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Inbox: That intangible often leads to wins in this league

The right teams made it to the NFL’s final four

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LB Preston Smith

Darren from Wakefield, MI

Hi Wes. I'm with Mike on the best game of the weekend was Bengals-Bills. I also can't root for the Cowboys no matter what. With regards to frustrating officiating, I didn't see consistency with RTP in the Jags-KC game. That hurt the Jags. What were your takes on the weekend?

I didn't find the games to be as riveting as Scrumdiddlyumptious, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious wild-card weekend but I was impressed by how much heart teams and individual players showed. Patrick Mahomes playing through the high-ankle sprain obviously was the highlight, but my jaw dropped at the sight of CeeDee Lamb popping his finger back into place and then catching a ridiculous ball when Dallas was backed deep in its own territory. And what else can you say about Philadelphia other than the Eagles imposed their will on New York. The right teams made it to the NFL's final four. Each of them earned it.

Kent from Lewiston, ID

The four remaining playoff teams have incredible defensive play. Outside the regular season, would you please rank the contenders from 1 to 4 and why. This side of the ball has been reflective of attained results thus far and offensive schemes seemed to be matched consistently. Thanks for the insight!

I'll go Cincinnati is playing fast and physical, has two of the best receivers in the league and Joe Burrow is electric. Then, I'll say Philadelphia because the Eagles have been a consistently dominant team when Jalen Hurts is healthy. The defense is flawed but talented. I'll vote San Francisco at No. 3 because the 49ers have a young quarterback heading into a hostile environment next weekend. That leaves Kansas City, which I would rank higher if it wasn't for Mahomes' ankle.

Dean from Leavenworth, IN

It seems the Eagles and Jalen Hurts are back on track, and for San Francisco and Brock Purdy, I think the bubble bursts and the glass slipper shatters. What are you thinking Wes?

Philadelphia's offense vs. San Francisco's defense is this year's must-see matchup. I can't wait to see how DeMeco Ryans defends Jalen Hurts and conversely how the Eagles attack a suffocating San Fran front. I'm still leaning towards the 49ers, but Philly made a statement on Saturday with how it dismantled the Giants.

Richard from Madison, WI

We have Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Special Teams Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year. Can we have Fun Player of the Year? If so, I nominate George Kittle.

Did you hear that giggle at the end of his postgame interview? How can you not love George Kittle? His catch down the seam was one of the most impressive catches I've seen a tight end make. It's one thing to juggle the ball and corral it – but Kittle managed to catch it with a safety bearing down on him. Oh, and he still managed to make that safety miss on the hit.

CJ from Cedar Rapids, IA

This past weekend made me really want a stud tight end. It's been said they're not generally worth a first-round pick, but if they are there grab him. I know Kittle was fifth round and Travis Kelce was third, but what an impact on the game.

Like I said last week, if there were a blueprint for identifying All-Pro tight ends, Kittle, Kelce and Mark Andrews wouldn't have lasted until Day 2/3. When you identify a game-changer at tight end, however, you hold onto that man for dear life.

TK from Grafton, WI

Watching the playoffs, I'm struck with two observations: crisp, sure tackling, and the frequency with which "difficult" catches are made.

I'm with you, especially in regard to tackling. That intangible often leads to wins in this league. There was some incredible athleticism and playmaking on display during the divisional round. Talking with the venerable Cliff Christl Monday, I'm reminded how tackling is timeless – and the best teams do it well. The game has changed over the past century, but at the end of the day, you still have to get the ball carrier to the ground.

Paul from Ledgeview, WI

Wes, thanks for the great article. I hope Aaron Jones is here for a long time, and I would love to see him be the Packers' all-time rushing leader (carries, yards, TDs) but he needs at least three seasons averaging roughly career best yards to get there. Do you see it happening?

I firmly believe Jones still has a lot of good football ahead of him. His best quality is he has managed to continually improve at a position where most stars have their best seasons early on and fade. Jones does it all for this offense and he does it with a smile on his face. You can never have enough of those guys on your team, especially when they perform at a Pro Bowl level. I hope Jones can make a run at Green Bay's all-time record, no pun intended.

