What Have We Learned From Wildcard Weekend of the 2017 NFL Playoffs

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Thomas Rawls

Seattle Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls (34) rushes for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions in the second half of an NFL football NFC wild card playoff game, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Here is What Have We Learned from Wildcard Weekend of the 2017 NFL Playoffs, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Just in time, Seattle finds its run game to start playoffs– It was the most obvious question in the aftermath of Thomas Rawls and the Seattle Seahawks running their way to another playoff victory.Where has that kind of a run game been hiding for most of the season?

    “I really had a sense it was going to happen,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said wryly after the Seahawks 26-6 win over Detroit on Saturday night. “No, I didn’t. But I’m telling you, that’s the game we’ve been looking for.”

    Nothing has been more inconsistent for Seattle than its run game. Hampered by injuries, blocking issues and plain ineffectiveness, the belief was if the Seahawks were going to make a run in the playoffs it would be because of Russell Wilson’s arm and the passing game.

    There was no evidence the kind of performance Saturday night was about to happen. In the final three games of the regular season, Seattle averaged 79 yards per game rushing, 2.9 yards per carry. That included a lackluster 87 yards in the regular-season finale against San Francisco, the worst rush defense in the NFL.

    So what changed against the Lions to where Rawls got 27 carries and set a franchise playoff record with 161 yards rushing?

    “Nothing magic,” Seattle right tackle Garry Gilliam said. “It was the same scheme that we’ve run all year. It was the same people running the same plays. It was a matter of locking in.”

    For Rawls, that meant getting a significant dose of carries early on. In the final six games of the regular season, Rawls had more than 15 carries once. Rawls had 15 carries for 107 yards by halftime against the Lions. The dominance on the ground also gave Seattle a major advantage in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 36 minutes.

    “We just haven’t been able to get him enough opportunities,” Carroll said. “You can see what happened, as soon as he gets going, and he gets feeling it, and he looks exactly like the guy that we saw last year. He just had a hard time getting rolling, for a number of whatever reasons, it doesn’t matter now.”

    For Seattle’s offensive line, that meant more straight ahead blocking and pushing around of a Detroit defensive front that finished the regular season 18th at stopping the run.

    “I’m really fired up for the guys up front,” Carroll said. “They had a lot of garbage come their way, a lot of talk about them, and they’re really pumped up about what they did.”

    Whether Seattle can sustain that kind of success on the ground will be crucial against Atlanta. The Seahawks have just one playoff victory under Carroll when they rushed for less than 100 yards. And in that victory — last year’s wild-card win at frigid Minnesota — the Seahawks finished with 97 yards on the ground.

    The Seahawks had just 72 yards rushing in the Week 6 win over the Falcons . Rawls was a spectator that day while still recovering from a fracture in his leg and Wilson was limited to being a pocket passer dealing with a sprained MCL in his left knee. Christine Michael, now with Green Bay, was Seattle’s leading rusher with 64 yards on 18 carries, but 21 of those yards came on one carry. His other 17 rushes netted an average of 2.5 yards per attempt.

    Stopping the run has not been one of the Falcons’ strengths. Atlanta allowed at least 100 yards rushing in five of its last six games to finish off the regular season. And Seattle knows what the formula of getting the run game established does for the rest of the offense.

    “It opens up everything for us,” wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “I’ve told you guys before that everything runs through our run game. When Thomas Rawls is doing that, they can’t help but put another safety in the box, and then that gives us one-on-one matchups on the outside.”

 

  • Steelers drum Dolphins, set up rematch with Chiefs– The Pittsburgh Steelers spent the better part of three months stewing over that miserable October afternoon in Miami, when their hot start wilted in the South Florida sun and their swagger went right along with it in a stunningly one-sided loss to the Dolphins.Redemption arrived Sunday in the form of Le’Veon Bell’s relentlessly churning legs, Antonio Brown’s quicksilver feet and James Harrison’s ageless tenacity.

    The result — an emphatic 30-12 beatdown of Miami in the wild-card round at arctic Heinz Field — showcased what could make the streaking AFC North champions a difficult out the rest of the way.

    Yet the most pivotal moment might not have come during either of Bell’s two touchdowns and 167 yards rushing or the two short passes from Ben Roethlisberger that Brown turned into long scores of his own. It might have come on Roethlisberger’s ultimately meaningless interception late in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand.

