By: Shaun Morash

Cold Open

There is pressure on the NFL following the classic National Championship game on Monday Night. If you use social media as a measuring stick, which is still suspect to do but perhaps is a better measure than the naysayers will suggest, then football fans of both college and the NFL preferred the college season so much more. You can attribute that to injuries in the NFL, and political involvement, including where people fall on the protest debate. People grew tired at times with the NFL game in 2017; I refused to be one of those people.

The college game, though, has become special with the College Football Playoff a growing success with each passing year. This past National Championship Game on Monday night was the cherry on top of perhaps the most delicious college football season in recent memory. It is also every football fan’s lasting memory of this past weekend, not a Chiefs collapse or a Saints win.

Now, college is clear and the NFL has its most important weekend to date. Can they get at least three very good games? Can we escape without a ridiculous debate on whether a ball was caught or not? The NFL needs a big weekend in the worst way after the buzz that was created by a classic game at a lower talent level Monday night.

Ten Yard Gain

1-Jon Gruden is getting a lot of hate from outsiders who are not Raiders fans. However, this man is a Super Bowl-winning head coach. When looking at the landscape of candidates interviewing for jobs now, how can you laugh at the Gruden deal but feel confident in any team hiring Matt Patricia or Matt Nagy? Ten years is a lot of years, 100 million is a lot of money, but it isn’t your money and does not count against the salary cap. So, in reality, this move is as good and less suspect than any new hire by any team this offseason.

2-Titans-Patriots is now interesting, sort of. Ultimately the Patriots will win this game, but now I will no longer be “shocked” if they don’t based on the article last week discussing the tension in New England. When there is smoke, there is fire, and if the Titans find a way to hit Tom Brady early and often, the camera shots on that sideline become must-watch television.

3-It is time for a change under center in Buffalo. The Jaguars defense may be the best in the business, but Tyrod Taylor’s inaccurate throws and lack of awareness for situations and down and distance were so evident. Tyrod wants big-starter money and doesn’t deserve it. Some team who misses on Kirk Cousins may take a big swing for him, but it will be a mistake. He is best suited to start a couple of games before turning the reins over to a first-round pick this season, the way Mike Glennon did in Chicago. The Bills should take their assets and jump up the draft board to make sure they land their next guy.

4-Andy Reid should be coaching for his job next season. This has happened a lot quicker in Kansas City than it did in Philadelphia, but a tiger doesn’t change its stripes – or, in this case, a walrus doesn’t change its whiskers. He is an excellent leader and talent evaluator, which leads to him being an excellent regular-season head coach. Ultimately, though, his teams sink and choke year after year in the playoffs and this Wild Card round exit at home to the Titans may have been the worst yet. If in 12 months the Chiefs are once again eliminated then just pack up shop on this experiment and don’t ruin Patrick Mahomes’ future.

5-Eli Manning to the Jaguars again seems possible. As Nate Burleson said on The DA Show on Thursday, “This Sunday will decide Blake Bortles future in Jacksonville.” If he throws balls in the ground and the only offense he shows is with his legs, then the Jaguars know they need to jump on a window that can close in a heartbeat in this league. Tom Coughlin has the natural connection with Eli, and the Giants are clearly taking a quarterback. It is almost a match that seems too good to happen.

6-How inexplicable was it for the referees to not understand they needed to apply a 10-second run-off on the intentional grounding by Cam Newton late Sunday? Of all the poor officiating that occurred during Wild Card Weekend, this moment was the most egregious. The end of a game, everything on the line, every yard and second mattering, and they need someone from a mystery booth in New York calling down to those referees on the field in New Orleans. The levels of ridiculousness with this situation are so puzzling.

7-Message sent by Ron Rivera in Carolina following the team’s early exit. To fire both Mike Shula and Ken Dorsey after their elimination says wonders about what they expect out of Cam Newton. Norv Turner appears to be their man now, but without a legitimate downfield No. 1 receiver, will it matter?

8-This season was still a success for the Rams. They arrived with a divisional title a year ahead of schedule. The real challenge next year will be capitalizing in a market that has added Chip Kelly to its college universe. If the Rams struggle out of the gates, that fan base will forget about them real quickly.

