Five Wide: 2023/24 Playoffs Special

By Thomas Willoughby

Enjoyed that. With the dirge that is Falcons football behind me, I got to enjoy some actually good teams playing actually good football for the past 3 weeks. Some games were better than others, of course, but it was the sheer sense of competency that drove home just how good the sport can be when it’s played well. I’ve missed that.

Thought I’d use this opportunity to take a look back at some of the things that stuck out to me over the past few weeks. Some good, some not good. All, I think we can all agree, are general points. Thanks,

Why are you here?

Tayyib spotted this on Sunday night, but what on Earth was there a Titans fan at the AFC Championship Game? Rather, why was there a fan in a Titans jersey at the AFC Championship game? Either my man didn’t know what he was going to, or he was incredibly confident and booked his ticket in September.

Now, listen, I’ve no issue with going to games when you don’t support either side. There’s nothing wrong with just loving the game. I’ve been to plenty of football matches in the past because I can, not because I have any ties. But I’m not going to an FA Cup Semi Final in a United shirt when they’re not playing! Come on!

That said, I take my hat off to this one man and his attempts to normalise London Games behaviour. I look forward to a London Monarchs jersey at the NFC Championship game next season, in front of a row of lads in Northants Knights get-up.

Taking the Mike

The biggest shock of the playoff window wasn’t what happened on the field, but rather what happened off it. Or, not off of it. Despite being humbled at home (again). Despite being out at the wildcard stage with a record good enough for 2nd seed placing. Despite having won once in four playoff games. And despite the greatest coach of all time being ready and available, the Mike McCarthy era in Dallas rolls on. 

I get it, to an extent. Regardless of the above, the man’s coached the Cowboys to 3 straight playoff appearances and has had a record of 12-5 in those seasons. That’s the sort of stability most teams would kill for. The question becomes when is “stable” no longer good enough? The Cowboys, as an institution, surely have aspirations beyond just making the post-season? This is an organisation that’s won five Super Bowls, for goodness sake.

It wasn’t so much the result, more the manner of it. The Cowboys welcomed the Green Bay Packers and got slapped out of the fixture before halftime. I thought for sure Jerry Jones was going to be embarrassed into being forced to make a move. But, no. They course, they shall stay. Perhaps the fourth time will be the charm for them and McCarthy?

Cooper Neill-Getty Images

An uphill battle

Speaking of teams with questions, what can the Buffalo Bills do? Seriously, where do they go from here? They battled questions about their legitimacy all season, put themselves in a position to host Kansas City rather than travel to them, put together an all-round solid game plan, and still came up short. Outside of throwing caution to the wind and mortgaging their cap for the next five years to put together the Globetrotters of the gridiron, I’m stumped. Flummoxed. Bamboozed, if you will.

The biggest issue they might have next season might be their biggest asset. Josh Allen’s rookie deal is up, and his cap hit is about to explode from just over $18.5mil to around $47mil. While (well-earned) resources are being shifted to the Quarterback, they’ll be taken from everywhere else. Their ability to quickly refresh the roster through free agency will be hindered, and the past two or three draft classes, which they really needed to hit on, will come under scrutiny. How does a side fill the holes, as more appear, all the while trying to bridge the gap with the Chiefs? No idea, mate.

All I’m saying is you’d rather have those issues in the other conference. You look at the AFC and see six or seven other sides that could legitimately argue they’re capable of playing deep into January next season. Competition around the Bills is fierce. Good luck fighting it off with your arm being tied behind your back.

Philadoubtphia Eagles

Don’t think any side covered themselves in less glory than the Eagles did during the playoffs. A side that looked capable of winning every game they played absolutely collapsed down the stretch, limping in as the 5th seed, albeit with a very manageable fixture against the competition winner the NFC South served up. They traveled to Tampa Bay, and were sent home very soon after, utterly embarrassed. 

The thing is, it’s difficult to really see where it all went wrong for them. I’d be lying if I said they’d actually impressed me during the regular season, even when they were winning. It felt like they were winning games because they were supposed to, not because they deserved to. And when the league figured them out, their response was to hand a headset to Matt Patricia. If that’s your ace in the hole, it’s time to pack up.

So they’ve done what any side without an idea of where it went wrong does: they’ve blown it up. Both offensive and defensive coordinators have been shoved out the door. They like the talent, they don’t like who’s managing it. Given how much the NFC East changes hands, I wouldn’t necessarily bet against it working, either.

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs Invitational

Ending this week on a somber note, so those of a nervous disposition, look away now: we are in the midst of the next great dynasty. This is it, now. For the next 5 years at least, we should just consider the Kansas City Chiefs a permanent in the AFC Championship game, and assume that every other side in the conference is playing for the right to have a go. That’s just them, now.

Football is a complicated game in some facets, but, sometimes, it can be very simple. Pair one of the best coaches ever with one of the best quarterbacks of all time, and the results will usually be positive. Why, it’s so simple it has me asking why everyone doesn’t do it!

There may be a moment, in about 5 years, when the longevity of the dynasty is questioned. Andy Reid is 65 and, while I don’t expect him to retire this season, or even next, the end of his career will come sooner rather than later. How solid the succession is will dictate if it can last beyond him. Right now, however, the Reid/Mahomes tree is yielding so much fruit the government are considering mobilising pensioners to help pick it. Good luck to any fan that supports a team in the AFC, I’m so sorry you didn’t get a break from the last reign of terror.

Features Image Credit: Nick Wass – Associated Press

Thomas Willoughby