    Roethlisberger ended up face down on the turf underneath Miami’s Cameron Wake during Xavien Howard’s short return. And while he sprinted off the field in the giddy if frigid aftermath, Roethlisberger was wearing a boot on his right ankle as he talked about his team’s eighth straight victory.

    “You’re always worried about being hurt, but I’ll be out there next week,” Roethlisberger said.

    If Pittsburgh (12-5) wants to reach the AFC title game for the first time in six years, the Steelers don’t have much of a choice. A visit to AFC West champion Kansas City (12-4) looms next weekend, a place that hasn’t exactly been hospitable to Pittsburgh through the years regardless of the stakes.

    Other takeaways as the Steelers (12-5) extended Miami’s playoff victory drought to 17 years and counting.

    ANOTHER REMATCH

    Pittsburgh’s eighth straight victory earned them a chance to be on the other side of a shot at redemption.

    Pittsburgh embarrassed the Chiefs 43-14 at Heinz Field on Oct. 2. Kansas City responded by going 10-2 the rest of the way to chase down Oakland and claim the division title. As if the Chiefs needed more motivation, here comes the team that handed them one of the worst losses of coach Andy Reid’s long career. And the Steelers know it.

    “We have to understand that the same passion and dedication that we put in this week to beat Miami, that’s how Kansas City is going to try to beat us,” Bell said.

    Pittsburgh’s clinical thumping of the Dolphins (10-7) followed a formula that’s become familiar over the last two months. Roethlisberger looked for Brown early to open things up then relied heavily on Bell to control the clock and wear down Miami.

    “Any time he’s playing like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat,” Brown said

    One that could be a tough out this month. And maybe next, too.

 

  • Jaguars hire Marrone, bring back Coughlin, extend Caldwell– Jacksonville’s coaching search landed someone from its past and present.The Jaguars can only hope the old-school combination leads to better results in the future.

    Owner Shad Khan hired Doug Marrone as head coach Monday and brought back Tom Coughlin to oversee football operations. Marrone replaces Gus Bradley, who was fired in late November after going 14-48 in three-plus seasons.

    The Jaguars (3-13) also gave general manager Dave Caldwell a two-year contract extension. So Marrone, Coughlin and Caldwell are now signed through 2019, giving the new regime a three-year window to, at the very least, make Jacksonville relevant in the AFC South.

    “I have confidence that one day soon we’ll look back on today’s news as the moment that inspired and ultimately established the Jacksonville Jaguars as a football team that wins, week to week and season to season,” Khan said in a statement. “The results will speak for themselves in time, but with Tom coming in to join Dave and Doug, there is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars are a stronger football team today.”

    Marrone and Caldwell will report to Coughlin, meaning Jacksonville’s first coach is now in charge and will have final say in personnel decisions.

    Marrone is the fifth head coach in franchise history, following Coughlin (1995-2002), Jack Del Rio (2003-11), Mike Mularkey (2012) and Bradley (2013-16).

    “I think Doug has earned the respect of the offensive players, and I’m excited for him to get this opportunity and the direction of this team,” quarterback Blake Bortles told AP in a text message.

    Coughlin, a winner of two Super Bowls in 12 seasons with the New York Giants, will serve as executive vice president of football operations. Coughlin, who led the Jaguars to four playoff appearances in his first five years, will have final say in the NFL draft and in free agency. Caldwell has been the primary decision maker in all personnel moves the last four years.

    “I am honored to welcome Tom Coughlin back to Jacksonville, where winning was customary under his leadership,” Khan said. “I know he expects the same in his return to head our football operations, and that’s good news for us and Jaguars fans everywhere. The extension of Dave Caldwell’s contract speaks to his excellent work thus far and the continued importance of complementing our talented and promising roster.”

    Khan, who hired Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry International to help with the search, also interviewed Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin for the head coaching job.

    He ended up keeping Marrone, who served as Jacksonville’s interim coachfor the final two games. The Jaguars won one and blew a late lead in the season finale at Indianapolis. Players seemed to rally around him, but after the loss to the Colts, rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey said a “complete flip will serve us good.”

    Marrone and Coughlin could provide that. They surely will bring a different vibe, a much more disciplined approach that will put more emphasis on winning games than Bradley did.

