Saturday, April 13, 2024
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Everyone to blame for Eagles’ epic collapse; Bills get another shot at Chiefs

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🦬 Good morning to everyone but especially …

THE BUFFALO BILLS

It’s going to take something monumental — not a blizzard, not a mounting pile of injuries and certainly not the Steelers — to stop Josh Allen and the Bills. Buffalo topped Pittsburgh, 31-17, and its transcendent quarterback was at the center of it all.

  • Allen became the first player to throw for three touchdowns, rush for a touchdown and rush for at least 70 yards in a playoff game. The highlight was a second-quarter 52-yard touchdown dash, the second-longest touchdown run by a quarterback in postseason history.
  • Allen’s passing touchdowns went to Dawson Knox, Dalton Kincaid and Khalil Shakir, whose magnificent catch-and-run proved to be the dagger.
  • There are backups playing all over a defense ravaged by injuries, but those backups are holding up. Kaiir Elam, who hadn’t played a defensive snap since Week 6, had a crucial end-zone interception. A.J. Klein, who signed with the practice squad last week, led the team with 11 tackles.

Now comes the boogeyman: the Chiefs. Allen is 0-2 against Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs in what is emerging as an all-time quarterback rivalry, but this will be Mahomes’ first road playoff game, and Allen can’t wait to play host.

There’s no better time for Buffalo to break through.

👍 Honorable mentions

😧 And not such a good morning for …

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THE PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

On paper, there was no reason to doubt the Eagles would be a powerhouse this season — and beyond — while making a serious run at avenging last year’s Super Bowl loss. They have a star-studded roster, a fearless young quarterback with top-tier weapons, a defense reinforced by even more exciting first-round picks, and a front office as aggressive as any. A 10-1 start to the season proved all of that.

Then the NFL reminded them — and us — that the game isn’t played on paper, and even the brightest of futures can cloud quickly. Philadelphia’s shocking collapse concluded with a 32-9 wild-card loss to the Buccaneers — Philly’s sixth loss in its last seven games — and rampant issues were on display throughout.

Let’s start with the defense. The NFL is a league of tiny margins. Any drop off is noticeable, and big ones are disastrous. And the Eagles’ drop offs were massive. They finished 30th in both defensive success rate and defensive expected points added this season. That’s not just bad. That’s awful and certainly unwinnable. Here’s how it happened:

  • Last year, James Bradberry allowed a 44.5 passer rating as the primary defender, second-best in the NFL (min. 75 plays). This year, he allowed a 87.1 passer rating as the primary defender, 47th out of 53 players. He got benched for a brutal performance last night: Baker Mayfield went 4-for-5 for 86 yards and a touchdown when Bradberry was the primary defender. The lone incompletion was Mike Evans dropping a would-be touchdown.
  • The spine of the defense — the linebackers and safeties — fell off a cliff. Last year, that group allowed 5.7 yards per attempt as the primary coverage defender, best in the NFL. This year that mark fell to 7.8, 23rd in the NFL. Some decline was expected after losing several starters, but the inability to find passable replacements is an indictment on the players and front office alike. Big-name in-season additions Shaquille Leonard and Kevin Byard struggled.
  • The pass rush was either too old or too young, and Javon Hargrave‘s departure hurt a ton. Philadelphia was second in pressure rate last year; it was 14th this year.

Then you get to the offense. Jalen Hurts struggled down the back stretch, and A.J. Brown missing last night didn’t help, either. The offensive line took a step back, and Jason Kelce might have played his last game. The running game — one year after being the league’s best — regressed immensely.

We cannot overlook significant brain drain, either. Good teams get their coaches hired elsewhere, and the Eagles were no different: Last year’s offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen, became the Colts’ head coach and impressed. Last year’s defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon, became the Cardinals‘ head coach and overachieved. Their replacements struggled, with Sean Desai even ceding defensive play-calling duties to Matt Patricia. Spoiler: It didn’t work. Staff changes were being talked about before last night.

Finally, there are the intangibles, the vibes. They were decidedly bad. There was a reported disconnect between Hurts, head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. Brown deleted Eagles content off his Instagram. The effort by both sides Monday, especially in a playoff game, was severely disappointing.

Obviously, Mayfield deserves a ton of credit. So does head coach Todd Bowles, whose blitz-happy defense flummoxed Philadelphia, and Dave Canales, who continues to impress as offensive coordinator. But the Eagles will get a ton of heat for their collapse, and it’s deserved.

Moving along, the divisional round is set:

  • Texans at Ravens, 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday
  • Packers at 49ers, 8 p.m. ET Saturday
  • Buccaneers at Lions, 3 p.m. ET Sunday
  • Chiefs at Bills, 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Tyler Sullivan has early previews for all four games.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏈 Caleb Williams officially declares for NFL Draft

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He took until the last day to do it, but USC star quarterback Caleb Williams declared for the NFL Draft. The potential No. 1 overall pick posted his decision on Instagram, saying, “I still have a lot to learn and I’m ready to do whatever it takes.” Monday was the final day for underclassmen to declare.

  • Williams won the 2022 Heisman Trophy following a 52-touchdown (42 passing, 10 rushing), five-interception year. The Trojans went 11-3.
  • Williams was again excellent in 2023 — 41 touchdowns accounted for and five interceptions — but the Trojans went just 7-5 in the regular season before he opted out of the Holiday Bowl.
  • According to our prospect rankings, Williams is the No. 2 overall player in the draft, only behind receiver Marvin Harrison Jr.

Now that it’s official, we can dive deeper into the fascinating top of the NFL draft. The Bears have the No. 1 pick but also have Justin Fields. I think drafting a quarterback is the right move, but I’m just some guy with a newsletter! There are quarterback-needy teams at No. 2 (Commanders) and No. 3 (Patriots) and further down as well. Could Chicago trade back for the second straight year? If it stays at No. 1, is Williams definitely the guy? We’ll gets our answers over the next several months.

Here’s the full list of underclassmen who declared.

🏀 Draymond Green returns, Warriors still lose

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The Warriors finally got Draymond Green back after a 16-game absence. The Grizzlies were without their entire starting five: Ja Morant, Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane, Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke are all injured. If there were ever a time for Golden State to start a turnaround, this was it.

It didn’t happen.

Household names (insert sarcasm here) Vince Williams Jr. and GG Jackson set career highs with 24 and 23 points, respectively, as Memphis outscored Golden State 31-21 in the fourth quarter for a 116-107 victory.

The Warriors are 18-22 and 12th in the Western Conference. They are only OK on offense (13th in efficiency) and they are downright bad on defense (25th in efficiency). Even with Green back, those issues don’t just disappear, writes Colin Ward-Henninger.

  • Ward-Henninger: “What was supposed to be a beacon of hope — proof that when Green is on the court with the other vets, this team is different — instead turned into what could have been the final straw. If we can’t beat this team, how can we conceivably consider ourselves even remotely in the championship conversation? … The Warriors were plagued by the same problems that have crushed them all year.”

This is what the Warriors are. But will they stay that way? They’re reportedly open to trading anyone except Stephen Curry, and Colin has 10 stars who could unexpectedly be available ahead of the Feb. 8 Trade Deadline, including players Golden State could target and players it could trade away.

📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

🏀 Florida at No. 6 Tennessee (M), 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Nuggets at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏀 Thunder at Clippers, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 16 Utah State at New Mexico (M), 10:30 p.m. on FS1

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