9-Matt Nagy was an uninspiring hire by the Chicago Bears who are at a crucial juncture to ensure Mitchell Trubisky lives up to his potential and take the step Jared Goff took this season. Nagy saying he has no idea what kind of head coach he will be in his press conference makes me feel less optimistic, but how uninspiring must the other candidates Chicago spoke to have been?

10-Bruce Arians seems like he would be a fun grandfather to have. Drinking whiskey, talking football, but he just pulled a worse version than pulling a quarter out of your grandkids ear. Stirring up Nick Saban to the Giants rumors only to backtrack over drinks with Kay Glazer was a chump move. Know the power of words, Bruce.

My Picks

All the dogs covered on Wild Card Weekend which had me at 2-2. I am now 26-28-2 on the season.

Falcons -3 at Eagles: Nick Foles becoming the starting quarterback in Philadelphia is the biggest and most under-the-spotlight story as the Eagles become the first No. 1 seed ever to be an underdog on divisional weekend. Though that shouldn’t be the only story as the Eagles defense went into a shell of itself in December. They were the only defense that made an Odell Beckham-less Giants offense look good. To win this game without Wentz, the Eagles defense can’t just be good; it has to be great. I am not sure they can do that and slow down a Falcons offense that is playing its best football of the season.

Patriots -13.5 vs Titans: I want to buy into the Titans Saturday. Heck, it would be great for football. However, these Titans simply aren’t as good as last year’s Texans that ended up collapsing late in the divisional round in New England. The Patriots in an AFC Championship game has become a birthright in many ways, and these Titans just can’t match the talent. Derrick Henry will run well at times, but ultimately Brady to Gronk and Brandin Cooks turns this into a laugher come the fourth quarter.

Jaguars +7.5 at Steelers: This is my best bet of the week. The Jaguars’ poor offensive showing at home versus the Bills had many on their couch rolling their eyes and making fun of Blake Bortles. All of that criticism is deserved, but the Jaguars defense still only allowed a field goal to the Bills and that unit may be the single biggest wild card in this entire post season. They will hit Roethlisberger and force a couple of turnovers as they did when these teams met in the regular season. Fate makes me feel like Steelers-Patriots is inevitable, but the points are too many here and Pittsburgh fans will be sweating this out until the bitter end.

Saints +4.5 at Vikings: Much like last weekend, the NFL will save its best for last on divisional weekend. This should be a wild game with the Saints having to earn every yard on the ground with the Vikings vaunted defense. Case Keenum will make plays in this game; yes, I just uttered that sentence. However, a field goal late either way will decide the outcome which is why I love the Saints getting 4 plus the hook. The Vikings will do enough late on their game winning drive to redeem themselves for having their kicker of two years ago, Blair Walsh, ruin their playoff run with that loss to the Seahawks. This win also becomes the 2009 NFC Championship revenge game, setting up a 1998 NFC Championship revenge game vs the Falcons next week.

Football Food of The Week

TGI Friday’s Appetizers. On the show this week, we came to the very unfortunate and real American horror story, chain restaurants are dying and dying fast. Especially TGI Friday’s, who has contributed so many of the best appetizers known to mankind. In fact, we on the show are now imploring a new hashtag, #SaveTheChain. Don’t let this American Gem die. So in an effort to keep the chains breathing, I am recommending Friday’s Apps for this week.

The beauty of Friday’s apps is you can buy them in most market’s frozen food section or order fresh ones to be picked up at your local TGI Friday’s. My favorites? Well, I’m glad you asked, or at least I am glad I asked myself:

Potato Skins- I do not care what Pizzeria UNO says; the 1st Potato Skin any of us saw was at a TGI Friday’s. Many have tried to replicate it and they come close, but Friday’s skins remain the GOAT.

Mozzarella Sticks- Unlike the round, fried tubular cheese we see on any table at any restaurant in America, TGI Friday’s has unique sticks. They are fried, flat sticks. Whatever Friday’s chef thought of that deserves a Nobel Prize.

Jalapeno Poppers- Often overlooked and forgotten as an app. Cream cheese, cheese, and a spicy jalapeno wrapped together and fried? Come on now.

Thank you for reading and enjoy the best football weekend of the year. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS


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