    “I can see what they’re doing,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis told AP. “These are good moves for a young team, a team that needs to be held to a certain standard. Marrone’s a good man. He’s good for the culture.

    “It’s not like we’re bringing in a brand new coach and he’s going to wipe the face of the earth of everything we’ve built.”

    Marrone likely will keep offensive coordinator Nate Hackett, providing some stability for the inconsistent Bortles. The 2014 first-round draft pick has had three play callers in three seasons.

    Marrone has been Jacksonville’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach since January 2015. He joined the team after two seasons as Buffalo’s head coach. He guided the Bills to a 15-17 record before opting out of his contract because of uncertainty over potential organizational changes.

    The Bills went 9-7 in Marrone’s second season in 2014, the franchise’s only winning record since 2004.

    The 70-year-old Coughlin led the Jaguars to a 68-60 record in eight seasons. Coughlin resigned last January after a dozen years with the Giants, but made it clear he wanted to return to the NFL. He served as a senior adviser to the league’s football operations department this season.

    “He’s got so much experience on myself or on any coach that we have in this building and he’s a great individual, so I think you can always learn from people,” Caldwell said after Bradley was fired. “There’s always a place for knowledge.”

Middle

  • All 4 NFL divisional games are Regular Season rematches– There will be a familiar feel to the NFL playoffs next weekend: Every divisional-round game will be a rematch from the regular season, the first time that’s happened in six years.In the NFC, it’s the Green Bay Packers at the Dallas Cowboys, and the Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta. In the AFC, it’s the Houston Texans playing as huge underdogs at New England, and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City.

    The first times around, Dallas beat Green Bay 30-16 in Week 6 , Seattle beat Atlanta 26-24 in Week 6 , New England beat Houston 27-0 in Week 3 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, and Pittsburgh beat Kansas City 43-14 in Week 4 .

    Not that those results necessarily mean much now, especially because none was more recent than October.

    The Steelers know how much things can change.

    After all, they lost to the Dolphins by 15 points during the regular season, then advanced Sunday with a 30-12 victory over Miami in the wild-card round, their eighth victory in a row.

    “We’re not trying to settle vendettas and things of that nature. They beat us fair and square in Week 6. You tip your cap to them for that performance,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “Today was today. And it’s going to be the same going forward. What happened during the regular season is of little importance.”

    Here’s a closer look at next weekend, when each game features one starting QB who has won the Super Bowl (Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, New England’s Tom Brady, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger):

    PACKERS at COWBOYS, Sunday, 4:40 p.m. EST, Fox (opening line: Cowboys, -4)

    That loss to Dallas nearly three months ago was part of Green Bay’s 4-6 start. But ever since Rodgers spoke about trying to “run the table,” NFC North champion Green Bay has won seven consecutive games, including 38-13 over the New York Giants in the wild-card round.

    Rodgers has 19 TD passes and zero interceptions during the unbeaten run, but one question now is whether favorite target Jordy Nelson, hurt against New York, will be available.

    Green Bay’s pass defense, shaky and beset by injuries, might not have an easy time against Dallas QB Dak Prescott, a preternaturally poised rookie who threw for three TDs in the October matchup. The No. 1-seeded Cowboys’ other first-year sensation, Ezekiel Elliott, gained 157 yards in his first game against the NFL’s eighth-best run defense.

    ___

    SEAHAWKS at FALCONS, Saturday, 4:35 p.m. EST, Fox (opening line: Falcons, -4)

    All-Pro quarterback Matt Ryan, a leading MVP contender, and wideout Julio Jones put up NFC South champion Atlanta’s high-powered offense against NFC West champion Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense, which is missing injured safety Earl Thomas but still features Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor.

    In the first meeting, Ryan threw for three TDs, while Jones finished with seven catches for 139 yards and a score. But most memorable was an incompletion on fourth down with 90 seconds left, when Sherman grabbed Jones’ arm on a deep pass. Definitely a 1-on-1 matchup to keep an eye on this time.

    Also worth monitoring: How Atlanta’s so-so defense deals with Seattle’s offense, which seemed reborn as Thomas Rawls ran for 161 yards in a 26-6 win over Detroit in the wild-card round. Falcons head coach Dan Quinn used to be Seattle’s defensive coordinator.

    “Such a hard-nosed, tough coach, and his team embodies him out there,” Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett said. “It’s like playing ourselves.”

