Up The Gut: Mraz Previews AFC, NFC Conference Championships

In his latest column, Shaun Morash recaps a wild and crazy divisional round and gives his picks for this weekend 

The DA Show
January 16, 2020 - 8:55 am

By Shaun Morash

Cold Open

Bill O'Brien will have a long way to go as a head coach before recovering from Sunday's disaster or errors. The shame of this for Texans fans is that his being given total control made him trade valuable draft picks and assets putting more on the shoulders of Deshaun Watson for his future in his prime. This was the first season the pathway for the Texans was truly wide open: no Patriots in the way, and the No. 1 seed went down. Yet, up 24-0, O'Brien had no feel for the game flow or opponent when he elected to kick a field goal on 4th and inches rather than try and go up 28-0.

His admittance after the game that he needs to improve on in-game decision making was both comforting and alarming. Admitting a major flaw is hard to do; the fact he is still committing them this deep into his coaching tenure is a whole nother problem. One thing is for sure: while the rest of the league drops their jaw at Deshaun Watson and calls him the future of the league, he will always be behind Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes as long as his head coaching situation remains the same. 

Ten Yard Gain

1-Seahawks look an awful lot like the old Aaron Rogers Packers. It is Russell Wilson doing magic like things from the quarterback position while getting little help elsewhere. That pass rush should have been worlds better this season and now stand a good chance of losing Jadeveon Clowney. In the NFC West, that is a tough recipe for sustained playoff appearances.

2-You from your couch do not have more angles than refs in a stadium when it comes to first-down spots. A still shot picture of Jimmy Graham surfaced late Sunday Night and everyone used it as evidence as to why the Seahawks got screwed. You were all played: Upon extended pictures, it was so clear the yellow line was off by a yard and Graham had gotten the 1st down. Think a little deeper when firing off the complain alarms on referees. 

3-The league is in good hands with Patrick Mahomes as the future face. That was the first of many signature moments on Sunday. As we prepare to say goodbye to Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Eli Manning in the next two years, there should be no fear the league takes a step back. New rivalries will be born, and Mahomes will be the center piece.

4-It is too early to know whether Lamar Jackson will be a big time clutch quarterback, but that doesn't mean it isn't fair to criticize him. He is 0-2 in the playoffs. Like many who figured it out, such as Peyton Manning, there is still time. However, his style of play is a lightning rod for good reason. Playing reckless, run-first football from the position – and yes, that is what he plays – makes the risk of injury more. Don't argue that, just look at running back lifespans in the NFL. So 0-2 now does look worse if he plans on playing like this for the foreseeable future. He won't have as many chances at this as Drew Brees. 

5-Mike Vrabel is showing why he is emerging as a top-five head coach in the NFL, an idea I would have laughed at in October. Vrabel has had questionable decisions throughout these past two years. His inability on grasping when to go for two and when not to has been one. But sticking his neck on the line and turning to Ryan Tannehill was a game changer. Now he has gone toe-to-toe with two of the best coaches in the NFL in the playoffs and outsmarted and out-chess-matched both. Tennessee has a keeper.

6-As it turns out, Kirk Cousins may still be remembered as coming up small in the big game. The short turn around was brutal for the Vikings, and the offensive line could not handle the pass rush from the 49ers. However, the low point output goes on Cousins record. Will all of that guaranteed money result in one playoff win? That isn't enough to alter a legacy.

7-Pat Shurmur is the perfect fit in Denver as the new offensive coordinator. For all of his flaws – and man, are there more than enough to count as a head coach – he is the perfect offensive coordinator. If the Broncos are all in on Drew Lock, then Shurmur's work with both Case Keenum and Daniel Jones are major positives to support this hire. 

8-This isn't an NFL nugget but more of a football-fan nugget. The national championship game cannot have its second half kicking off after 10:30 p.m. ET on a Monday Night. It is spitting in the face of East Coast fans. Why not play the game on a Thursday giving those who work in the morning just one day to suck it up rather than throw off everyone for a whole week? Or better yet, play the game on a Friday Night – you know, a night many respect as a football-watching night in high schools during the fall.

9-We have no idea if Joe Judge will pan out, but it is easy to see why he is different from past Belichick coaching tree members. He speaks like a head coach, he sounds prepared and he is no-nonsense. Matt Patricia, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, and Charlie Weis didn't coach under both Nick Saban and Bill Belichick. John Mara not going for the hot shot offensive coordinator and instead letting a dark horse from great coaching lineage sell him is a refreshing approach.

10-Nobody knows if the Browns got this hire right, but not hiring Josh McDaniels reportedly because McDaniels wants front-office overhaul is hysterical. The Browns don't understand that their analytical approach does not match with the egos they have built in their locker room. While being the head coach in Cleveland should factor in numbers and stats into a game plan, it should also factor in managing a locker room that could combust with any bad game. Can Kevin Stefanski handle that part of this?

My Picks

I went 3-1 last week, getting me to 30-28-1 on the season. For this week:

Chiefs -7.5 vs Titans: As the Chiefs showed last week, they are never out of a game with Patrick Mahomes. The recipe for success for the Titans punching teams in the mouth early has worked so well versus the Patriots and Ravens. With all due respect to an elderly Tom Brady and a star in Lamar Jackson, neither are Patrick Mahomes with the Chiefs weapons. Ultimately, I do not expect the Titans defense to hold Kansas City under 27, and if that is the case, how can I expect the Titans to keep up the pace offensively with the ground-and-pound? It may be now or never for Andy Reid. 

Packers +7 @ 49ers:  Odds will tell you expecting two blowouts on Championship Sunday from the favorites are slim. Vegas has you thinking based on spread that is likely. If I am putting money on an underdog this week, it is the Packers. Sure, they had their tail kicked in by the Niners in their loss. Sure, Aaron Rodgers has never won a game when he is a touchdown underdog or more. However, this Packers team has been disrespected all year, namely because they play a different brand of Packers football than we are used to. George Kittle is hobbled, the Packers pass rush has a chance to put some pressure on. In the NFL's 100th season, I expect a tight, classic NFC Championship between these two iconic franchises. 

Football Food of The Week

Spaghetti Stuffed Garlic Bread:  The Buffalo Chicken stuffed shells seemed to be a hit based on my timeline, so why not go full Italian mode with both games being played later on the East Coast Sunday, in the heart of dinner time. Pasta and garlic bread have gone hand-in-hand for quite a long time. However, putting them on each other is scientifically revolutionary, In a day and age where everyone is looking to cut carbs, with this food, we are putting carbs on carbs! How about that for one more pig out moment as football season nears and end. Here is the recipe:  

Thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.