Great Quarterback Play Leads Teams to the NFL’s Elite Eight
Wild Card Weekend in the NFL proved to be more about streaming services, snow-filled stadiums, and bitter cold than entertaining games. Look, I am not complaining, simply stating a fact, as regardless of the back and forth in the game, I was fully involved.
For the record, I was never tempted to watch one episode of The Sopranos or my favorite YouTube Chef, Tavakul, who cooks outdoors in the high mountain village of Qamarvan. The man is highly resourceful and worth checking out. He only has 5.46 million subscribers.
The combined point differential in all six games was 104, and the average margin of victory was 17.3. Only one game involved the point spread: Los Angeles Rams/Detroit. And Green Bay was the only lower seed who advanced, Green Bay. Sorry, Cowboys fans, for the reminder, but at least you can share your misery with Eagles fans who wanted Eagle coach Nick Siranni fired before the game as they ran to the ticket counter of their favorite Jersey sports book, heavily betting the Birds and laying the points.
Trust me, there will be a gluten of sad Eagles fans at Wawa today, as we might need to fly a team of the best therapists from Vienna, Austria, to help subdue the pain; it’s that bad. Overall, Wild-Card favorites/dogs split 3-3 straight up, but dogs led 4-2 ATS; home teams led 5-1 SU and 4-2 ATS; Over/Unders split 3-3.
As we move into the Divisional Round, the NFL versions of the Elite Eight, what happened last weekend doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s great to carry the momentum of the win into the next week, fueling the team’s confidence, which helps until the first drive of the game.
This weekend, the games get harder to win, the matchups matter even more, and the quality of play will increase. Great quarterbacking takes centerstage this weekend. No team can win without their starter playing their best. In addition, no one is taken lightly (more about this later), no one believes the viability of the point spread, and each player on every team is fully engaged. Of the eight teams, none of them are limping into this round. All the limpers and frauds are gone. Now, the best playoff weekend in the NFL begins.
The two most dangerous teams in the playoffs right now are my cousin Big Daddy’s Green Bay Packers and the Houston Texans. No team, including the number one seeds Baltimore and San Francisco, is playing better than the Packers. Their offense is explosive, with young receivers who can get open vs. man-to-man coverage and a quarterback who looks like one of the best in the NFL.
Jordan Love has been great. Not all season great (Remember the Raiders game? Or the loss in Denver? Or the first Vikings game?), just the last four weeks great. Since losing at home to Tampa, 34-20, and on the road to the Tommy DeVito-led Giants, 24-22, Love has protected the ball, made plays down the field, and has carved up every secondary he’s faced.
Dan Quinn of the Cowboys had no answer for Love; neither did Brian Flores of the Vikings or Matt Eberflus of the Bears. The Packers have averaged 32.75 points in the last four weeks, averaged 151.5 yards on the ground, and have only turned the ball over two times. Their combined halftime points differential advantage the last four games is 80-26, as the Packers offense has started fast, and played from in front.
Having a healthy Aaron Jones makes all the difference in the world to the Packers’ offense. We tend to minimize the value of the runner in today’s game from a salary standpoint. We cannot minimize their impact in the passing game and spreading the field. A great back who is dynamic in the passing game, like Jones, makes the spread offense go. He becomes the point guard, as his talents force the defense to alter their approach. If they cheat the box, here comes the run. If they load the box, a one-on-one match-up will be in the Packers’ favor. When Jones wasn’t healthy, the Packers offense looked rather pedestrian. Now they look like one of the best in the NFL.
Earlier in this column, I mentioned teams might peek at the point spread, or the coaches might take their first-round opponent lightly, which appeared to be the case for the Cowboys. When Packers head coach Matt LaFleur took the ball after winning the toss, he signaled to the Cowboys he wanted to play from ahead, knowing the Mike McCarthy-led Cowboys were the ultimate front-running team. McCarthy wasn’t as aggressive with his play calling early in the game, believing his defense could control the Packers offense, which wasn’t the case.
After eating up almost all of the first quarter on their opening drive, McCarthy should have known his team was in for a street fight. Instead, his calls put them in third and long, which helped the Packers’ defense. Kyle Shanahan won’t make this mistake. As Tony Soprano once said, “Those who want respect, give respect,” and after watching the Packers destroy the Cowboys, Shanahan and his team will be very respectful of the Packers and won’t care about the line.
This game will feature two outstanding offenses with two great young passers. As good as the 49ers are on defense, the Packers will move the ball because the Packers can pass protect. They can give Love time to make a throw, and the 49ers cannot rely on a man-to-man defensive coverage approach, as the Packers receivers are better than the 49ers corners. The 49ers will need to win the line of scrimmage and pressure Love—and if they do, will win.
Over in the AFC, John Harbaugh will take the same approach as Shanahan, giving the Texans much respect because when he watches CJ Stroud, he will be nervous and concerned. The Ravens won’t be taking the Texans lightly as they know in their first game of the year, the score was 7-6 at the half. The Texans had two drives in the second quarter of over 10 plays and failed to score touchdowns, settling for field goals.
The Texans are vastly improved, and Baltimore will ignore all the double-digit favorite talk. In that first game, Stroud was making his first NFL start. He was sacked five times, threw the ball 44 times, and didn’t turn the ball over.
What makes both 9-point-plus underdogs so dangerous is their quarterbacks are playing at a high level—a level the books don’t seem to respect. I have learned over my career in the NFL to always respect the great quarterback. Even though Love and Stroud haven’t played in many games, using the word great when describing their play isn’t a stretch. Harbaugh and Shanahan had last weekend off. Both know the hottest quarterbacks are headed their way, which will require their team’s full attention. I cannot wait.