It’s time to get divisional as we head into the next round of the NFL playoffs. This time of year is always exciting as we watch the best of the best face-off in epic fashion as they take one step closer to the ultimate goal.
Even though we only have eight teams competing this weekend, that doesn’t mean the rest of the league has gone into hibernation. This year has seen a host of head coaches and general managers lose their positions and there are vacancies that need to be filled before we head into the 2021 season.
Friday's Head Coaching Changes
Urban Meyer New Head Coach of the Jaguars
The big news of the day is the Jacksonville Jaguars’ new hire. Former two-time collegiate coach Urban Meyer is officially the head coach for the Jaguars. The move is exciting, especially if the Jaguars do indeed use their first overall draft pick on Clemson’s QB Trevor Lawrence.
Meyer is a three-time national champion coach for the University of Florida and then later, Ohio State. He is thrice removed from retirement, after leaving Florida only to be reeled back in as the head coach of Ohio State. For his third hoorah, Meyer will be leaving the broadcast booth and headed back to the sunshine state.
It makes sense pairing a champion college coach with the soon-to-be rookie phenom Lawrence, but the marriage will not be without its issues. The Jaguars have some serious work ahead to turn their franchise into a winning one, although drafting Lawrence will be a solid start. The longevity of the new head coach could be an issue while rebuilding the Jaguars. Meyer “retired” from the rigors of coaching due to health concerns, not once but twice.
Even so, Meyer is a spry 56-years young and could be just the boost that Jacksonville needs to spring into a new identity with a young quarterback.
Robert Saleh Head Coach of the Jets
Jets fans, rejoice! The former defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers, Saleh has been one of the most eligible bachelors on the head coaching market. Fellow coaches and players alike have shown their love and respect for Saleh in his many hats around the league.
Saleh's forte in San Francisco was drastically improving their defense, but he also brought more to the table than just the proverbial "Xs and Os". Saleh will become the 20th head coach for the Jets after Adam Gase was released earlier (possibly, not early enough) this season. He will bring fire, charisma, and enthusiasm as well as his knowledge of the game to New York. This may be the necessary salve that Jets fans need after losing their first-round draft pick to the Jaguars.
For more information on head coaching candidates around the NFL, check out Ryan McDowell’s NFL Coaching Carousel.
Saturday Divisional Matchups
Rams-Packers Saturday 1/16 @ 4:35 PM EST
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers played their playoff hand beautifully, making sure that all roads in the NFC went through the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Green Bay will top out on Saturday at a balmy 35 degrees with 13 mph winds and a 40% chance of precipitation. Los Angeles, meanwhile, has been and will continue to be 86 degrees and sunny.
The weather alone gives the Packers an advantage in this matchup.
Unfortunately, this will likely be where the Rams’ 2020 journey ends unless some ridiculous miracle befalls the team. Their defense has been one of the best in the league all season, and Aaron Donald insists he’s ready to go, despite a rib injury. I am not sure it would help if you had a team full of Donalds, Rodgers has been hot enough to melt Lambeau’s permafrost in his MVP campaign.
The Rams do have the opportunity to score on the ground with rookie RB Cam Akers catching fire at just the right time, but the quarterback position continues to be an issue. Even healthy, Jared Goff has had trouble all season. Nothing short of an elite, well-balanced team will be enough to overcome the Packers in the groove of the post-season.
I am very interested to see how WR Davante Adams pairs up with Jalen Ramsey who will likely be the wideout’s shadow. It would surprise me if Ramsey was able to shut him down completely, but Rodgers may rely on his other receivers such as Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
On the other side of the ball, Goff will need to lean heavily on the run. WRs Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp will also need to come up with big catches to keep the game alive and keep Goff confident in the pocket. Last week, Goff came in as the backup after John Wolford went down early with a stinger. He completed only nine of his 19 attempts for 155 yards and a touchdown but he did a much better job of controlling his turnovers. He’ll need to rely on his efficiency and he'll need a whole lot of luck to compete with the Packers to kick off the divisional game weekend.
Advantage: Green Bay Packers
Ravens-Bills Saturday 1/16 @ 8:15 PM EST
I am incredibly excited to watch this game on Saturday night. Both of these offenses are powerhouses, steamrolling their way through the postseason. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has returned to MVP form and Josh Allen leads the NFL in fantasy scoring.
Even though these teams are certifiable bruisers, they do have weaknesses that can be exploited. The Ravens have a three-headed monster in the backfield with, let’s be honest, Jackson, rookie J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards. Yes, of course, Mark Ingram is still in the fold, but mostly in name on the depth chart. Jackson rushed 16 times for 138 yards which were more than Dobbins, Edwards, and opponent Derrick Henry combined last week.
