TMF: NFL Playoff Picture: Who’s In? Who’s Out? The Joe Burrow Effect is Real in Cincinnati, More From Week 17
The NFL Playoff Picture is shaping up as the postseason creeps closer, Joe Burrow's effect on the Cincinnati Bengals is now evident. Plus: Who's MVP, OROY? and much more from Week 17.
2022 is here. Wild, huh? It felt like yesterday that we were looking forward to 2021 because 2020 was the year of Covid. Now, it’s 2022 and not a whole lot has changed. Except for the National Football League, where each week can feel like a long-winded year if you’re a fan of the New York Giants. Sorry.
Week 17 in the NFL was wild. For some, in enlightening positive ways. For others, well again, sorry. Besides the chatter of New Year’s Resolutions and small talk about Antonio Brown tearing off his uniform and storming off the field mid-game, there’s still plenty of hot storylines from the week.
Let’s get right to it, shall we.
At The Top:
The Joe Burrow effect is real in Cincinnati. For the first time since 2015, the Bengals clinched the AFC North division title. Oh, and Joe Burrow set an NFL record for the most passing yards in two consecutive games. Yeah, 971 yards the past two weeks in thrilling wins over Baltimore and Kansas City. You tell me, how good is he?
Detroit should prioritize building an offense around promising rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown. Maybe even pairing him up with his former college teammate. Wink, wink.
MVP? OROY? Coach of the year? Things change every week, it seems. More on that later.
Updated NFL Playoff Picture: Who’s in, who’s out, who needs some help.
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TMF FRONT PAGE: The Joe Burrow Effect
Pain and letdown. The two words coaches, players, and fans have felt for the team with the longest playoff win drought in all American professional sports. Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since 1990. Joe Burrow hadn’t even been born yet. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was only seven years old.
Yeah, it’s been a long road for the Bengals. But the wait is nearing its end. Because the Joe Burrow effect is real in Cincinnati.
“We had expectations for him, and so far, he’s exceeded those expectations. And, of course, he’s got championships on the brain.” Zac Taylor said after Sunday’s win over the Chiefs.
Burrow did what all LSU fans are accustomed to seeing after watching his historic 2019 collegiate season: he showed up and balled out. Burrow threw for 466 yards and four touchdown passes. But that’s not all. He went toe-to-toe with arguably the best quarterback in the league today and came out on top. Cincinnati had been down by 14 points on three different occasions, thanks to Mahomes and the Chiefs offensive attack in the first half. But the Bengals wouldn’t go away. They kept stringing together drives to come back, drive after drive. It was Burrow's fourth touchdown pass of the day, a pass to Tyler Boyd, that gave Cincinnati their first lead of the day with 11:44 on the clock. The catch that saw Boyd drag his back foot down strikingly while going out of bounds towards the left side of the endzone. That throw and catch had the Bengals up 31-28.
A wild win for Cincinnati. One worthy of celebrating. And certainly, one worth remembering.
There’s something to be said about belief in your team combined with the drive to overcome even the modest of expectations. Leading up to the season, the Bengals surely had playoff aspirations. But not many took them seriously as a legitimate threat to win the AFC North title, let alone a Super Bowl contender.
As for Burrow, he believed.
“I said it in the preseason; we were talking about playoffs, and I said that if we were going to go to the playoffs, the easiest way to do that was to win the division. Everyone kind of laughed at us a little bit, but we knew what kind of team we had.”
Burrow’s demeanor and delivery in his post-game media appearances is something to observe for yourself if you haven’t yet. He has a calmness to his voice, yet a level of confidence that instantly changes the tone of the entire Q&A. Like Burrow, it’s just different.
As they say, you know it when you see it. Cincinnati knew it when they selected Burrow first overall two years ago.
Today, the entire team just feels different.
That’s the Joe Burrow effect. The colossal impact of adding not just an elite player at the quarterback position, but also a motivated winner. One who won’t accept the word average being mentioned in the same breath as his team.
“That’s why he’s here. He’s always playing for championships. He’s played for championships in high school, he played for championships in college, and his expectation has always been to compete for championships here,” Zac Taylor said postgame on Burrow’s desires.
After sweeping the Steelers earlier in the season, Burrow stated: “We have higher aspirations than beating the Steelers right now,"
Things are different in Cincinnati. The looks and the feels. It’s shaping together differently.
We now know why. So get used to it.
NFL Playoff Picture: Who’s In? Who’s Out?
