The National Football League (NFL) coaching carousel continues to spin with the occasional stop before not one, but two conference title games.
Prior to the start of Sunday’s conference championships, numerous outlets confirmed that Josh McDaniels has been named the new head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Dave Ziegler, a former New England Patriots colleague, will join him as the team’s next general manager.
McDaniels has spent most of his coaching career in New England in multiple roles, including defensive assistant, quarterbacks coach, and most recently as the team’s offensive coordinator. He arrived in New England in 2001 as a personal assistant after his initial coaching stint as a graduate assistant with Michigan State in 1999.
This is not McDaniels’ first head coaching role as he led the Denver Broncos to an 8-8 finish in 2009 before getting fired one year later after guiding the Broncos to a 3-9 start.
McDaniels remerge in 2011 as the St. Louis Rams’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before returning to New England in 2012 as both the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. His coaching certainly had an impact on Tom Brady, who guided the Patriots to six Super Bowls, and Mac Jones, the organization’s initial draft choice last April.
The 2021 season was a tumultuous one for the Raiders, headlined by the firing of their former head coach Jon Gruden to the release of two players, including Henry Ruggs III. But somehow, someway, the Silver and Black were able to secure a spot in the postseason where they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in the opening round.
McDaniels becomes the second NCAA Division III football alum to be named a head coach this offseason — Brian Dabol, who played defensive back for the University of Rochester, accepted the head coaching role on Friday with the New York Giants.
Happy Friday, everyone – yes, our blog has been a bit quieter than anticipated, but I can assure you more posts are on the way, including today’s National Football League’s (NFL) Divisional Round predictions.
Last week, I did alright with picks – yes, I know I missed on a few, including my beloved Dallas Cowboys losing to the San Francisco 49ers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers falling to the Kansas City Chiefs.
This week, I am determined to go four-for-four on picks, so let’s unveil some thoughts on all four matchups.
Enjoy the games and be on the lookout for more posts – I promise, you will see more stories on the blog soon!
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (Saturday, January 22 at 4:30 p.m.): I picked an upset last week – yes, I thought Ben Roethlisberger would be playing this weekend instead of sitting at home. But I will try again with an upset pick – hey, you need to try in life! – and say the Bengals will beat the Titans on their home turf. PREDICTION: Cincinnati 27, Tennessee 23
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers (Saturday, January 22 at 8:15 p.m.): This is what I call a classic matchup. Last week, the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys, which was also a “classic matchup.” San Francisco beat Green Bay when they last visited Lambeau Field during the 2013 playoffs, but I think this meeting will see the Packers prevail with a late touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers. Who will catch the go-ahead/game-winning touchdown? I am not sure, but I just think it would be hard to pick against Rodgers, who wanted to be drafted by the 49ers in 2005. PREDICTION: Green Bay 30, San Francisco 26
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, January 23 at 3:05 p.m.): The Rams looked impressive on Monday – I mean, they looked good! But will their momentum travel with them to Florida? That is the question – well, my question, to be exact – but somehow, someway, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will make one, two, or three more plays to edge the Rams in what might be the best game of the weekend. Get ready for another Brady-Rodgers matchup in the NFC Championship. PREDICTION: Tampa Bay 32, Los Angeles 27
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, January 23 at 6:30 p.m.): This has the making for a quarterback extravaganza. Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes looked amazing last weekend – they both threw for 300 yards (or more) in their respective Wild Card victories. But in the end, Mahomes will throw either one more touchdown or make an additional – perhaps, a crazy play? – to send secure the Chiefs a spot in the AFC Championship. PREDICTION: Kansas City 40, Buffalo Bills 36
Ah, the National Football League’s (NFL) second season has arrived – are you ready for playoff football?
I am and hope you are, as well!
With the Wild Card round set to begin tomorrow — that would be Saturday, January 15, 2022, with a pair of games, — it is time to share some thoughts on all six matchups, as well as make some picks.
As usual, let us know what you think (of what I predicted below) with a comment or connect with us on social media.
