The Eagles firing Doug Pederson is an unsurprising end to a dramatic chapter in the franchise’s history, Tom Brady’s chances at an upset, and much more.
The NFL playoffs got underway with a historic ‘Super Wild Card” weekend that delivered plenty of emotion-filled drama and exciting finishes.
However, the action is about to heat up as Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on the NFC side take the stage fresh off their bye weeks.
Should the top seeds be on upset alert?
What led to the Steelers’ historic late-season collapse?
We’ll touch on all of that, but the biggest story in the NFL this week has nothing to do with the eight remaining playoff teams, instead, a franchise that is quickly becoming one of the league’s most dysfunctional …
Doug Pederson’s firing by Eagles shouldn’t come as a surprise
Doug Pederson’s firing as Philadelphia Eagles head coach came as a surprise to many, but there is a belief in league circles that a vast philosophical divide had formed between the Super Bowl winning coach and general manager Howie Roseman.
“It sure looks like there’s a power struggle between Howie and Doug,” one current NFC coach told FanSided in the aftermath of the Eagles’ controversial regular season finale.
The Eagles adamantly dispute that assertion, and that Roseman had any input in Pederson’s firing. It was ultimately owner Jeffrey Lurie’s sole decision to part company with Pederson.
Roseman, the Eagles say, had “nothing to do with the decision to fire Doug.”
Lurie delivered the news to Pederson in person during a meeting with his fourth head coaching hire.
“I’ll say this,” a team source told FanSided following Pederson’s Monday dismissal. “This is easily what’s best for Doug.”
The duo of Roseman and Pederson delivered the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history in 2017, but the relationship, sources say, devolved over the past year.
“Howie hired Doug in the first place because he thought he could control him,” a league source tells FanSided. “Doug stopped being controllable, so Howie fired Doug, and I’m convinced Howie will hire a new puppet to replace him.”
Whatever acrimony might have developed between Roseman and Pederson, It was Lurie who hired Pederson, and Lurie who ultimately decided it was time to fire him this week.
In the end, Lurie says, the decision to move on from the only coach to ever win the Eagles a Super Bowl was a difference of opinion over how to give the franchise its best chance to fill its trophy case with multiple Lombardi Trophies.
“I would say the difference in vision is much more about where we’re at as a franchise,” Lurie told reporters Monday. “It’s a transition point, and we’ve got to get younger, and we have a lot more volume of draft picks and we have to accumulate as much talent as we possibly can that is going to work in the long-run with a focus on the mid-term and the long term and not on just how to maximize 2021.
“It’s almost not fair to Doug, because his vision has to be: what can I do to fix this right away and what coaches can I have that can help get me to a smoother 2021? My vision is much more: how can we get back to the success we’ve had and what we’re used to in the next two, three, four, five years? It’s not a difference of opinion, it’s a difference of where we’re both at.”
Pederson took heavy criticism from media, fans, even fellow coaches and NFL executives for his decision to pull rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts in the fourth quarter of a Week 17 contest the Eagles trailed the Washington Football Team by three points with a legitimate chance to win.
The decision to pull Hurts in favor of four-year veteran backup Nate Sudfeld sparked allegations from league insiders that Pederson and the Eagles committed the mortal sin of in-game tanking to improve their position in the NFL Draft.
However, that assertion wasn’t shared by at least one head coach of a playoff team. Nor was it the universal opinion around the NFL that it was Pederson’s decision alone to get Sudfeld late-game snaps.
“Doug did exactly what the suits told him to do,” said a second league source familiar with Pederson’s thinking.
Where the Eagles go from here is a far more complicated situation than what Pederson faces.
In all likelihood, Pederson will quickly get pulled off the scrapheap by a team that will land a head coach three seasons removed from a Super Bowl win, who owns a .531 regular-season winning percentage, and a 4-2 postseason record. In league circles, Pederson is widely viewed as an innovative offensive mind and accomplished play caller.
The Eagles job, though, is significantly less attractive.
Philadelphia has a mess on its hands, largely of Roseman’s creation. The Eagles enter this offseason approximately $74 million over the salary cap with an acrimonious quarterback situation, and an aging roster that includes a deteriorating offensive line that fielded 13 different combinations this season.
