NFL Wild-card Monday 2024 Takeaways: What’s Next for Playoff Winners and Losers?

NFL Wild-Card Monday 2024 Takeaways: What’s Next for PHI and TB?

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 15: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs at Raymond James Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The NFL’s original Monday wild-card slate turned into a double-header thanks to a lake-effect snowstorm blowing through Buffalo and delaying the Pittsburgh Steelers-Bills meeting by a day.

    Three straight days of back-to-back contests provided football fans with a cornucopia of postseason action.

    During Saturday’s and Sunday’s action, a team with a worse regular-season record dominated one contest, while the favorites captured the other two meetings. Monday’s slate followed suit.

    The initial contest provided another decisive win for the Bills at their snow-covered abode. However, Buffalo endured potentially significant injuries to an already thin secondary. How well the Bills perform next weekend may come down to their tattered group of defensive backs.

    The Steelers, meanwhile, backed into the postseason with a lot of help. They didn’t look like they really belonged, and it starts with the fact that Pittsburgh isn’t good enough at the game’s most important position.

    On the other side of Pennsylvania, a difficult decision will be forthcoming regarding the status of head coach Nick Sirianni. A woeful end to the Eagles’ season placed his job into question.

    The same can’t be said for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who came into this season with no expectations whatsoever and barely won the NFC South with a 9-8 record. Now, they’re flying high with Baker Mayfield leading the way. Still, the squad’s approach might prove to be a hindrance next weekend.

    Deficiencies dominated Monday’s slate and will permeate what’s to come.

Will Nick Sirianni Continue as Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach?

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 15: Head coach Nick Sirianni of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on prior to the NFC Wild Card Playoffs against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni could be the latest to find out how fast life comes at a person.

    Less than a year after the Eagles played in Super Bowl LVII, legitimate questions about his job security emerged because Philadelphia limped its way to six losses in the team’s last seven contests, including Monday’s 32-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Considering how poorly his team played down the stretch, the lackluster effort throughout the roster and a chunk of veteran leadership likely leaving the roster, Sirianni doesn’t have the strongest argument as to why owner Jeffrey Lurie should retain his services.

    This is a team that quietly switched defensive play-callers midseason and didn’t get any better with the unit’s effort or overall performance. Missed tackles galore littered the field Monday night.

    Baker Mayfield and Co. dialed up 456 yards and scored on six-of-nine offensive drives, not including when the group tried to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter.

    Prior to Monday’s contest, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer reported that Sirianni wasn’t “on the hot seat” and would return even if the Eagles lost.

    To Sirianni’s credit, his teams are 34-17 during the regular season. This year, he had to overcome the loss of both his offensive and defensive coordinators, and a slight downturn could be seen as a result.

    The biggest concern is the team falling further apart from this point. Jason Kelce is retiring, and Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox may not return. Lane Johnson, Darius Slay and James Bradberry aren’t getting any younger, either.

    Considering how well the Eagles have done since Sirianni took over, he deserves another season. But he needs to get everyone back on the same page, starting with quarterback Jalen Hurts. If that means more changes among his coordinators, so be it.

    “Hurts’ desired direction for the offense has not materialized, which has been a source of disappointment for the franchise quarterback, according to a source with direct knowledge of Hurts’ thinking,” ESPN’s Tim McManus reported. “A disconnect between the visions of Sirianni, Hurts and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has affected the offense’s ability to land on an identity, the source said.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Aggressiveness Is Double-Edged Sword During Postseason

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    TAMPA, FLORIDA - JANUARY 15: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka #9 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates a play against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs at Raymond James Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles is known as the NFL’s most aggressive defensive play-caller. He’s going to blitz opposing quarterbacks, whether or not it’s to his team’s benefit or detriment.

    During Monday’s 32-9 victory over the Eagles, Bowles attacked all night. Quarterback Jalen Hurts and his running mates didn’t have any answer.

    The Buccaneers accumulated three sacks and six more quarterback hits. Those numbers aren’t overly impressive, unless you consider Philadelphia’s outstanding offensive line and how Tampa Bay’s defense overwhelmed a rock-solid group and continually attacked all the ancillary blocking pieces.

    Jeff Kerr @JeffKerrCBS

    The #Buccaneers blitzed on 53.8% of Eagles dropbacks, the highest by any team in a playoff game since the Buccaneers blitzed on 54.3% of dropbacks in the 2020 divisional round.

    Jalen Hurts was 12-of-20 for 92 yards with a TD and 0 INT against the blitz (87.9 rating).#Eagles

    Philadelphia didn’t convert a single third- or fourth-down attempt in 11 tries.

    Bowles provided a masterful performance with how he called the game, which allowed the Buccaneers to move into the divisional round.

    That same aggressiveness can easily turn into a weakness against Tampa Bay’s next opponent, the Detroit Lions.

    When these teams first met, Lions quarterback Jared Goff shredded Tampa’s defense for 353 yards. All-Pro wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown snagged 12 passes for 124 yards. The last point is particularly important.

