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The Schein Nine

Patrick Mahomes is king, Brock Purdy just wins and the Baltimore Ravens are the best team in the NFL

In the wake of another stellar Divisional Round, I'm bubbling over with reactions!

C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans will be back! Detroit offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is going to make a great head coach somewhere -- and I really want Lions DC Aaron Glenn to get a crack at the big chair, too!! Oh, and while we're talking coaches, Andy Reid is freaking amazing!!!

OK, I need to slow down and take a breath. Gotta flesh out my thoughts a little more ...

So, as we transition from the Divisional Round to Championship Sunday, here are my biggest takes, Schein Nine style.

1) The Divisional Round is the best two-day run in sports

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The Saturday/Sunday Divisional Round double dip of elimination football is unparalleled in the world of sports. When it comes to consecutive days of action, nothing else compares.

Yes, the Divisional Round is better than the first two days of the NCAA tournament. It's better than the final two days of the Masters. Divisional Round weekend reigns supreme.

The six survivors from Super Wild Card Weekend enter the Divisional Round with a head of steam, while the two No. 1 seeds take the field for the first time. Great matchups, high drama -- it's the best. This past weekend, three of the four games were decided by one score, and the finale was an instant classic that at drew more than 50 million(!) viewers. Speaking of which ...

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2) That was the Bills' worst Chiefs loss yet

And in the big picture moving forward, I am worried about this team's ability to recover. As regular readers of this column know, I've been extremely bullish on these Bills for years. But that tells you how painful and deflating this loss was for Buffalo: Even I am losing the faith.

It was all there for the Bills, beginning with home-field advantage. This was Patrick Mahomes' first true road playoff game. Buffalo scored first, led at halftime and entered the fourth quarter on top. Then it all came apart.

The fake punt early in the fourth quarter -- from the Bills' own 30-yard line, with Buffalo trailing by just three points -- was absolutely insane. Stefon Diggs' whiff on Josh Allen's perfectly placed rocket was the most memorable fourth-quarter drop, but it wasn't the only one, as Trent Sherfield couldn't handle a deep bomb, either. (And both of those drops came after James Cook flubbed a would-be touchdown late in the first half.) Of course, the most crushing miscue of all was Tyler Bass' missed field goal in the final two minutes. I figured he was money from 44 yards out. He wasn't even close. Buffalo just didn't execute at winning time.

Making matters worse: This wasn't even a classically great Chiefs team! Kansas City couldn't get it done in crunch time against the Eagles, Packers or even the Raiders. Heck, in Sunday's game, Mahomes and Co. didn't score a point in the final 14 minutes, with Mecole Hardman gifting the Bills possession by fumbling through the end zone.

Buffalo entered the Divisional Round piping hot, having not lost a game since before their Week 13 bye. But the Bills' season ultimately ended in the same way it had during two of the past three years: with a gutting loss to the Chiefs. Cruel

3) Don't blame Josh Allen

Don't tell me Allen simply can't beat Mahomes. The Bills superstar did exactly that last month in Kansas City, bringing his regular-season record against Mahomes to 3-1, with wins in each of the last three. But of course, Allen is now 0-3 against Mahomes in the postseason, which inarguably has greater bearing on the legacy discussion.

That said, you also can't tell me Allen played poorly on Sunday. To the contrary, he was awesome. Buffalo's franchise face played terrific ball, producing another highlight reel of incredible runs and throws. (The rolling touchdown pass to Khalil Shakir was pure art.) Some people took issue with the second-and-9 deep shot to Shakir on the Bills' final drive. Not me! Buffalo needed a touchdown to force Mahomes to drive for a go-ahead touchdown, not a field goal. And Shakir was open. But Chiefs game wrecker Chris Jones had bullrushed Dion Dawkins into Allen's lap, forcing the QB to abbreviate his release and inherently leave the ball short. But that was the right play, not throwing underneath to Diggs.

You cannot downgrade Allen after this game. Truth is, Buffalo needs to upgrade his surrounding talent, starting at the receiver position. The Bills are just too dependent on Allen being a one-man army.

4) Patrick Mahomes is inevitable

It's truly amazing. This had been a down season for Mahomes, a non-dominant campaign for the Chiefs, especially on offense. And yet, No. 15 has his team in a sixth straight AFC Championship Game -- in his sixth season as a starter. That's beyond remarkable.

I really didn't take the cheese on Allen vs. Mahomes being "the new Manning vs. Brady." Frankly, Mahomes is Peyton Manning and Tom Brady: best pure quarterback and biggest winner. You make a mistake, he pounces. One way or another, he finds a way to finish on top. Never EVER take this stretch of special, majestic domination for granted.

5) The Ravens are the NFL's best team

This Baltimore team is flat-out awesome in every phase. The Ravens finished the regular season with the No. 4 scoring offense and No. 1 scoring defense. They boasted the highest point differential (+203), tied for the NFL lead in turnover differential (+12) and paced the league in sacks (60). I could go on, but what's the point? Bottom line: This is a well-rounded beast of a team.

