OPINION: 'Up the Gut' with Shaun Morash: 2023 NFL Championship Weekend

Photo credit Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Cold Open

As fun as it is to see the Cowboys implode for different reasons each January, there's no way their fanbase suffered a more heartbreaking end to the season than Bills fans last Sunday. Buffalo was a consensus preseason favorite in the AFC. They survived and overcame adversity all season long. Blizzards, moving a home game out to Detroit, bouncing back off a collapse against the Vikings, and of course, the Damar Hamlin situation.

In the end, Buffalo had zero pass rush without veteran Von Miller on the field. Josh Allen's turnovers continued to outweigh his great arm talent. And Stefon Diggs is left yelling at his stud quarterback on the sidelines, in an eerily similar situation to Diggs' ending with the Vikings.

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Bills general manager Bandon Beane sounded somewhat petty in his end-of- year press conference. He said the Bengals were able to beat them because that franchise played poor enough, for long enough, to draft Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase. The window is far from closed on these Bills to reach a Super Bowl, but the luster and fear of playing this talented bunch is gone.

Now more than ever, Buffalo feels like a very distant third-fiddle to the Chiefs and Bengals in the conference. The pain and suffering of Bills fans continues to be fascinating. If the franchise comes up short of reaching the Super Bowl next season, would this be a more gut-wrenching run than losing four straight Super Bowls?

Dak Prescott
Photo credit Lachlan Cunningham / Stringer / Getty Images

Five-Yard Gain

No. 1: The offseason of Aaron Rodgers has already started, and I'm tired of it. Adam Schefter recently reported that the Packers would be willing to explore trades, but only with AFC squads. Peter King recently guessed that the price could be two first-round picks. Rodgers loved the attention during his weekly Pat McAfee ass-kissing fest, and openly discussed a contract restructure. To make matters worse, his contract is more tradeable after June 1. It's not even Super Bowl week, and we could be looking at another four months of rumors for an aging quarterback who'll likely never play in a Super Bowl again.

No. 2: The Giants' blowout loss to the Eagles last Saturday shouldn't damper all the good they built up this season. A year in which many pegged them for six wins of fewer, they earned a playoff berth and reached the NFC divisional round. The conference is a changing landscape, that'll have Philadelphia with major staying power. The Rams, Packers, Bucs, and maybe the Cowboys, will be on the downswing. The Giants should and will preach patience with roster construction for 2023.

No. 3: The Jaguars aren't going anywhere. In fact, their trade deadline move in November could be a massive difference-maker next season. Calvin Ridley was suspended this season, but the Jaguars acquiring the receiver from the Falcons was genius. Ridley immediately becomes a legit No. 1 option next to Christian Kirk, which should make Trevor Lawrence happy. In a weak division, there's no reason why Jacksonville shouldn't have at least one home playoff game in each of the next three or four seasons.

No. 4: What exactly is the alternative to Dak Prescott, for Cowboys fans and media now pounding their franchise quarterback? The biggest problem with Dallas is its hefty commitment to paying Ezekiel Elliott. He's the second best running back on the roster -- or at least he was, assuming a now-injured Tony Pollard exits in free agency. The Cowboys' cap situation forced them to dump Amari Cooper. Now, at $40 million a year for Prescott, where could they even trade him... and who'd be an upgrade? Dallas' roster will remain stale, and the only hope is for its dominant defense to grow with Micah Parsons.

No. 5: Nick Sirianni is now becoming one of the most unlikeable coaches, in terms of smugness in NFL history. For a guy who thought he wasn't ready for a head coaching job, he's now yelling at refs that he knows what he's doing? And I'm still convinced if he wasn't blessed with all the benefits of the Eagles' roster, he'd be a scrub with the Texans. A disclaimer: I'm a disgruntled Giants fan who hates all things Eagles.

Aaron Rodgers
Photo credit Patrick McDermott / Stringer / Getty Images

My Picks
Another 2-1 week has me continuing to roll, 32-28 this season. For this week:

Eagles (-2.5) vs. 49ers: Prior to this matchup, there've only been four other rookie quarterbacks to start a conference championship -- all have lost. Brock Purdy has played in only two road games -- one of which took place in Vegas, where he needed overtime. This raucous Lincoln Financial Field crowd will be unlike anything he's ever seen. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan can protect Purdy a ton. But, at some point, he's going to have to make plays against the best defense he's seen. I expect a low-scoring game, as the Niners' defense will travel. But I don't think the offense can do enough to win, or lose by less than a field goal.

Bengals (1.5) at Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes' sprained ankle is an understood storyline this week. The only question is, is a fully healthy Mahomes defeating these Bengals? They could. They're due. But Cincinnati doesn't flinch against Kansas City, they lick their chops instead. So, if the Bengals can take an early two-score lead, like they did a week ago, it'll be tough for a limited Mahomes to punch back. Ultimately, Mahomes probably has his moments in this game, but the Bengals' confidence in this spot will be too much to overcome.

Football Food of the Week

A1 Steakhouse Burger Sliders. Does anybody else have the winter blues? Dreaming of summertime, and the smell of burgers on the grill? Let's rev it up again this Sunday. Get some chopped meat, A1 steak sauce, chopped onions, and shredded cheddar cheese. Season that chopped meat with salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic powder. Caramelize some onions in a pan. Toss the beef, caramelized onions, bottle of sauce, and cheese together and turn them into slider-sized patties. Serve them on some King's Hawaiian slider rolls. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading as always, and enjoy Championship Sunday. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar / USA TODAY NETWORK