    The Eagles didn’t have an answer for the Bucs selling out to create pressure because of A.J. Brown’s injury. Aside from one deep connection with DeVonta Smith, the Eagles lacked playmaking ability on the outside. St. Brown is an elite target and will be joined by Jameson Williams, Josh Reynolds and tight end Sam LaPorta, all of whom are playing better now than they were in Week 6.

    Goff has been particularly good against pressure packages this season. Going into the postseason, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick threw for more yards against the blitz than any other quarterback, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

    Furthermore, the upcoming meeting is in Detroit, where it’ll be easier for the home offense to identify and communicate defensive looks.

    In turn, Bowles must pick his spots. A constant barrage of pressure isn’t going to work like it did against the Eagles.

    If Tampa Bay plans to go on the road and beat the biggest winners from Wild Card Weekend, the coach’s aggressive nature must be tempered. He can still blitz Goff. He must do so when the looks and situations favor the Buccaneers. Otherwise, next Sunday could turn into a long day at the office.

Pittsburgh, the Steelers Have a QB Problem

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    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 15: Mason Rudolph #2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    The NFL consists of two types of teams: Those that have a franchise quarterback and those that don’t.

    The latter can be competitive. They can win games. They can even find themselves in the postseason and possibly win a division crown. If that’s good enough, they can be fine with whomever is behind center.

    In Pittsburgh, the Steelers operate at a Super Bowl standard. They’re not even close to that form, whether they have Mason Rudolph or Kenny Pickett behind center.

    Rudolph didn’t even play poorly during Pittsburgh’s 31-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He made a few good throws, extended a couple of plays and tossed a pair of touchdowns. But the juxtaposition of seeing his performance compared to the Bills’ Josh Allen should have been an eye-opener for the Steelers organization.

    More than ever, the NFL is a QB-driven league. The game has been geared toward the position in almost every possible way. The likes of Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Patrick Mahomes have helped lead their teams to the last five Super Bowl victories.

    Today’s quarterbacks need to be creative playmakers and existential threats on every down. The days of simply working efficiently with the offensive structure are gone. Brady was the best to ever do it. He retired. Today’s quarterbacks are geared toward extending plays, working off-platform and adding to both phases of the game.

    When the Bills needed a play Monday, Allen provided it with his feet. The 6’5″, 237-pound quarterback ran the ball eight times for 74 yards, including a 52-yard score, which occurred on a 3rd-and-7.

    Bleacher Report @BleacherReport


    (via @NFL)

    The Steelers stuck with Rudolph because he was the hot hand after Kenny Pickett suffered an ankle injury. Even when doctors cleared Pickett, head coach Mike Tomlin decided the third-string-backup-turned starter helped the offense more, with his aggressive nature.

    Yet it’s clear both Pickett and Rudolph create glass ceilings.

    The former has been average-to-below average in his first two seasons. Maybe his play shouldn’t come as a surprise as the only first-round pick from the worst quarterback draft class in the last 25 years. Whereas Rudolph came in and executed, he didn’t do enough to compete with an offense truly capable of creating explosive plays with Allen leading the way.

    The Steelers organization is famously loyal to all of its players and coaches. However, Pittsburgh finds itself in professional football purgatory. The team is just good enough to post a winning record and make the playoffs. The squad isn’t good enough to legitimately compete for another championship.

    Unfortunately, that status places the Steelers toward the back end of the first round, which makes it nearly impossible to draft a top QB prospect, unless a drastic move is made. It’s time to do so.

Buffalo Bills Advance, But Secondary Concerns Grow

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    ORCHARD PARK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 15: Kaiir Elam #24 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates his interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter at Highmark Stadium on January 15, 2024 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

    Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

    The Buffalo Bills are on a roll, as winners of six straight games, including Monday’s victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. But subsequent games will get tougher based on all of the injuries the Bills’ secondary endured.

    Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Tre’Davious White went on injured reserve after Week 4 when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon. Safety Taylor Rapp didn’t play against the Steelers because of a calf injury. Cornerback Rasul Douglas was inactive as well due to a balky knee.

    To make matters worse, two more defensive backs left Monday’s game and didn’t return. Christian Benford injured his knee, while Taron Johnson was evaluated for a head injury.

    Depending on how things go throughout the week, the Bills could be without their top four cornerbacks when the Kansas City Chiefs arrive in Buffalo for the divisional round.

    Kaiir Elam endured his share of struggles when filling in for Benford, but he also intercepted Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the end zone during an attempted back-shoulder throw. Johnson is the Bills’ primary slot defender, which should be difficult to fill. Cam Lewis entered the lineup and allowed a touchdown to Calvin Austin III.

    While Buffalo is worried about getting healthy along its back line, the Kansas City Chiefs’ passing game is growing with each passing week. Patrick Mahomes now has a strong rapport with rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice, who contributed 405 receiving yards in his last four appearances, including 127 or more yards during the last two.

    Travis Kelce, meanwhile, is who he always is.

    Josh Allen and the Bills offense are difficult to defend. But Buffalo may not be able to handle the Chiefs’ evolving passing attack because of a thin back line. Another shootout could be forthcoming, which is an exciting proposition for all football fans.

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