NFL Playoffs, Conference Title Games: 4 Winners, 4 Losers

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All week long, I was positive, emphatic even, in taking the two home teams in the AFC and NFC title games. The trend was my friend, and the trend I'm talking about was the stretch of five postseasons in a row where the home team won straight up in both conference title games.

Unfortunately, the other trend that's been fairly strong this postseason has been my complete inability to pick football games correctly, so I recognized early on yesterday that the road teams were probably in pretty good shape, based on the Pendergast Jinx being in full effect:

So, once again, congrats to the Rams and Patriots, road warriors personified, beating the Saints and Chiefs, respectively, with both games going to overtime. Overall, it was an absolutely phenomenal day of football, and now we are treated to the nouveau riche head coach (Sean McVay) against the all-time greatest (Bill Belichick). Not bad. So let's look at some winners and losers from yesterday....


4. Jared Goff
I'll admit, I was pretty rough on Goff this past week leading up to these games. I chose the Saints to win, in part, because of the mismatch at quarterback (or so I thought), and I picked the Rams as the team playing this weekend least likely to make the postseason next year, again because of Goff. Well, he showed me. After falling behind 13-0, and floundering through the first quarter and a half, Goff finally hit a deep shot in the second quarter to Brandin Cooks, leading to the Rams' first touchdown. In the second half, he made several big throws, including a 39 yard strike on a 3rd and 3 on the possession that tied the game at 20-20. For the game, Goff was 25 of 40 for 297 yards, and a stellar QBR of 75.1. Goff will once again be overshadowed by Brady in this Super Bowl, but I will not dismiss him anymore.

3. Ndamukong Suh
Suh was one of the big name veteran pickups for the Rams on the defensive side of the ball this season, signing a true "soldier of fortune" deal, a one year, $14 million contract. For most of the season, Suh was just okay, but he's been very impactful this postseason, and on Sunday, he was very good, with 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss, and a couple QB hits. If Suh is looking for one more long-term deal to finish out his career, he's made a lot of money these last two weeks.

2. Wade Phillips
Who doesn't love Wade Phillips? If you don't love Wade Phillips, then you don't love apple pie, puppy dogs, or ice cream. So I would guess most Houstonians are very happy to see Wade make another trip to the Super Bowl, following his Super Bowl win as defensive coordinator for the Broncos three seasons ago. On Sunday, Phillips' defense aced up big early, holding the Saints to field goals on their first two trips into the red zone, and holding them to 10 points for the final three quarters and overtime.

1. "Heads"
This was the call that Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater made for the overtime coin toss in the AFC title game. The coin flip turned up heads, and it wound up being one of the most important occurrences to transpire in the entire game. It allowed the Patriots to take the ball in overtime, and never give it back to the Chiefs. With the flow of that game — 38 points in the fourth quarter! — it was pretty much a lock that, barring a turnover, the team to get the ball first was going to score a touchdown. Brady was incredible, converting three 3rd and long situations on the game winning drive.


4. Officiating
So on 3rd and 10 at the Rams 13 yard line, with under two minutes to go in regulation, Sean Payton called this pass play:

Incredibly, there was no penalty for ANYTHING on that play. When asked about it after the game, referee Bill Vinovich had this exchange:

I'm not one who wants replay review available for judgment calls. I think there's enough replay review embedded in the game already, but this is the closest I've come to advocating for challenge opportunities on judgment calls. This was horrendous. HOWEVER....

3. Sean Payton
That call did not lose the game for the Saints. If you're looking for someone to blame, Who Dat Nation, look no further than your head coach, who completely botched the final two minutes of that game. The Saints had the ball on the Rams 13 yard line, 1st and 10, with 1:58 left in regulation and the score tied at 20-20. The Rams had two timeouts left, so basically what this meant was that if the Saints just ran the ball three times and kicked a field goal, the Rams would have the ball with about 45 seconds left, down 3, with no timeouts. Instead, Payton called for two pass plays that went incomplete (one of them was the missed pass interfernece call) and essentially gave the Rams two extra timeouts. The Rams wound up with the ball, down 3, with 1:44 left and one timeout, more than enough time to kick the tying field goal and send the game to overtime. Yeah, the referees botched that P.I. call, but Payton had an avenue to win that would have kept the zebras out of the mix, and he chose not to use it. Sean Payton lost this game.

2. Bob Sutton
The Chiefs defense was statistically bad all season, 31st in yards allowed. They were pretty good at getting after the passers and turning teams over. On Sunday, they were horrible at the former (no sacks on Tom Brady), and decent at the latter (two big interceptions). However, it was the failures of the defense in third down situations in overtime that will keep Sutton, the Chiefs' defensive coordinator, up for the next few nights. On that game winning drive, Tom Brady converted three huge third and long situations, two to Julian Edelman and one to Rob Gronkowski, when pretty much everyone in the building knew they were going to throw the ball to Edelman and Gronkowski.

1. Dee Ford
Of course, none of the overtime foibles would have even happened if Dee Ford had just lined up onside on 3rd and 10 at the Chiefs 34 on the Pats' go ahead drive toward the end of regulation. On that play, Brady threw a ball that glanced off Gronk's hands, into the waiting arms of Charvarious Ward. That would have ended the game, but Ford was called offsides, and on the next play, Brady hit Gronk on a 25 yard deep ball to set up first and goal. Ford is a great player, but Texan fans know what it's like to watch a great player commit the cardinal sin of lining up offsides and costing your team a game.

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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