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January 17, 2023

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Divisional round edition

Eagles NFL
011723TomBrady Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

It's going to be a long offseason of trying to ignore Tom Brady news.

The first round of the NFL playoffs is in the books, and there were no real surprise results in the NFC during "super wildcard weekend." Obviously, we have three new obituaries to write.



Seahawks: 2022 was the Seahawks' first season without Russell Wilson as the Week 1 starter since 2012, and most NFL observers had them pegged as a rebuilding team that would likely be picking in the top 10 in the 2023 NFL Draft, and possibly even top five. I had them 14th in the NFC Hierarchy before the start of the season. 

But they got unexpectedly solid play out of Geno Smith, and bunch of their rookies — like LT Charles Cross, RT Abraham Lucas, CB Tarik Woolen, CB Coby Bryant, and RB Kenneth Walker, to name a few —provided immediate production.

Seattle got out to a 6-3 start to the season, faded down the stretch, and eventually back doored their way in to a playoff game. They also still got a top five draft pick anyway, via the Broncos, after Wilson had an absolutely dreadful season in Denver. 

With a six-point deficit in the third quarter of their wildcard round matchup against the 49ers, the Seahawks faced a 2nd and 9 from the San Francisco 14. Smith hit Tyler Lockett for a 7-yard gain, setting up a 3rd and 2 from the SF 7. Except... oh no (!) an official felt like randomly ruining the game with a nonsense illegal man downfield penalty.


The penalty is on the LG, who is like a yard and a half past the line of scrimmage and not impacting the play in any way at Smith's release point.


And sure enough, two plays later, in an obvious passing down situation, this happened...

The 49ers would score on their ensuing drive, and the rout was on. Good teams could have maybe weathered that garbage penalty, but the Seahawks are not a good team, or at least they are nowhere near the level of a Super Bowl contender like the 49ers. On a side note, since the NFL expanded the playoff field to 7 teams per conference, 7 seeds are 0-6 with a point differential of -73. Maybe that was a bad idea.

Going forward, the Seahawks have some good young players and a bunch of extra draft picks, including the aforementioned top five pick from Denver. They will have to decide if Smith is the answer at quarterback, or if they should select one in the 2023 draft. (Personally, I think they'd be insane to view the 32-year-old Smith as the answer, but whatever.)

All in all, it suppose it was a decent season for the Seahawks, given their preseason expectations, but by the end they kinda were what we thought they were.


Vikings: The Vikings were a weird team this season. They were 11-0 in one-score games during the regular season (including a couple of crazy games against the Bills and Colts), but in the games they lost they got their asses kicked in lopsided blowouts. As a result, they were the first 13-win team in NFL history to have a negative point differential.

On defense, they were ranked 27th in DVOA. On offense, in his five years as the Vikings' starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins had his worst season statistically in the following passing categories:

  1. Completion percentage
  2. TD percentage
  3. Interceptions
  4. Yards per pass attempt
  5. QB Rating
  6. Sacks

And so, entering the playoffs, most analysts considered the NFC a three-team race between the Eagles, 49ers, and Cowboys. Nobody was giving any real respect to the healthy, 13-win Vikings. A whole lot of people even picked the nine-win Giants to beat the Vikings in their building, which, of course, they did.

The 2022 Vikings will probably be most remembered for Cousins' shirtless dance on the plane ride home from a win over Washington.

Of course, when challenged with a real opportunity to show some swag, Cousins checked it down to his tight end on 4th and 8.

There really couldn't have been a more appropriate end to the Minnesota's season.


Buccaneers: The Vikings got a lot of heat for their crappy point differential this season, but more attention should have probably been paid to the Bucs on that front. After their embarrassing 17-point loss to the Cowboys in the wildcard round, the Buccaneers' final point differential was -62 and their final record was 8-10 in the worst division in the NFL, by far.

Tampa entered this season with the oldest roster in the NFL. The oldest player in the NFL, Tom Brady, suffered a sharp decline on the field while dealing with a very public divorce off of it. He screamed at teammates and did dirty stuff to opponents when things went badly. It was more of the same against Dallas, screaming at teammates when they made mistakes, and yeah, more dirtiness.

I imagine there will be breathless coverage of Brady this offseason. Where's he going play? Will he retire? And if he does retire, will he really mean it this time? Is he going to give crypto another shot? 

Honestly, who cares? We already did that last year, and now he's cooked.

As for the Bucs, they're in sort of a no-man's land in which they still have enough decent players that they won't commit to a full-on rebuild, but they're also a far cry from the team they were two years ago, and now they'll likely also need a new quarterback.





4) Giants (10-7-1): I can't claim to have seen every Giants game this season, but of the ones I've watched I thought they saved their best showing for their win over the Vikings on Sunday.

Saquon Barkley had a very heavy workload the first half of the regular season, and his production fell off a cliff around Week 11, but I thought he looked spry in Minnesota, and could be a big headache for opposing defenses for as long as the Giants are able to stay alive.

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFC are from the NFC East, by the way.

Last week: 5


3) Cowboys (13-5): I'm going to guess that Eagles fans agree here:

Jerry Jones should probably give McCarthy a 10-year contract extension.

Last week: 3


2) Eagles (14-3): To the 1 seed go the spoils:

  1. They got a week off. (Duh, we already knew that.)
  2. As noted above, the NFC is widely thought to be a three-horse race. The Eagles get to play the one team left not included in that Super Bowl conversation.
  3. They'll play on Saturday, which means that the Giants will play back-to-back road games on short rest.
  4. Because they play on Saturday, it also means they get an extra day of rest in between the divisional round and the conference championship round, should they beat the Giants.
  5. And, of course, as you know, they'll be at home throughout.

Last week: 2


1) 49ers (14-4): Like the Eagles, the Niners have some serious advantages as well. They played at home on Saturday, and likely began preparing for Dallas as soon as the Vikings were knocked out of the playoffs on Sunday. They'll have two extra days of rest and preparation than the Cowboys, who will be playing their fourth straight road game, and on short rest, no less (Monday night to Sunday). Actually, it's more like three straight road games, since the first road game during that stretch preceded a mini-bye since it was a Thursday nighter. But whatever it's still a good point, so shut up.

Last week: 1

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