The New York Giants, unfortunately, missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Fourteen teams were able to advance to the postseason, and 12of them played on wildcard weekend. Although the Giants didn’t qualify for additional games, they can still look at the teams that are currently alive and see avenues to possible immediate success. There are always interesting takeaways from wildcard weekend, so let’s see if we can find any that relate to the Giants.
Bills 27, Colts 24
The difference a star receiver can make
The Buffalo Bills won their first playoff game in 25 years by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 27-24. Celebrate Bills’ Mafia - continue to jump through tables in happiness due to this infrequent experience, and relish in the future of Josh Allen. Allen was the seventh selection in the 2018 draft. He was big, strong, had a cannon for an arm, but was incredibly inconsistent with his ball placement and decision making - arguably the two most important traits for NFL quarterbacks.
In 2019, Allen led the Bills to the playoffs with a 58.2 percent completion rate, which was remarkably better than his 52.8 percent rate in his rookie season. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll utilized Allen’s incredible athletic ability to move an erratic offense. Allen’s struggles were highlighted in the 22-19 wildcard loss to the Texans. The Bills took an early lead scoring on a trick play and then struggled to move their offense, and Allen made several mental errors. The young player wasn’t taken too seriously heading into his third season - that was a mistake.
Allen ascended and threw 39 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Allen deserves a ton of credit, as does his coaching, but a huge piece to this puzzle is the addition of Stefon Diggs. Diggs is an elite wide receiver who the Bills acquired in a March trade with the Vikings. Buffalo traded the 22nd pick in the 2020 draft, a fifth, and a sixth-round pick for the disgruntled wide receiver and a seventh.
Many pundits thought that Diggs was going to be an issue with the inaccurate Allen, but the two are playing phenomenally with each other. Allen is getting the most out of Diggs (most targets and catches of his career) and Diggs is getting the most out of Allen. Adding Diggs proved to be an essential move towards the advancement of the Bills’ young quarterback - Brandon Beane nailed this deal, and the Vikings won, too.
In the wildcard win over the Colts, Stefon Diggs caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown on nine targets. This performance happened with a hobbled Cole Beasley and a ton of attention being paid to Diggs.
Allen possesses greater physical traits than Daniel Jones, but there are parallels between Jones and Allen. Jones hasn’t received a chance to play in the postseason yet, but the lack of elite wide receivers held both of these signal callers back. If the Giants do decide to add a veteran wide receiver like Kenny Golladay or Allen Robinson II, it will most certainly benefit Jones the way adding Diggs benefitted Allen.
The addition of a veteran to pair with Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley, Darius Slayton, and Evan Engram, should provide Jones the necessary complement of weapons that he has lacked. On the flip side, the Giants could add a receiver with the 11th pick. while a player like Diggs adds a lot of veteran characteristics that are only learned through experience, Justin Jefferson, the 22nd pick by the Vikings, had 88 receptions as a rookie. A player like that would still add an explosive play element to the Giants offense, which is assuredly necessary for the 2021 Giants.
Rams 30, Seahawks 20
Maybe the NFC East didn’t have the worst division winner
The Rams lost a Week 16 battle in Seattle that forced them into an almost must-win game against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17. The Rams took care of business and had the opportunity on Saturday to face the Seahawks for a third time this season. Los Angeles convincingly defeated Seattle, 30-20, with a “backup” starting quarterback who had surgery on his thumb less than two weeks prior.
Los Angeles held Russell Wilson to 11 completions and forced nine punts, a turnover on downs and a pick-six. Wilson was sacked five times and was constantly under duress from Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and the rest of the Rams’ defense. The Rams, much like the Giants, have a shutdown cornerback in Jalen Ramsey and one of the better interior pass-rushing defensive lineman in Aaron Donald. Donald is more of a presence than Leonard Williams, but Bradberry is somewhat comparable to Ramsey.
