By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and on Monday night, the Los Angeles Rams eliminated the Arizona Cardinals with an exclamation point, utterly dominating their NFC West rivals. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was in top form, leading L.A.’s offense to multiple scoring drives while the defense forced costly mistakes out of Kyler Murray, including a laughably-bad pick-six. Odell Beckham Jr. had his best game as a member of the Rams, catching a beautiful fade in the endzone for an early score while operating as the team’s most reliable downfield threat. The Rams made a statement on Monday night, and now L.A. is heading into a showdown with the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With Friday open to discuss the weekend’s matchups, the perfect opportunity to look at the team’s eliminated in the first round of the playoffs has presented itself. The Cardinals were borderline embarrassed on Monday night, with Murray never looking at ease behind an awful offensive line. It’s also worth noting that the team’s two most recent first-round picks, linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins, not only failed to make an impact, they were relegated to reserve roles. The team’s failure to provide Murray with adequate protection is an issue, but Arizona’s failure to add impact players at the top of the last two drafts cannot be excused.
On Sunday night, the Steelers suffered a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The path forward for Pittsburgh is obvious: moving on from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s defense boasts elite talent, the stable of receivers is strong, and rookie running back Najee Harris showed star-level tackle-breaking ability. However, without an upgrade over Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers lack the ceiling of a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Pittsburgh needs to be in the market for a veteran on a short-term deal and willing to add a young option in this year’s upcoming draft. Also, like the Cardinals, Pittsburgh has to add talent along the offensive line.
Philadelphia and New England both lost this weekend, but there is no reason to worry about the future of the two franchises. This season, the Eagles considerably exceeded expectations, and Philadelphia is loaded with draft capital. Likewise, the playoff appearance for the Patriots with a rookie quarterback was a major success story. New England will look to add a few playmakers on the outside for quarterback Mac Jones while likely handing over a massive contract to retain superstar cornerback J.C. Jackson. Both the Eagles and Patriots are set up for long-term success.
Las Vegas’s season was as tumultuous as any in recent memory, so the Raiders simply making the playoffs counts as a victory. That said, following the opening round loss to the Bengals, the Raiders are now in a difficult position. The AFC West is loaded, and the Raiders roster is likely lacking the necessary talent to compete long-term, setting the stage for a potential rebuild. Quarterback Derek Carr would command a sizeable package on the trade market, and it’ll be interesting to see Vegas’s strategy this offseason. However, given the strength of the Chiefs and Chargers, along with Denver’s up-and-coming roster, the Raiders are likely to strongly consider a complete rebuild.
The only division winner to lose this week was the Dallas Cowboys. On paper, the Cowboys have a roster capable of winning the Super Bowl. However, the team’s allocation of resources is an issue, most notably the indefensible contract given to running back Ezekiel Elliott. With Elliott’s sizeable contract ranking as borderline immovable, the Cowboys are likely to lose at least two of tight end Dalton Schultz, receiver Michael Gallup and defensive end Randy Gregory during free agency due to salary cap constraints. Barring a shocking development, it’s difficult to foresee any path to Dallas entering next season with a better roster than in 2021.