By: Lucas Kochevar
The NFC Divisional round has officially concluded as the Packers, Bills, Chiefs, and Buccaneers all took care of business over the weekend. The match-ups are set for next Sunday with Tom Brady and the Bucs travelling to see MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau. The second match-up will include the electric Buffalo Bills and the reigning Super Bowl champions. These games should be a ton of fun to see who can stamp their ticket to Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. This article will cover the teams that won't get to see the field on Sunday and said goodbye to their seasons.
Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams had a fairly successful season in which they knocked off the division rival Seahawks with their QB having thumb surgery just about three weeks ago. Their defense was dominant majority of the season as they ranked first as the total defense. Aaron Donald was Aaron Donald. The season as a whole was very up and down. They lost to the Jets for crying out loud. Now there are reports coming out that McVay and Jared Goff are having trouble in their relationship. The offseason of QB vs HC continues. Reality is that these rumors should not be given that much attention as this sort of thing happens when the offense/QB doesn't play up to its potential. Goff just needs to get healthy and reflect on some of the issues that made his 2020 season harder than what it had to be. Cam Akers emerged towards the end to replace Todd Gurley's production. The defense should return its major starters but, DC Brandon Staley just got hired by the LA Chargers. It will be interesting to see who McVay hires to replace him and will they still have the same defensive production.
Baltimore travelled into Buffalo and fought hard with a great Bills team, however, a third quarter 102-yard pick six doomed the Ravens and essentially that's where everything came crashing down. Now, I am not here to bash Lamar Jackson. I am not sold on him as a passer and that is certainly an area where he has to improve over the offseason. He cannot keep coming into the season depending on his legs to carry the team to victory every time. He has to show some growth. To be fair, his weapons, outside of Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown, are very below average. They have to improve that area to try and relieve pressure off of the young QB. The defense is still in good shape, but they need to address the D-Line with names like Calais Campbell getting older. The Ravens have a great future if they stick with the plan of building around Lamar. Look for them to make him a very rich man with an extension. Their OC, Greg Roman, has to work on his variation in play-calling as they struggled mightily during the season until the last 5 games.
Don't look now, but the Cleveland Browns are back! After a dominant win over their bitter rival in the wild card, they ended up losing to the Chiefs. It wasn't the ending that they wanted but, they took a gigantic leap forward under first year HC Kevin Stefanski. The favorite to be Coach of the Year made the Browns offense into one of the stronger units in the league by adapting to Baker Mayfield's strength of play-action. He leaned on his two-headed RB monster of Chubb and Hunt. The defense has a few holes, but Myles Garrett played fantastic and Denzel Ward should improve with another offseason under his belt. This team had its up and downs mainly with player off and on the COVID list and they lost star WR Odell Beckham Jr., but they looked like they belong in the race for the AFC North for years to come. It will be fascinating to see the moves the Browns make. They often were held back by incompetent ownership. If the Jimmy Haslam steps back and lets the management do their job, the Browns should firmly be in the race next year with the Ravens and Steelers.
New Orleans Saints
The Drew Brees era is officially over. At least, it should be. The Saints played in their last game of the season when losing to the Bucs lead by a strong defensive performance. I cannot tell if the Saints offense was that bad with Brees or if the Bucs defense was flying around. I would believe the first verdict. Brees has lost all arm strength and went out truly sad. As a Falcons fan, I couldn't help but love every minute he stunk it up on the field with INTs. The Saints will go into the offseason losing three straight home playoff games to teams that they should have definitely beat. They will now likely turn to gadget player/QB Taysom Hill. Hill will be in his early thirties and does have some experience after playing some this season when Brees was out with his rib injury. The Saints will be losing Asst. HC Dan Campbell to the Lions and Director of Player Personnel Terry Fontenot, who is highly regarded, to the Falcons as the new GM. The biggest issue the Saints will be facing is the fact that they are $100M over the salary cap. They will be in for a franchise changing offseason by losing the best QB to put on the black and gold.