32 things we learned heading into divisional round of 2018 NFL playoffs

The 32 things we learned heading into the 2018 NFL playoff divisional round:

1. If it seemed the wild-card round was chock full of fresh faces and teams, well, it was. None of the eight clubs competing in the opening round was in action for last season’s wild-card games, and only the Eagles (a No. 1 seed with a bye in 2017) even reached the playoff field a year ago.

1a. But you’ll see largely familiar characters in the divisional round with Philadelphia returning along with the four teams on bye — the Chiefs, Patriots, Rams and Saints, all postseason entries last year, too.

1b. The last team to advance to the Super Bowl after playing on wild-card weekend was the 2012 Ravens, who won Super Bowl XLVII. The next 10 conference champs have all had first-round byes.

2. Gen X-er Philip Rivers, 37, has to be the sentimental favorite to win it all, right? No quarterback in league history has thrown for more yards (54,656) or more touchdowns (374) yet never played on Super Sunday.

2a. And how great (and entertaining) would it be to see Rivers’ Chargers take on the Saints … and former Bolts QB Drew Brees, who kept Philly Riv on the bench for two years?

3. But if you’re into unminted Millennial passers, Patrick Mahomes (23), Jared Goff (24), Dak Prescott (25) and, most certainly, Andrew Luck (29) could ride great story lines all the way to Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII.

4. Three quarterbacks made their playoff debuts during wild-card weekend. Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Mitchell Trubisky all lost.

5. Welp, Matt Nagy, guess you shoulda laid down for the Vikings in Week 17 rather than invite a matchup with the Iggles and your old buddy Doug Pederson.

6. Did anyone else want Eagles-Bears go into overtime (maybe double OT) just to see how NBC would handle its Golden Globes coverage, which began minutes after Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth wrapped?

7. Rough night for Chicago’s Cody Parkey, whose would-be, game-winning field goal attempt from 43 yards hit the upright then the crossbar before caroming into the end zone. No good. Parkey drilled the Soldier Field uprights four times Nov. 1. Uncanny.

8. But if I’ve learned anything this season, it’s that Parkey is about to get a flood of support from kickers throughout the league as he copes with this unfortunate bounce. Bounces.

9. Nick Foles was picked off twice in Sunday’s win over the Bears. The last time he threw multiple INTs in an Eagles uniform, Oct. 26, 2014, Chip Kelly was their coach and Foles had yet to play for the Rams or Chiefs.

9a. The last time Philadelphia played the Saints in postseason, the 2013 wild-card round, Foles was also the quarterback (in a losing effort) — Kelly’s only NFL playoff appearance.

10. Congrats to Eagles WR Golden Tate, who scored the game-winning TD at Chicago, instantly justifying the scrutinized trade deadline deal for him — which cost Philly a third-round pick that appeared awfully expensive given the struggles to integrate Tate into the offense.

10a. Congrats to Eagles LT Jason Peters, RB/KR Darren Sproles and LB Jordan Hicks, who all missed the 2017 Super Bowl run with injuries but tasted a playoff victory Sunday.

10b. Feel for you, Wentz.

11. Was wild-card weekend’s MVP Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley? His unit was on the short end of a 22-10 loss to Baltimore two weeks ago. Sunday, it showed the rest of the league how to contain Jackson — essentially deploying a defense comprised of linemen and defensive backs to shadow, flummox and confuse the rookie.

12. Jackson, who turns 22 on Monday, became the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game in NFL history. He looked like it. Make no mistake, the Ravens don’t win the AFC North without Jackson’s heroics in the second half of the season, when he went 6-1 as the starter. But Bradley and the Bolts provided a blueprint to stopping him and a fresh reminder that, though Jackson remains an elite athlete and highly effective with the ball in open space, he’s got a long, long way to go to be a fully-formed pro quarterback. He was sacked seven times, picked off once and fumbled thrice, losing the ball on his team’s final possession.

13. Who figured on Chargers rookie K Mike Badgley outperforming Ravens all-pro Justin Tucker? Badgley set a Bolts’ postseason record with five made field goals, while Tucker was 1-for-2 on three-point tries. Tucker missed five FGs this season, three against L.A.

14. Who figured on Chargers FB Derek Watt making a longer playoff run this season than brothers J.J. and T.J.?

15. The Chargers haven’t beaten Tom Brady since 2005. Rivers is 0-7 head-to-head against TB12, including two losses in postseason.

15a. But Sunday, the Chargers became the only team in the league to win eight times on the road this season. A visit to Foxborough, daunting as it is, won’t phase them.

16. The last time Rivers appeared in a playoff game at Gillette Stadium, the 2007 AFC Championship Game, he played on a torn ACL.