Where the Ravens are heavy in run-talent, their wide receivers aren’t as prolific. Marquise Brown has finally solidified his role in the offense in the post-season, much to the chagrin of fantasy managers who wanted this to happen between Weeks 1 and 16. For Baltimore, it’s better late than never. He led the team in targets, receptions, and yards last week with TE Mark Andrews coming in second.
The Bills have the opposite issue. WR Stefon Diggs has been explosive this season with 127 receptions, over 1,550 yards, and eight touchdowns on the year. Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis have also been pivotal in the passing game and John Brown is finally healthy as another deep-field threat for QB Josh Allen to target. Even TE Dawson Knox has found the end zone four times since their Week 11 bye.
Despite the weapons in the passing game, the Bills have had less production from the run game between rookie Zack Moss and Devin Singletary. Moss will miss the remainder of the post-season with an ankle injury, leaving the bulk of the work to Singletary who has only scored two touchdowns on 156 carries and 687 yards in his entire sophomore season.
The edge the Ravens have in this game will rest squarely on the shoulders of their defense. One mistake and Allen could gift-wrap the game courtesy of Baltimore’s DST.
This game is going to be close and incredibly fun to watch. For either team, this will be a statement victory on the path to the Super Bowl.
Advantage: Baltimore Ravens.
Browns-Chiefs Sunday 1/17 @ 3:05 PM EST
Two weeks ago, I would have said this game wasn’t going to happen. The Browns came out swinging against their division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and stunned them out of the playoffs. Not only was it a win, but it was a commanding one, as they were leading 28-0 in the first quarter.
I am sure you have heard (maybe heard enough) of the Browns victory, but I bring up their 48 points on offense for a reason. That reason is the Kansas City Chiefs.
It seems like forever since we last saw the Chiefs play and watched Patrick Mahomes create passing magic to WR Tyreek Hill or TE Travis Kelce. If Baker Mayfield and the Browns have any hope against the reigning Super Bowl Champs, they will need to repeat last week’s performance tenfold.
There is also more to this matchup than meets the eye. There is a bit of history between these two teams despite not playing yet this season. Browns RB Kareem Hunt is a former Chief who was released after a video surfaced of Hunt hitting a kicking a woman. For Hunt, this matchup is undoubtedly personal. Even Mahomes and Mayfield have had a chance to go toe-to-toe back in college when they played for Texas Tech and Oklahoma respectively. In one of their matchups, Mayfield threw for nearly 550 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns while Mahomes passed for 734 yards and five touchdowns.
If that kind of insanity can be harnessed in this game, we are bound to see football fireworks.
Alas, the Browns aren’t known for their strength in passing, but rather their run-first offense under HC Kevin Stefanski with Hunt and Nick Chubb. The Chiefs have allowed over 1,600 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns to RBs as well as 121 receptions, 846 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns to the position. Needless to say, it’s a weak point in their armor that the Browns can exploit with two of the best running backs in the league.
I won’t mince words or try to be cute. I think the Chiefs will win this game, but it will be far more entertaining than we may have thought a few weeks ago. If the Browns can bring their A+ game and some serious juice on defense, they have a chance to give Kansas City a run for their money.
Advantage: Kansas City Chiefs
Buccaneers-Saints Sunday 1/17 @ 6:40 PM EST
Sunday night will feature the battle royale of the NFC South and it was the matchup that many wanted to see out of this division. Elder statesmen Drew Brees and Tom Brady will face off for the third time this season, the Saints having won both prior contests.
There is no doubt that both teams take the term “high-flying offense” to new heights and the game will be an entertaining one. There are also some interesting storylines in the matchup that I am looking forward to.
Losing three times in one season is a foreign concept to Brady, no matter what team he plays for, so that vendetta will be prominent on Sunday night. More than that, the Buccaneers have surged into the playoffs and Super Bowl contention in recent weeks with the offense and the offensive line clicking on all cylinders. The Bucs are looking to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2002-2003 season where they emerged victoriously. If they can make it this year, it will be the first time in NFL history where a team will play in the Super Bowl at home. Brady is proving that Father Time is more of an adolescent when it comes to his aging process as well as proving that his production is actually because he is a good quarterback, not a product of Bill Belichick’s system.
The Saints have a plethora of motivation at their backs as well. Having been robbed from advancing in the playoffs for two years in a row, a chance to make it all the way is looming just ahead for the taking. WR Michael Thomas, who has been absent for practically the whole season, is in full form and RB Alvin Kamara is a beast in the run and passing game. Their defense is stout with a penchant for causing turnovers to compliment a more than capable offense. Also, this could very well be Brees’ last year at the helm. Finally getting that long-awaited second Lombardi trophy would be truly an epic way to finish his already record-breaking career.