If there was concern about Lamar Jackson in the playoffs, the man who's about to win his second MVP punched that narrative in the face with his brilliant second half as a passer and runner in Baltimore's 34-10 beatdown of Houston. It was beautiful to watch, a dual-threat quarterback at the peak of his powers. And Baltimore's defense completely stifled wunderkind quarterback C.J. Stroud and rising coordinator Bobby Slowik, holding Houston's offense to just 213 total yards and three points. (The Texans' lone touchdown came on a punt return.)

John Harbaugh, Mike Macdonald, Todd Monken and Eric DeCosta's fingerprints were all over that masterpiece showing, underscoring the widespread genius of this Ravens organization. No wonder this is the best team in football today.

6) Brock Purdy is clutch

San Francisco put together three quarters of slop and was on verge of getting bounced in gruesome fashion by the upstart Packers. Then Brock Purdy saved the day.

With the 49ers trailing 21-17 and just over six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Purdy authored a 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive, ultimately giving San Francisco a 24-21 win. Purdy completed six of his seven throws on that march -- with the lone incompletion being a brutal drop by George Kittle -- while working the ball to five different pass catchers. He even added a key, 9-yard scramble that set up Christian McCaffrey's touchdown run.

"Brock, he made some big plays in this game. Missed a couple, but leading us down on our last drive and getting the win, that's all I can ask for," Kyle Shanahan said in the postgame.

Indeed. I love Kyle, but his play-calling and clock management were goofy all game, especially at the end of the first half. And the coach entered Saturday with an 0-30 record in games where he trailed by seven or more points in the fourth quarter. Now it's 1-30 -- thanks to Purdy's clutch gene. The resourceful signal-caller used his arm, legs and accuracy when San Francisco needed them the most. This is what made him a legitimate MVP candidate in Year 2. Little respect here, please.

7) Christian McCaffrey is unstoppable

Losing a player of Deebo Samuel's caliber early in a Divisional Round playoff game would sink most teams. But the 49ers aren't like most teams -- because they have Christian McCaffrey.

In the third quarter, San Francisco absolutely needed points, having fallen behind the Packers, 13-7 -- so McCaffrey scored, dashing 39 yards to the end zone. Then, with just over a minute remaining in the game, McCaffrey completed the Niners' comeback from a 21-14 deficit with what proved to be a decisive 6-yard TD run. The three-time Pro Bowler was featured on 10 of San Francisco's final 20 offensive plays.

That was just the latest example of on-field dominance from my pick for Offensive Player of the Year. There's no one like him; the prolific dual-threat back is one of one. Yes, I know McCaffrey's total touches (24) on Saturday were in line with his per-game average in the regular season (21.4), but I'm still a little bit stunned Shanahan only gave him 17 carries. And I expect to see plenty of him throughout the NFC title game, regardless of Samuel's status.

8) These Lions are everything that's right with sports

I'm going to cut to the chase: I love this Lions team.

Remember all the public heat Detroit took for selecting Jahmyr Gibbs -- a running back! -- 12th overall in the 2023 NFL Draft? You can see now why I defended that choice. GM Brad Holmes nailed his picks, including the dynamic Gibbs, instant star TE Sam LaPorta and defensive pieces Jack Campbell and Brian Branch.

The roster-building has been stellar beyond that draft, of course. The offensive line is elite. Receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is a stud. Veteran running back David Montgomery is an ideal partner for Gibbs. Pass rusher Aidan Hutchinson is unstoppable. And, of course, they are coached by a trio of true gems: head man Dan Campbell, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

When Jared Goff was traded to the Lions back in 2021, he looked like a throw-in element of a deal centered on outgoing QB Matthew Stafford and an incoming raft of draft picks. Now Goff has become the epitome of Detroit tough. I couldn't be happier for him.

The Lions' success means so much to the city and the team's long-suffering fans. San Francisco is my pick in Sunday's NFC title game, as the 49ers have been my pick to hoist the Lombardi Trophy since the preseason. But if Detroit were to make it to Super Bowl LVIII, that would be the ultimate story, a very special moment in an exceptional season.

9) The Bucs MUST re-sign Baker Mayfield

I voted for Baker Mayfield to win Comeback Player of the Year, but there's something else I think he should receive in the near future: a new contract with the Buccaneers.

A year ago at this time, the Bucs were staring at an uncertain post-Tom Brady reality, with no immediate answer at QB. It's easy to imagine how they could have slid into rebuilding mode in 2023. Instead, they signed Mayfield to a one-year, prove-it deal, and the former No. 1 overall pick helped them win their third straight NFC South title. After a bumpy exit from Cleveland and an even bumpier 2022 (split between the Panthers and Rams), Mayfield put up the 10th-best TD-to-INT ratio (28:10) in the NFL, logging the best completion rate (64.3 percent) and second-best passer rating (94.6) of his career.

Don't be distracted by the interception that sealed Tampa Bay's loss to Detroit in the Divisional Round. Mayfield's skills, moxie and leadership were on full display in the Bucs' inspired run, as he helped push a team that carried a 4-7 record at one point in the season incredibly close to the NFC title game. Tampa should sign the 28-year-old Mayfield to a three- or four-year extension and let him rock.

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