About those golden tickets the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs hold after earning the only first-round byes in this year’s Super Bowl tournament:
As each team spectated this past weekend, its golden ticket became more golden.
Upsets happened and as a result, the Packers and Chiefs saw their odds improve for winning in the Divisional Round this weekend — upgrades of 2.5 points and 3.5 points, respectively, per oddsmaker BetOnline.
Feel free to play the disrespect card if you’re the Los Angeles Rams or the Cleveland Browns.
Here’s the breakdown for the Packers:
If the favored Seahawks had defeated the Rams, Tampa Bay and cold-weather veteran Tom Brady would’ve packed their winter gear and headed to Green Bay as a four-point underdog, while knowing they’d beaten the Packers by 28 points in Week 6. Instead, it’ll be the Rams and their mysterious quarterback crew arriving Saturday at Lambeau Field.
Will Jared Goff’s right thumb, which was dislocated and fractured three games ago, allow him to control the football and fire spirals through the cold air? Has John Wolford, who started for Goff the past two games, recovered from the neck injury that pressed Goff into a relief role Saturday?
And if the situation grows desperate, would Rams coach Sean McVay enlist Blake Bortles? He knows the offense, but hasn’t played since 2019.
So despite having the NFL’s best defense in several categories, the Rams are a 6.5-point underdog.
Here’s the Chiefs’ breakdown:
When Cleveland stung the Steelers, the Chiefs went from entertaining a visit from a Baltimore Ravens team viewed as a 4.5-point underdog to receiving a Browns squad deemed an eight-point longshot.
As there’s always a San Diego connection, it may be instructive for Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes to consider what happened 11 years to Philip Rivers and the Chargers when they received a similar gift during a bye weekend.
Against a New York Jets team that arrived in Mission Valley a 9-point underdog, a week after it upset the Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round, the Chargers (13-3) fell to a 17-13 defeat after Rivers threw two interceptions, Nate Kaeding missed three field-goal tries and the team committed 10 penalties.
The day’s events were highly atypical, starting with a San Diego police officer handcuffing Vincent Jackson, the top Chargers receiver, during a traffic stop that morning near the team’s headquarters.
San Diego Police said an officer monitoring radar for speed violations heard loud music coming from Jackson’s car on Murphy Canyon Road, a potential violation. As a result, Jackson was pulled over at 10:01 a.m.
After learning Jackson’s license and registration had expired, the officer issued Jackson a ticket. He was released.
Rivers drove Jackson to the stadium in his truck. The receiver, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, caught seven of nine targets for a game-high total of 111 yards.
Also, Jackson cost the Chargers 15 yards by kicking a challenge flag and saw Darrelle Revis, the Jets’ All-Pro cornerback, pick off a Rivers floater meant for him.
Somehow, the Chargers lost despite limiting the Jets to three points through three quarters.
Afterward, Antonio Gates seethed.
The tight end requested extra time to compose himself before answering questions. Then he asked a reporter to walk with him out of the stadium, allowing Gates more time to decompress.
Gates, standing near the team buses, between two rows of pine trees that flanked the stadium tunnel, was still prickly when he spoke. He bemoaned the team’s penalties. He said it wasn’t a performance worthy of the team’s talent and the 11-game win streak it rode into the game.
Years later, he labeled it the most frustrating defeat of his Chargers run: “I thought that team had the best chance to win the Super Bowl.” Instead, it was former Chargers teammate Drew Brees who raised the Super Bowl trophy after leading the Saints past a Colts team that Gates figured San Diego would’ve beaten in the AFC Championship Game.
The lesson here, football fans, is that some gifts are in fact golden, but others go down like the green Jell-o, topped with cat food, that Aunt Bethany served the Griswolds in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” (Jets fans played the role of Cousin Eddie, scarfing up the crunchy green stuff and asking for more).
Expect Goff to practice this week and face the Packers, said former Chargers team physician Dr. David Chao. Also, Chao forecast that both All-Pro DT Aaron Donald (ribs) and WR Cooper Kupp (knee) are likely to play, though Donald may need a pain-killing injection.
— Buffalo’s victory benefited the Packers, a potential Super Bowl opponent. With the Colts eliminated, Green Bay signed LT Jared Veldheer to offset losing 2020 All-Pro David Bakhtiari to injury in practice on New Year’s Eve. Veldheer, starting for Anthony Castonzo, had a solid game protecting Philip Rivers. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Packers were allowed to sign Veldheer because he was on the Colts’ practice squad.
— Once the football is teed up, who knows? Take the Browns-Steelers game. On his team’s first play from scrimmage, Steelers C Markeith Pouncey snapped the ball over Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns recovered for a touchdown that increased their chance at victory from 40.2 percent to 58.8 percent, per analytics site EdjSports.com. On the next Steelers possession, when Roethlisberger lobbed an errant pass that was intercepted near midfield, Cleveland’s estimated chance at victory rose to 67.9 percent. Three plays later, Baker Mayfield’s TD pass to Jarvis Landry ratcheted the percentage to 76.4. The Browns scored 28 points in the quarter, setting an NFL record for points in a first quarter. By then, their estimated chance at victory was up to 96.8 percent.
— Chiefs coach Andy Reid generally considers rest more rewarding than the risk of rust, and it’s a belief reinforced by his successes such as an 18-3 record off the regular-season bye. For Mahomes and other regulars who sat out the final game Jan. 3, the contest Sunday will be their first in 21 days.
— The Chiefs don’t want a rusty reprisal of last year’s playoff opener, when they fell behind the Texans, 24-0, before rallying to victory. The recent extra rest seemed ideal for Mahomes and both of his starting tackles. Mahomes took his worst beating yet in the team’s 14th game, Dec. 20 at New Orleans, and fell off the following week against Atlanta. LT Eric Fisher (back) labored mightily against the Saints, while RT Mike Remmer (back) was held out.
— For the Chiefs to repeat, Mahomes may need to improve on his Super Bowl run last year. Back then, the line’s blocking and the playmaking from RB Damien Williams (Mira Mesa High) far exceeded what Mahomes received from those units in recent games. Mahomes said the layoff will revive the current line (though it’s less talented than a year ago, because two standout blockers aren’t available from the Super Bowl-winning team). The struggles Dec. 27 against Atlanta, said Mahomes, taught coaches and players “that we need to make sure we’re clear and definitive with what we’re calling, and what we’re trying to ask them to to put them in position to succeed.” Coming off recent injuries, Chiefs RBs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell will be hard-pressed to match the Super Bowl run by Williams, who had six TDs in the three games. He opted out of this season.