    ___

    TEXANS at PATRIOTS, Saturday, 8:15 p.m., CBS (opening line: Patriots, -16)

    New England is one of the biggest betting favorites in a playoff game, and here’s why: Bill Belichick’s Patriots have outscored protege Bill O’Brien’s Texans by a combined 54-6 in their past two head-to-head games.

    As good as Houston’s top-ranked defense has been — Jadeveon Clowney’s interception set the tone for a 27-14 win over Oakland in the wild-card round — there is a world of difference between facing a rookie QB making his first NFL start (Oakland’s Connor Cook) and a three-time Super Bowl MVP (Brady). And Belichick will surely dream up some schemes to bedevil Texans QB Brock Osweiler.

    ___

    STEELERS at CHIEFS, Sunday, 1:05 p.m., NBC (opening line: even)

    What might matter and might not: Steelers QB Roethlisberger needed a walking boot after hurting his right foot against Miami. If he’s fine next week, it will be fun to watch him, WR Antonio Brown and RB Le’Veon Bell take on Marcus Peters, Eric Berry and the rest of Kansas City’s formidable defense. On the other side of the ball, Steelers LB James Harrison and Co. should be able to handle Chiefs QB Alex Smith, but the question is how Pittsburgh’s defense and special teams will corral rookie speedster Tyreek Hill.

Downs

  • To take next step, Dolphins need defensive upgrades– Laughter broke out in one corner of the Miami Dolphins’ locker room Monday, briefly lifting the gloom as players packed their belongings and headed into the offseason.The cause for mirth: the Alabama-Clemson national championship game and trash-talking between Dolphins teammates from the two schools.

    Anything to change the subject.

    The Dolphins aren’t accustomed to losing in the playoffs, because they’re not accustomed to reaching the playoffs, and so they took Sunday’s 30-12 loss at Pittsburgh hard. The drubbing wasn’t a surprise to outsiders, but rookie coach Adam Gase had his young team optimistic about leaving a more impressive mark on the postseason.

    “We truly believe in this room that we could make a run, a serious run, and we still truly believe that,” receiver Kenny Still said. “We feel like we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”

    There was cause for consolation because the loss came in Miami’s first postseason game since 2008. That’s progress, Dolphins style.

    More improvement is needed for the franchise to earn its first playoff win since 2000. Here are things to know as the Dolphins begin looking toward the 2017 kickoff:

    DEFENSE: Miami finished the regular season 10-6 and earned an AFC wild-card berth despite allowing a franchise-record 6,122 yards, and most of the offseason moves will likely involve the defense. Changes could include finding a replacement for first-year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who is being considered for several head coaching jobs.

    Kiko Alonso is the only linebacker certain to return, and a secondary decimated by injuries needs attention. Miami also faces decisions at end, with Pro Bowler Cameron Wake turning 35 this month and Andre Branch becoming a free agent.

    OFFENSE: The Dolphins looked mighty when center Mike Pouncey was healthy and paving the way for back-to-back 200-yard games by running back Jay Ajayi. But Pouncey played only five games because of recurring hip issues. Now 27, he hasn’t made it through a full year since 2012, but said he plans to play several more seasons.

    “I’m not retiring until 10 years. Trust me,” Pouncey said with a smile.

    Keeping the team’s five best blockers together is a tantalizing prospect, guard Jermon Bushrod said.

    “It would be something special,” he said. “The times we did play together we were rolling. We had a good thing going.”

    But Bushrod will become a free agent, and the Dolphins must decide whether to keep 32-year-old left tackle Branden Albert, who hasn’t played a full season since 2011.

    Stills, who led Miami with nine touchdowns, is also due to become a free agent.

    QUARTERBACK: Five-year veteran Ryan Tannehill had a career-high passer rating of 93.5, but still hasn’t appeared in the playoffs. He missed Sunday’s game due to a sprained left knee that sidelined him for the final three weeks of the season. Surgery hasn’t been ruled out, and it’s uncertain how much the injury will compromise Tannehill’s mobility, one of his strengths.

    HIERARCHY: For the first time in several years, the offseason begins with franchise leadership entrenched. Football operations chief Mike Tannenbaum and general manager Chris Grier deserve credit for a solid 2016 draft and the acquisitions of Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell.

