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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

Regular Season Is Done: NFL Playoff Synopsis, Contender/Pretender Rankings

The Buffalo Bills sat at a very disappointing 5-5 on Nov. 13th, following a brutal, nationally-televised 24-22 Monday night loss at home to the inferior Denver Broncos.


Bills QB Josh Allen saunters off the field during Buffalo's stinging 'Monday Night Football' home loss to the Broncos, a loss that would lead to harsh criticisms of Allen's play throughout the following week.


It was a nasty loss. But it was a nasty loss that somehow saw the Bills outgain the Broncos in total yards, 369-300, and in rushing offense, 192-122.


So how did Buffalo lose the time-of-possession game, 37 to 23, which is an ever-so-crucial stat in terms of winning close football games?


Josh Allen, since coming into the NFL in 2018, has showed himself to be an athletic marvel at the quarterback position -- a combination of size, strength and speed that the league hadn't ever seen pre Cam Newton. In just his second career NFL start, a September road game at Minnesota, Allen put every one of those aforementioned skills on display, all in one play.


On a 3rd down & 10 yards to go, with his Bills ALREADY up 17-0 late in the first quarter, Allen scrambled out of the pocket, left his feet 5 whole yards away from the line to make, and completely cleared Vikings LB Anthony Barr to land past the 45-yard-line and convert for the first down. To this day, it stands as one of the more remarkable (and psycho) feats of sheer athleticism on a singular play that I've ever watched live.


Josh Allen leaps over & completely clears Vikings LB Anthony Barr for a first down in Week 3 of the 2018 NFL season.


Allen pulls off incredible circus acts like this on damn near a weekly basis -- so much so that football fans may take it for granted as we sit now, 6 years later into his career. But as is the case with every single great player that has ever played any sport in history -- there are flaws that exist in Allen's game, too. Allen's flaws just happen to go against every idea or theory that would define what good, efficient QB play is.



Allen has thrown the most interceptions since entering the NFL in 2018. He also leads the NFL in total turnovers over that same span of time. He can also display stretches of erratic accuracy & poor timing with his throws, which sometimes reflect in his completion percentages. He has gained this sort-of 'wild child' reputation as a star QB that was previously attached to Hall-Of-Famer Brett Favre, who, despite unequivocally being viewed as one of the top-5-or-10 greatest quarterbacks to ever play, also holds the all-time NFL record in picks thrown.


There's a reason that now-former Giants' defensive coordinator Wink Martindale compared Allen to the NBA's Stephen Curry in terms of the two stars' mindset. "[Steph] thinks he can hit it anywhere on the court, and that's the same way Josh is" -- were Martindale's exact words. And I think, given the context, the vast majority of football fans would agree. Allen is great for the very same reasons that make his flaws so self-destructive to his football team. If you want the very best out of him, you have to take the good with the bad, and hope that the the former outweighs the latter more often than not.


Bills head coach Sean McDermott fired his offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey after the Broncos loss. The game saw Allen throw two picks and also lose a fumble as a runner -- none of which was necessarily Dorsey's fault. Still, though, the change was made, maybe as a intended wake-up call to Allen. 15 total turnovers through 10 games from the quarterback would cap even the greatest of teams' ceilings. Dorsey's replacement was Joe Brady, who is most notably known for leading the greatest collegiate offense of all-time as the 2019 LSU Tigers' offensive play-caller, with the likes of Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire at his disposal. (Each one of those players were first-round picks.)


Allen, receiver Stefon Diggs, two talented TEs in Dawson Knox & Dalton Kincaid, and James Cook in the backfield? That's a wealth of talent on this Buffalo offense as well, and Brady was once again in a position to try and put supreme talent in the best position to succeed.


The Bills won their next game at home vs the Jets, whose defense forced Allen into FIVE total turnovers in the Bills' 22-16 OT loss at MetLife Stadium back in Week 1. This time around, it was a dominant 27-6 victory that saw Allen throw for 3 TDs and only 1 interception. However, they lost their next game -- a heartbreaking OT road loss to the then-10-1 Philadelphia Eagles (MUCH more on them later), 37-34, to wind right back up at .500, 6-6 on the year.


