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


Bing Predicts: NFL Wild Card

Winners and losers from NFL Week 15

There was a ton of really weird stuff going on around the league during NFL Week 15, both positive and negative, as teams battled for a playoff berth.

One of the hottest teams in the NFL was shut out in stunning style. With a convincing win over the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears won the NFC North. The Cleveland Browns — of all teams — are still alive for postseason play, for crying out loud.

Heck, one player forgot which team he played for and facilitated a touchdown for the opposing team.

These are the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 15.

Winner: Philip Rivers has ice water running through his veins

Dec 13, 2018; Kansas City, MO, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night’s game in Kansas City seemed to portend doom for Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. He threw an interception on his first pass attempt of the game, severely under throwing Tyrell Williams.

It didn’t take long for the Chiefs to build up a 14-0 lead. Then in the second half, they went up by two touchdowns once more midway through the fourth quarter. It appeared Patrick Mahomes and Co. were on their way to an easy win. Then, Rivers woke up.

The veteran quarterback led two consecutive touchdown-scoring drives in the final eight minutes of the game, capping it all off with a gutty two-point conversion to Mike Williams (watch here), who had a monster game while Keenan Allen watched due to an injury.

Now at 11-3, the Chargers have a chance to claim the AFC’s No. 1 seed in the final weeks.

Loser: Vance Joseph has got to go

Situational awareness is a critical element to being a good head coach in the NFL — or really any level of play. Vance Joseph does not have a healthy dose of that. He proved it once more on Saturday at home against the Cleveland Browns.

Down by four points, with just over four minutes left in the game, his offense on Cleveland’s six-yard line on a 4th-and-1, Joseph called for a field goal. He was booed heartily by the home crowd in Denver, and social media was brutal in its assessment of his awful decision.

Not surprisingly, the move backfired. Cleveland won the game by one point. In a must-win situation, Joseph retreated into his shell and cost his team the victory. There’s no way John Elway can keep him now. He’s got to go.

Winner: Josh Allen came up big 

The Buffalo Bills were down their two top running backs before Sunday’s game against Detroit even began. Both LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory were ruled out, leading many to wonder just where any offense was going to come from.

Rookie quarterback Josh Allen — whose play is always an adventure — answered the call. His shockingly nifty touchdown run in the first half (watch here) put the Bills up by a point. Then, in the fourth quarter, his 42-yard laser strike to Robert Foster proved to be the game-winner.

Loser: Oakland managed to make Cincinnati look good

We’ve been harping on how bad the Oakland Raiders are all year. One lucky win against an unmotivated Pittsburgh Steelers team in Week 14 did nothing to change that, as everyone found out just one week later in Cincinnati.

The Bengals dominated Sunday’s game. Oakland’s defense had no answer for Joe Mixon, and, despite a poor outing from backup Jeff Driskel, the Raiders just couldn’t make key stops when they needed it.

Derek Carr had a rough outing throwing the ball, and both he and Jalen Richard lost fumbles — the second of which led to the first score of the game for Cincinnati.

The bottom line is this: When you’re making the Bengals look good, you’ve hit rock bottom.

Winner: Tremendous team effort nets Pittsburgh a huge win

Dec 16, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) meet at mid-field after playing at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 17-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

From the moment Tom Brady stepped onto the field for warm-ups in Pittsburgh, he faced adversity. When the game tipped off, it was clear that the Steelers were not going to let him connect with Rob Gronkowski or Josh Gordon. They did just that, as the two top New England playmakers combined for just three catches for 40 yards.

The coup de grace for Pittsburgh’s defense came in the fourth quarter when Joe Haden made a tremendous leaping interception with two Patriots draped over him for what proved to be the win-sealing play (watch here).

Big Ben Roethlisberger had a rough night with two bad interceptions but was buoyed by the rest of his offense. Jaylen Samuels did his best Le’Veon Bell and James Conner impersonation by racking up 172 yards on 21 touches, and the Steelers walked out with a 17-10 win over the mighty Patriots to remain atop the AFC North.

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By: Jesse Reed

Top matchup for each Week 6 NFL game

During this week’s slate of NFL games, a ton of individual matchups will take center stage as 30 of the league’s 32 teams take to the field.

Can Denzel Ward continue his great rookie season in route to leading the Browns to a winning record against Keenan Allen and the equally hot Los Angeles Chargers? Patrick Peterson will look to continue his excellent play in hopes of stopping a Vikings receiver in Adam Thielen who is on pace to break the single-season catch mark. And in Kansas City, the Patriots must contend with the league’s best offense, Tyreek Hill included.

These are among the top individual matchups for each Week 6 NFL game.