Tennessee Titans (11-5)
A 34-3 win over Miami clinched a second consecutive AFC South title for Tennessee. And with Kansas City losing to Cincinnati, the Titans are now positioned to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Remember, Derrick Henry could still return for a postseason run, too.
Remaining game: HOU
Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Kansas City’s NFL-best eight-game win streak came to an end on Sunday, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs fell to Joe Burrow’s Bengals, 34-31. It was the Chiefs’ first loss since losing to the Titans back in Week 7. Because of that Week 7 loss to Tennessee, Kansas City needs to finish the season with a better record than the Titans to secure the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. Titans would need to lose to the Texans.
Remaining game: DEN
Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
A big win over Kansas City helped Cincinnati clinch the AFC North title for the first time since 2015. The Bengals have a slim chance at the No. 1 seed, but they’ll need both the Chiefs and Titans to lose in Week 18.
Remaining game: CLE
Buffalo Bills (10-6)
Not easy, nor pretty, but Buffalo got the job done in a 29-15 win against Atlanta on Sunday. The win helped the Bills maintain their AFC East lead. And the Ravens loss to the Rams also secured a Bills playoff berth. The Patriots and Bills split their two games, but the Bills have a better divisional record which gives them an edge over New England.
Remaining game: NYJ
New England Patriots (10-6)
Good teams beat up on the bad ones. That’s precisely what Bill Belichick’s Patriots did this weekend. The 50-10 win against Jacksonville, and the Dolphins losing to the Titans, helped New England clinch a playoff berth. To earn the AFC East crown, the Patriots would need to beat Miami and see the Bills lose to the Jets.
Remaining game: MIA
Indianapolis Colts (9-7)
If the Colts could have beaten the Raiders, they would have clinched a playoff berth. But that didn’t happen. They fell to Derek Carr and Vegas, 23-20. Indianapolis is now in a three-way tie with the Raiders and Chargers (9-7),
Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)
After Sunday’s dominant 34-13 win against the Broncos, the Chargers slid into the final AFC wild-card spot. LA remains ahead of Vegas due to their head-to head win over Vegas back in Week 4. To secure that playoff berth, however, the Chargers must beat Vegas again.
Remaining game: LV
There’s a chance:
8. Raiders (9-7)
9. Steelers (7-7-1)
11. Ravens (8-8)
10. Dolphins (8-8)
12. Browns (7-8)
13. Broncos (7-9)
14. Texans (4-12)
15. Jets (4-12)
16. Jaguars (2-14)
Green Bay Packers (13-3)
‘I still own you’: For the second straight season, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Green Bay won’t have a whole lot to play for this weekend when they face the Lions in Detroit. Rest that toe, Aaron.
Remaining game: DET
Los Angeles Rams (12-4)
In yet another less than stellar game, the Rams rallied late in an important win over the Lamar Jackson-less Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. But, unfortunately for LA, the Cardinals beating Dallas put a hold on LA clinching the NFC West crown. They’ve clinched a playoff berth, but will need help to win the division due to Arizona having a better divisional record. Week 18’s game against San Francisco is a big one for LA. And recent history suggests it’ll be a tough win, as Kyle Shanahan has bested McVay in six of their nine meetings.
Remaining game: SF
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (12-4)
Another fourth quarter comeback is in the books for Tom Brady. Sunday’s narrow victory over the Jets was broadly overshadowed by Antonio Brown, and not due to a play by the receiver either. Brown removed his uniform and gloves, leaving the field shirtless mid-game. Bruce Arians announced after the game that Brown is no longer a Buc.
Remaining game: CAR
Dallas Cowboys (11-5)
The Cowboys missed their shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC with Sunday’s loss to Arizona. Dallas still has the NFC East title locked up. Rather convincingly too. As for tiebreakers, Dallas lost to Tampa Bay in Week 1, but they’re conference record of 9-2 is currently one game better than the Rams.
Remaining game: PHI
Arizona Cardinals (11-5)
The Cardinals win over the Cowboys was a big one for Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury. Arizona headed into the game having lost their last three games. For the Cardinals to clinch the NFC West, they’ll need to beat the Seahawks this weekend and see the Rams fall to the 49ers.
Remaining game: SEA
San Francisco 49ers (9-7)
The 49ers playoff hopes rested in the hands of rookie quarterback Trey Lance on Sunday. And he delivered in a 23-7 win over the Texans. The 49ers can clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Rams. If San Francisco loses, the Saints would claim the seventh playoff spot as long as they beat the Falcons.