6-6 is typically not a terrible place to be for an NFL team through 12 games. But, consider both the lofty Super Bowl expectations for this Buffalo team, AS WELL AS their 6-6 in reference to how ultra-competitive the AFC was this year. That loss to Philadelphia felt like a death blow, considering the Bills' inconsistent play to date, and the opponents they now had to face, with games against the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Dolphins to play over the final 5 weeks of the season.


Fast-forward past those 5 weeks to now, and... Buffalo is the AFC's TWO seed heading into the playoffs, after rattling off 4 straight wins (including beating the aforementioned Chiefs and Cowboys) to set up an AFC East title game @ Miami.


It was a knock-down, drag-out fight of a game between the Bills and Dolphins that saw both teams' high-powered offenses struggle to execute and score. The Bills wound up smoking Miami on the stat sheet in terms of total yardage (473-275), but squandered a handful of valuable scoring opportunities as well, including before halftime, as running back Ty Johnson was tackled before crossing the goal line on a pass from Allen over the middle, due to an incredible job by Miami's defense to hold Johnson up at the half-yard line and push him back, which led to time expiring due to Buffalo's lack of timeouts.


Also, Josh Allen threw two more picks and lost another fumble. Hey, it's just who he is.


A beautifully-blocked 96-yard punt return touchdown by the electric Deonte Harty to knot the game at 14-14 at the onset of the 4th quarter, followed later by a go-ahead Josh Allen touchdown pass to Dawson Knox with 7:21 left proved to be the difference in Buffalo's victory -- capped off by a Taylor Rapp interception of Tua Tagovailoa's final pass on Miami's final drive to seal the deal.


There you have it -- The Buffalo Bills, 11-6, AFC East division champions for the 4th consecutive season. (The previous three were achieved in much easier fashion.)



Miami looked like the AFC East title was signed, sealed and damn near delivered to them, previously sitting at a 9-3 record with 5 games remaining. Mike McDaniel's team came up short like his pants typically do down the stretch, however, going 2-3 to close out the regular season. The Dolphins went from just having to win their final two games vs Baltimore and Buffalo to clinch the AFC's #1 seed and home-field throughout the playoffs... to losing both games, AND the division, AND having to enter the postseason as the #6 seed, punching their ticket for a game at Arrowhead Stadium to face the defending champion & star WR Tyreek Hill's former squad, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs defeated the Dolphins 21-14 on a neutral field in Frankfurt, Germany all the way back in Week 9.


Back to the Bills, though. They're the wildest success story in what was an even-more-than-usual wild season of NFL football. I didn't even bring up Sean McDermott's weird proclivity for using 9/11 in pregame speeches to try and motivate his team -- this season was somehow even more wild than that.


Four teams entered Week 18 with simple win-and-in postseason scenarios: the Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, and Jacksonville Jaguars' jobs were all simple. Win and live to play another week. Don't need any help... just WIN.


The Texans handled business on Saturday night vs their divisional rival Colts, behind C.J. Stroud's 2 TD passes, and in doing so, completed an unthinkable task: Rookie QB, Rookie head coach in DeMeco Ryans (who's also a former player for the franchise), and a playoff berth AND division title in YEAR ONE of the new program. They're my personal favorite story this season, and they'll have two great leaders in Stroud and Ryans for years to come, an enviable position for many, many franchises in the sport. Consider this: the Texans were a PR mess amidst the fallout of the Deshaun Watson... situation. Now? They have a super-solid structure at the top of their operation.


PICTURED LEFT: DeMeco Ryans, first-year Head coach of the Texans, hired away from the defensive coordinator position in San Francisco.

PICTURED RIGHT: QB C.J. Stroud, Houston's first draft selection at #2 overall this past offseason. Both men were instrumental in leading Houston to an unexpected AFC South division title this season.


