5 Lessons Learned – NFL Divisional Playoffs

We’re down to the final four in the 2020 NFL Season as the Divisional Playoffs wrapped up.

Admittedly the games this weekend were not the best viewing in terms of contests or quality however there was plenty of drama as the health of a few superstars took centre stage.

The Los Angeles Rams just could not contain the Green Bay Packers with an ailing Aaron Donald before concussions claimed Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes.

Jackson’s injury allowed the fairytale of the Buffalo Bills to continue for at least another week however the Cleveland Browns could not extend theirs and capitalise on the absence of Mahomes.

The best game of the weekend was saved until last however as the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers went down to the wire with a spot in the NFC Championship on the line.

We’ve got our five big takeaways from the last two days of NFL action below.

1 – Always Have a Backup Plan

You never want to have to call on your backup quarterback in a playoff game but the value of having a guy the coach can trust cannot be overstated.

Sometimes fate and fortune conspires against you and the last two players to be named NFL MVP were knocked out in the third quarter of their respective games.

2019’s most dominant player Lamar Jackson was trying to abort a play following a bad snap and hit his head on the turf as he was being taken to the ground.

Baltimore was already struggling offensively with Jackson running the show, but Mission Improbable became Mission Impossible after undrafted rookie Tyler Huntley was thrust into action.

You can’t blame Huntley too much, considering he spent most of the season as the fourth choice quarterback and only played because Robert Griffin III and Trace McSorely were both on injured reserve.

Unsurprisingly, Huntley could not engineer a comeback against the Bills, proving that a backup QB is just like a lawyer, you never know the value of a good one until you need one.

It was a scary sight in Kansas City when 2018 NFL MVP and reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes was tackled awkwardly on a fourth down run.

Andy Reid has had to call on his backup before and had full confidence in the ability of Chad Henne to close out the Chiefs’ victory over the Browns.

With the game on the line, Reid showed just how much he believed in Henne calling the play that would send the Chiefs to the AFC Championship.

Actually watching that back, it’s kind of concerning Tony Romo had a decade long NFL career and never saw a sprint out pass like that, but that’s for another day.

Let’s focus on the phenomenal reactions after Henne came through for the Chiefs.

If Mahomes experiences any lingering concussion issues, there is a chance Henne’s first career playoff start could be in the AFC Championship.

2 – Green Bay Is Winning By Being Smarter Than Their Opponents

It might not have been the prettiest display but you have to be impressed with the way the Green Bay Packers handled the Los Angeles Rams.

Green Bay’s staff put together an excellent gameplan with MVP elect Aaron Rodgers attempting 36 passes and his stable of running backs combining for 32 attempts themselves, plus Rodgers’ touchdown scramble.

That sort of balance will continue to serve them well as it should allow the Packers to control the pace of the NFC Championship Game.

While their defence has had its share of struggles all season, they have come to play plenty of times this season and when all they have to do is audition for a “best supporting cast” it’s not asking too much of this unit.

3 – The Bills Defence Came To Play

Since the beginning of the 2018 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills had struggled to compete in low scoring contests.

Over the last three years, the Bills had compiled a record of (2-9, 4-7, 1-2)  7-18 in games where they had scored 20 or fewer points including a 1-2 record this season.

Those losses came to playoff teams Tennessee and Kansas City while the win came over the hapless New York Jets.

On the plus side it shows just how much their offence has improved in the 2020 season that they were only held to a low score three times compared to the 11 in each of the previous two years.

It also shows just how reliant they have been on their impressively lethal passing game lead by Josh Allen.

Sunday’s game against the Ravens was easily their best defensive performance of the season holding Baltimore in check and contributing with a huge, momentum shifting play with Baltimore threatening.

They have not had to win too many games for the Bills this season but it was very encouraging to see them step up when called upon.

Chances are they will need another superhuman effort assuming they will be facing Patrick Mahomes next week.

4 – Kansas City Can’t Try To Reign In Mahomes

Speaking of Mahomes, there were some questions raised about the wisdom of Andy Reid, calling a quarterback run with his half a billion dollar asset.

It also prompted some online experts to wonder if Reid would be inclined to try and curb of Mahomes’ instincts going forward.

In the last two seasons, Mahomes has dislocated his knee on a QB sneak play and now suffered a concussion on that speed option.

What makes it a double edged sword is that the types of plays that Mahomes has made in his career to justify the Chiefs handing him an insane amount of money, all come with a certain level of risk.

After all, he scored on a similar style of play earlier in the game.

And in the Super Bowl last season.

If you try and limit his movement in and outside the pocket, you take away what makes Mahomes such an insanely good quarterback.

So while some coaches might be inclined to ask him to run a bit less and operate with some self-preservation in mind, you have to still let Mahomes do what he does best, even if it might induce a few heart attacks.

5 – It’s Hard Not To Feel For Drew Brees

It sounds like this was the final time we will see Drew Brees in an NFL uniform and what a brutal way to go out.

This was probably the least dramatic conclusion to a Saints playoff exit but Brees was horrendous in this game, going 19/34 for just 134 yards.

He threw early interception…

Then another with the Saints trailing by just three points…

Followed by a third with the final pass of his illustrious career.

It shouldn’t take away from his accomplishments and he has made his fair share of enemies throughout his career, but even so, that was a horrendous way to go out.

Brees just experienced the worst ending to an all star quarterback career since Dan Marino was on the wrong end of a 62-7 pasting by the Miami Dolphins, who went just 11/25 for 95 yards in that game.

The smart move is probably not to ask Brees in the press conference after the game what sort of ending he prefers, a limp loss or a gut punch like a Minneapolis Miracle.

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