17. Baltimore’s second-ranked run game, which had averaged nearly 230 yards in Jackson’s seven regular-season starts, was limited to 90.

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By: Nate Davis

 

Winners and losers from NFL Week 8

Before Sunday’s slate of games got going, there was some serious drama in London as the Jacksonville Jaguars made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

That should have clued us in to the fact that NFL Week 8 was going to get weird.

The league’s most dominant defense was smashed to bits. Adrian Peterson outplayed Saquon Barkley. And a former No. 1 overall pick hit a new low.

These were the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 8.

DeShaun Watson Out For Year With ACL Injury

Written by Austin Knoblauch at NFL.com

One of the most memorable rookie seasons in memory has been cruelly cut short.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his right ACL in practice Thursday, sources informed of the situation told NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. Watson’s remarkable debut season is over.

An MRI on the knee confirmed the full extent of the injury, Rapoport reported. He suffered it on a non-contact play, Rapoport added. Watson, who tore his left ACL during his playing days at Clemson, is facing an 8-9 month rehabilitation and should be back in time for the start of the 2018 season.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien did not talk about any issues regarding Watson’s knee during his Thursday news conference. The team only listed Watson as limited after the practice session.

“I talked to Deshaun late this afternoon and we are disappointed,” said Dabo Swinney, who coached Watson during his days at Clemson. “But he is a person who has had some setbacks in his life and always comes back stronger. Since he went through the rehab [for a torn ACL] before, he knows what it takes.

“All he did after the injury in 2014 was come back and lead us to the National Championship game twice and, of course, we won it last year,” Swinney continued. “He started all 30 games the last two years here. I have no doubt he will come back from this. He has the resolve. His work ethic and drive are incredible.”

Watson was coming off the most impressive performance of his young career before suffering the injury. He passed for 402 yards and four touchdowns in the Texans’ 41-38 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in one of the most exciting games of the season.

The performance helped make him the first rookie quarterback to ever win AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors on Thursday. He also was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Month for October.

Watson passed for 1,699 yards over six games and is tied for the NFL lead in passing touchdowns with 19. It was the most passing touchdowns over the first seven career games since 1970, passing Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner’s mark. The Texans scored more than 33 points in each of his four October starts.

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Seattle Narrowly Beats Texans While DeShaun Watson Has Coming Out Party.

Written by Marc Sessler at NFL.com

Say hello to the wildest tilt of the day, a come-from-behind gem that saw Seattle move to 5-2 on the year with an instantly classic 41-38 win over the Texans (3-4). Here’s what we learned from Sunday’s thriller:

1a. We all know about Pete Carroll’s now 8-1 record against rookie passers at home, but Deshaun Watson is a different creation entirely. The first-year Texans quarterback showed no fear on Sunday, drawing first blood with a beautifully thrown 59-yard strike to Will Fuller, the first opening-quarter touchdown given up by Seattle all season. Watson’s fast start took a hit when All-Pro safety Earl Thomas instinctively jumped a route one drive later for a 70-yard pick six, but Watson shook off the turnover to pile up 402 yards passing with four touchdowns on the day. The rookie also lobbed a pair of second-half picks to Richard Sherman, but I love how Watson shrugs off these occasional setbacks.

1b. Seahawks ticket-holders have enjoyed outstanding defense at home for ages, making Sunday’s performance by the Texans all the more fascinating. Midway through the second quarter, Houston had outgained Seattle 246 yards to 77 with 14 first downs to merely four for the ‘Hawks. The explosive nature of this attack is legitimate, with Watson fearlessly testing the Legion of Boom with deep shots and patiently using his feet to move the chains. The Texans rookie showed full command, especially during a juicy fourth-quarter touchdown drive that saw him spin away from pressure to find Lamar Millerin the end zone to put the Texans up 31-27. Watson is a rainmaker.

2. The brilliant Russell Wilson offered tricks of his own during a game capped by a signature come-from-behind drive by the Seahawks star quarterback. After throwing a killer pick with 5:37 remaining and Houston up 38-34, Wilson authored a marvelous three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by his 18-yard scoring strike to tight end Jimmy Graham to put the game away. It was another reminder of Wilson’s unique, magical abilities. The veteran unfurled a catalog of sensational throws against Houston’s wanting secondary, tossing a pair of scoring bullets to Paul Richardson and a 53-yard bomb to receiver Tanner McEvoy during a game that saw both teams combine for 79 points, 988 yards and five lead changes. Wilson’s efforts are even more impressive as he’s doing this for an offense utterly bereft of a ground game.

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Texans To Start DeShaun Watson

Written by Marc Sessler at NFL.com

In the end, it will be Deshaun.