The Buccaneers also handed win-and-in business, although they made it a lot more difficult on themselves, squeaking out a 9-0 victory on the road against a hopeless 2-15 Panthers squad. This made the dealings in New Orleans between the Saints & Falcons irrelevant. Yet, somehow, in a game that finished in a 48-17 final in favor of the Saints, a major, relevant story erupted in the aftermath.


It was revealed that backup QB Jameis Winston overruled HC Dennis Allen with time winding down at the end of the 4th quarter -- instead of taking a knee in 'victory formation' at the 1-yard line, Jameis and the rest of the offensive huddle faked the kneel-down and decided to hand the ball off to Jamaal Williams for his first touchdown of the season, remarkably, after leading the league with 17 scores last year. Now-fired Falcons head coach Arthur Smith angrily confronted Allen about the play at the postgame midfield meeting, and Allen quickly... and I mean QUICKLY -- distanced himself from Winston's decision.


Notable former players and now-media personalities such as Shannon Sharpe and Damien Woody have since accosted Winston for the play. Sharpe actually went as far to say that he'd cut Winston for it. Jameis remained unapologetic during the locker room postgame presser, stating that "it was a team decision" in the huddle, and offered up this amazing quote as well:


"I think it should be forgotten, especially when the score was already 41-17, so I don't know how much worse it could get."


Back to the win-and-in teams. The Packers also handed their business, continuing their recent historical dominance of their archrival Chicago Bears with a 17-9 win at Lambeau. Jordan Love capped off an impressive first year as a starter, tossing for 316 more yards and two touchdown passes to bring his totals to 4,159 yards and 32 TDs on the season. The Packers faced the same exact Week 18 scenario a year ago -- all that team had to do was defeat the Lions at home to make it into the postseason. Aaron Rodgers and co. blew it then -- Love got it done this time around.


Jordan Love caught unfair & misguided scrutiny when he was controversially drafted at 20th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft by Green Bay, with then-current QB Aaron Rodgers still playing at an MVP level. That move has now parlayed into a playoff berth for the Packers in 2023, and yet another franchise quarterback, as Love will now follow in the very large footsteps of Rodgers and Brett Favre.


His quarterbacking counterpart on Sunday, Justin Fields, didn't account for himself very well in what was a struggle for the Bears offense all day. Chicago, thanks to their savvy pre-draft trade with Carolina last year, now hold the #1 pick in this coming draft, with a free shot to make USC phenom Caleb Williams their franchise QB for the next 10+ years. Will they do that, or continue to stick with Fields and trade the #1 overall selection for the SECOND straight offseason? Time will certainly tell.


Ryan Poles (pictured left), showed belief in Justin Fields (pictured right) as the Bears' guy at the QB position with their trade of last year's #1 overall pick to Carolina. Will Poles do so again this coming offseason?


So, the Texans, Bucs, and Packers all handled their business. What of the Jaguars?


The Jaguars laid an egg of epic proportions against the Tennessee Titans, who finished as a 6-11 football team. The Titans punched Jacksonville in the mouth, and by the time the Jags recovered back onto their wobbly feet to fight back, it was too late. QB Trevor Lawrence fired consecutive incompletions on 3rd & 4th down on the Jaguars' final drive to seal his team's fate, and that has shone the spotlight of blame onto Lawrence, a guy who was widely deemed a "can't miss", "generational" prospect during the 2021 pre-draft process.


Is a lot of the blame directed T-Law's way unfair, as the 24-year-old battled and fought through multiple injuries this season? You can say so. But the Jaguars were supposed to take that leap this season. The team that overcame a 27-0 deficit in last year's Wild Card Round to defeat the Chargers, and lost a competitive Divisional Round matchup @ Kansas City was supposed to take that next step up into the ranks of the AFC elite. THAT'S why their performance on Sunday was so grossly disappointing in the grand scheme of things.


Jaguars' head coach Doug Pederson and QB Trevor Lawrence face an uncomfortable offseason, after going from 8-3 to 9-8 and missing the playoffs entirely.