There’s also an uncomfortable elephant in the room.
Over the past seven years, Roseman was involved in a power struggle with former head coach Chip Kelly, and now there is perception — fair or not — inside the NFL that he was involved in a second one with Pederson.
Reports surfaced in recent weeks that Carson Wentz might request a trade, and the quarterback’s relationship with Pederson seemed to have soured.
Now that Pederson has been fired, and in a way Wentz placated, it would seem that the quality of this job to outside candidates centers around whether a candidate believes he can fix and win with Wentz.
How many potential head coaches will hitch their reputation to that situation?
Pederson, on the other hand, is among the most attractive candidates available. He now has the very real possibility of getting to coach the Chargers’ Justin Herbert, Texans’ Deshaun Watson, or reunite with former Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas with the Jets.
Perhaps parting company was what’s best for Pederson, after all.
Time will tell if Lurie made the right decision when it comes to the direction of his franchise at what might prove to be a critical juncture.
The case for Playoff road warriors
Last weekend’s historic “Super Wild Card Weekend” with three games each on Saturday and Sunday wasn’t just wildly entertaining, it was a fruitful weekend for the six underdogs.
The New Orleans Saints, thanks in part to their stifling defense that held the Chicago Bears to just 239 yards of total offense, were the only home favorite to cover. The Saints and Buffalo Bills were the only home teams to hold serve and advance as road underdogs finished the weekend 4-1 against the spread as four away teams advanced to the divisional rounds.
This weekend, the Cleveland Browns will face a far more daunting challenge when they travel to Arrowhead to take on the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, and the Green Bay Packers will likely be far less gracious hosts for the Los Angeles Rams than the Seattle Seahawks were last Saturday afternoon.
Could the underdogs be in for another dominant weekend?
Here’s one reason each of this weekend’s favorite should be on high alert: Los Angeles Rams (+7) @ Green Bay Packers
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the runaway front-runner to take home the 2020 MVP award, but if there’s one thing that slows Rodgers down it is a dominant interior pass rush. Only twice this season was Rodgers sacked more than twice; a 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Week 15 and a 38-10 shellacking by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in Week 5.
Panthers defensive tackle Derrick Brown sacked Rodgers twice, defensive end Brian Burns added two more, and against Tampa Bay it was Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul who combined for 2.5 of the Buccaneers’ five sacks.
Rodgers and the Packers would be fools not to account for Aaron Donald on every snap after the Rams’ All-Pro led the charge with two sacks in Los Angeles’ upset of Russell Wilson and the Seahawks. If the Rams are able to disrupt Rodgers in the pocket, they’ll have a puncher’s chance on the Tundra.
Baltimore Ravens (+2.5) @ Buffalo Bills
Much of the Bills’ success this season has been predicated on Josh Allen’s meteoric ascension into developing into one of the NFL’s most prolific downfield passers, in an offense built around wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ speed in the vertical passing game.
In last Saturday’s 27-24 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Allen completed 26-of-35 passes for 324 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one to Diggs, who caught six passes for 128 yards and the score.
Buffalo might face a much stiffer resistance against Wink Martindale’s defense, which enters with the NFL’s sixth-most stringent passing defense, holding opponents to 217.3 passing yards per game having just held Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill to 165 yards and a touchdown.
If the Ravens keep Allen under wraps and can once again control the tempo of the game with a punishing ground attack led by quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back J.K. Dobbins, Buffalo’s Cinderella carriage might turn back to a pumpkin.
Cleveland Browns (+10) @ Kansas City Chiefs
The Browns are surging, largely behind running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, who enter averaging a combined 4.9 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, Kansas City hasn’t played a meaningful game since clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed on Dec. 20.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs rightfully enter as 10-point favorites. But, the Chiefs haven’t won by 10 points or more since Week 9 against the New York Jets. If that streak is going to continue and the Browns are going to have any chance, Cleveland needs to continue pounding Chubb and Hunt, as Kansas City is allowing 122.1 rushing yards per game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3) @ New Orleans Saints
This game very well could come down to which Tom Brady shows up at the Superdome. In a pair of Buccaneers’ losses to the Saints this season, Brady was held to a combined 448 passing yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. But, Brady has tossed more than four touchdowns four times this season and the Buccaneers are undefeated in those contests.