Charger Felt Disrespected By Bills Starting Nathan Peterman

Written by Kevin Patra at NFL.com


That is how Los Angeles Chargers corner Casey Hayward described the decision by Buffalo Bills coach Sean McDermott to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman on the road.

“This week? Really? Changing to a rookie quarterback for his first start? Against us?” Hayward thought before the Chargers picked off Peterman five times in the first half.

“I’m pretty sure we might’ve felt a little disrespected,” Hayward said, via the L.A. Times. “…We’ve got two really good pass rushers, probably the top tandem in the NFL. We’ve got really good corners. … We’ve got really good safeties. They do it against us?


Trippin’ in deed.

The optics of the Bills’ quarterback decision look disastrous in hindsight, with Peterman tossing five INTs in just 14 pass attempts. They never looked great from the moment the decision was made. Making a change is one thing, but doing it on a cross-country road trip, facing a fire-breathing pass rush in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram was inviting trouble.

McDermott said following the game he’d wait to name a starter after Tyrod Taylor was his normal solid self in second half relief in the blowout. But how can he justify going back to Peterman after one of the most disastrous first halves of football since the invention of the forward pass? The rookie could be scared for the rest of his career.

“Me and Mel knew that if we were able to get pressure and get in his face, he was going to make some bad decisions with the football,” Bosa said, per the O.C. Register. “We didn’t expect five.”

You know it’s a bad situation when a defensive player sounds sorry for the beating he put on his opponent.

“You have to cut him a break,” Bosa added. “He’s a rookie, and he was thrown in there out of the blue. And it’s not like we were taking it easy on him.”

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Phil Rivers In Concussion Protocol

Written by Jeremy Bergman at NFL.com

Philip Rivers’ consecutive starts streak is in jeopardy.

The Los Angeles Chargers quarterback was placed into concussion protocol Monday, coach Anthony Lynn told reporters, one day after the Bolts fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars in overtime. Lynn said he saw “nothing at all” from Rivers after the game to indicate he had suffered a concussion.

It’s unclear when Rivers suffered the head injury. On his final play of the game, Rivers threw a deep interception to Jags corner A.J. Bouye and then proceeded to deck Bouye out of bounds to prevent a game-winning pick-six. Rivers was not sacked by the self-proclaimed “Sacksonville” defense but did take five QB hits. Rivers finished with 235 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the 20-17 loss.

The 35-year-old has not shown up on the injury report this year and has not displayed concrete signs of physical deterioration. In fact, he hasn’t missed a game since taking over the Chargers’ starting role from Drew Brees in 2006. The Chargers ironman has started 185 consecutive games, the second-best active streak behind draft mate Eli Manning (208) and the fourth-best all time.

If Rivers can’t go against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday, it’s likely that longtime backup Kellen Clemens will fill in. Former Bills quarterback Cardale Jones is also on the roster.

For a 3-6 Chargers club teetering on the verge of elimination from playoff contention, Rivers’ health will be something to monitor.

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Jaguars Overcome Adversity Against Chargers

Written by Michael DiRocco at ESPN.com

It was easy to pick out a common theme among the Jacksonville Jaguars players after Sunday’s 20-17 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at EverBank Field.

They were amazed at the craziness and back-and-forth momentum swings in the final two minutes of regulation and overtime. They also were adamant that none of the teams of the past several seasons wins that game.

No way they bounce back from two interceptions in the final two minutes, including one that came after a Chargers fumble and ruined a potential game-tying field goal. No way they overcome a pair of taunting penalties. And the game-winning field-goal attempt being tipped and still making it through the uprights on Sunday doesn’t even come close the last few years.

“If any of those things happen, if half of those things happen, two years ago we fold and it’s over,” quarterback Blake Bortles said.

Yet the Jaguars (6-3) didn’t fold.

They kept making mistakes and committing stupid penalties, yet still found a way to make a couple critical plays late to win their third consecutive game and keep pace with Tennessee in the AFC South. The players say it’s because they’ve bought into the culture that Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin have established and because of the leadership in the locker room.

They also said the team is much closer than in past years, in part because they bonded while going through what was an emotionally and physically exhausting training camp.

But, really, the bottom line is this: The Jaguars have better players than they’ve had over the past several seasons.

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Should The Chargers Move Back To San Diego

Written by John Breech at CBS Sports.com

The Chargers are only four weeks into their first season of playing in Los Angeles and things already look like a disaster.

Not only have TV ratings for the team bombed in the L.A. area, but they’ve been unable to fill the stadium to capacity for any game this season despite the fact that they play in a building that only seats 27,000 people. And even when fans do show up, none of them are there to cheer for the Chargers.

As many Eagles players noted after Philadelphia’s 26-24 over the Chargers on Sunday, almost everyone on the visitors’ sideline thought it felt like a home game, even though they were playing in a city that’s roughly 2,700 miles away from Philly.

