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In-Season NFL

Four Things We Learned From the Divisional Round

There simply could not be much more of an entertaining week of football than there was this past weekend. Somehow, the sixth-seeded Tennessee Titans managed to knock off the 14-2 and first seed Baltimore Ravens. Lamar Jackson put up one of the greatest regular-season performances ever for a quarterback in Baltimore as the dominance of running back Mark Ingram, the young receiving duo of Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews, and the presence of an imposing secondary created an NFL super-team.

However, the wild card hopefuls from Tennessee managed to not just beat that super-team, but obliterate them on primetime television. Meanwhile, the Chiefs completed a comeback for the ages in Kansas City as they started off down 24-0 early in the second quarter just to score an astronomical 41 unanswered points. The magic of Pat Mahomes would go on to win Kansas City the game by twenty points after being down 24 earlier in the game.

Additionally, the Packers managed to squeak past the Seahawks with a nail-biting win while the 49ers imposed the dominance we as fans have seen out of them all season. With a crazy divisional round now behind us, it’s time to recap what we learned from the chaos that was the Divisional Weekend in the NFL.

Patrick Mahomes is the NFL’s best quarterback (not Lamar Jackson).

Among a historic season by Lamar Jackson aka “Big Truss”, NFL fans everywhere seem to have forgotten who runs the quarterback position. Make no mistake, Lamar Jackson is an electrifying quarterback like very few in history ever have been. However, Patrick Mahomes shall hold the throne as the quarterback supreme until further notice.

With Kansas City down 24-0 versus Houston on Sunday, Mahomes went on to throw four touchdowns in the second quarter alone. Furthermore, he managed to cement himself as the only quarterback in NFL Playoff history to throw for 300+ yards and 5+ touchdowns while rushing for 50+ yards in a single playoff game.

In fact, Mahomes this season hit the 4,000-yard passing mark once again while posting a better touchdown to interception ratio than last season. Lamar Jackson is no joke, but let’s not forget who Patrick Mahomes is and what his name entails.

The Titans are contenders, not pretenders.

Tennessee started the NFL playoffs by beating the 12-4 Patriots in the Wild Card Round. This was an upset of large proportions that will seemingly end the New England Patriots dynasty that has won five Super Bowls in the last decade as well as the AFC East eleven seasons in a row. However, the Titans proved they weren’t just a one-hit-wonder this past weekend when they beat Baltimore by sixteen points.

Additionally, the Titans have a formula that wins in the playoffs with a dominant running game and imposing defense. Titans’ running back Derrick Henry has ran for 150+ yards in back to back playoff games and even more impressively, against the Ravens and Patriots, who held the league’s fifth and sixth-best run defenses respectively during the season.

Meanwhile, Tennessee held two of the NFL’s top ten scoring offenses to under fourteen points in their last two playoff games. With a surging run game and lockdown defense, Tennessee has the formula for success during the final stretch of the NFL Playoffs. It also probably helps that Tennessee’s next opponent (Kansas City) had the fourth-worst yards per carry allowed this season on defense.

Baltimore’s linebacker corps won’t cut it next season as is.

After allowing All-Pro linebacker CJ Mosley to walk in free agency, Baltimore quickly adopted a linebacker by committee approach, where not a single linebacker managed to even hit 80 tackles on the season. For the most part, their approach to the linebacker corps worked as evident in the fact that they had the league’s fifth-best run defense during the regular season.

However, Derrick Henry exposed that linebacker corps big time, popping off for 195 yards rushing on a 6.5 yards per carry rate against Baltimore. Henry single-handedly carried Tennessee to the upset. Baltimore’s secondary was still solid as it held the Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill to under 100 yards passing and to a 50% completion percentage.

Baltimore’s defense is still a force to be reckoned with. However, the Ravens would be wise to invest a high draft pick on an inside linebacker during the upcoming draft.

Defense is won in the trenches.

San Francisco has proven this season and once again versus Minnesota that a defensive line either makes or breaks a defense. The 49ers have drafted a defensive line in the first round of four of the last five drafts. Against Minnesota on Saturday, that same defensive line held one of the NFL’s most electric running backs, Dalvin Cook, to eighteen yards on nine carries, while sacking Kirk Cousins six times.

Additionally, San Francisco’s six sacks came from five different defensive linemen. The San Francisco defense is without any doubt elevated enormously by the line, as the only 49ers player to be selected to the Pro Bowl outside of the defensive line is cornerback Richard Sherman.

San Francisco reinforced on Saturday what they’ve been displaying all season: an elite defensive line can make an average defense look intimidating as they come. In short: maybe exclusively drafting a defensive line isn’t as bad a draft strategy as it sounds.

Conclusion

The NFL Divisional Round was full of surprises and lessons. Going into the AFC and NFC Championship games, it’s a bit clearer now where the Super Bowl odds stand and who is slated to win it all.

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