Conference Title Weekend Recap: Reign of the Four Seeds

Henry Standage
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Monday, January 31, 2022

Back in October, I went to my first ever NFL Regular Season game. My Jets (yes, my) were hosting a plucky little team from Ohio called the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were 5–2 and I was excited to see Joe Burrow play. Naturally, some dude named Mike White bested him in a shootout and like everyone else, I disregarded the Bengals as a contender that day. 

Well, after Joe Burrow took nine sacks and won in Tennessee last week, he pulled his own sack out and led a 21–3 comeback in Patrick Mahomes’s house to send the Bengals to the big game for the first time in 33 years. Burrow also has the opportunity to become the first quarterback to win the Heisman, national championship and Super Bowl - if he does, he will have accomplished all three within 30 months. As a result of his increased fame and slick Instagram captions, sources are telling me that Burrow has also been added into a group chat with Pete Davidson and Jack Harlow. Truly a remarkable run.


It’s hard to describe just how insane the Bengals comeback felt. At 21–3, I texted about 14 different people “Y’know it really feels like the Superbowl was last week” in reference to the Bills-Chiefs shootout a week prior. The only thing that could stop the Chiefs in the first half, was the clock, which ran out while they were on the two-yard line to end the half. Mahomes went into the locker room 18/21 for 220 yards and three touchdowns. He had just 55 yards, along with two interceptions and no touchdowns in the second half. This week when the Chiefs got the ball to start overtime, Mahomes threw an interception. Burrow would drive the ball down methodically before everyone's new favourite kicker Evan MacPherson drilled the ball through the uprights.


Look, we all love Mahomes. He’s the Steph Curry of the NFL. Yet, with his mammoth contract finally kicking in this summer, and signs of real kryptonite over the past 12 months, it’s no sure thing that his Chiefs will be favoured to come out of the AFC for the next ten years. Let’s not sugarcoat it — yesterday was an all-out disaster, and one not a lot of franchises bounce back immediately from. Oh yeah, and their division might have Justin Herbert and both Russel Wilson and Aaron Rodgers in it next year (if reports are true that the Broncos and Raiders will be aggressively pursuing an established star quarterback this offseason). 


But the Bengals weren’t the only team to win despite a lack of home-court advantage! The Rams played at their home stadium, and despite their best efforts to prevent tickets from being sold to San Francisco fans, were outnumbered at home— so much so that they were forced to use a silent count on offence. We’ve all seen more convincing wins than what LA displayed Sunday night, but I can’t lie — the amount of star power on this team is pretty fun. Blue chippers both old and young on the field mixed with a who’s who of casual football fans in the stands (including Leonardo DiCaprio, who was presumably researching a future Martin Scorsese directed R Rated Jimmy Garoppolo biopic). The Niners controlled what was a pretty ugly football game, before eventually blowing it at the end at the hands of a perseverant Rams defensive line. Don't even bother asking me what Jimmy G's trade value is. All I know is that if you trade for him, you better make sure you have an elite run game and a home state with an abundance of single pornstars.


For two weeks from now, I’ll be taking the Rams in a blowout because of that defensive line. The Bengals may have a team of destiny vibe, but if there’s anything last year's Superbowl taught us, it’s that if you have a mismatch at the line of scrimmage, it’s almost impossible to win. The Bengals found a way against the Titans, but with Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, Von Miller and co coming, Burrow won’t have the time he needs to pull off the big plays the Bengals often rely on. Yet, considering the amount of money Joe Burrow has cost me in three straight rounds, I say that with the utmost respect and fear in my heart. 


With Stafford on the other side, it does feel like we have two really good quarterbacks who a national audience isn’t already familiar with. This hasn’t happened in a while. Depending on how you feel about 2012 Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick, you can argue we haven’t had two elite fresh faces in this game during the 21st century. While Stafford is really good, and an absolute box score stat legend, he’s still really shaky. This was no more obvious than when he under-threw a ball by 20 yards, in what should have been the easiest interception — and probably a game-clinching dagger — of Jacquiski Tartt’s career. Credit to Stafford though, apart from the one shockingly poor throw, he put up points on back-to-back drives with his team's season on the line. I can’t think of a sports player who’s had a better opportunity to flip their legacy and standing within the game since Dirk Nowitzki in 2011. Similar to the Chiefs and Mahomes contract, LA is going to have to meet their maker eventually for trading all their draft picks for players who could help short-term. If they win, maybe they’ll never have to play another road playoff game at home. And maybe just maybe all that pressure and high stakes, is why I’m an idiot to take them. 


A critically acclaimed indie team with a QB proudly who boasted at the start of the playoffs that their city was so boring that it made their players acquiring Covid almost impossible, versus a blockbuster city and franchise looking to become relevant in Hollywood. For the first time in NFL history, neither team was a top 3 seed in their conference. It’s a random, quirky, completely unexpected matchup. But it’s a beautiful one. In perhaps the most bizarre playoffs in NFL history (six straight one-possession games!!), it feels like any and everything is on the table at Sofi Stadium in two weeks.