The Championship Round of the NFL Playoffs is upon us! Soon, we’ll be crowning AFC and NFC Champions and getting ramped up for the Super Bowl before the inevitable whirlwind of an off-season hits us. But before all of that, it’s time to take stock of the Divisional Round with our latest Stock Report.
The Divisional Round of this year’s playoffs gave us some absolutely wild moments. We saw the best offenses in the league on full display, albeit to wildly different levels of success. We witnessed incredible comebacks, heavy favorites get toppled, and amazing quarterback play in every sense of the word.
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs pulled off one of the most improbable comebacks in playoff history after falling into a 21-0 hole against Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans. Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens got steamrolled by the juggernaut running back that is Derrick Henry. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Divisional Round is the Titans advancing to the AFC Championship, despite getting fewer than 100 yards passing from quarterback Ryan Tannehill in each of the last two games.
It wasn’t just the veterans who provided us with spectacular play over the last two weeks. We’ve been following the NFL rookies all season, and this week provided us several more impressive performances. Before we continue towards the championship, let’s analyze last week with the Stock Report for the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
Sunday’s Divisional Round match-up was a game that, for my money, was one of the most entertaining I’ve seen in a long time. The contest had everything you could want as a fan; explosive plays on offense, game-changing plays on defense, momentum-turning special teams’ play, concluded with an incredible comeback by the Chiefs. What’s more, it was all done without one of their top young talents.
Juan Thornhill tore his ACL in Week 17 of the regular season against the Chargers and missed the first playoff game of his career. He had been coming on strong towards the tail-end of his rookie season, and his absence was felt hard by the Chiefs on Sunday. Had Thornhill been able to play, it’s possible the Texans would not have been able to jump out to such a huge lead in the first quarter, and the epic comeback may have been unnecessary.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Thornhill recovers from suffering a major knee injury to cap his rookie season in the NFL. If he can come back on the trajectory he was on to finish 2019, look for him to be one of the top defenders in the AFC for the 2020 season and beyond. His leadership in the secondary is a piece the Chiefs will desperately need if they hope to be the team the Patriots have been in the AFC for the last 20 years.
Who says that players are the only NFL rookies who can be highlighted? Throughout the entire offseason, one of the biggest storylines in the NFL world was the Green Bay Packers and how first-time head coach Matt LaFleur was going to get along with star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Was the offense going to fire on all cylinders with a young, fresh mind at the helm? Was Aaron Rodgers’ talent going to continue to be largely squandered as he heads towards the twilight of his career?
Things got off to a bumpy start in Green Bay, as the questions grew louder with some early-season struggles. But LaFleur and the Packers settled in quite nicely down the stretch, now finding themselves in the NFC Championship Game, and one win away from a second trip to the Super Bowl for Rodgers. With a win, LaFleur can do something very few people ever get a chance to do: Win the Super Bowl as a rookie head coach.
Regardless of whether or not the Packers can go on to another Super Bowl victory, the questions have been answered and the naysayers have been hushed, at least for one season. We all know how fleeting success in the NFL can be, and how quickly the proverbial hot seat can begin to boil even on the most successful coaches. But for now, Matt LaFleur has positioned himself as one of the rising stars in the NFL. He won’t have quite the same buzz that Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay had, but he’s proven himself just as well in my eyes.
It’s tough to include Marquise “Hollywood” Brown in the Stock Down portion of this column. The Ravens lost to the Titans in the Divisional Round of the playoffs pretty handily, but it was far from Brown’s fault. Brown and the entire Ravens offense (read: Lamar Jackson) had themselves a day against the Titans defense, with Brown hauling in 7 of his 11 targets for 126 yards. It was the Ravens defense that let them down Saturday, getting bulldozed by star running back Derrick Henry.
Brown’s inclusion in this portion of the Stock Report is less about his performance on Saturday and more about what it says for the young receiver going forward. As the Ravens season played out, it became more and more evident that Jackson and Brown ARE the Ravens offense. These two young stars carried this team to the playoffs. It also became clear that if the Ravens want to advance, they need more weapons.
Whether it comes to the team through free agency or the draft, expect Baltimore to add more explosion to the offense for next season. They cannot rely solely on Lamar Jackson’s legs forever. They also cannot rely on the group they’ve surrounded Brown with in the wide receiver corps. Look for the team to bring in another target next year, which should open up the offense overall, but may take some opportunity away from Brown in the passing game. However, with a fresh face in the offense next year, we can expect bigger things from Baltimore’s offense in 2020.