Enjoy the games and make sure to circle back for more football (and maybe, some non-football content?) throughout the weekend.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (Saturday, Jan. 15 at 4:30 p.m.): Earlier this year, I thought the Silver and Black were going to be one of the toughest teams to beat, especially in the postseason. And despite winning four straight contests, including an-end-of season win against the Los Angeles Chargers, I don’t think their momentum will travel with them to Ohio where quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals will be able to score the franchise’s first postseason win since January 6, 1991, against the Houston Oilers. PREDICTION: Cincinnati 30, Las Vegas 20
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (Saturday, January 15 at 8:15 p.m.): Quarterback Mac Jones exceeded expectations — he played much better than I thought he would as a first-time professional starter. Yet, the former University of Alabama signal-caller has hit the “rookie wall,” which makes me think that these Patriots will have a tough time keeping up with Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills. PREDICTION: Buffalo 25, New England 13
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, January 16 at 1 p.m.): Somewhere, Doug Pederson is smiling as his former team somehow secured a playoff spot with an unknown first-year coach named Nick Sirianni. As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I have been impressed with what Sirianni and his staff have been able to accomplish this season — hey, they’re a pretty good running team! But unfortunately, I don’t think this particular Eagles squad will be able to keep pace with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on Sunday. Had this matchup pitted the 2017 Eagles against the 2021 Buccaneers, then I would have picked Philadelphia. PREDICTION: Tampa Bay 28, Philadelphia 17
San Francisco at Dallas Cowboys (Sunday, January 16 at 4:30 p.m.): The last time these two teams met, the 49ers beat the Cowboys in the 1994 NFC Championship Game en route to winning Super Bowl XXIX. Could a win on Sunday provide the winning team with the necessary momentum to capture the title next month? It’s possible, but in the end, the team that makes fewer mistakes will win this particular matchup. And as a Cowboys fan, I believe this particular Dallas squad will be ready to make one — maybe two or three more plays than San Francisco to win Sunday’s meeting. PREDICTION: Dallas 28, San Francisco 27
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, January 16 at 8:15 p.m.): Earlier this week, I picked the Chiefs because they will be at home. But these are not the same Chiefs from 2018, 2019, and 2020. I think they’re vulnerable. Additionally, I think the Steelers defense will pose problems for Patrick Mahomes. So, I am taking the road team in an exciting upset win — why not? PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 18
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (Monday, January 17 at 8:15 p.m.): When the Cardinals defeated the Cowboys two weeks ago, it seemed as if their late-season slide was over. But last week, they fell to the Seattle Seahawks in their regular-season finale to secure a matchup with the Los Angeles Rams next Monday. Quarterback Kyler Murray has been inconsistent over the last few weeks. He looked like he was going to have an amazing season in September, but between his up-and-down play, along with some not-so-great plays by the offense and defense over the last few weeks, it would be hard to pick them to beat the Rams. PREDICTION: Los Angeles 30, Arizona 24
When I was growing up, I always wanted to play quarterback (sadly, I never did).
I loved watching Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, and Steve Young – all three played the position extremely well. But as much as I loved watching all three compete on Sunday, I fell in love more with the position from watching Tom Brady quarterback the New England Patriots.
Brady, as we all know, has become the greatest to play the position. Sure, some might argue that Joe Montana or someone else is better, but I believe Brady is the best because he continues to raise the bar and elevate the position on a yearly basis.
The former New England Patriots quarterback inspired all of us in this region, including the backyard signal-callers to those spotted under center on Friday evenings at various high school stadiums, to mimic his play, which is certainly not easy. And while Brady continues to impress, especially these days as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he is what I, along with others in the football community consider one of the last remaining drop-back/pocket passers.
Sure, it might be hard to call Brady a drop-back passer knowing his footwork and agility have improved over the last few years. But saying he is the same type of signal-caller as Lamar Jackson, a cerebral quarterback that relies more on his legs than his arm, would be a hard comparison.
Aaron Rodgers, along with Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes, were just three names a few coaches mentioned when speaking with them about producing a piece on the “modern-day quarterback” — well, more what has changed about the position. We all know how amazing these three quarterbacks are, but one might not realize that their Sunday or Monday performances are just a sliver of what makes them great signal-callers.
As I learned from recent conversations, playing quarterback at any level does not mean you have to possess the strongest and accurate arm. Nope, there is much more to the position than just throwing the ball 30, 40, or 50 yards.
For starters, coaches believe their quarterback must possess a slew of skillset, including the following: leadership, accountability, knowing how to read multiple defensive schemes, making the necessary changes at the line of scrimmage, and watching a lot of film.
Of course, there are other intangibles and thoughts that were generated by coaches in both the college and high school world, but one thing many harped on is that their team must find the right individual to operate a popular offensive scheme: the spread offense.
