32 things we learned in wild-round round

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 back in action along with the four teams who had a 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 Super Bowl teams 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) but never reached the Super Bowl.

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 Vikes in Week 17 rather than invite a matchup with the Iggles and your old buddy Doug Pederson.

6. Did anyone else want to see Eagles-Bears go into overtime (maybe double OT) just to see how NBC would have handled 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 still their coach, and Foles had yet to play for the Rams or Chiefs.

9a. The last time Philadelphia played the Saints in the playoffs, 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 had 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 quarterback.

12. Jackson, who turns 22 on Monday, became the youngest QB 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 Sunday 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 three times, 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, in the 2007 AFC Championship Game, he was playing 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.

18. And big props to Dallas’ run defense, which held Seattle’s top-ranked rushing attack to 73 yards, the Seahawks’ lowest output since Week 1. Can it do the same to Rams all-pro Todd Gurley and/or funky fresh backup C.J. Anderson?

19. John Harbaugh’s seventh postseason trip with Baltimore was also his first one-and-done finish. But his rebooted team overachieved by most accounts.

20. Pete Carroll’s seventh postseason trip with Seattle was also his first one-and-done finish. But his rebooted team overachieved by most accounts — obviously by mine — and, as all-pro LB Bobby Wagner, told me before the game, “There’s still room for us to get better, but you’ve gotta like where we’re going for sure.” For sure.

21. However, I would suggest that the Seahawks’ resident Australian, Michael Dickson — the punter had a fantastic rookie season, garnering Pro Bowl and all-pro honors — spend a little more time buffing up his American place-kicking skills next year should his team again find itself in a bind, especially if 40-year-old Sebastian Janikowski remains on the roster.

22. The Ravens entered the weekend with the highest winning percentage (.652) in NFL playoff history. But their loss dropped them to .625 — and second place — behind the Patriots (.630).

23. The Cowboys’ win Saturday gave them 35 in postseason, second most all time. They can tie the Steelers’ mark of 36 by winning in the divisional round.

23a. Since winning Super Bowl XXX to cap the 1995 season, Dallas is 0-5 in the divisional round. 

23b. The Cowboys and Rams have split four playoff meetings.

23c. Dallas’ last playoff visit to the L.A. Coliseum occurred Jan 7, 1979, and Roger Staubach’s Cowboys beat Pat Haden’s Rams 28-0.

24. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett replaced his predecessor, Wade Phillips, midway through the 2010 season. Phillips will be on the other sideline Saturday night, running the Rams defense while continuing his quest for a second ring (2015 Broncos) since Dallas fired him.

25. The Colts are 4-0 all-time in the playoffs against their next opponent, the AFC’s top-seeded Chiefs. 

25a. Most recently in postseason against Kansas City, in the 2013 wild-card round, Luck (443 yards, 4 TDs) led Indy back from a 38-10 second-half deficit to beat the Chiefs 45-44 in the second-greatest comeback in postseason history. (Why does it feel like no one gives this remarkable game its due?)

25b. The largest playoff comeback (32 points) was engineered by former Bills quarterback, and current Colts coach, Frank Reich against the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs.

25c. The Colts’ playoff success against the Chiefs began in the 1995 divisional round, when Jim Harbaugh and Co. started Kansas City’s still ongoing six-game postseason losing streak at Arrowhead Stadium.

26. Colts GM Chris Ballard was previously the Chiefs’ director of football operations. So that’s one impressive team in Ballard’s rear view, and another that’s arrived sooner than expected.

27. Keep an eye on second-year Indianapolis RB Marlon Mack, whose 148 rushing yards Saturday established a new team playoff record. Kansas City allowed 132 yards per game on the ground in the regular season, worst among his season’s playoff clubs.

28. The NFL’s regular-season leader in tackles, Colts LB Darius Leonard (163), is now it’s current playoff leader (13), too. He got my vote for defensive rookie of the year.

29. What’s next for Houston? The Texans became only the second team to win a division title after an 0-3 start, largely thanks to a midseason nine-game winning streak. But they never registered a truly impressive victory and looked totally outclassed Saturday by the AFC South rival Colts. With Jadeveon Clowney headed toward free agency, does Houston try to re-sign him and continue on with what would be a top-heavy salary cap, or try and spread the wealth into the run game, offensive line and retaining less expensive players like Tyrann Mathieu?

30. Speaking of new contracts, getting awfully hard to argue Prescott doesn’t deserve a big-money deal this spring, the first time the 2016 fourth rounder is eligible to cash in. His base salary has never been more than $630,000, but it sounds like Jerry Jones is ready to take care of him — though that could mean tough decisions with other players (Demarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper) also needing deals soon.

30a. Pretty hard to forge a Cowboys quarterback legacy when you’re trying to break into the Staubach, Don Meredith, Troy Aikman, Tony Romo pantheon. But Saturday, Prescott became the first in the team’s illustrious history to pass for and run for a touchdown in a playoff game.

31. Finally, a good idea the NFL borrowed from the NHL. 

32. Dearest mother — @CaptAndrewLuck and his Colts performed valiantly once more. But legendary Chief Mahomes, with his renowned long-range artillery, awaits on the Western Plains — where He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. Our truth is marching on.


Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis


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