The Giants have pieces in place and the defensive mind to implement the pieces to their fullest potential with Patrick Graham returning as defensive coordinator. The Rams had some tough losses down the stretch, but Seattle has seemed off since their 17-12 loss to the Giants at Lumen Field.
The NFC East is rightly the most embarrassing division in NFL history. The five-win Giants had a chance to make the playoffs heading into Week 17 where they improved their record to 6-10. It was an Eagles tank job that helped keep asix-win team from hosting a playoff game - that’s bad. The Seahawks’ offense, however, was terrible down the stretch of the season.
Sure, Seattle won six of its last seven games, but the Seahawks looked very sloppy. In the last three games of the season, they averaged the second-fewest yards per game, only behind the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wilson couldn’t get on the same page with his receiving options; D.K. Metcalf hadn’t had a 100-yard game since 100-yard. The offensive struggles were very apparent. There was a very uneasy feeling for Seattle heading into the wildcard matchup against the Rams.
The Giants helped expose the deficiencies with Seattle and the Rams replicated those defects. To accurately go over the title I have assigned to this game “Maybe the NFC East didn’t have the worst division winner,” I should probably dive into the game that had the assumed worst division-winning team.
Buccaneers 31, Washington 23
The Buccaneers were able to resist the Football Team’s attempt at an upset on the back of Taylor Heinicke’s efforts. Tom Brady and company won 31-23 in a game where the Buccaneers started quickly but finished slowly. Heinicke, a career backup, took Twitter by storm and kept Washington’s hopes alive down to the two-minute warning. The Buccaneers prevailed, but it was a valiant effort.
Despite not having Alex Smith, Washington was able to effectively move the football against Todd Bowles’ defense. Heinicke showed the ability to throw off platform with great accuracy and touch while showing abilities to attack zone and man with confidence. After mistakes, Heinicke was able to settle down, sustain long drives, and convert those drives into touchdowns - that is important and it’s something Seattle just couldn’t do against the Rams, or much at all down the stretch of the season.
Another important aspect of this game was Heinicke’s experience with Ron Rivera and Scott Turner. Heinicke bounced around the league for a while before landing with the Panthers in 2018. He worked with Turner for a year, before going to the XFL. At the beginning of December, Washington signed Heinicke to be an emergency COVID-19 quarterback, since he was familiar with both Turner and Rivera. Smith suffered a calf injury and Dwayne Haskins was released from the team, which led to Heinicke’s second NFL start.
The familiarity with Heinicke and this coaching staff does not hurt. I know it’s strange to see me writing, in a glorifying manner, about the losing team, but the perception of this division is so low that Heinicke almost realistically upsetting Tom Brady should be discussed positively.
Ravens 20, Titans 13
Know your Identity
The Ravens went to Tennessee and defeated the Titans 20-13 in a game where the Titans held a 10-0 lead. There’s no love between these two teams and it started when the Titans went into Baltimore, in the divisional round last year, and defeated the Ravens, 28-12. It was a huge upset and it started the conversation that 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson can’t play from behind.
Jackson had to listen to these criticisms all offseason, but he and the Ravens did not panic when they were down to that same team in the playoffs this year. The Ravens stuck to their identity. They ran the football, showed similar formations and ran variations off of previous plays, and used Lamar Jackson’s legs on designed quarterback runs to punish a lackluster Titans defense.
Jackson finished the game with 136 yards rushing and a touchdown. Tennessee struggled with power quarterback runs with the backside guard pulling. Towards the end of the game, the Titans proved they could not stop that run, so they continued to run that play until they sealed a victory.
As for the Ravens defense, they would not allow star running back Derrick Henry to impose his will. Henry ran all over the Titans in last year’s loss and their matchup this season. Tennessee came into this game averaging the second-most rushing yards per game, second to only the Ravens, but Baltimore held Henry to 40 yards on 18 carries.
Much like the Ravens, the Giants are also designed to stop the run with a stout front and a coach who knows how, and when, to call certain plays. The Giants have some questions about who will be back after this free agent cycle. If Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson return, then the 2021 Giants will be set to shut opposing runs down.
