Welcome to the Tuesday edition of the Pick Six Newsletter!
With Tom Brady out of the playoffs, you'd think we wouldn't spend much time talking about Tom Brady this week, but Tom Brady has created a situation that necessitates us to talk about Tom Brady. And yes, I got paid a small bonus for every time I mentioned Tom Brady in that sentence.
The Buccaneers QB is thinking about retirement, and based on comments that he made during his podcast Monday, he sounds pretty serious about hanging up his cleats for good. We'll be going over his comments in today's newsletter. Also, I'll be revealing my picks for the AFC and NFC title games today, so let's get to the rundown.
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1. Breech's AFC and NFC title game picks
The first spot in the rundown is usually reserved for today's podcast episode, but MY PICKS are way more important this week, so I'm putting them in the top spot. Just kidding. Although my picks are very important, the pod actually took the day off because we all needed to rest our voices after an impossibly crazy divisional round weekend.
As for my picks, if you've been reading this newsletter for more than one week, you probably already know who I'm going to take in the AFC title game. If you don't, you'll find out below. As for the NFC title game, my options are to take the favored Rams or take the team that's beaten them SIX STRAIGHT TIMES. That feels like an easy decision.
With that in mind, here are my picks for the conference title games.
- Cincinnati (+7) at Kansas City: When these two teams played back on Jan. 2, I predicted the exact final score of the game (34-31), which clearly means that I will likely predict the exact final score of the AFC title game. The one thing I like about the Bengals is that their offense can hang with the Chiefs in a shootout. The Chiefs gave up the sixth-most passing yards in the NFL this year and I'm sure Joe Burrow knows that, because he threw for 446 yards in the first meeting. And it's not like the Chiefs have suddenly fixed their pass defense over the past three weeks. I mean, we all saw Josh Allen go off on Sunday. Since 2014, there have been 11 games where teams meet in the regular season and then play in the AFC or NFC title game, and the winning team from the regular season is 9-2 in the playoff rematch. I think what I'm trying to say here is that I'm taking the Bengals to go to the SUPER BOWL. PICK: Bengals 34-31 over the Chiefs.
- San Francisco (+3.5) at L.A. Rams: The 49ers have won six straight games against the Rams, and it feels like that's happening because Kyle Shanahan is always one step ahead of Sean McVay. The Rams' best player is Aaron Donald and every time these two teams play, Shanahan comes up with an offensive game plan that basically takes Donald out of the game. In this year's sweep, the one thing the 49ers did well was get after Matthew Stafford. He was sacked seven times and threw four interceptions in his two games against the 49ers, and I'm not sure those numbers are going to get any better. This is the eighth time since 1985 that two division rivals have played each other in a conference title game. In the previous seven games, the team that won the second regular-season meeting has gone 6-1 in the playoff rematch (Advantage: 49ers). PICK: 49ers 23-20 over Rams.
That's right, I'm picking both underdogs to pull off upsets. To get my full take on both games, be sure to check out my conference title game picks by clicking here.
2. NFL names refs for NFC and AFC title games
The NFL has officially announced the two officiating crews that will be working the AFC and NFC title games this weekend, and if you like your games to feature a lot of penalties, then you're not going to want to miss the NFC Championship.
In an odd dynamic, the referee in the NFC title game oversaw an officiating crew in 2021 that threw the most flags this season, while the referee in the AFC title game oversaw the officiating crew that threw the least amount of penalty flags during the regular season.
Here's a look at the two refs:
NFC Championship ref: Carl Cheffers
Cheffers is one of the most experienced officials in the NFL. The 61-year-old has been in the league since he was hired as a side judge in 2000. After eight years as a side judge, he was promoted to referee in 2008. Cheffers has officiated a total of 15 postseason games in his career, including Super Bowl LI and LV.
One notable thing about Cheffers is that his crew threw the most penalty flags in the NFL this year with a total of 229, according to NFLpenalties.com. Its average of 14.31 penalties per game made it the only crew that averaged more than 14. Of course, Cheffers won't be working with his normal crew, so it's possible that number will be cut down.