Mike from Sonoita, AZ

Good morning, II! After viewing the last two weeks of playoffs, it is apparent the teams that control the line of scrimmage advance. I thought our Packers lost the "line" battle to the Lions, especially in the fourth quarter. I believe our O-line is good (not great). Do you believe any of the second-string offensive linemen are deemed more physical and ready to push the starters for a spot? Where can we expect to get help on the D-line? T.J. Slaton and Devonte Wyatt show promise … but?

I expect there to be a lot of competition on both lines next summer. If Yosh Nijman receives a restricted tender, the Packers could potentially return everyone on the offense line, and I expect Zach Tom to compete for a starting spot somewhere. Caleb Jones and Luke Tenuta are monstrous tackles, too, that I can't wait to learn more about. The Packers have more questions to answer on the defensive line, with Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed both free agents. Wyatt and Slaton flashed after Lowry went down, but there's still more than 1,000 defensive snaps in need of replacement if Lowry and Reed depart.

Johan from Evansville, IN

I agree the Packers need field-tilters. I think they more importantly need them in the trenches. I don't think it's a coincidence that the four remaining teams are pretty stout on the two lines. What say you?

Everyone wants to make this about specific positions or areas of the field, but if you hit on playmakers, the rest takes care of itself. If a team finds David Bakhtiari on Day 3, then it bought itself a decade of elite play at left tackle. Championship teams build to the strength of their talent. In San Fran's case, the 49ers have done it the same way over and over again – strong defensive front and elite play at inside linebacker. They've consistently hit on those positions better than any other team in the league.

Ted from Afton, OK

Given the almost same circumstances as Tampa Bay, why shouldn't the Packers' organization apply the same approach? After all, Matt LaFleur has openly admitted after a number of losses this year that he and his staff have been outcoached.

Because the Buccaneers have a different head coach, and the ship is sailing in a new direction under Todd Bowles. In Green Bay, this is Matt LaFleur's football team – the buck stops with him. If that was your takeaway from LaFleur's comments over the years, then you're confusing accountability with surrender. To demand more of yourself is to demand more of those around you.

Robin from Ideal Township, MN

I was sorry to see the Buffalo Bills lose but was intrigued to note all four remaining teams play outdoors. Looking at dynasty teams over the decades, e.g., Packers, Patriots, I'm wondering if data support that outdoor teams, on the whole, have an advantage over dome teams? I understand player and coach talent, schemes, schedule, and even ref calls might be more critical factors, but are dome teams just wimpier? Thanks, II!

Wimpier is not the right word for it, especially after a team that plays on an artificial surface just won the Super Bowl. I think the real data question is the overall health of teams that play in domes versus on grass this time of year. From there, it comes down to team speed and how a dome team's playstyle translates to colder, slower environments. The best players still get it done.

Steve from Wabasha, MN

While watching the Bengals vs. Bills pregame they were calling Joe Burrow Joe Cool. I started wondering if he would even know the reference. Do either of you know the reference without Googling it?

I had no idea it was originally a "Peanuts" reference. I just figured it was an acknowledgement of Burrow's ability to stay cool under pressure. I am getting older but I guess not that old…yet.

Bob from Rome, NY

Wes: Greetings from CNY smack dab in the middle of Bills-Giants country. I made reference to Bills fans that the Super Bowl is not in September or October and be leery of bad-weather games because they are not a built for that. Average running game and not physical, more of a finesse team. Probably wouldn't have made a difference Sunday but just a thought. Yours?

It didn't help all the injuries Buffalo had this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The thing about the Bengals is they started slowly but have steadily gained momentum throughout the season. That is a very good football team right now. I wouldn't disrespect the Bills by saying they weren't built for their environment, but turnovers have been a season-long issue and they continued to haunt them. Buffalo overcame the miscues against Miami, but Cincinnati was just too darn good to do it again.

James from Chicago, IL

In the second round of the playoffs, the average age of the starting QBs was around 25. Does that say you need a young QB? Or does it say in seven years the average age of the starting QBs in the second round will likely be closer to 32?

I mean, the last two quarterbacks to win the Super Bowl were 33 and 43 years old, respectively. Did something change overnight? No, it's just three elite quarterbacks in their prime and a tough-minded rookie who's doing what's necessary for his team to win.

Joe from Hampshire, IL

Can Mike do a WYMM on the last Dallas play? Yes, I know it failed miserably, but perhaps Mike can diagram how it was meant to work if Dak threw to a different receiver.

