the wheel but to break it.
Henry rushed for 195 yards against Baltimore, 15 more yards than the victory in Foxborough. If Henry can sustain this level of play through to the Super Bowl and beyond then the Earl Campbell comparisons will be more than appropriate.
The 49ers defence is back and better than before
An NFL season is a war of attrition. Every team will suffer injuries is one way or another and down the stretch, the defence of the San Francisco 49ers felt this heavily. The 49ers were missing starting SS Jaquiski Tartt, pass-rush specialist Dee Ford and versatile WILL linebacker Kwon Alexander. Tartt and Dee Ford’s absences was particularly felt in recent weeks, both players are integral to the front 7 and secondary of the Niners D.
Tartt’s return patched up a leaky secondary and Ford was in large part responsible for the 6 sacks that Kirk Cousins suffered. When SF defensive coordinator Robert Saleh brings 5 guys, good luck blocking Bosa, Buckner, Armstead and Ford one-on-one.
The benching of Akhello Witherspoon for the better Emmanuel Mosley by Kyle Shanahan also showed the type of cut-throat decision making you need from your head coach in the playoffs. Mosley should start next Sunday against Green Bay.
Don’t Count Aaron Rodgers Out
For some reason, there has been a great deal of disrespect for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this year. Maybe the 37-8 thrashing they took at the hands of San Francisco on Sunday Night Football in Week Twelve had a large part to play. But the Packers were the number 2 seed coming out of the NFC and currently hold a 14-3 record. They also have the greatest pure quarterback of all time.
While Rodgers may be getting older and a tad slower than his prime five-to-ten years ago, he is still Aaron Rodgers and was an MVP candidate during points of the regular season. With the game on the line against Seattle, Rodgers stayed cooler than the Lambeau Field ice and completed two huge passes for first downs.
The second-half stagnation does remain an issue but that seems more on LaFleur’s shoulders rather than Rodgers’. It would be misguided to count out Aaron Rodgers in January.
Farewell Beast Mode for the third and final time
Seattle’s loss to Green Bay means that we have seen Marshawn Lynch grace the gridiron for the final time. As someone who got into the sport during the 2010s, Lynch has been an icon of the sport for many like me. Accolades, records, stats, it doesn’t matter. Get Lynch a gold jacket now.