Here's a look at how the Rams and 49ers have fared over the past five years when Cheffers has served as the ref in one of their games (stats via Pro Football Reference).
- Rams: 2-1 (1-0 in 2021)
- 49ers: 4-3 (2-1 in 2021)
Cheffers actually officiated a Rams-49ers game back in October 2020, a game San Francisco won 24-16.
AFC Championship ref: Bill Vinovich
Vinovich is considered one of the best officials in the NFL, which is why he almost always gets the call to work as the referee in big games. The Bengals-Chiefs game will mark the 16th postseason assignment of Vinovich's career, which already includes two games as a Super Bowl ref and SIX prior games as a conference title ref.
Unlike Cheffers, Vinovich's crew almost never threw any flags this year. His crew was responsible for 148 flags, which is just 9.25 per game. That's a full five penalties less than Cheffers' crew and the lowest number in the NFL.
Here's a look at how the Bengals and Chiefs have fared over the past five years when Vinovich has served as the ref in one of their games (stats via Pro Football Reference).
- Bengals: 1-5 (1-2 in 2021)
- Chiefs: 6-3 (2-0 in 2021)
Vinovich actually officiated a Bengals-Chiefs game back in October 2018, a game Kansas City won 45-10. Vinovich has also officiated several high-profile Chiefs' games over the past few years, including their AFC title win over the Bills last season and their Super Bowl LIV win over the 49ers.
3. Tom Brady retirement speculation continues, Sean Payton's future also up in the air
It is now Day 2 of the Tom Brady retirement watch, and although I promise we won't be bringing you daily updates here, Brady did have some new things to say about possibly retiring and it sounds like he's pretty serious.
- Tom Brady sounds like he might be ready to spend time with his family. During his "Let's Go" podcast, Brady shared exactly what he's thinking as he continues to mull retirement. "Playing football I get so much joy from. I love it. But not playing football, there's a lot of joy in that for me also now, too, with my kids getting older and seeing them develop and grow. So all these things need to be considered and they will be."
- Brady will retire if he's not willing to give his all. "The team doesn't deserve anything less than my best," the QB said, via the Tampa Bay Times. "And if I feel like I'm not committed to that, or I can't play at a championship level, then you gotta give someone else a chance to play. And, you know, we'll see."
- Brady is going to take some serious time to think about his decision. "I think the point is there's no really rush for me to figure out what's next," Brady said, via PFT. "You know, I'll know when I know. It's a day after the season. So I think for all of us, you know, we can all decompress a bit. It's been six straight months of football, every day consumed by day in and day out football. And I think now it's just some time to spend some time with my family and spend some time with my kids."
In other retirement news, Rob Gronkowski and Sean Payton are also on the fence about returning in 2022.
- Gronk undecided about 2022. Back in September, there was some speculation that Gronk might retire if Brady decided to retire, but apparently, the tight end might be willing to keep playing even if his favorite QB calls it quits. "I'm really going to basically do what's best for myself in terms of the football world," Gronkowski said Monday. "It's going to be a decision based upon of where I'm at in a couple weeks." Gronk also added that there is a scenario where he could see himself playing with another QB, but he didn't reveal what that scenario was.
- Sean Payton might not return to Saints. There's been some speculation over the past week that Sean Payton might not return to New Orleans, and Saints owner Gayle Benson added to the drama Monday by revealing that she has no idea what he's going to do. "We don't know, you know? Who knows?" Benson said when asked about Payton, via Fox 8. "We'll find out soon enough, I guess." It's possible that Payton could take a year off, but it's also possible that this is his way of letting other teams know that they should talk to the Saints about trading for him. Of course, this all could just be a brilliant marketing ploy for his new movie, which comes out this week.
Between Brady, Gronk, Payton, Aaron Rodgers and everything else that's happening, it's pretty clear that this is going to be a wild offseason.
4. Rams trying to keep 49ers fans out of SoFi Stadium
With the Rams getting set to host their first NFC title game in 20 years on Sunday, the team is doing its best to make sure that the NFC Championship doesn't turn into a 49ers home game.