    Gase led a turnaround from a 1-4 start and earned raves from his players.

    “He is 100 percent the right guy for this job,” said quarterback Matt Moore, who started the final three games. “From where we started and the history of this team to how we finished, it’s pretty impressive.”

    THE ROSS TAKE: Team owner Stephen Ross had to change coaches four times since 2011 to find a winner. He said he’s happy with the direction of the franchise, but not satisfied.

    “I’ll only be satisfied when we win the Super Bowl,” Ross said.

    How close are the Dolphins to that?

    “Three games away,” Ross said. “That’s how close we are.”

 

  • Lions limp to finish after strong run put them in playoffs– The Detroit Lions were not a popular pick to reach the playoffs when the 2016 season began.After winning eight of nine games midway through the season, Detroit (9-8) earned a spot in the postseason.

    The Lions, though, spoiled their season by losing the last three games of the regular season and first place in the NFC North and then by getting beat 26-6 at Seattle in an NFC wild-card game to extend the franchise’s postseason losing streak to nine games over 25 years.

    “We’re disappointed in the way it ended,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said Monday at the team headquarters.

    “But overall this team came through some very, very difficult times and accomplished some things that I don’t think anybody probably in this room thought that they would be able to accomplish. So, I have to commend them for that.”

    Caldwell, however, insisted the team didn’t exceed his expectations.

    “My only goal is to win the Super Bowl plain and simple,” Caldwell said. “There’s nothing else other than that.”

    Detroit started slow, losing three of its first four games before putting together three- and five-game winning streaks to be in a favorable position to win a division title for the first time since 1993.

    The Lions became the first NFL team to come back from fourth-quarter deficits to win eight games in a season.

    They failed to keep winning because of two main factors: Matthew Stafford’s injured finger and stiff competition.

    Stafford hurt the middle finger on his throwing hand, hurting the team’s chances of winning on the road against the Seahawks, Dallas and New York Giants and against Green Bay at home.

    Here are some things to watch when Detroit tries to retool this offseason in the Motor City.

    FRANCHISE QUARTERBACK: Stafford said he expects his right middle finger to heal with rest, not surgery. He threw with a glove, leaving his banged-up finger exposed with a splint, late in the season and playoffs and it seemed to affect his play. He threw more interceptions (five) than touchdown passes (three) over the last four-plus games with the injury. Before that, the Lions had surged to a 9-4 record and Stafford was being mentioned as a potential MVP candidate with 21 TDs and just five interceptions.

    Stafford is entering the final season of his $53 million, three-year deal . The Lions, especially team owner Martha Firestone Ford, will likely want to sign him to a new deal this season to keep the quarterback they drafted No. 1 overall in 2009. Stafford said he has not been approached to begin contract talks.

    “It’s not up to me,” he said. “It’s up to the people upstairs and the Fords and whether they want to or not. It’s not on the forefront of my mind at the moment. I’ve got a lot things going on personally that are important to me so I’ll figure that out when I need to.”

    Stafford’s wife, Kelly, is pregnant with twins due to be born in April.

    BANGED-UP BACKFIELD: Detroit’s injured running backs, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick , were cleaning out their lockers along with the rest of their teammates after their injury-shortened seasons Monday. When Abdullah and Riddick were both healthy in Week 1 at Indianapolis , they combined for more than 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving. That was the end of their run and it led to the Lions ranking among the league’s worst rushing offenses for the third straight season.

    Abdullah hurt his left foot in Week 2 and missed the rest of the season. Riddick was limited to 10 games, missing the last five games with an injured left wrist that is in a cast.

    TO SIGN, OR NOT TO SIGN: Offensive tackle Riley Reiff and guard Larry Warford have started a majority of the games the past four seasons. The Lions will likely have to pay plenty to get them to stay instead of testing their value as unrestricted free agents on the market.

    Detroit will also have decisions to make with free agents such as receivers Anquan Boldin and Andre Roberts along with defensive end Devin Taylor.

    KEEPING CALDWELL: A week after the Lions announced Caldwell would be back for a fourth season, he still wasn’t willing to discuss the topic.

    Receiver Golden Tate didn’t hide his emotions, sharing his enthusiasm about having Caldwell return and the continuity that comes with it.

    “Yes!” Tate screamed. “Sorry, got a little excited.”