While Texans coach Bill O’Brien refused to name his starting quarterback for Thursday night’s bout with the Bengals, the decision has already been made.

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Tuesday that rookie Deshaun Watson has earned the nod over veteran Tom Savage, per sources. The game will be aired exclusively on NFL Network.

The first-rounder becomes the ninth quarterback to start under O’Brien since 2014, the most by any NFL team during that span.

The decision comes as little surprise after Palmer reported that Watson took every snap with the first-string offensive line during the walkthrough portion of Tuesday’s practice.

Savage was yanked at halftime of Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars after absorbing six sacks and losing a pair of fumbles. Watson suffered four takedowns of his own — and threw a pick — but the former Clemson star guided the Texans to their only touchdown of the day.

The rookie also came out of the loss with an ankle injury, but Watson was upgraded to a “full” participant in Tuesday’s practice.

With Houston’s offensive line looking ultra-shaky in the opener, Watson’s quick feet and ability to extend plays give the Texans more of a shot, in theory, to keep the offense moving.

It’s on O’Brien now to give his young passer adequate time to grow before making another quick switch under center.

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Trump Offers His Opinion On DeShaun Watson

Written by Ryan Wilson at CBS Sports.com

President Donald Trump welcomed Clemson to the White House on Monday to celebrate the Tigers’ victory over Alabama in January’s national title game. During the ceremony, Trump even offered up a scouting report on former Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was drafted 12th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2017 NFL Draft.

“He’s going to be a great NFL player,” Trump said, adding:

“Offensive MVP, quarterback Deshaun Watson, took some very, very hard hits (against Alabama). But he never rattled,” Trump said. “He’s great under pressure. I’ve seen that, I’ve heard that. He always got right back up. And he fought, and he fought, and he kept winning. Now he’ll bring that toughness together to the Houston Texans.”

The Texans certainly hope so. The Brock Osweiler Experience couldn’t have gone worse and the team jumpstarted their search for a franchise quarterback after just one season.

Meanwhile, Trump, who is friends with Tom Brady, has a mixed record when it comes to evaluating NFL talent. Back in May 2013, here’s what he said about former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow:

Tebow remains out of the NFL.

As for Watson, Texans coach Bill O’Brien is trying not to complicate things. “Show up every day and get better. Simple as that,” O’Brien said last month, via ESPN.com. “Every single day, improve on the things that you need to improve on. There’s always going to be something, whether it’s a playcall or footwork or some type of decision at the line of scrimmage, that maybe you made a mistake on the day before or answered a question wrong in the meeting or whatever it is, let’s fix that. Let’s get better every single day. It’s a progress league. It’s about improvement every single day.”

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QB Prospects Still Jockeying For Positioning In NFL Draft

Written by Jeff Legwold at ESPN.com

The quarterbacks in the 2017 NFL draft class have heard the naysayers.

If teams are looking for a sure thing at the top of the draft — say a Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck — it’s probably not happening this year.

But don’t tell that to the draftees.

“If you ask all the guys that are other quarterbacks in this draft class, they’ll probably say the same thing,” Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “It’s just going to make the documentary and the story in five, 10 years even better whenever they start talking good about us. It’s a motivational tip and a humbling tip, and they can say what they want to say, but that’s just opinions, not facts — because we haven’t stepped foot on an NFL field yet, so they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

In most draft years, the pecking order at the top for quarterbacks is set by the time they report to Indianapolis in February for the scouting combine. This year’s class is different, as the opinions vary widely on the best available passers. As a result, those players might actually change their stock significantly between now and the draft’s opening night on April 27.

It also means every interview, clip of video, private workout and even offhanded comment could move one of the quarterbacks to the head of the class.

“All the guys are great, all the guys are very competitive,” Watson said. “All the guys have had success, are going have a successful career in the NFL. Everyone works hard, everyone is motivated to be the guy in that franchise.”

Watson, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Pitt’s Nathan Peterman and Cal’s Davis Webb are on many teams’ draft boards. But how they’re ranked differs widely around the league, as the beauty of this class of passers is truly in the eyes of the beholder.

The group has more riding on these last-look workouts and visits than many of its predecessors. In previous years, quarterback prospects were trying to move up a few picks in the weeks leading up to the draft. This group could move entire rounds as they leapfrog each other based on tryouts.

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Why We Should Stop Labeling Quarterbacks.

Written by Erik McKinney at ESPN.com

In mid-August, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson gave a scathing critique of people who referred to him as a dual-threat quarterback. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Watson said, “People think, ‘Oh, he’s a black quarterback. He must be dual-threat.’ People throw that word around all the time. It’s lazy.”