However, the Ravens are much better set up to stop the pass. Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmie Smith are all good cornerbacks. Matt Judon and Yannick Ngakoue are both very good pass rushers as well. The Giants have Bradberry, who is elite, Darnay Holmes, who shows promise, but no one else that can be relied on at the second outside corner spot.
If the Giants can upgrade their cornerback position, and add EDGE help, they may be able to replicate the high potential that Baltimore has on defense. Graham has proven to be an excellent coordinator, so he can make a lot with a little, but better personnel must be added to this defensive unit to maximize their chances at having a big impact on the 2021 team.
Saints 21, Bears 9
Good game plan, bad mistakes
Typically, if you were to see a title like the one above and associate that with the Bears, then the thought could be that struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky played terribly - that wasn’t the case. Trubisky threw for only 199 yards and a touchdown, but his receivers dropping passes did not help his case. Matt Nagy designed a great play with misdirection and a throwback pass to Trubisky where the quarterback ended up throwing a deep post to Javon Wims which was dropped in the end zone.
The game plan was there and the Saints struggled with the Bears defense, but the score ended 21-9 for the Saints. The only Bears touchdown was scored on the last play, a pass to Jimmy Graham. It was only 7-3 at halftime, and that’s with that dropped Wims touchdown and a failed fourth-down conversion that Nagy rolled the dice within an attainable field goal position.
Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano had a good game plan that forced Saints quarterback Drew Brees to throw the football. It made the Saints one dimensional, but it wasn’t enough, despite the Bears forcing a Taysom Hill fumble. Execution is a gigantic part of winning football games, and the loss of Darnell Mooney and Roquan Smith forced backups into the game that mitigated the Bears’ overall effectiveness. The Saints are the much better football team, but the Bears had them where they wanted them at halftime. Too many mistakes throughout the game, though, made it too difficult to overcome.
Don’t give the opponent fuel
I don’t think you can get off to a worse start than what the Pittsburgh Steelers showed against their division rivals on Sunday night. The Steelers fell behind 28-0 in the first quarter, which is a postseason record for points scored in a quarter. Mistakes compounded and Pittsburgh just couldn’t get out of its own way. The score was 35-10 at halftime. Pittsburgh made it interesting, but the score ended 48-37.
I’ve been saying the Steelers had a ton of fraudulent tendencies for quite some time; anyone who listens to Falato on Football can attest to that. Pittsburgh was very sloppy towards the end of the year, but the Steelers have a history of allowing upsets or playing beneath themselves against inferior competition. That was on display in the first half against the Browns as Ben Roethlisberger tossed three interceptions.
Just a few short weeks ago, on Monday Night Football in a very important game for Pittsburgh, the Steelers got punched in the mouth by the Ryan Finley-led Cincinnati Bengals. JuJu Smith-Schuster was seeing criticism build throughout the week due to his TikTok dances on opponent’s mid-field logos. Needless to say, Smith-Schuster had a pathetic performance and his dances stopped because it started to become a distraction for the team (mostly because the Steelers were struggling).
Fast forward a few weeks and Smith-Schuster was quoted saying this about their impending matchup against the Browns:
”I think they’re still the same Browns teams I play every year. “I think they’re nameless gray faces. They have a couple good players on their team, but at the end of the day, I don’t know. The Browns is the Browns.”
These comments came a week after the Browns defeated the Steelers B-Team, but it’s that bulletin board material that’s unnecessary and seems unlikely with Joe Judge in charge of the Giants. Nevertheless, Smith-Schuster was able to back his play up this time by catching 13 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, but the Browns were the sharper, more hungry, and better-prepared team - and that’s with their head coach watching the football game in his basement. It’s troubling that the Steelers have become synonymous with playing down to their competition, but credit to Cleveland for pulling off the divisional upset.
Subscribe to our podcasts
Finally, be sure to check out all of the shows across the expanding Vox Media Podcast Network.