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Key takeaways and analysis from Wild Card Weekend

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Sunday Rundown recaps the most important developments from the day's action and examines their significance moving forward.

A rare opportunity

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How 'bout them Cowboys?

This was supposed to be the year. Entering the playoffs as the No. 2 seed and fresh off posting their best point differential since 1968, anything short of a trip to the NFC title game was going to be a disappointment for Dallas. Yet that somehow doesn't even begin to describe what happened Sunday afternoon.

Green Bay raced out to a 27-0 lead before Dallas could get its bearings on either side of the ball. The offense made a charge in the second half, but it was too little, too late - there was no coming back from that start. The 48-32 loss makes the Cowboys the first team to fall to a No. 7 seed since the NFL's playoff expansion. And it was also their first home defeat of the season.

Naturally, the football world is now waiting to hear about Mike McCarthy's future. Fans were calling for his job before halftime, and Jerry Jones dodging coaching questions postgame only added to the speculation.

It would be wildly unfair to pin all of this on McCarthy alone. He's led Dallas to three consecutive 12-win seasons, the organization's most victories over three years since the Super Bowl teams of the '90s. And it should be noted that Jones has stood by his coaches amid much less regular-season success before. But this one still feels different.

Even the biggest Cowboys haters will admit this team is close. The pieces are in place. McCarthy might get them there; he might not. But the mounting pressure to get it done now, combined with a truly historic crop of available coaches, should lead to Jones making a change.

Whether it's Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh, Mike Vrabel, Pete Carroll, or one of the rising star assistants, there is no shortage of candidates for ownership to make a meaningful upgrade at head coach. Even if Jones hasn't lost complete faith in McCarthy, the time is now.

Running it back isn't an option if you can get one of the best coaches in the game.

Implosion complete

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Speaking of coaches on the hot seat: Nick Sirianni might be in trouble.

The Eagles were 10-1 at the end of November. They went 1-6 from that point forward, with the dagger being a blowout loss to the Bucs in wild-card action on Monday night. It's not often we see a team go from Super Bowl favorite to colossal embarrassment in seven short weeks.

We could say it came out of nowhere, but that wouldn't quite be true. Despite the impressive start, it always felt like the defending NFC champs were missing something.

Jalen Hurts wasn't playing at the level he had enjoyed last season, even though some all-important QB wins were vaulting him to the top of the MVP conversation. By the end of the year, he looked lost in the pocket. While the Eagles would like to get more out of their $51-million quarterback, a milquetoast offense so regularly asking him to create his own answers for the blitz, among other things, certainly isn't helping.

Sirianni did attempt to make adjustments on the defensive side of the ball, installing Matt Patricia as the play-caller down the stretch. But the issues only snowballed from there. Coverage busts and tackling calamities saw Philly's defense get picked apart by Tampa Bay's 17th-ranked passing attack.

Firing Sirianni so soon after a Super Bowl appearance would be bold. It's entirely possible that the front office isn't even willing to consider it. But after a meaningful stretch in which the Eagles were legitimately one of the worst teams in football, and the coaching staff was doing nothing to help pull them out of the funk, how can you have any confidence that he's the one to salvage this mess?

There are a number of star coaches on the market, many of whom would likely jump at the opportunity to coach this roster. Can the Eagles afford to pass that up?

There's no time for patience when you're chasing a Super Bowl.

Love ascending

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Don't let Dallas choking in the playoffs steal all the spotlight from Sunday's blowout - that's not exactly a new development.

The Packers going on the road to beat the Cowboys on Wild Card Weekend was also, and perhaps more importantly, the confirmation of everything we saw from their young quarterback down the stretch. Jordan Love is a budding superstar.

It hasn't been the cleanest of seasons for the first-time starter. After a spectacular debut against the Bears, I wrote about how Green Bay could be transitioning to a third straight franchise-caliber quarterback. That notion seemed a little premature by the end of October when some offensive struggles resulted in the Packers dropping to 2-5.

As it turns out, though, there was bound to be some growing pains with such a young roster. The flashes were the real indicator of what was to come. The Packers offense started to clean up some rookie-like mistakes in November, and the wins soon followed.

Love has been the key to it all, showing exactly why the Packers were willing to make him a first-round pick in 2020 despite Aaron Rodgers' presence. He was near perfect in Dallas, completing 16 of 21 passes for 272 yards (13 yards per attempt!), three touchdowns, and no turnovers.

The Utah State product has always had top-end arm talent and the athleticism to create outside of structure. After taking a few years to develop behind Rodgers, he's also now demonstrating the accuracy, poise, and vision to put it all together.

The Packers have their work cut out for them next week in San Francisco, but that's more about Joe Barry's responsibilities to slow down Kyle Shanahan's offense. This season is an enormous victory for Green Bay, no matter what happens from here on out.

Love might be a top-10 quarterback heading into next season. How in the world do the Packers keep doing this?

Texans vindicated

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This space could again be used to talk about how fun the Texans are right now. Houston seems destined for great things with DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud leading the way, and a playoff victory in Year 1 of this new era is only the beginning of that journey.

But Houston's resurgence has been clear for the better part of the last few months. Instead, let's take it back to April's draft.

The Texans stole the show in the first round by following up the Stroud pick by striking a blockbuster deal, moving from No. 12 to No. 3 to get Will Anderson Jr. While the Alabama pass-rusher certainly deserved such a high selection, the Texans drew some intense criticism for surrendering a package of picks that, among other assets, included their 2024 first-rounder.

