Conference Championship Open Thread

Before we get to today’s games, let us commemorate a truly great Thank You For Not Coaching Moment from Mr. Bill O’Brien last week. No, no, not the fake punt — that was a smart risk, they ran a good play and Sorensen just made an incredible play to blow it up. It happens. The decision to settle for a field goal from the 13, on the other hand, is a Mike McCarthy special all the way, and the justification was hilarious:

Let’s take them one at a time. No, there’s not a good argument for kicking a field goal up 21-0 on fourth-and-1 from the 13-yard line. We can successfully bury the argument that you don’t want to give the Chiefs momentum if they stop you on fourth down deep into the earth, given that the Texans kicked a field goal and the Chiefs roared back anyway. You shouldn’t be settling for points because you’re already up by a bunch; we all know the Chiefs are capable of catching on fire at a moment’s notice, and if O’Brien had faith in his defense, he should have noticed that the only thing stopping the Chiefs to that point were their own drops.

The argument O’Brien made after the game was that he “… didn’t have a great play there for the fourth down at that point and time,” which seems more and more ridiculous each time I read it. The Texans called a timeout, so they had plenty of time to think about it. O’Brien has repeatedly insisted on adding extra duties to his plate; he’s now the coach, general manager and offensive coordinator rolled into one. He has Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, and a bevy of players for whom he traded picks to add this season on offense, including Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Duke Johnson. O’Brien was facing a Chiefs team missing their best defensive lineman in Chris Jones.

If you can’t think of a playcall that you have enough confidence in to use on fourth-and-1 in the red zone with those guys and those responsibilities, what are you doing out there? Can you imagine Sean Payton or Kyle Shanahan not having a playcall for fourth-and-1 after a timeout? Charitably, I’d like to assume that O’Brien wasn’t telling the truth after the game and that he was instead scarred after failing on the fourth-and-1 attempt to seal the game up against the Bills in the wild-card round. That’s terrible logic, but it’s not as bad as being unable to come up with a fourth-down play for one of the league’s most dynamic offenses in a key playoff situation.

Well, at least it’s not like Minister of Every Portfolio O’Brien traded his next two drafts to go all-in on 2019 or something.

CHIEFS (-7) over Titans Tennessee certainly has a puncher’s chance here. The path to victory is clear enough: they have the best running back in the world, stopping the run is the one thing the Chiefs are worst at, and in the tradition of the Parcells Giants the passing game doesn’t pile up bulk yardage but is efficient and makes big plays when it needs to. (Note, as another item in a bad year for Silicon Valley Tanking Theory, that the Dolphins didn’t need to tank to get a quality QB — they just needed to give the one they already had a coach who wasn’t a complete numbnuts. They seem to have that problem solved, which is more important than getting the #1 pick.) Parcells never had a running back as good as Henry, but he also had great defenses, which is the rub. It’s one thing to grind out a ball control win against a rapidly disintegrating Tom Brady throwing to injured and/or C-list talent, or even a Ravens team that was excellent but had an offense built to play with a lead. The Chiefs, as we saw last week, don’t have to change what they do if they fall behind, and it’s going to be hard for the Titans to catch up if — and we should probably say when — Mahomes goes on another heater. I think it’s midnight for Cinderella here.

49ERS (-7 1/2) over Packers If I were actually betting this game..well, I’d tease down both favorites in a parlay, but if I had to bet this game against the spread with the hook figuring I could easily get a backdoor cover if I don’t get the upset. Rodgers was good throughout the game for one of the few times all year last Sunday, and the Smiths could definitely press Jimmy G. into critical mistakes. But despite getting Rodgers’s A game they barely beat a Seattle team that once again turtled for almost the entire first half trying to prove some kind of dumb ideological point. (That three-and-out in the first quarter comprised of three straight runs behind the right guard from a 33-year-old running back who looked 73 was Brian Schottenheimer’s masterpiece. Until the games get so far out of hand he has to use Wilson he’s not so much playcalling as trolling at this point.) As with all great playcallers Shanahan’s ideological commitment is to call the plays that will work given the personnel matchups, and the 49er defense is also well ahead of Seattle’s in terms of both personnel and scheme. Green Bay is good and will give a better effort than the last time these teams met, but I think the Niners ultimately pull away.

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