    LOSING AUSTIN: Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is a candidate to lead an NFL team for the third straight winter, and Caldwell is rooting for him.

    “He’s well prepared for the task,” Caldwell said. “He’ll do a tremendous job and I don’t think there’s any question about that. I’m certainly hoping that he gets that opportunity.”

 

  • Giants need to turn their attention to fixing the offense– Hiring Ben McAdoo to replace Tom Coughlin as coach, spending a mint on the defense in free agency and picking up a couple of gems in the first two rounds of the NFL draft got the New York Giants back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.Despite a one-sided wild-card loss to the Packers on Sunday, there is much optimism looking toward 2017. The team went from 6-10 the past two seasons to an 11-5 regular-season mark that included a pair of wins over the NFC top-seeded Dallas Cowboys.

    All general manager Jerry Reese has to do in the offseason is fix the offense this time around, with a lot less money to spend in free agency.

    The unit that was supposed to be the strength of the team failed to score 30 points in any game and wrapped up the year by scoring less than 20 in the final six games, including Sunday’s 38-13 setback to the Packers. The running game was among the worst in the league and 36-year-old Eli Manning never had much time to throw.

    Odell Beckham Jr. was his big weapon — 101 catches, including 10 touchdowns — but there was little else outside of him and rookie Sterling Shepard, the second-round pick.

    “We felt that we had the talent and the coaching in the scheme this year to have a better year than we had,” McAdoo said. “We obviously fell short from an offensive prospective.”

    The offensive line might need the most attention. Left tackle Ereck Flowers, the No. 1 pick in 2015, has underperformed, and right guard John Jerry and right tackle Marshall Newhouse will be unrestricted free agents.

    A decision has to be made on the future of receiver Victor Cruz. He played after missing most of the last two seasons but was limited to 39 catches playing on the outside instead of his normal slot position, which was given to Shepard.

    “Obviously you can’t do everything in one year, or one draft, or one free agency period,” Reese said. “We have things that we can build on. We want to continue to build on every position and upgrade where we can, and build as strong a football team as we can, moving forward.”

    Most of the players in the locker room felt the foundation was set for the future and a fifth Super Bowl title for the Giants.

    “I’m by no means satisfied,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “I don’t think anybody in this locker room is satisfied with how things ended. It’s going to be motivation for us moving forward.”

    Here are some things to watch in the offseason:

    JPP AND HANKINS: Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who missed the last six games with a sports hernia, and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins are the two biggest unrestricted free agents on the Giants. Pierre-Paul, who signed a one-year deal for 2016 because of his hand injury, wants a multi-year contract. Reese can franchise him, but JPP said he won’t like that. Hankins and All-Pro Damon Harrison were stout in the middle for New York and breaking them up would hurt the run defense.

    DRC: Losing cornerback Dominique Rodger-Cromartie on the opening series Sunday hurt the Giants more than people realize. He is as good as Janoris Jenkins and rookie Eli Apple in shutting down receivers and his play in the slot helped make the secondary outstanding. With him out, Aaron Rodgers constantly went after his replacements. Rodgers-Cromartie is due to make $8.5 million next season and the Giants may not be willing to pay that much to a 30-year-old who battled some nagging injury this season. Cap cut? Renegotiate?

    MANNING SUCCESSOR: Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning turned 36 earlier this month, and he did not have his best season, although his receivers let him down on Sunday. Long-time backup Ryan Nassib had elbow surgery late this season and veteran Josh Johnson, who has not thrown a pass in a regular-season since 2011 became the No. 2.

    If the chance arrives, Reese might look to get a successor or at least a backup quarterback in the draft this spring.

    BAD BOY IMAGE: Beckham is one of the NFL’s most dynamic players. In three seasons he has 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 touchdowns. He is also a distraction with his antics on or off the field. Going to Miami for a day in the week leading up to the Packers debacle didn’t help his image. He has to get his act together. McAdoo and Reese likely will keep after him in the future.

    PLAY CALLING: McAdoo did a lot to get the Giants back on track, but he needs to do something about the play calling. He did a good job handling it as the offensive coordinator for two seasons, but the offense took a step back this year with him doing double duty. One of his worst decisions came Sunday when he ran little Bobby Rainey on third-and-short late in the second quarter. He was stopped, the Pack got the ball and Rodgers hit a desperation pass on the final play of the half.

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