It’s an offensive scheme that finds the quarterback in the shotgun formation with three, four, or five skill position players – think halfbacks, fullbacks, wide receivers, and tight end – spread out along the line of scrimmage. When defenses see this formation deployed, they must be ready to defend different zones/areas of the field, as well as be alert for a possible running play.
(Hopefully what I described above makes sense, but if not, I have included an introduction video to the spread offense below!)
To say the spread offense is a major reason the quarterback position has changed would be an understatement – the same could be said about how the game’s speed has changed, too.
Like anything in life, change can be perceived as both good and bad, but when it comes to the quarterback position, I believe this new wave makes the game fun and enjoyable. It is certainly a different position than the one I watched growing up in the 1990s, but now, I am ready to mimic Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen in the backyard.
In some way, this season mirrored the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) from the last two seasons (2019 and 2021) where every matchup and week was needed to determine not just divisional winners, but overall seeding for the 14-team playoff.
Saturday cannot come soon enough – I am eager for yesterday’s excitement to continue. Does anyone know how to hit fast forward in the next few days?
Either way, I am excited – and I hope you are, as well – for some playoff football!
Over the next few days and weeks, Noontime Sports will be keeping its focus on football – consider this some “overtime” coverage from last summer and fall. We will have some op-eds and commentary pieces to previews, along with a piece about quarterback progression (I guess I can thank those armchair quarterbacks calling Boston radio stations!) over the next few days.
Let’s jumpstart the week with some early thoughts on all six Wild Card matchups — have a great day, everyone!
AFC Wild Card Matchups
Los Angeles Raiders (10-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (10-7): The Raiders concluded their 2021 campaign by winning four-straight contests, including back-to-back games against the Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers. The Silver and Black have been quite the story this season – sure, there was some negative press over the first few weeks, but somehow, they managed to go on a late run to secure an opening round meeting with the Bengals. Don’t overlook the Raiders in this matchup.
New England Patriots (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6): The Patriots ended their season with a disappointing setback to the Miami Dolphins – they also lost two other games before their divisional meeting with the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts. But something tells me this was the matchup coach Bill Belichick and his team wanted. They beat Buffalo last month by running the ball and attempting three passes. But a few weeks later, New England struggled to contain quarterback Josh Allen. The rubber match between the Bills and Patriots should be fun!
Pittsburgh Steelers (9-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5): The Chiefs may not be the explosive offense they once were – in fact, it seems as if their defense has played better, especially down the stretch. But here’s my question: will this unit be able to stop a Steelers squad that has averaged 17.75 points in their last four outings? My initial answer: yes, but I also wonder if the Pittsburgh defense is good enough to stop Patrick Mahomes?
NFC Wild Card Matchups
Philadelphia Eagles (9-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13-4): With a big win on Sunday over the Carolina Panthers, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were able to move up to the second seed, thanks to some help from the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. Tampa Bay is not the same team as last year – they have some issues on both sides of the ball, which makes them vulnerable. Yet, the Buccaneers should be able to win this game, however, they must find a way to stop an impressive Eagles rushing attack led by quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts concluded the regular season with 784 rushing yards on 139 carries and 10 touchdowns while completing 265 of 432 passes for 3,144 yards and 16 touchdowns.
San Francisco 49ers (10-7) at Dallas Cowboys (12-5): This is a classic matchup – go ahead and break out those Steve Young and Troy Aikman jerseys. Neither signal-caller will be spotted under center next Sunday, but the 49ers’ offense will provide some challenges for a Cowboys defense that struggled initially at slowing down Philadelphia’s Gardner Minshew and Kenneth Gainwell this past weekend. But while the 49ers’ come-from-behind win yesterday against the Los Angeles Rams was impressive, the question I have heading into this contest is can this defense — San Franciscos’s, to be exact — slow down Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense? This game presents some interesting storylines, as well as features two coaches that used to work together: Kyle Shanahan (San Francisco) and Dan Quinn (Dallas).
Arizona Cardinals (11-6) at Los Angeles Rams (12-5): Arizona and Los Angeles both scored one win against each other, so like Buffalo-New England, this is a rubber match. To be honest, I did not anticipate this would be a first-round match-up – in fact, I thought Arizona or Los Angeles would be heading to Dallas this weekend. But instead, the Cardinals and Rams will square off once more this season – I am not confident in the Rams’ defense, which struggled to contain the San Francisco offense yesterday, especially in the final minutes. Additionally, will we see a great or subparKyler Murray against the Rams? Similar to Dallas-San Francisco, this game also presents some unique storylines.