1. No Slowing Down
You're tired of the Patriots. So...damn...tired of them.
For those of you who are not Patriots fans, seeing Tom Brady and Co. in yet another title game is like being trapped in a nightmare that will never end. If you are a Patriots fan, this is the stuff of fantasy.
No matter your rooting interest, there is one thing that is almost impossible to dispute: Tom Brady is the best quarterback who ever played. People who hate the Patriots may try to argue about this; and on occasion, I sometimes think Aaron Rodgers is the best of all time. It's pretty clear, however, that after leading the Pats to their 12th conference title game since 2001, Brady is the GOAT.
And with this latest run, it's also clear Brady is separating himself from anyone who was even in the conversation with him before. In other words, think of Brady as a race car, with a lead at Daytona, and as the car keeps racing, its lead increases.
It's not just the number of records Brady is breaking. It's that he's breaking the tough ones while simultaneously surpassing all the game's greats. Check out some of the marks he reached in beating the Titans 35-14 on Saturday (courtesy of the Patriots):
- Brady has 10 postseason games with at least three touchdown passes. Joe Montana is next with nine.
- Brady has 21 multitouchdown playoff games. Brett Favre is closest with 15.
- This is his 12th conference championship. Most ever by two games over any other player.
Those records alone may never be broken. But there's more, per CBS Boston's Michael Hurley:
Most Postseason Touchdown Passes
1. Tom Brady, 66
2. Joe Montana, 45
3. Brett Favre, 44
Most Postseason Passing Yards
1. Tom Brady, 9,431
2. Peyton Manning, 7,339
3. Brett Favre, 5,855
Most Postseason Playoff Wins by QB
1. Tom Brady, 26
2. Joe Montana, 16
T-3. Terry Bradshaw, 14
T-3. John Elway, 14
T-3. Peyton Manning, 14
Most Postseason 300-Yard Passing Games
1. Tom Brady, 13
2. Peyton Manning, 9
3. Drew Brees, 7
Look at those names: Bradshaw, Montana, Elway, Peyton, Favre, Brees. Brady isn't just dominating every key passing statistic, he's obliterating the record book.
Brady isn't just the GOAT. He's like a SuperGOAT. He's the Kal-El of GOATs.
And every game, that gap widens.
So, yes, you may be tired of the Patriots, and that's OK. This is America, so you can tire of whatever you want except Star Trek and chocolate chip cookies. If you hate those things, well, I'm not sure this is the place for you.
But players like Brady don't come around often, if ever.
And that is why he is worth watching, no matter your opinion of the Pats.
2. Blocking Out the Noise, Part I
Speaking of the Patriots, it's around this time of year that we regularly are reminded no team is better at ignoring outside turmoil than Bill Belichick's group. It's amazing. They are like computers, and I don't mean this as an insult. The Patriots are capable of blocking out almost anything that doesn't have to do with football.
They've beaten back Spygate, Deflategate, maybe a few other "gates" and most recently a story from ESPN.com that said their empire was crumbling. They still keep winning.
On Saturday, they dominated the Titans, and that ability to focus is what will lead to them likely beating the Jaguars this weekend. Nothing gets to them.
Listen to Patriots safety Devin McCourty explain how the team handled the ESPN story to get a sense of how the Pats work, according to a team transcript:
"I think the team just focused on Tennessee, and I think it will be the same thing [this] week. This time of year, there's no such thing to me as distractions. Unless you have some issue going on with your family or something like that, there is nothing else that can distract you. I don't care what comes out, what's said, our goal from the beginning of the season was to be able to play in the playoffs and try to go out there and win games in the playoffs. There's nothing right now that can deter us from that. We're going to stay focused on that, try to play our best game each week that we earn the right to go back out there, and I think we know that. We know once you get in the playoffs, it's not given to you. You've got to go earn it."
3. Blocking Out the Noise, Part II
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has had plenty to block out as well, between the opinions of critics and the expectations of an edgy fanbase. While Foles has done a nice job of that thus far, the Minnesota defense will test every sense he has, and his ability to focus while both preparing for that defense and playing against it, is the biggest key to the NFC title game.
