Saturday, January 21, 2023
John Crowe, Sports Columnist
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If you’re feeling like something’s just a bit off this weekend, you’re not alone. For only the second time since the 2008 playoffs, neither the Patriots nor Tom Brady is playing in the NFL’s Divisional Round. We’d like to forget Brady’s final playoff game in Foxboro during the 2019 season in which they were upset in the Wild Card Round by the Titans. As for this season, Brady was dispatched Monday night by Dallas, while the Patriots didn’t even make the postseason dance. So, now the questions coming to the forefront are where TB12 will play next season, if at all, and how will the Patriots try to upgrade from their disappointing 8-9 record in 2022.
New England reportedly has begun its search for a new offensive coordinator as well as trying to keep linebackers coach Jerod Mayo in the fold in Foxboro, possibly as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Former Patriots OC Bill O’Brien is the leading candidate, according to most and has already interviewed for the job. The team also said that interviews with Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley, Cardinals wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, Oregon associate head coach Adrian Klemm, and Minnesota Vikings WR coach Keenan McCardell have taken place.
As for Brady, Las Vegas, Tennessee, Miami, along with San Francisco, New York (Jets), and New England have all been thrown out as likely destinations for a possible 24th season. Sure, Foxboro seems a bit farfetched, but Pats fans can dream of one last magical run, right? Brady is an unrestricted free agent once the playoffs are over and hasn’t ruled out a possible return to Tampa as well. That move seems less likely after nine assistants, including offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, were either fired or retired on Thursday. Regardless of the decision, don’t expect quick news however like last year’s retirement and then unretirement 40 days later.
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Monday night’s press conference after the loss seemed more like a goodbye to the Bucs instead of a walking off into the sunset and an end to a career.
“I love this organization. It’s a great place to be,“ Brady said according to the team’s website. “Thank you everyone for welcoming me. And all you regulars, just very thankful for the respect and I hope I gave the same thing back to you guys. So, thank you very much, appreciate it.”
Keep a close eye on the Dolphins with fellow Michigan alum Stephen Ross as owner and it would keep him close to his two children with former wife Gisele Bundchen and on the East Coast to be near his son with actress Bridget Moynihan. A reunion in Vegas with friend Josh McDaniels could be attractive as well. Either spot would give him plenty of weapons with the likes of Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Davante Adams among others.
While both Brady and the Patriots ponder their futures, we look ahead to this weekend’s Divisional Round, let us remind you that home teams have gone 29-11 the past 10 years, with an average of one upset per season. Last season, home teams went 1-3 with the Bengals, 49ers, and Rams taking home road wins.
#4 Jaguars at #1 Chiefs (Saturday 4:30 pm NBC)
Halfway through last Saturday night’s Wild Card game, there’s no way you would’ve believed that the Jaguars (10-8), and not the Chargers, would be in this game. After five first half turnovers, the Jags had to claw their way back from a 27-0 deficit to rally for the 31-30 victory. Ironically enough, these two teams met back in week 10 in Kansas City and a similar game played out. The Chiefs (14-3) raced out to a 20-0 first half advantage. But, unlike the Chargers, Kansas City held on for a 27-17 victory despite losing the turnover battle 3-0. Since then, both teams have won seven of eight games. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw four touchdowns in that first meeting, along with 331 yards. Mahomes led the league with 5250 yards and 41 TD passes during the regular season. Andy Reid has a 28-5 record coming off the bye, including 9-1 with KC. The Jags are third worst in defending tight ends (1,087 yards), which could be a problem in facing All-Pro Travis Kelce.
#6 Giants at #1 Eagles (Saturday 8:15 pm FOX)
Philadelphia (14-3) swept the season series during the regular season 48-22 and 22-16. Although that second game was 19-3 in the fourth quarter before the Giants (10-7-1) closed the gap late. QB Jalen Hurts should be fully healthy after missing two weeks due to a left shoulder injury. He returned in that week 18 win over the Giants but did not throw or run for a touchdown, the only game he didn’t score in all season. Daniel Jones led the Giants in last Sunday’s upset at Minnesota, tossing a pair of touchdown passes and 301 yards to go along with running for another 78 yards. Saquon Barkley added 109 yards from scrimmage and two rushing scores. They’ll have to stop an Eagles pass rush that led the league with 70 sacks. If you’re going with it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season approach, there’s this. Since 1970, 24 teams have tried to pull off the feat and 15 have succeeded. So, yes, there is a chance New York.
#3 Bengals at #2 Bills (Sunday 3 pm CBS)
The last time these two teams met was that fateful Monday night in Cincinnati in week 17 in which Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed during the first quarter, suffering from cardiac arrest. Hamlin is now thankfully recovering home back in Buffalo, but that game was never completed after the Bengals (13-4) took a 7-3 1st quarter lead. Had the Bengals, who have won eight straight games, gone on to win that contest, this game would’ve been played in Cincinnati. In that week 17 game, Joe Burrow went 4-4, 52 yards and a touchdown. Josh Allen has regressed with turnovers of late. He’s amassed 16 interceptions and 6 fumbles, the most turnovers of any quarterback. It hasn’t exactly hurt the Bills as they’ve won seven straight games. Right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) and left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) will miss their second straight game due to injuries for the Bengals, who are already without right tackle La’el Collins (knee). If Buffalo (14-3) can get to Burrow more than five times, they’ll win. The Bengals are 13-1 this season when Burrow is sacked less than 5 times, but 0-3 when that number gets to five. Burrow is 6-0 in January including last season’s march to the Super Bowl.
#5 Cowboys at #2 49ers (Sunday 6:30pm FOX)
These two teams met in the Wild Card round last season with the Niners (14-4) surviving a final-second rally by the Cowboys (13-5). These are the two highest scoring teams in the league since week 7 with both scoring an average of 30+ points per game. San Francisco comes in winners of 11 straight. If the Niners win a 12th in a row, it’ll make rookie quarterback Brock Purdy just the fifth QB to make a conference title game (Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez). Dak Prescott tossed four TD passes and ran for another in dispatching Tom Brady and the Bucs in Tampa Monday night 31-14. He may have to do that again against the top-ranked defense who gave up just 16 points during the regular season.
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