Over the weekend, the Rams changed their ticket policy so that fans located in the Los Angeles area would be the only ones allowed to buy tickets to the game.
Here are a few details on the situation:
- The new policy. Under the adjusted policy, only fans located in certain zip codes were able to buy tickets and every single one of those zip codes was located in the Los Angeles area.
- Why the Rams likely did this. When these two teams met in L.A. back on Jan. 9, there were so many 49ers fans at the game that Matthew Stafford actually had to use a silent count on offense. It's pretty clear that the Rams don't want to see 49ers fans overrunning the stadium this week, which is likely why they implemented the new policy.
- 49ers fans can still attend. The new policy was only for tickets that had yet to be sold for the game. After the Rams won Sunday, those tickets quickly sold out. The only way to get tickets now is on the secondary market and there's no geographic restriction on the purchase of those tickets, which means 49ers fans can buy them, but they're definitely not going to be cheap.
- Sean McVay urges Rams fans not to sell tickets to 49ers fans. The Rams coach is very aware that some Rams fans might be thinking about selling their tickets, which is why he used part of his press conference Monday to implore Rams fans NOT to sell to 49ers fans.
- Rams not first team to try and keep out opposing fans. Back in January 2016, the Broncos limited all ticket sales for the AFC Championship Game to fans who lived in the Rocky Mountain region (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah, western Kansas and Wyoming). If you didn't have a zip code from that area, then you couldn't buy tickets, which limited the amount of Patriots fans who were able to attend. The plan worked for the Broncos, and they ended up winning the game.
Personally, if I was worth $10 billion like Rams owner Stan Kroenke, I'd just buy all the tickets to the game and let the two teams play in an empty stadium so I wouldn't have to worry about 49ers fans overrunning the place.
5. 2022 NFL Mock Draft
With the NFL season down to just four teams, that means there are 28 teams out there who aren't playing this weekend. If you're a fan of those teams, you probably want to read about something besides the playoffs, which is why I'm bringing you a MOCK DRAFT today.
This mock draft is from Ryan Wilson and here's a look at his top 10:
- 1. Jaguars: EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan)
- 2. Lions: EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oregon)
- 3. Texans: OL Ikem Ekwonu (North Carolina State)
- 4. Jets: OL Evan Neal (Alabama)
- 5. Giants: S Kyle Hamilton (Notre Dame)
- 6. Panthers: OL Charles Cross (Mississippi State)
- 7. Giants: OL Tyler Linderbaum (Iowa)
- 8. Falcons: EDGE David Ojabo (Michigan)
- 9. Broncos: QB Matt Corral (Ole Miss)
- 10. Jets: CB Derek Stingley, Jr. (LSU)
If you want to check out the full first round in Wilson's latest mock draft, be sure to click here.
6. Rapid-fire roundup
It's been a busy 24 hours in the NFL and since it's nearly impossible to keep track of everything that happened I went ahead and put together a roundup for you.
- Broncos' head coach search down to three candidates. Don't be surprised if the Broncos make a hire by the end of the week (or even sooner), and that's because it appears their search is down to three candidates. According to KUSA in Denver, those candidates are: Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell.
- Antonio Brown apparently wants to play for the Ravens. In an interview on Monday, the controversial receiver made it sound like he wants to be teammates with Lamar Jackson next season. You can check out details from the interview by clicking here.
- Panthers hire Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator. The former Giants coach is now an offensive coordinator again. After getting fired by the Giants in 2017, McAdoo worked for both the Cowboys and Jaguars over the past few years. This will be his first coordinator job since holding the same role for the Giants in 2014 and 2015.
- NFL gets huge TV ratings spike in divisional round. The Chiefs win over the Bills drew an average of 42.736 million, which made it the highest-rated divisional round playoff game in five years. The Bengals-Titans game drew an average of 30.752 million viewers, which made it the most-watched Saturday afternoon game in six years. Both games were on CBS.
- GM and head coach tracker. It's been more than two weeks since the regular season ended, and the only opening that has been filled is the Giants general manager position. Although we haven't been covering every interview here, you can keep tabs on who's getting interviewed by clicking here.