Here’s what it sounded like at the StubHub Center, which is supposed to be the home of the Chargers.

With the Chargers, flailing, there have been reports that the NFL has been “discouraged” about what’s happening with the team in L.A. That discouragement has led to rumors that the league might nudge the Chargers back to San Diego.

As unhappy as the NFL might be about the situation, the league made it clear this week that it has no plans to move the Chargers back to San Diego. During a conference call on Tuesday, NFL vice president of communications Joe Lockhart was asked about the possibility of the Chargers making another move.

“The only place I’ve heard that is that I’ve seen it on the internet,” Lockhart said, via USA Today. “There are no discussions of returning to San Diego from the league or from the club.”

Apparently, the Chargers knew it would be a process to build a fan base in Los Angeles, which is why owner Dean Spanos isn’t concerned yet.

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Dolphins Narrowly Beat Chargers As Time Expires

Written by Nick Shook at NFL.com

Miami spent the final period climbing its way back into what was a back-and-forth game for three quarters, and a Cody Parkey field goal pushed them to a close 19-17 victory over the Chargers in their Los Angeles debut. Here’s what we learned …

1. The Chargers were as up and down as their season has been. Philip Rivers completed 31 of 39 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown, but when they were leading 17-10 and needed just one score to put Miami away for good, they repeatedly stalled. It was great entertainment for the fans in their opener at the Stubhub Center, until the mood turned anxious as Miami continually crept closer with field goals. Los Angeles averaged over four yards per carry, gaining 44 yards on 10 totes between Melvin Gordon and Branden Oliver, but 26 of those yards came on one Oliver run. Inexplicably, the Chargers abandoned the ground game late when clinging to a small lead, running it just four times in the second half (with one being a Rivers sneak to set up Koo’s late field goal attempt). The lack of clock movement afforded Miami enough time to record multiple stops and chip away even as its own offense struggled to reach the end zone.

2. Miami has an embarrassment of riches at the receiver position. Jarvis Landry caught 13 passes on 15 targets for 78 yards, DeVante Parker caught four passes on nine targets (with two being fantastic jump-ball grabs), Kenny Stills caught two of five targets (including a touchdown) and tight end Julius Thomas caught all three of his targets for 26 yards. Cutler was 24-of-33 passing for 230 yards and a touchdown on a pass thrown well on the run. Despite being his usual gunslinging self, Cutler avoided throwing an interception. It’s remarkable to think he was almost out of football this season.

3. The true engine of Miami’s offense is, unsurprisingly, Jay Ajayi. The hammer back carried the ball 28 times for 122 yards and looked exactly like the breakout runner he was in 2016. With a running back every defense must respect, Cutler will continue to get opportunities to find his skilled armaments. Watching Miami is exhilarating because with Cutler, this squad is talented enough to win the majority of its games in entertaining fashion, but it also seems to be constantly teetering on the edge of disaster. As long as Cutler doesn’t hold onto the ball too long and take too many risks — which he’s prone to do and did occasionally Sunday — this is a formula that could very realistically put Miami back in the playoffs. And it might be fun to watch on a weekly basis.

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Broncos Defense Holds Late Game Push From Chargers To Win

Written by John Benne at SB Nation.com

The Denver Broncos missed the playoffs last season thanks to an anemic offense, and nearly started the 2017 season with a massive defensive collapse. But they still got a pretty strong performance from the “No Fly Zone” pass defense, which should continue to be one of the best in football.

Denver stifled Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers in a 24-21 victory, with stingy pass defense being the main factor in the win. Denver held Rivers to just 192 yards and did a fine job locking down his favorite weapons. Rivers didn’t even reach the 100-yard mark until well into the fourth quarter. Antonio Gates was limited to two catches for 17 yards, while Keenan Allen had a stat line (five catches on 10 targets, 35 yards) that was only saved by a fourth-quarter touchdown catch.

One of the game’s top highlights was this interception by Bradley Roby, which killed the Chargers’ momentum at the start of the third quarter.

It was largely a dominant win, but things got tight in the fourth quarter. Starting safety Darian Stewart left the game with a groin injury, and not coincidentally, Rivers came to life and started rallying his team back from a 24-7 deficit. The Broncos’ defense was burnt like toast on a Travis Benjamin 38-yard touchdown and the Chargers nearly forced overtime, but Denver blocked the game-ending field goal to save the win.

Most of the No Fly Zone gang — Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr., Roby — is back together this season, but there was a bit of turnover on the defense. T.J. Ward was surprisingly released a week before the regular season started, linebacker DeMarcus Ware retired, and linebacker Shane Ray is on injured reserve with a wrist injury. There will clearly be some adjustments to make, especially with longtime coordinator Wade Phillips gone.

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