Remaining game: LAR
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
The Eagles clinched a playoff berth over the weekend by beating Washington and seeing the Vikings lose to the Packers Sunday night. Jalen Hurts has led his team to the playoffs in just in second season. More on that later. Week 18’s regular season finale against the Cowboys doesn’t have much at stake for Philly, nor Dallas.
Remaining game: DAL
There’s a chance:
8. Saints (8-8)
9. Vikings (7-9)
10. Falcons (7-9)
11. Washington (6-10)
12. Bears (6-10)
13. Seahawks (6-10)
14. Panthers (5-11)
15. Giants (4-12)
16. Lions (2-12-1)
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Amon-Ra St. Brown is pretty good. Will Detroit build around him?
Amon-Ra St. Brown, a rookie wide receiver out of USC, might be one of the best things to come out of Detroit’s less than stellar 2021 season. St. Brown has quietly had an impressive first season in the NFL:
5 total touchdowns.
Not bad for a fourth-round pick. Oh, speaking of that – it’s still puzzling, to me, that he even fell to the Lions in the fourth-round to begin with. But we’ll save that for another day. St. Brown is the first rookie in the Super Bowl era to have five straight games with eight or more receptions.
“When you started stacking them like he is, that’s a consistent player. That’s a productive, consistent player, and those guys I think are hard to find. So I’m glad we got him.” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said postgame.
The way in which Detroit has utilized him in the offense is particularly intriguing. In Sunday’s game in Seattle, St. Brown was motioned from the slot to the backfield, and he took advantage of the opportunity with a slick 26-yard rushing touchdown. Lions OC Anthony Lynn deserves some credit for the way he’s adjusted and dialed up the offense, especially considering the team he has to work with.
"He's just a natural football player," Lions quarterback Tim Boyle said of St. Brown after the game, via the official Detroit Lions site.
"He's got great feel. You can hand the ball off to him, he's just so versatile. Players like that make quarterbacks like me better."
There’s a wide receiver in San Francisco that is employed all over the field; in the slot, out wide, and even in the backfield. Any way you can, you get the ball in his hands.
As if his emerging promising rookie campaign wasn’t enough, St. Brown is now trying to help the Lions receiving corps in 2022. St. Brown tweeted out an eyebrow-raising reply to USC Trojans wideout, and 2022 NFL draft prospect, Drake London, who congratulated his old pal after St. Brown had another big game in Week 17.
Drake London and Amon-Ra St. Brown would indeed be a fun duo in Detroit. And if Lions GM Brad Holmes is following St. Brown on twitter, hit the like button on that one, Sir.
Detroit has a few young pieces the team can build around, and St. Brown is undoubtedly now one of them. Giving Jared Goff a second season can surely be debated. We’ll do that in the offseason. Maybe. But hear me out for a moment.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
That’s not a bad grouping on offense heading into the 2022 season, if you ask me.
TEN THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Offensive Rookie of the Year: After a sensational day catching 11 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns, Ja’Marr Chase should probably win the award. Mac Jones has had a nice rookie campaign in New England. But Chase’s year in Cincinnati has been remarkable. Historic even.
Most Valuable Player: In a season which hasn’t seen one player truly take the lead and run away with it, Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady would be the two, for me. Cooper Kupp is making a strong case too, as is Jonathan Taylor. It’s a quarterback’s league, however.
Coach of the Year: Matt LaFleur has done a superb job in Green Bay, but I surpassingly lean Zac Taylor here. The situational football decisions, and the passion Taylor has consistently displayed for his players is a huge deciding factor for me. But the win over Kansas City on Sunday put the race in the rear view mirror, for me.
Mike Vrabel doesn’t get enough credit for the job he’s done in Tennessee. Season after season, regardless of injury or roster depth, the Titans seem respectable and always in it come season end. A team always willing to fight until the very last second is certainly a team worthy of investing in. I dig it.
Fly, Eagles, Fly. After winning six of their last seven, Philadelphia has clinched a playoff berth. Sure, it hasn’t been the sexiest of seasons, but the Eagles have gotten the job done as of late. Jalen Hurts has proved he’s worthy of being the man behind center in 2022.
Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper is reportedly expressing buyers remorse regarding the contract he gave first-time NFL head coach Matt Rhule. The messages in my inbox from Panthers fans have been pretty consistent: Rhule needs to go. Where the franchise goes from there, is a billion dollar question. Tepper wants two things in his franchise: a star quarterback and a good head coach. He may need to go back to the drawing board to find both this offseason.