That won’t be easy, especially after what the Saints did to Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears last weekend, holding Chicago to 199 passing yards with one passing touchdown in a 21-9 game that wasn’t even that close. Tampa Bay’s prospects this season have always been predicated on Brady’s success, and he has gotten more dominant as the season has gone along.
Over Tampa Bay’s last four games, Brady has averaged 380 passing yards and tossed 12 touchdowns. If this Brady takes the field this weekend, and the Buccaneers might need Brady’s best game of the season, they have a real chance to pull off the upset.
Free agent to watchDemarcus Robinson – WR, Kansas City Chiefs
While eight teams remain in the Super Bowl hunt, 24 are in full-fledged offseason mode with sights set on free agency getting underway in March.
Kansas City’s Demarcus Robinson is a wide receiver to keep an eye on this weekend as the Chiefs return to action.
This is a historically deep — and expensive — wide receiver class in free agency, and Robinson will be coveted after setting new career-highs with 45 receptions for 466 yards and three touchdowns after returning to the Chiefs on a one-year deal this season.
“We didn’t do enough. We didn’t position them in good enough plays, particularly in critical moments. We were a group that died on the vine.”
– Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on his team’s colossal late-season collapse and season-ending playoff defeat to the Cleveland Browns
The Steelers’ season officially ended with one of the most lopsided playoff defeats in recent memory, a 48-37 drubbing that Pittsburgh at one point trailed 28-0 in the first quarter, but their season was over at least a month ago.
In hindsight, it would seem losing pass-rusher Bud Dupree and the Steelers’ 19-14 Wednesday win over the Baltimore Ravens broke this team.
The Steelers lost three of their final four games after clinching an 11-0 start, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the offense’s downfall was even more pronounced.
Prior to beating the Ravens to complete a season-sweep of the Steelers’ AFC North rivals, Roethlisberger completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,800 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. In the Steelers’ final five games, Roethlisberger’s production plummeted to a 61 completion percentage for 1,000 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Roethlisberger’s passer rating dropped 17 points in the final four weeks.
There are no easy answers for the Steelers, who must face down the uncomfortable prospect of a full-fledged rebuild. But, that begins with trying to find a long-term solution at quarterback as Roethlisberger carries a $41.25 million cap number in 2021, when he’ll be 39.
In a division with Joe Burrow, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson, it isn’t a stretch to say the Steelers easily have the worst quarterback division of the bunch and maybe even the AFC North’s bleakest future.
The Washington Football Team might not have a name, but it certainly appears to have the brightest future in the NFC East.
Head coach Ron Rivera did an admirable job establishing a winning culture, while undergoing treatment for cancer, during his first season at the helm where he and his team also needed to navigate a deadline pandemic and the flameout of a former first-round quarterback.
Taylor Heinicke, an unheralded quarterback from Old Dominion went toe to toe with Tom Brady on Saturday night, and very nearly slayed the dragon. It remains to be seen if Heinicke is a fun story and career-backup quarterback or the next Tony Romo or Ryan Fitzpatrick who’s career is springboarded by Saturday night’s performance.
But, what gives Washington the chance to dominate not just the NFC East but take the next step towards pushing for a Super Bowl is a ferociously dominant defense, led by four first-round picks along the defensive line; Chase Young (7.5 sacks), Jonathan Allen (two sacks), Daron Payne (three sacks), and Montez Sweat (nine sacks).
If Washington continues to fortify its secondary, this has the chance to be a very scary defense in the not-so-distant future.
Rivera and Washington enter the offseason with $40.5 million in cap space to continue adding to its’ offensive skill positions that already include explosive contributors in wide receiver Terry McLaurin and burgeoning running back Antonio Gibson.
Washington came up short Sunday night, losing 31-23 to the Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round. But, Washington has the best coach and defense in its division and capable weapons for a veteran quarterback to be dropped into that could make this a team capable of making some noise in 2021 and beyond.
Matt Lombardo is the site expert for GMenHQ, and writes Between The Hash Marks each Wednesday for FanSided. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattLombardoNFL.