Up The Gut: Mraz Previews NFL Divisional Round

By Shaun Morash

Cold Open    It isn't the way I envisioned it, but is it ever the way it is supposed to be? That is how I felt watching the Titans dismantle and break the spirit of the Patriots’ dynasty on Saturday night. As DA has pointed out this week on CBS Sports Radio, this felt so much like the Arizona Cardinals ending the Troy Aikman Cowboys' playoff dynasty. This wasn't a dramatic Super Bowl loss, or Patrick Mahomes getting a passing of the torch; it was simply Tom Brady throwing fluttering ducks as Derrick Henry ran through every defender on a defense many painted as elite back in October.     So, what is next for Tom Brady? I laughed at the idea he would be a Charger in 2020, but now it almost makes too much sense. A franchise in a city where nobody cares about them in dire need to sell tickets. A city that presents an opportunity for Tom Brady to expand his acting brand beyond a cameo in Ted 2. Joe Namath went to L.A. on his last legs, so why not Brady? For the Pats, Bill Belichick proving he could get to the playoffs with Teddy Bridgewater or Andy Dalton has to check a box for his ego while finding the next diamond in the rough of the 2020 NFL Draft. Either way you spin it, don't expect a Super Bowl appearance for either Belichick or Brady in the near future, but it will still be a fascinating watch how each fares without the other. 

Ten Yard Gain

1-The Titans deserved their due and moment on the broadcast and did not get it from Jim Nantz and Tony Romo on Saturday night. I understand this was essentially the end of the Patriots as we know them; heck, I just started this column discussing that. However, this was the biggest Titans win since the 1999 AFC Championship Game. They are on a magic carpet ride, and it felt like we were watching a New England home broadcast. 

2-For being such a great coach all season, Sean McDermott sure same up small in the second half and overtime on Saturday. On 4th-and-27, rather than try a 56 yard field goal to tie the game, he went for it, and missed. Luckily his defense got the ball back before eventually tying the game. He could not calm down Josh Allen who was inexplicably trying pitch backs for no reason late as well. McDermott coached like a young Bill O'Brien versus Bill O’Brien, and that isn't a good thing. 

3-Deshaun Watson deserves a ton of credit for putting the Texans on his back in the second half. Bill O'Brien is probably the most overrated coach with multiple division titles in the NFL. The Texans started a home playoff game versus a second-year QB by allowing trick plays to be run and being dominated in the first half. How is that possible? Yet Deshaun Watson answered the bell with that first touchdown drive of the second half and would not let Bill O'Brien pull them down. 

4-Stefon Diggs can take a freaking lap as far as I am concerned. Team up 10 points in one of the toughest environments to win a big game on the road and he is emotionally distraught on the sidelines over his lack of targets. You can have all the talent in the world; the moment you put your personal touches and stats in front of the team actually winning you have made yourself a cancer. This offseason, GET HIM OUT. 

5- Kirk Cousins, I am sorry. Look, you earned the reputation you had, Kirk, from the Prime Time flops to the December meltdowns. That being said, the Vikings never choked away this playoff spot to the Rams down the stretch and just won a game versus a Super Bowl favorite in their building. Rip up the reputation you built, it is over You are big-game Kirk, at least for now. 

6-There was something about Drew Brees' walking off the field smiling Saturday that told me he is not as distraught over only having one Super Bowl as some fans want to make it seem like he should be. On one hand, good for him to not be a pouting baby after another heart breaking loss. On the other hand, there seems to be a fairly large portion of NFL fans and media that pound the drum to see Drew Brees win another ring and are upset he likely won't. If Drew can look that satisfied to a man after a loss, maybe we should be just fine with what his legacy looks like without a second ring. 

7-Jadeveon Clowney's hit was dirty, period. End of discussion. Carson Wentz is already well on his way down before Clowney even begins to lean downward. If the excuse for Clowney was that he was trying to force a fumble, then it should be leading with a punching arm, not bowing his head down. That momentum excuse doesn't work here. 

8-It may actually be a good thing for the future of Carson Wentz that the Eagles did not end up winning that game on Sunday. Had Josh McCown gotten his fairy tail story, despite Carson Wentz’s monumental December, Eagles fans would certainly lean on Philadelphia's playoff success with now two quarterbacks not named Carson Wentz in the Wentz era. Now, maybe he can actually be appreciated the way he should be by EVERY Eagles fan. 

9-Mike McCarthy sleeping at Jerry Jones' house is the best part of the hiring process for the Cowboys for me. Did he stay on the same floor as Jerry's bedroom? A Guest house? A pool house? A couch? Did they watch a movie before bed? Shoot some pool? Now this is a documentary I want and need. 

10-Matt Rhule got Jon Gruden money from the Panthers before ever coaching a game in the NFL. Good for him, and good for David Tepper for getting the coach he wanted, not allowing the Giants to be able to match that price and year point. One thing is clear: the Panthers are now players for any big free agent within the salary-cap structure. Will he end up more like Dan Snyder, or actually a true winner? We will find out. If you believe in Matt Rhule, it likely ends up the ladder. 

My Picks

A 2-2 week has be at 27-27-1 on the season. For this week:

Vikings + 7 @ 49ers: The 49ers, as it stands, are my Super Bowl favorites right now, and I am not pretending to go out on a limb. However, for this unproven group, the toughest win for them to get in the playoffs may be the first one. They won so many close games down the stretch versus a more difficult schedule. Now, expecting them to win by more than a touchdown versus a defensive front playing this good and a quarterback who just shook off big-game demons seems like a bit much. San Francisco wins a thriller, but no way do they cover. 
Titans +9 @ Ravens: I was not a fan of the Ravens resting their starters in Week 17, leaving them three weeks between games where they will take hits. In comes Derrick Henry and a run-punishing offense that will wake the Ravens up real quick on defense. The Titans have the best ability to slow down Lamar Jackson: Controlling the clock with their run game and keeping Lamar off the field. Ultimately with all of that being said, I believe the Ravens have been too good all season to actually lose here, but things will be dicey in the fourth quarter and this number is way too big to lay for all the reasons listed.
Chiefs -9.5 vs Texans: To me, this game has the most blowout potential of any this weekend. Sure the Texans beat the Chiefs earlier this season, but that Kansas City offense was significantly beat up. Now they are healthy, humming, and played in Week 17 to earn the BYE. The Texans cannot come out slow in the first half like they did in Buffalo and expect not to be boat-raced. I will take Andy Reid over Bill O’Brien and Patrick Mahomes versus that Texans defense. Kansas City cruises at home. 
Packers -4 vs Seahawks: There has been a negative swell around the Packers despite their record this season. Many people are too uncomfortable with the fact they have won because of defense over Aaron Rodgers being a magician. What would make me uncomfortable in this game is Pete Carroll versus a rookie head coach. That being said, the Seahawks pass rush has been a disappearing act of its own too much this season, and in this game if you don't cook against Rodgers in Green Bay, you will lose. Ultimately I believe Rodgers reminds us all just how good he is, while the Packers defense puts D.K. Metcalf back in check. 

Football Food Of The Week

Buffalo Chicken Stuffed Shells. Italian cooking on a Sunday is as traditional as the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. My love for Buffalo Chicken product has been well-documented throughout this column over the years, so when I came across this recipe, my back hair stood up and started to do the Macarena with joy. Italian stuffed shells oozing with Buffalo Chicken? Are you kidding me? What makes a better divisional weekend than that? 

Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.