NFL

NFL divisional round playoff picks, plus Raiders fire Mike Mayock and recapping Rams’ blowout win vs. Cards

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Pick Six Newsletter!

First, I’d like to start things off here today by apologizing to the Dallas Cowboys. I came down hard on them yesterday when I should actually be thanking them, because if they didn’t call the dumbest play in the history of football on Sunday, then this might have gone down as the worst wild-card weekend of all-time. 

In the NFL, the first-round is known as Super Wild Card Weekend, but let’s be honest, there was nothing super about it. I thought for sure that Cardinals-Rams would give us a wild shootout and salvage the round, but then Arizona apparently forgot there was a game happening Monday night. 

In the end, we saw three of six games in the wild card round end with one team losing by at least 20 points, marking the first time SINCE 1982 that three teams have lost by 20 or more in the opening round of the playoffs. Of course, no one is going to remember any of these blowouts because the only part of the wild card round that anyone is going to be talking about a year from now is how the Cowboys called the worst play of all-time. So thank you, Cowboys. 

Alright, we’ve got a lot to cover today, so let’s get to the rundown. 

As always, here’s your weekly reminder to tell all your friends to sign up for the Pick Six newsletter. To get your friends to sign up, all you have to do is click here and then share this link with them. However, you might not want to share it with any Cowboys fan. I think they’re still in their cooling off period.  

1. Today’s show: Recapping the Rams‘ blowout win over the Cardinals

If we learned one thing Monday, it’s that no one does a late-season collapse better than the Arizona Cardinals. After losing four of five to close the regular season, the Cardinals saved their worst performance for last as they got blasted by the Rams, 34-11. 

After the game, Ryan Wilson, Will Brinson and I spent nearly one hour talking about the the Rams’ blowout win and I have to say: unlike the Cardinals, we did not have our worst performance of the season. 

Here are three topics we touched on during the podcast: 

  • Matthew Stafford finally gets his first playoff win. Going into Monday, Stafford was getting dangerously close to Andy Dalton territory. If the Rams had lost, Stafford would have joined Dalton and Y.A. Tittle in the record books for most playoff starts without a win (0-4). However, Stafford avoided that fate thanks to a nearly perfect performance. Although he only threw the ball 17 times, he made the most of those throws with 13 completions for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford will now get to move on to the divisional round for the first time in his 13-year career. In the next round, the guy with one career playoff win is going to face the quarterback with the most-career playoff wins (Tom Brady). 
  • Cardinals offense falls flat on its face. In what was easily the most embarrassing offensive performance of this year’s playoffs, the Cardinals failed in every way an offense can possibly fail. In the first half alone, not only did Kyler Murray throw two interceptions, including the shortest pick-six in playoff history, but the Cards also went three-and-out on five of their eight possessions. Overall, the Cardinals only totaled 40 yards during a first half in which they fell behind 21-0. 
  • Should Kliff Kingsbury be on the hot seat? In three seasons with Arizona, Kingsbury has improved each year, so you’d think his job would definitely be safe. But if I’m running the Cardinals, I’m definitely concerned about the fact that the Cardinals have collapsed down the stretch in each of those three seasons. In 2019, the Cardinals closed the season by losing seven of their final nine games. In 2020, the Cardinals finished 8-8 and missed out on the playoffs after losing five of their final seven. In 2021, the Cardinals were the NFL’s final undefeated team, but they choked away a possible division title by losing five of their final six, including Monday’s playoff game. Personally, I’m not firing Kingsbury right now, but I’m definitely telling him that if there’s another late-season collapse in 2022, then it might be time to make a change. 

 To listen to today’s episode — and to subscribe to the best daily NFL podcast out there — be sure to click here. You can also WATCH today’s episode on YouTube by clicking here.

2. Breech’s divisional round playoff picks

It’s Tuesday, and that can only mean one thing: It’s time for my weekly picks. 

Although the Cardinals choked in the playoffs, I definitely didn’t. I went a perfect 6-0 with my picks during Super Wild Card Weekend, although I won’t brag about that too much, because I’m pretty sure roughly 51% of America went 6-0. All you had to do was pick every favorite to win except for the Cowboys. This week, I am not picking every favorite to win. As a matter of fact, I’m almost doing the exact opposite. 

With that in mind, here are my picks for the divisional round. 

  • Cincinnati (+3.5) at Tennessee: The Titans are getting back Derrick Henry, and normally, that would be enough to get me to pick them, but not in this case. My problem with taking the Titans is that they had one of the worst passing defenses in football this year, which makes me think Joe Burrow might put up some huge numbers. The Bengals are 10-1 this season when putting up 24 or more points and I think they’re going to put up 24 or more points. PICK: Bengals 27-24 over Titans. 
  • San Francisco (+6) at Green Bay: As someone who lived in California for six years, let me just say that the last place anyone living in that state would ever want to be in the month of January is somewhere where it’s 17 degrees, and that’s what the temperature is going to be Saturday night. I actually think these teams are pretty evenly matched, but the one big difference is that Aaron Rodgers is much, much better than Jimmy Garoppolo and that disparity is going to be the difference in a close game. PICK: Packers 23-20 over 49ers
  • L.A. Rams (+3) at Tampa Bay: If Bruce Arians had gotten to pick his opponent for the divisional round, I’m guessing the Rams are the one team that he would have preferred NOT to face because this game feels like a matchup nightmare for the Buccaneers. If you want to beat Tom Brady in the playoffs, you have to hit him with a lot of pressure, which the Rams can do. Not only does L.A. have Aaron Donald and Von Miller, but those two will be going up against a Bucs offensive line that could be missing two starters. I hate picking against Tom Brady in the playoffs, but I’m going to pick against Tom Brady. PICK: Rams 30-23 over Buccaneers. 
  • Buffalo (+2.5) at Kansas City: This is probably the best game of the divisional round, and although everyone’s going to be talking about the Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes showdown, I think this game is going to come down to how well the Bills defense plays. They’ve had the best defense in football this year, only surrendering 272.2 yards per game in a season where no other defense in the NFL gave up fewer than 300 yards per game. I don’t think they’ll shut down Mahomes, but I do think they’ll shut him down enough to win the game. PICK: Bills 34-31 over Chiefs

That’s right, I’m picking three underdogs to win and taking all four underdogs to cover. To get my full take on each game, be sure to check out my divisional round picks by clicking here

3. Ranking the divisional games by watchability

As you’ve probably noticed, we love to rank things here and since we don’t have our normal Tuesday power rankings from Pete Prisco, I’ve decided to replace those by ranking the watchability of each game in the divisional round. 

  • 1. (3) Bills at (2) Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. ET, Sunday (CBS, Paramount+): For the second straight week, I have a CBS game at the top of my rankings and for the second straight week, I’m going to start off here by saying that I’m not doing that to suck up to my bosses, although maybe I subconsciously am. I don’t know. Anyway, we’re getting a rematch of last year’s AFC title game in the DIVISIONAL ROUND. If you only have time to watch one playoff game this weekend, I’d make it this one. 
  • 2. (6) 49ers at (1) Packers, 8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday (Fox): If there’s a playoff game being played on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, it automatically becomes a must-watch game. And based on the forecast for Saturday, the tundra is definitely going to be frozen. Aaron Rodgers has an 0-3 record against the 49ers in the playoffs, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to end that losing streak this year. The 49ers are one of the hottest teams in the postseason, and they were also the only wild-card team to pull off an upset over the weekend. 
  • 3. (4) Rams at (2) Buccaneers, 3 p.m. ET, Sunday (NBC): Any time there’s a chance of Tom Brady losing a playoff game, everyone loves to tune-in, which is why there will definitely be a lot of people watching this game Sunday. The Rams have played Brady’s Buccaneers a total of two times over the past two seasons and have won both games. If there’s one offense Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles hasn’t been able to figure out, it’s the Rams.  Under Sean McVay, the Rams have averaged more than 30 points per game in their two wins over Tampa Bay. Basically, this game feels like it could be a shootout, and everyone loves a good shootout. 
  • 4. (4) Bengals at (1) Titans, 4:30 p.m. ET, Saturday (CBSParamount+): Last week, I had Raiders-Bengals and 49ers-Cowboys both ranked in my top three for most watchable games, and those ended up being the only two watchable games of the entire wild-card round. I won’t be surprised if this ends up being the best game of the divisional round. After all, we’re getting one of the most exciting offenses in football (the Bengals) going up against a Titans team that’s going to have Derrick Henry back on the field. This game might feature two small market teams that no one cares about, but you should definitely still watch because I think this might be one of the craziest games of the weekend. As a Bengals homer, I really wanted to rank this game second, but I then I realized most people would rather watch Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady over Bengals-Titans and I respect that. 

When I first made these rankings, I wanted to put Bills-Chiefs at the top and then have the other three games tie for second, because all of these games are awesome and there’s a chance that this could go down as the most exciting divisional round ever. This marks the first time since at least 1980 that all four games in the divisional round have a point spread of six points or less. 

4. One thing we learned about each team in the wild card round

Now that all six games from Super Wild Card Weekend have been played, CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin decided to wade through the aftermath to figure out what we learned about each team.