Some moments/plays are better missed than revisited, Joe.

Chipper from Fairbank, IA

OK guys, Mike piqued my curiosity. What are the third and fourth stadiums that McCarthy has been knocked out in by the 49ers? I can only come up with Lambeau and Levi's.

Candlestick (2012-13) and AT&T (2021-22).

Dan from Indianapolis, IN

Do you think it's possible that the NFL doesn't really want to "fix" the problem with refs missing some calls or making bad calls because it makes for a lot of drama and draws more TV viewers? I find myself watching more non-Packer games this year simply to watch for ref mistakes.

I think NFL officiating is the old fence in desperate need of refurbishment, but it still stands and that's good enough for the league. Again, that isn't because officiating is poor today. That's been my contention since the NFL referee lockout in 2012.

Caleb from Knoxville, TN

Thoughts on the overturned Ja'Marr Chase TD? It sure looked like a catch to me.

It's a touchdown. New York can try to explain to me that it's not, but as a consumer of the NFL's product, I'm telling you that's a touchdown. I'm also beginning to wonder if the NFL needs like three experts voting on this, and not just a faceless higher power in New York ruling on these matters. This isn't "Deal or No Deal." It's professional football.

Margeaux from Tallahassee, FL

Well, Wes the annual what-is-Aaron Rodgers-going-to-do season is upon us. As vexing as it seems it has kept GB at the forefront of NFL news. I can remember a time when even our first-round pick was glossed over in draft coverage. Let's hope that Jordan Love or the QB that follows garners as much interest. It does make the season and offseason more interesting, doesn't it?

It's a good problem to have. It means, you've had an extraordinary player at the game's most important position. The Rodgers questions are going to hover until a final decision is made for 2023 but there really isn't anything to say until there's something to talk about.

Ricardo from Ventura, CA

Have either of you written an article in the past about the parallels/similarities/differences between Brett Favre's last years in GB vs. Aaron Rodgers' last years in GB?

No. Personally, I'm not enamored with comparing every moment that's ever happened in Packers' history to the modern team. I get that's popular with Hall of Fame quarterbacks but it's just not my cup of Tang.

James from Charlottesville, VA

Good morning, Insiders! I have been reading a lot of headlines about trading Aaron Rodgers. From a financial standpoint, that is absurd, right? As I understand it, I would think we wouldn't get too much in a trade and contract-wise, we would basically be paying for Rodgers to play elsewhere? Speculation is as speculation does, but could you explain what advantages, if any, there would be to trading Rodgers? Thanks for all you guys do. GPG!

It's a complicated topic because of all the layers built into the deal. What I know is everything starts with the guaranteed bonus Rodgers is due this offseason if he plays in 2023. Once the money is paid, it's added to the salary cap and prorated over the life of the contract. By either trading or releasing a player after the bonus is paid, the proration is accelerated to the current year. That's where the numbers come into play. That's the first domino that must fall.

Tom from Raleigh, NC

The talk around a mid-level QB like Daniel Jones is that the Giants have to pay him $30M/year or let him go. Uh, why not offer him $15 or $20M and if he can get more in free agency, God bless? There seems to be a very high base salary for non-rookie contract starting QBs? Why?

Because that's the price of playing quarterback poker. Your point, and offer, is valid. Daniel Jones is a gamer and a leader but also a QB who probably needs a dominant defense and All-Pro talent around him to get the Giants back to a Super Bowl. With that in mind, it's up to Brian Daboll and New York's front office to determine if he's "the guy."

Noah from Derby, KS

You have both mentioned not paying attention to talking heads outside of the organization but who do you get your NFL news from? Colleagues with similar jobs from other teams? Rob Demovsky? Just curious.

I get my news from many of the same sources as you. I just prefer actual reporting on the news than networks and pundits commentating on what's being reported. I don't get anything from that. It's a waste of time to me. If I wanted to be angry, I'd watch the last season of "Game of Thrones" on loop. It's a more efficient means of inducing rage in a time-conscious manner.

Samuel from Indianapolis, IN

Bengals over Eagles in the Super Bowl this year, what is your pick?

Um, well, I had Bills over 49ers? So, I guess put me down for Bengals over 49ers until I get that one wrong, too. Have a great week, everyone.

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