The most embarrassing season award goes to… The popular pick would be the Jaguars, largely thanks to Urban Meyer. But after watching the Giants continue to resemble that of a middling high school team each week, it’s fair to question which franchise has earned that label. In a 29-3 loss to the Bears, the Giants finished with -10 passing yards. No typo there. After catching a three-yard fade in my living room last night, my two-year old son finished the day with more passing yards than the Giants. Ouch.
Cooper Kupp and the number 12: After catching six passes on Sunday against Baltimore, Cooper Kupp now has 138 receptions on the season, which is the third-most in NFL history. Only Michael Thomas (149 in 2019) and Marvin Harrison (143 in 2002) have finished a season with more. With 12 receptions this weekend against the 49ers in Week 18, Kupp could break the all-time record.
Cooper Kupp and the number 136: Speaking of Kupp, he could also break the yardage record this weekend too. Kupp has 1,829 receiving yards this season, which is currently ranks as the fifth-highest single-season total in NFL history. Only trailing that of Calvin Johnson (1,964 in 2012), Jerry Rice (1,848 in 1995), Antonio Brown (1,834 in 2015) and Julio Jones (1,871 in 2015). If Kupp eclipses 43 yards in Week 18, he would reach second all-time. If he goes off for 136 yards, he would break Johnson’s record. So, 12 catches for 136 yards and a score to break both. Air it out to Cooper early on, Mr. Stafford.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I just think of those 16 (wide receivers) that went before me and how I felt, and that just keeps me going.” - Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Detroit Lions.
ASK ME ANYTHING FROM THE WEEK
(Weekly AMA questions can be sent via twitter @coreyalex, or by emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org)
–Early bold predictions for the NFL offseason?
Green Bay trades Jordan Love.
New England trades for a big name WR (Michael Thomas)
Carolina Panthers take a big swing at landing a top QB (Wilson, Watson)
–Favorite WR in the 2022 draft class?
I’m pretty high on Khalil Shakir and Jahan Dotson.
–There hasn’t been a lot of stories around the Vikings future with Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins. If one or both are gone this offseason, where should Minnesota go to next?
Remember when we were kids and our parents brought us to the mall? There were these older stone wishing well like ponds where you would ask your parents for a penny or nickel to throw into the water and make a wish. Find one of those and make a wish, Vikings fans. All jokes aside, Minnesota isn’t in a good spot. One man’s opinion, sure. But I see a talented young top-five wide receiver who you cannot allow to leave or become dissatisfied enough to force his way out via trade. I see a head coach who was a Stefon Diggs ‘miracle’ touchdown catch away from being fired years ago. I see a team that is half in, half out. Certainly correctable, but I’d start with the head coach and go from there. Again, just one man’s opinion.
–Draft question: what’s something you unique you look for when evaluating a college prospect?
Good question. One thing I find myself looking for when watching films on various positions is how a player reacts when a play breaks down, or doesn't go their way. For example, when a QB throws a pick, does the WR stay with the play, fighting to make the tackle? I’ll often rewatch the negative play several times to view a players reactions/decisions after the fact. It’s the minor things like that I look for a lot. Doesn’t always mean a whole lot in the big picture, but it’s something I always take note of.
–What would would you give up to trade for Baker Mayfield?
My progressive insurance policy. Okay, that wasn't as funny as I thought when I first read the question. Real answer is I don’t know yet. It would largely depend on what Cleveland was looking for. Draft picks or players. If Jimmy Garoppolo could reportedly be traded for a second round pick, Mayfield could fetch an even better return given his age and contract situation. If I’m a team like Carolina, do I view Baker as a far superior option to what I have today? If so, is that worthy of a day two draft pick?
–With N’Keal Harry being a complete bust, any thoughts on the Patriots drafting a WR in round 1 or 2?
I wouldn't count on it. I believe Belichick knows he needs to add a different type of receiver this offseason if he wants Mac Jones to hit his ceiling as a quarterback. But New England’s defense isn’t getting any younger either. Unless something dramatic happens in free agency, I’d put wide receiver third or fourth on their list of needs come draft night. However, if Bill falls in love with a receiver – *cough* Khalil Shakir *cough* – I wouldn’t rule out Patriots drafting one in the second or third round.
–Super Bowl Predictions? 1…2…3…and GO!!!
Green Bay over Kansas City.
Truthfully it’s Dan Campbell that deserves kudos for Amon-Ra St. Brown’s late-season breakout. He took over play-calling duties from Anthony Lynn after Detroit’s bye week. Campbell, and TE coach Ben Johnson who’s helped Campbell with the passing game, have been the creative play-callers that have gotten St. Brown more involved.