Coach Doug Pederson spoke this week about Foles' Patriots-like ability to narrow in:
"That's what he has to do," said Pederson, according to a team transcript. "He's just got to focus on his task, his job. ... [I]t's like in my case, I can't worry about the outside. The only reason I'm here is because I'm obligated to be up here. So I try to block it out, as well, and that's what he's done, and he's done a tremendous job at doing that. Listen, there is a great surrounding cast around him, and he doesn't have to do it himself. It's not about one guy."
4. Defenses Dominating Again
While I knew defenses were making a comeback, I didn't realize how much the league had turned until ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold noted some eye-popping observations:
Jeff Legwold @Jeff_Legwold
The NFL's No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, and No. 5 scoring defenses left in playoff field, Three of last four Super Bowl winners have either been No. 1 in scoring or total defense. I look forward to competition committee trying to "increase scoring'' -- again.2018-1-15 19:20:40
5. A Beautiful Welcome
We hear a lot about horrible fan behavior, and sometimes, it's pretty awful. Then you get moments like this one that greeted the Saints upon their return home from their stunning loss in Minneapolis, and it reminds you why sports are fun.
Sports Illustrated @SInow
After their season came to a heartbreaking end, the Saints arrived home at 1:30 a.m. to a crowd of cheering fans. (via @thenastynate54) https://t.co/8mVSLUbOFv2018-1-15 16:50:06
6. NFL Has Rooting Interests in Title Games
No one from the league will say it, but the possibility of a Jacksonville-Minnesota Super Bowl causes NFL execs to throw up in their mouths.
Yes, it would be novel, and I'd love it. But a ratings bonanza? No way.
And that's why the league will be quietly crossing its fingers Super Bowl media day doesn't include reporters interviewing Case Keenum before pivoting to Blake Bortles.
7. Seven Heaven
.@STEFONDIGGS FOR THE WIN!!!!!!!!! #SKOL #NOvsMIN #NFLPlayoffs https://t.co/UAoNJ2NJ972018-1-15 01:09:15
It's the name of the miracle play the Vikings ran that led to one of the greatest moments in postseason history.
Where does the game-winning score rank in wild play history? My top five:
- No. 5: Miracle at the Meadowlands. Eagles against the Giants in 1978.
- No. 4: Miracle in Minneapolis. Trying not to succumb to recency bias, but it's definitely top five in history.
- No. 3: Music City Miracle. "There are no...flags...on the field!"
- No. 2: The Catch. It sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl and launched a dynasty.
- No. 1: The Immaculate Reception. Ball hit the ground.
8. I'm Sorry, Blake Bortles
Here's to hoping the Jaguars' much-maligned quarterback accepts my apologies for joking that he would throw multiple interceptions against the Steelers. Or that he was the weak link. Or that the Jaguars wouldn't win a playoff game with him. Or that...well, you get the point.
I'm sorry, Mr. Bortles. You are a baller.
I will not doubt you again. At least for a week.
You can always tell the haters about these statistics that come from your team's public relations department:
Tad Dickman @Tdickman89
QB Blake Bortles is the only quarterback in the past 5 seasons (2013-17) to win each of his first 2 playoff appearances. In the @Jaguars' 12 wins this season, Bortles has thrown 18 TDs with 3 INTs and has a 99.0 passer rating.2018-1-15 15:28:08
You do you, Blake. Ignore the idiots. At least for now.
9. Best Sports Headline Ever?
The greatest newspaper headline ever constructed was the New York Post's "Headless Body in Topless Bar."
But the Times-Picayune headline from Monday describing the Saints' historic, brutal loss is, at least, in the top five. If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look.
Zach Klein @ZachKleinWSB
So good... From The Times-Picayune.... https://t.co/xWtvPgRlkW2018-1-15 14:00:05
10. Josh McDaniels to Tennessee?
The odds remain good that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will head to Indianapolis to become the Colts' next head coach. Still, McDaniels, the second-most coveted coaching candidate in this cycle behind Jon Gruden, has his choice of several remaining jobs.
If the Titans were smart, and McDaniels were, too (and he is), he'd head to Tennessee ASAP. It likely won't happen, but it should.
Andrew Luck is a better quarterback than Marcus Mariota (if Luck is healthy, and that's a huge if), but the overall talent in Tennessee is markedly superior and much more playoff ready. How do I know this? Because the Titans just made the playoffs.
As mentioned already, it's probable McDaniels heads to Indianapolis. But it's far from a lock.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.