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Marcus Mariota overcame a dismal first half to lead the Titans to a road win in Kansas City.
Marcus Mariota overcame a dismal first half to lead the Titans to a road win in Kansas City.

NFL Playoffs: Wild Card Weekend — 4 Winners, 4 Losers

When the Texans season ended so ignominiously in Indianapolis on New Year's Eve, we thought we could turn the page and never have to think about 2017 ever again. in so many ways — injuries, results, Tom Savage fumble sacks — it was the most grueling season in Texans history. "Finally," we thought, "it ends, and we can move on!"

There's only one problem — two AFC South teams made the playoffs, the Jacksonville Jaguars (division champs) and the Tennessee Titans (wild card), and those two teams both won this weekend. Yes, the Jags and the Titans are among the final eight teams still standing in the NFL.

And all I can think is "Dammit, football gods, why did you have to go and do that to Deshaun Watson??? WHY?!?!?!" With Watson, the Texans would be the third most dangerous AFC team. I can say that with 100 percent confidence after watching these other AFC scrub quarterbacks slog their way through the weekend.

So apparently, it may say 2018 on the calendar, but we will be forced to NEVER FORGET 2017. Thanks a lot, karma. Onto winner and losers....

WINNERS

4. Marcus Mariota
Let me be very clear here — nothing that happened in the Titans' 22-21 win over the Chiefs on Saturday changes my long-term view on that team. The Tennessee Titans are, at best, a nice middle-of-the-road outfit that strikes Super Bowl-level fear into the hearts of exactly nobody. Also, to be clear on Mariota, I tweeted during the first half of Saturday's game, as the Titans were falling behind 21-3, that I want the Titans to give Mariota a ten year contract extension when the time comes to lock him up. He is a below average thrower of the football. I don't think very highly of Marcus Mariota. I STILL don't think very highly of Marcus Mariota. He's one lucky bounce on a 3rd and goal and a monster Derrick Henry second half away from being a loser on Saturday. There is nothing about Marcus Mariota, save the occasional scramble, that scares me as an opposing fan. So now, all of that said — you're probably like "Um, why is he in the WINNERS category if you hate him this much?" — congratulations to Mariota for taking advantage of a little bit of luck and the worst situational head coach on the opposing sideline to get a big road win in the playoffs. Actually, I will give some credit here — one thing Mariota did do well was convert on third down in the second half:

Also, the silver lining of that win, if you're a Texans fan, is that it likely makes firing head coach Mike Mularkey far less likely, and that's good news for the rest of the AFC South. Mularkey is the Mariota of head coaches.

3. Bills Mafia
A sea of blue and red engulfed Jacksonville on Sunday, as the Bills Mafia made their way south. The Jacksonville front office was so excited about the sellout of their stadium that they removed the world famous tarps from their upper deck to sell those seats, too. Of course, a gigantic portion of the stadium was made up of deranged Bills fans. It doesn't matter what the final score is, these lunatics always find a way to have a good time.... TABLES!!

Of course, going and recruiting ACTUAL killers to be in the Bills Mafia is next level stuff....

2. Steve Sarkisian
Just two seasons ago, Steve Sarkisian was fired as the head coach of USC in the midst of stories that he was showing up at practice drunk, and in the wake of an infamous public appearance at a booster event where he was cursing like a Redd Foxx record (again, drunk as a skunk, allegedly). Last season, his football rehab began with his assisting Alabama's offensive staff, and eventually calling plays in the national title game. Then came this season in Atlanta, taking over for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who despite choking like a dog calling plays in the Super Bowl, did make Matt Ryan an MVP. It has not been an easy season for Sarkisian nor the Falcons, for that matter. However, on Saturday, Sarkisian's second half play calling was the difference in the Falcons 26-13 win over the Rams. The second half started with a 16 play, 8 minute drive that led to only a field goal, but punished the Rams defense, as 11 off the 16 plays were runs or short passes to RB's Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The remainder of the half was more of the same — fund the running game, and short underneath passes to Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcons receivers, allowing Matt Ryan to stay upright by getting the ball out of his hands quickly. Now, the Falcons, a sixth seed who made the playoffs in the final week of the season, might be on a Super Bowl path in which the opposing quarterbacks are Jared Goff, Nick Foles, and Case Keenum. Not exactly murderer's row. Rare is the postseason in the NFC when, if you're Atlanta, you won't have to go through Rodgers, Brees, Wilson, Newton, and in the future, Wentz. The Falcons may have stumbled into something here.

1. Team Content
I don't want to jinx this, friends, but Johnny Manziel may be back in our football lives in the not-too-distant future! Late last year, Manziel went through a vetting process with the CFL commissioner, ostensibly to make sure the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner's issues, which include months and months of rampant partying and drug use along with allegations of domestic assault, are behind him. The league was satisfied, and so Manziel and his representation triggered the process with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (his rights holder) to possibly begin the next chapter of Manziel's football career:

"As per the negotiation list process, Johnny Manziel and his agent recently notified the Tiger-Cats that they had activated the 10-day window during which the Tiger-Cats must offer him a contract or lose his negotiation list rights," the team said in a statement. "That window closed today and we can confirm that we made an offer to Manziel, and that his rights will remain on our negotiation list while discussions with he and his agent continue. We will have no further comment."

