SETTING THE SUPER BOWL

NFL Playoffs: AFC & NFC Conference title game observations

Nick Foles had a monster game. Eagles.com

Games this far into the playoffs can often go either way. Some felt strongly about their picks; most no so much. Others, such as myself, fell more along the line of the former rather than the latter. However, the games must be played. Championships aren’t awarded by conjecture. That said, let’s look at how the games played out:

Jacksonville Jaguars vs New England Patriots

Whether you believed the Jags were going to win because of the Tom Coughlin juju, or Tom Brady was going to Brady the Pats to another Super Bowl appearance, this game generated varying opinions on the potential outcome. The Pats opening drive stalled and they were forced into a kicking a field goal. The Jags came out using smas mouth runs, misdirection, and play action passing to take a 14-3 lead. Their defense appeared to have the Coughlin juju working as they frustrated the Pats to punt on their next three possessions. As the Pats were attempting to get a score before halftime, Rob Gronkowski took a helmet to helmet shot from Barry Church,  which resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Gronk was so disoriented when he got up, he went to the locker room for concussion evaluation instead of the blue sideline tent. On the very next play, A.J. Bouye drew a pass interference call by getting too handsy with Brandin Cooks. The 47 yards of penalties on two plays put the Pats in position to score a touchdown to cut the lead to 14-10 as halftime approached.

The Jags came out of halftime looking to take back control of the game. A field goal would have to do for a 17-10 lead. The teams then served, volleyed, and volleyed punts until the Jags added another field goal to go up 20-10 to open the fourth quarter. The Pats went to the trick bag with a double pass, but Myles Jack made an incredible play to not only tackle Dion Lewis, but strip and recover the ball as they both fell to the ground. After the Pats forced a three and out, Brady engineered an 85-yard touchdown drive on 5 of 7 passing to cut the lead to three at 20-17.

Another punt-punt-punt sequence followed that saw the field position game come into play after the Jags were forced to punt from their 9-yard line to the 50 and Danny Amendola returned it  to the Jags’ 30 yard line. When the Pats got the ball already in field goal range, down by three, with five minutes left in the game, we saw a scene unfold for the millionth time. Brady threw the go ahead touchdown to Amendola in the back of the end zone, up high where only he could catch it, and Amendola reciprocated by holding onto the pass and toe-tapping to ensure there was no doubt. The Jags made a valiant effort on their possession, but ultimately turned it over on downs. With 1:42 left in the game, the Pats took possession and ended it after a crucial first down run by Lewis on 3rd and 9. The kneel downs that followed were a mere formality. Lost throughout this was how well Blake Bortles played. Did he play well enough to stave off a quarterback change is a major question for them. On to the Super Bowl for the Patriots.

Minnesota Vikings vs Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles were home dogs yet again in the playoffs (dog masks are a thing now in Philly). The Vikings were seeking to become the first host to play in their own stadium at a Super Bowl. These defenses were primed and ready. A battle of backups was set to take place. The game’s opening drive (3 passes, 6 runs) was capped by a Case Keenum touchdown pass on play action to Kyle Rudolph. After the Eagles were forced into and three and out punt, it looked as if the Vikings were going to take this game by the throat. That’s when the Eagles turned into The Mountain and made the Vikings their Oberyn. Keenum threw a pick-six to Patrick Robinson to tie the game. Momentum had shifted and never swung back. The Eagles went on to score on five of their next eight possessions for a 38-7 win. Their last two possessions: runs then a punt when game was clearly decided and running out the clock to end the game. The Vikings looked like the muscle-bound knockout artist who was allowed to run out of gas, then systematically taken apart by the more-skilled, longer winded fighter (i.e. the UFC heavyweight title fight between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou last night). Not much to say because it wasn’t competitive.

The Pats/Jags game was awesome, even though it ended as predictable as a leaked episode of (insert your favorite TV show). Bortles played out of character, in a good way, and wasn’t the reason they lost. Their vaunted defense was to blame, but can one really blame them considering the G.O.A.T. was opposing them? Eagles quarterback Nick Foles took his team to a Super Bowl berth despite doubters thinking they’d be a one and done. How quickly we forget that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was his offensive coordinator when he went to the Pro Bowl a few years ago. Their defense proved to be the stronger of the two in the NFC game. Now, we’re down to the G.O.A.T. versus a backup who’s bounced around and last saw success four years ago. A team seeking back to back titles versus a team seemingly destined to win despite setbacks. We’re in for a helluva Super Bowl!

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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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