Well, good news, Deshaun: You might have personally played a critical role in making that “dual-threat” label obsolete.

Watson and quarterbacks with similar skill sets have changed college football and quarterback recruiting, and they should change the accepted definition of what a “dual-threat” quarterback is.

Almost exclusively, dual-threat quarterbacks have been those whose scrambling ability far outweighed their talent throwing the ball, while those without that running ability were deemed “pocket passers” and “pro-style” quarterbacks.

What happens now, when agility, mobility and movement in and out of the pocket aren’t just bonuses — they’re necessities — when it comes to quarterbacks? Maybe it’s time to slide that “pro-style” designation away from “pocket passer” and over to “dual-threat,” where it truly belongs.

Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns in leading Clemson to a win over Alabama in the national championship game. He rushed for 43 yards and another score. And the Tigers aren’t the only program heading that direction, as three young signal-callers took over at historic bluebloods and led the way to successful seasons.

With Sam Darnold at USC, Trace McSorley at Penn State and Jalen Hurts at Alabama, three programs where pocket passers have dominated the landscape went to dual-threats this year. None of it involved moving away from pro-style offenses.

“It’s been all year we’ve found his ability to create in the pocket,” USC head coach Helton said of Darnold before the Rose Bowl. “We’ve been able to call our pro-style passing game, knowing his elite arm strength and being able to throw the ball down the field, and in trusting him … It just gives you so much trust in being able to call those passes — [not just] run game with perimeter but truly the pro-style offense that we want to be — and he’s been really effective in creating.”

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Dabo Compares Watson To Michael Jordan

Written by Michael David Smith at NBCSports.com

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says there’s no doubt that his star quarterback should be the first overall pick in the draft.

In fact, Swinney says that if the Browns don’t use the No. 1 pick on Deshaun Watson, they’re making a historic mistake that will haunt the franchise for years.

“He’s humble, the same guy every day, and always ready,” Swinney said of Watson. “He comes to every meeting prepared. That’s how you change things, you change the culture, through — for me it’s through discipline and recruiting, staffing and all that stuff. For them, it’s decision-making, it’s who you pick. And I’m just telling you: They pass on Deshaun Watson, they’re passing on Michael Jordan. I mean, I don’t know what the heck I’m talking about, I’m just an old funky college coach, but Deshaun Watson is the best, by a long shot.”

Two teams did pass on Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft: The Houston Rockets took Akeem Olajuwon first overall, and he became a Hall of Famer who led the Rockets to NBA titles in the two years when Jordan left the Chicago Bulls. But the Portland Trail Blazers selected Sam Bowie second overall before the Bulls took Jordan third, and the Bowie selection is often remembered as one of the worst picks in draft history.

If the Browns choose Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett, the odds-on favorite to be the first overall pick, they’ll be hoping he’s more an Olajuwon than a Bowie. But Swinney says they should just take Watson, and get football’s Michael Jordan.

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Lamar Jackson Leads Heisman Finalists


Written by Andrea Adelson at ESPN.com

Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson are headed to New York as Heisman Trophy finalists, the top two players in the ACC now vying to be crowned the best player in the entire nation.

Whether you are a Louisville fan or a Clemson fan, or just a college football fan, it is worth taking a step back to truly appreciate this moment.

Only once before has the ACC had two finalists in New York in the same year: In 2013, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won, while Boston College running back Andre Williams finished fourth.

Never before has the ACC had two players finish 1-2 in Heisman voting.

So, yes, this is a big moment for the players and their schools. But it is also a big moment for the ACC, giving the league some well-deserved bragging rights after so many lean years when it was difficult to come up with even one worthy Heisman contender, let alone two.

As football programs have gotten better, recruiting has gotten better and coaching hires have gotten better, so, too, have the players in the conference. The successes have not been contained to just one school, either. The recent finalists have represented four programs.

When the season started, though, nobody envisioned it would unfold in quite this way. Not even Jackson, who was entering his first year as the full-time starter. “I really didn’t even think about any awards,” Jackson said over the weekend in Orlando, where he picked up his ACC Player of the Year award.

Watson had the name, reputation, expectations and “Heisman favorite” scrawled next to his name. He was the one chosen to repeat as ACC Player of the Year in preseason polling among media members in July, picking up 164 out of 191 votes. Jackson got two.

But Clemson started off with some closer-than-expected games, and Watson did not put up the dazzling numbers many had come to expect. By Week 3, he admitted he needed to have more fun on the field and apologized for bringing negative energy to the team. Jackson, meanwhile, captivated the country with one touchdown binge after another and one highlight reel play after another – from the ‘Lamar Leap’ to making Florida State look like Ferris State in a 63-20 win.

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