Even with Stroud and Anderson in the mix, it seemed reasonable to suggest that this team was still at least another year away from opening a competitive window. Had that pick ended up in the top five, for example, Houston could have been passing up an opportunity to land a generational receiver talent like Marvin Harrison Jr.

Well, so much for that.

The Texans eliminating the Browns in the wild-card round guarantees that the pick sent to Arizona will be later than the 2024 first-rounder they still own from Cleveland in the Deshaun Watson trade.

Did the Texans make the Anderson trade knowing they'd be in this position? Probably not. But it sure seems like they did so with supreme confidence that they'd be competitive enough to have no regrets next April. And they were right.

It's been an incredible year in Houston, and it's not done yet.

Quick slants

Right on time

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We've been waiting all year for this. No matter what Patrick Mahomes did, this offense was always going to need another reliable target for the Chiefs to make a run. Enter Rashee Rice. The second-round rookie proved more than capable of a high-volume role in Saturday's win over the Dolphins, turning his 12 targets into eight catches for a season-high 130 yards and one touchdown. You didn't think the Chiefs would go away that quietly, did you?

Lions won the trade, too

The Rams will forever be seen as the big winners of the Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade. That's how it works when you swing big for the quarterback who leads you to a Super Bowl. But that deal was every bit as crucial for the Lions. Detroit received a pair of first-round picks that, through some savvy trade work, helped it land key pieces like Jameson Williams, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Sam LaPorta. And while it seemed like Goff was a throw-in, the veteran quarterback has been a key figure in revitalizing this organization. Goff and the Lions outdueling Stafford and the Rams for the franchise's first playoff win in 32 years is as good as it gets for playoff football. Detroit is going to be an incredible postseason atmosphere for years to come.

Rams back in the mix

The Rams' short- and long-term future was decidedly murky this time last year. Sean McVay was worn out and considering retirement after a 5-12 season, injuries were mounting for an aging Stafford, and some ultra-aggressive personnel moves left the roster in shambles. And yet here they were, a few plays away from knocking off an outstanding Lions team on the road in the playoffs. McVay recommitted himself early in the offseason and teamed up with Les Snead to rebuild the roster with a loaded draft class. The on-field work was equally impressive, and turning such a young group into a legitimate contender should be considered McVay's best work yet. The Rams can expect to be back here next year. And they'll likely be there more often than not for as long as McVay leads the way.

Bills injuries piling up

The Bills are an absolute wagon. They've completely righted the ship after some midseason turmoil, and Josh Allen is playing as well as any quarterback in the league. This season could very well be Buffalo's best opportunity to chase down its first Super Bowl in franchise history. Keep an eye on the injury situation, though. An already thin defense lost several more starters in Monday's win over the Steelers, with Taron Johnson, Christian Benford, and Terrel Bernard among those sidelined. That's not how you want to head into a divisional-round matchup with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Bills will have to hope that at least a few of their banged-up starters can get back in time for Sunday night.

Decision time in Miami

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Tua Tagovailoa is a productive player. He's also been a good fit for Mike McDaniel's system. After leading the league in passing this season, Tagovailoa will be looking for an extension that makes him one of the NFL's highest-paid quarterbacks. Saturday's loss to the Chiefs all but confirms that the Dolphins should have no interest in such a deal. Those contracts are difficult to justify if your quarterback hasn't shown the ability to elevate the offense around him. To this point, that's where we are with Tagovailoa. While letting him play out the last year of his deal is the most likely scenario, there should be nothing stopping Miami from going in a new direction as soon as next season. It's worth considering whether veteran quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins or Geno Smith could be the final piece for this team.

Don't blame Tomlin

Steelers fans are going to be annoyed at the continued lack of playoff success. That's a fair gripe. But let's be honest: Pittsburgh had no business even being in the postseason with the quarterbacks on this roster. Looking beyond the final game, this was yet another year of the Steelers outperforming their talent level and willing their way into the playoffs. That's a credit, first and foremost, to Mike Tomlin. There have been rumblings that his future with the team is somewhat unsettled, and the longtime head coach walking out of his postgame presser won't exactly put those questions to bed. But the Steelers need to find a way to get this sorted out. There aren't many teams in the league who wouldn't jump at the chance to hire one of the best coaches in football.

Bucs defy the odds

The Bucs are off to the divisional round after putting the Eagles out of their misery on Monday night. Philly's collapse will be the main talking point from the wild-card finale, but be sure to give Tampa Bay its credit, too. An all-in approach to win with Tom Brady left the organization carrying more than $81 million in dead money on the salary cap this season. That would have been a totally reasonable excuse for a rough year. Except the Bucs, led by a resurgent Baker Mayfield on a $4-million deal, went on to win the NFC South. It'll be fascinating to see what this team can do with some money to spend in the offseason ahead.

Browns' road failures

The Browns defense getting shredded by the Texans was a surprising development over the weekend. Maybe it shouldn't have been. In one of the most bizarre statistical splits you'll ever see, Cleveland's defense finished the year allowing 13.9 points per game at home and 31.3 points per contest on the road. That's the NFL's largest home-road differential since 1982, according to ESPN. How could this possibly happen? Your guess is as good as mine.

Stat of the week

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