Here’s a look at what we learned about five teams: 

  • Rams: They have the pieces to upset the Buccaneers. “Rams fans should be mightily encouraged after Sean McVay’s squad rolled over the Cardinals to start their run. Matthew Stafford was smart and comfortable in maybe the biggest start of his career, Sony Michel was busy early before giving way to a fresh Cam Akers, Odell Beckham Jr. was on fire out wide, and the defense stayed after Arizona all night.”
  • Steelers: They could be in for a long offseason. “Pittsburgh hasn’t had to think too hard about its short- and long-term QB plans for the better part of two decades. Now, with Ben Roethlisberger on the way out, perhaps the Steelers offense will only get a little quicker. But moving forward, they can’t necessarily lean on their defense as much as they did in 2021 and expect to be contenders. They need answers under center, and it’s unclear where they’ll find them, or how desperate they’ll be to do so.”
  • Cowboys: They should rethink their coaching plans“The Cowboys were 1-3 before Dak got hurt in 2020 and just saw a 12-5 NFC East title run go to waste with a sloppy one-and-done loss to San Francisco. Owner Jerry Jones was already considering a change, per CBS Sports insider Jason La Canfora, even though exec Stephen Jones reiterated confidence in Mike McCarthy on Monday. They should keep considering one.”
  • Bengals: This team feels dangerous. “Forget all those Andy Dalton years, this Bengals team is locked and loaded for the bright lights. Sneaking by the Raiders doesn’t mean they’re Super Bowl-bound, but Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase have such a seamless connection that it’s hard not to like their chances as young, explosive underdogs. They’ve already exceeded expectations, so they’re especially dangerous.”
  • Patriots: Bill Belichick has a lot of work to do. “Approaching 70, the longtime coach doesn’t appear to be hanging it up anytime soon, but the Patriots looked at least a year away from true contention in their ugly loss to Buffalo. Rookie QB Mac Jones was overmatched against a superior defense, and New England could use upgrades at a bunch of spots held by older or expensive veterans on both sides of the ball.”

If you want to see the one thing we learned about every other team, you can check out Cody’s entire story by clicking here.

5. Raiders fire general manager Mike Mayock

Aug 19, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Las Vegas Raiders general manager Mike Mayock looks on during a joint practice against the Los Angeles Rams.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When a team gets to the playoffs for just the second time in 19 years, that usually means the general manager gets rewarded, but that’s not what it means with the Raiders. The team announced Monday that Mayock has been fired after three seasons. 

Here are a few details on the situation: 

  • Things seemed to get a little awkward. On Monday afternoon, several reports came out that the Raiders were setting up interviews for their GM job, which was likely awkward for Mayock, because he was still the team’s general manager. 
  • Mayock finally gets fired. A few hours after it was clear that the Raiders were looking for a new GM, the team finally announced around 6:30 p.m. ET that Mayock had been fired. Moving on from Mayock seems like a risky call, because it’s hard to blame him for the negative things that have happened in Las Vegas. Jon Gruden is believed to have had final say on most player personnel issues, so it’s hard to blame Mayock for the team’s drafting struggles over the past few years. That being said, it’s pretty clear Mark Davis wanted to clean house. The problem for Davis is that the next GM and coach are both going to be facing a lot of pressure trying to improve upon a team that went to the playoffs in 2021. 
  • Early interviews. According to NFL.com, the Raiders have already scheduled two interviews for their GM jobs. One of those interviews is with Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler while the other one is expected to be with Colts executive Ed Dobbs. 

The firing of Mayock means the coach and GM jobs are now both open in Las Vegas, and based on the fact that the Raiders went to the playoffs this season, it’s likely going to be one of the most coveted jobs on the market.  

6. Rapid-fire roundup

It’s been a busy 24 hours in the NFL and since it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened I went ahead and put together a roundup for you. 

  • Cowboys likely to bring back Mike McCarthy. Although Jerry Jones did not give a vote of confidence to McCarthy following the playoff loss, Stephen Jones did give him one on Monday, saying that he’s ‘very confident’ the coach would be returning in 2022
  • Browns player arrested for public exposure. Browns defensive lineman Malik McDowell has been arrested in Florida on charges of exposing himself in public, resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. You can read more about the case by clicking here
  • Jimmy Garoppolo has a sprained shoulder. Not only is the 49ers QB dealing with an injured thumb, but coach Kyle Shanahan revealed Monday that Garoppolo has a sprained shoulder. It’s not expected to sideline him, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on with the 49ers playing Saturday this week. Garoppolo suffered the injury at some point during the 49ers win over the Cowboys on Sunday. 
  • Seahawks dumping defensive coordinator. According to The Seattle Times, the Seahawks are expected to be parting ways with defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. The long-time assistant had coached under Pete Carroll for nine of the past 12 NFL seasons. He started as the Seahawks linebackers coach (2010-14) and then was hired as defensive coordinator in 2018 after a short stint with the Raiders (2015-17). 
  • Dan Quinn interviewing with four different teams. One of the hottest names on the coaching market is Dan Quinn. According to ESPN.com, the former Falcons head coach will be interviewing with four different teams this week and those four teams are the Bears, Broncos, Dolphins and Vikings
  • Larry Fitzgerald still not ready to return to the NFL. After sitting out the entire NFL season, it seems like Larry Fitzgerald still isn’t interested in making a comeback. Although he’s not officially retired, Fitzgerald told the Mannings on Monday that he definitely won’t be signing with anyone for the playoffs, “I think it’s best for me to be sitting right where I’m sitting, pulling for my team.” Unfortunately, his team lost, so now, he has no one to cheer for.  



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