Jacksonville's defeat wasn't just about them as it pertained to the AFC, though. Their loss opened the floodgates up for multiple AFC teams and their playoff standings.


The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched a playoff berth with the Jags' loss & their win vs the #1 seeded Ravens' B-team on Saturday afternoon.


The Texans clinched a playoff berth on their own the day prior, but clinched the AFC South division title with Jacksonville's loss.


And the Bills clinched a playoff berth even BEFORE taking the field in Miami, which had to have taken a mountain of stress and anxiety off their collective shoulders, possibly contributing to their big win over the Dolphins.


Three separate teams benefitting greatly from the Jags losing 5 of 6 games to close their season. Amazing.


Speaking of losing 5 of 6 games to close the season:



The Philadelphia Eagles went from 10-1 and the #1 seed in the NFC in mid-November, to 11-6 and the #5 seed entering the playoffs, after their ugly 27-10 loss to the lowly Giants.


They tricked off both the #1 seed to the San Francisco 49ers, AND the NFC East to the #2 seeded Dallas Cowboys.


At this point, they look like a complete shell of the team that started in such great fashion this year after a Super Bowl appearance last year. Head coach Nick Sirianni appears to have lost the locker room -- and that's not an accusation I just throw around lightly. Philly's also battered and bruised heading into their playoff matchup vs the Buccaneers this weekend: star QB Jalen Hurts suffered a mangled middle finger on his throwing hand on Sunday, and star wide receiver A.J. Brown suffered a knee injury as well. At this point, I don't think anybody would be shocked if the Eagles shipped down to Tampa Bay and got smacked by an inferior Bucs' squad this weekend.


The NFC playoff-clinching scenarios were a lot less dramatic than the AFC's. I already spoke on the Packers getting the final Wild Card after their win on Sunday. The Cowboys and Lions both won and finished with identical 12-5 records, although Dallas will be the #2 seed and Detroit the #3 after their Week 17 matchup -- Dallas won 20-19 after Brad Allen's refereeing crew pulled off "ineligible-receiver-Gate", wiping away Detroit's successful two-point conversion that momentarily took the lead.


Detroit put a bow on a historically successful season with their win over Minnesota. They won the NFC North division title for the first time EVER, and that city is bubbling with excitement heading into their emotional Wild Card Round matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, and former franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, who many in the city of Detroit still adore.


The Los Angeles Rams have made it to two Super Bowls in the Sean McVay era. Jared Goff (pictured left) fell short against the Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. Matthew Stafford (pictured right), after being traded from Detroit to LA in the 2021 offseason, got it done for the Rams in Super Bowl LVI vs the Bengals. Now, the two QBs will face off in a storyline-filled Wild Card matchup between the Rams and Lions this weekend.


Detroit's Dan Campbell vs LA's Sean McVay is as electric as a coaching matchup could possibly get. Both teams have pletnty of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball -- future first-ballot hall-of-famer Aaron Donald for LA and young star edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson for DET headline that field -- but don't be surprised at all if we get a shootout between these two squads on Sunday.


It should be an electric weekend of NFL playoff football, period. All the way around. Here's the schedule for 'Super Wild Card Weekend':


5 Browns @ 4 Texans:

Saturday, 4:30 PM, NBC


6 Dolphins @ 3 Chiefs:

Saturday, 8:00 PM, Peacock


7 Steelers @ 2 Bills:

Sunday, 1:00 PM, CBS


7 Packers @ 2 Cowboys:

Sunday, 4:30 PM, FOX


6 Rams @ 3 Lions:

Sunday, 8:00 PM, NBC/Peacock


5 Eagles @ 4 Buccaneers:

Monday, 8:00 PM, ABC/ESPN


And now, your playoff team tier rankings:


Contenders:

  • Ravens

  • 49ers

  • Cowboys

  • Bills

  • Browns


Pretenders:

  • Chiefs

  • Eagles

  • Dolphins


If Everything Breaks Right:

  • Lions

  • Rams

  • Texans


At Least You Got There:

  • Packers

  • Steelers

  • Buccaneers

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