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said last month he would approve a contract for Manziel to allow him to play in the league. Ambrosie added Manziel would have to undergo "an ongoing assessment by an independent expert on the issue of violence against women, a review by legal counsel, and an in-person interview."

The Tiger-Cats traded their quarterback, Zach Collaros, who happens to be the highest paid QB in the league, earlier this week, which would seem to pave the way for Manziel to play for Hamilton and their head coach June Jones, who coincidentally recruited Manziel in high school when Jones was at SMU. To all the football gods, I say "PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ... LET THIS HAPPEN!"

LOSERS

4. Houston Texans
"Wait, what Sean? The Texans aren't even playing, how can they wind up in the LOSERS section?" I know, I know, that's what you're thinking. Well, I need somewhere to update you on the search for Rick Smith's replacement as general manager, and this seems to be as good a place as any. To this point, the Texans have had as many candidates forbidden to interview for the job as they've had actual interviews. As of Monday, Brian Gaine (former Texans director of player personnel from 2104 through 2016) and Jimmy Raye (essentially replaced Gaine in 2017) had interviewed for the job, and Sunday morning Green Bay director of player personnel Brian Gutekunst accepted an offer to remain in Green Bay as a co-GM (which sounds like something straight out of the Dunder Mifflin playbook) rather than continue the process with the Texans. More problematic, though, over the weekend, the Eagles denied the Texans a chance to interview their VP of player personnel Joe Douglas, and the Patriots denied the Texans a chance to interview Nick Cesario and Monti Ossenfort from their front office. The Texans WOULD be able to interview any of the latter three if and when their teams are knocked out of the postseason. I have two thoughts on this — first, I think it's absurd that teams can block personnel guys from interviewing for higher pay grade jobs because their teams are still alive. I get blocking coaches, because there are games being played, and coaches have jobs to do, but I would think for personnel guys, MOST of the hay is in the barn by the time the playoffs roll around. How is letting Douglas interview for a general manager's job negatively impacting the Eagles' chances next weekend? Second, I'll be disappointed if the Texans' GM job goes to Gaine or Raye, and it's nothing personal with either guy. I just want new blood, new ideas, and new sets of eyes in the building. That's all.

3. Sean McDonough's voice box
Since announcers, especially ones on national broadcasts can be such polarizing figures, let me say that I like Sean McDonough. I think he does a solid job calling the action, and I think he injects just enough opinion and humor to balance entertaining with storytelling. I like Sean McDonough even more when his voice cracks like Peter Brady.... remember, this a couple years ago?

Well, it showed up again yesterday.....

For those of you under the age of 40, who didn't get the "Peter Brady" reference....

God bless, Sean McDonough!

2. Andy Reid
Going into Saturday's game, the Kansas City Chiefs had not won a home playoff game since January of 1994, with Joe Montana pulling the trigger. As of the close of this weekend, the Chiefs STILL have not won a home playoff game since 1994, thanks in part to, quite honestly, a few things — their inability to get off the field on third down, Tyreke Hill's hands being made of cement, and some bad luck, to name a few. However, at the end of the day, this will come crashing back down on head coach Andy Reid's head, which is fine because (a) heavy is the head that wears the head coach's crown, and (b) Reid chose to have the leading rusher in the NFL run the ball just 11 times in a game in which he had an 18 point lead in the third quarter. At this point, five years in and with a young QB in Pat Mahomes presumably ready to take over next season, firing Reid is justifiable, which means that on Saturday, we had a game where one head coach was on the cusp of getting fired at halftime (Mike Mularkey) and a justifiable guillotine swing occurred to where now it might be the OTHER head coach, Reid, getting canned. To be clear, I don't THINK Reid will get fired, but it's not talk radio hot-takery to suggest it.

1. Human eyeballs
So you're an NFL fan who has been kind of put off by the various anthem protests all season long. You decided, "You know what? If these players think that their political views should bleed into my leisure time activity, I'm gonna find something less stressful." So you take up paddle ball, or video games, or reading, whatever. Then the playoffs roll around, and you're missing the NFL just a teensy weensy bit. You're busy Saturday, but you have all day Sunday, so at noon, you turn on Buffalo versus Jacksonville. And for the next three hours, your eyes are subjected to some of the most grotesque quarterback play that we've seen in a postseason game since.... well, actually since only a year ago when Brock Osweiler squared off against Connor Cook.

The final numbers —

Blake Bortles: 88 yards rushing, 87 yards passing
Tyron Taylor: 17-38, 134 yards, 2 picks
Nathan Peterman: Game ending interception in place of Taylor

Jags 10, Bills 3

And if you're THAT guy I described, the guy trying on the NFL again after a few months away, it was fun having you back for one game. We understand you are never coming back.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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