Chiefs, Rams upset as offenses falter

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The NFL Playoffs Preliminaries, known more commonly as Wild Card weekend, is complete with two games going to form and the other two producing upsets.

The field of 12 has been trimmed to 8 as Buffalo, Carolina, Kansas City and the LA Rams have been eliminated.

Kansas City was seeded fourth in the AFC and the Rams third in the NFC. Each was a solid favorite to win their games against Tennessee and Atlanta.

The Chiefs jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead but never scored again as the fifth seeded Titans rallied for a 22-21 to advance to this week’s Divisional round game in Pittsburgh.

The Rams never led and trailed 13-0 in the second quarter of their game against the sixth seeded Falcons although they did manage to close within 13-10 at the half. Atlanta padded its lead to 9 points with a pair of third period field goals and eventually won, 26-13.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn and ex-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan were rightly criticized for the game mismanagement in the latter stages of last season’s Super Bowl. This time there was no epic collapse and they were fortunate to survive and advance.

But it does bring into question if in this multi-billion dollar a year business an NFL team should have an assistant coach in charge of clock management and game situation advice.

We see these types of gaffes repeatedly and with coaches so intensely involved in game strategy involving the Xs and Os they may often not able to look ahead two or three plays or be able to focus on or anticipate proper clock management strategies.

Major league baseball teams have long had bench coaches to assist managers in certain aspects of game management. Why shouldn’t NFL teams take a similar approach to clock management and game situations?

All four road underdogs covered the pointspread for their backers and three of the four stayed UNDER the Total. After the Jaguars defeated the Bills, 10-3, in a defensive struggle Sunday’s nightcap turned out to be the most entertaining game of the week as New Orleans held off a late Carolina rally to defeat the Panthers, 31-26, to provide the only OVER result of the weekend.

The Wild Card round has been quite unusual the past three seasons. In 2015 all four road teams won their games, although three of those teams were favorites as one of the home underdogs covered the spread in their home loss.

Last season all four home teams were favored and they each won and covered as all four games were decided by 13 points or more.

Now we are on to the week that many people both inside and outside the league consider the best week of the entire season. Let’s hope this weekend lives up to its billing. Over the past two seasons six of the eight Divisional round games have been decided by 7 points or less.

Between 2010 and 2012, of the 12 Divisional round games played, 11 went OVER the Total with just one staying UNDER. Since 2013 the Totals results have been evenly divided with eight going OVER and eight staying UNDER.

Here are previews of this season’s Divisional round games.

Saturday

Atlanta -2.5 at Philadelphia (O/U 41.5): These teams did not meet this season. Atlanta was 6-3 SU on the road, including wins at Seattle and last week’s win at the Rams. The Falcons were just 3-6 ATS on the road. As Road Favorites they were 5-1 SU, 2-4 ATS. Given the injury to Carson Wentz, making Atlanta favorites here is understandable. This is only the second time since the Playoffs field expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 1990 that a one-seed was a home underdog in the Divisional round. In 1997 fourth seeded Denver was a one-point road favorite at top seeded Kansas City and defeated the Chiefs, 14-10 (yet another home Playoff loss for KC). Here Atlanta is a sixth seed.

Atlanta’s defense is also very good, which should keep this game close throughout. The Eagles should have greatly benefitted from the bye week and even though the Falcons have confidence from their road win at the Rams they are not as good a team this season as they were last season. And playing with an underdog mentality is not a bad thing for the top seed. PHILADELPHIA/UNDER

Tennessee +13.5 at New England (47): These teams did not meet in the regular season. The Titans ran for 202 yards on 31 carries against the Chiefs while holding KC to 69 yards on 16 attempts.

The Pats were No. 30 in defensive yards per play (5.7), No. 28 in total defense (366 ypg) and second from last in yards per rush allowed (4.7), more than a yard per rush more than allowed by Tennessee (3.6). The Titans should be able to slow the game down in an attempt to avoid falling too far behind and look to get pressure on Pats QB Tom Brady while taking away their running game.

 The Patriots will win. But Tennessee has played much better than their raw stats suggest, based largely on those two blowout losses to the Texans and Steelers. The Titans are built for the Playoffs, at least to be competitive. Of course a blowout by the Pats would not be considered a surprise and thus the protection against Tennessee being competitive and successful in slowing down the pace would be to expect a high scoring game. TENNESSEE/OVER

Sunday

Jacksonville +7 at Pittsburgh (41): Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger had perhaps the worst game of his career when the Steelers hosted the Jags in Week 5, losing 30-9 and tossing five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

But it is important to recall the Jags led 7-6 at the half and the Steelers took a 9-7 lead midway through the third quarter before it collapsed for the Steelers. Pittsburgh actually outgained the Jaguars in total yards, 371-313, but on a yards per play basis the Jaguars had a major edge of more than a yard per play, 5.9-4.8.

Despite the presence of RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh topped 140 rushing yards in just three games and was held to under 100 yards in eight games. Their passing game flourished with WR Antonio Brown, one of the top two or three players at his position.

Both teams fell short of expectations down the stretch. Jacksonville is on a current 0-3 ATS run while the Steelers are just 1-5 ATS over their last six games, including 1-4 ATS in their five wins in this stretch.

The Steelers have five double digit wins this season including a pair at home over Playoff teams Minnesota (by 17) and Tennessee (by 23). A year from now this might be a play on the up and coming, defensively tenacious Jags.

But for this season the preference is to back the team in the Playoffs for the fourth straight season and for the seventh time since the Jaguars last made the Playoffs back in 2007. PITTSBURGH/UNDER

New Orleans +3.5 at Minnesota (44.5): These teams played as part of the opening Monday night doubleheader with Minnesota, winning 29-19 as 3-point home favorites. The Vikings had Sam Bradford at QB and rookie RB Dalvin Cook before both were injured within the next few weeks.

New Orleans also was relying on Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson at running back, and we know what happened when Peterson was released and his replacement, likely rookie of the year Alvin Kamara, was inserted as a starter.

The Vikes have won 11 of its last 12 games but only two of those wins were over Playoff teams (Atlanta and the Rams) and the lone loss was at Carolina, a team the Saints defeated three times this season.

Still, the better defense complemented by a solid running game and capable QB play and playing at home makes the more compelling case for backing the underdog. And there are some concerns about New Orleans’ defensive breakdowns last week while protecting what appeared to be a comfortable lead prior to making those big plays against Cam Newton on the Panthers’ final potential game winning drive. MINNESOTA/OVER

Last week: 6-2

Season: 135-122-6

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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