NEW ORLEANS -- You couldn't watch Sunday's breathless 49ers-Saints game without concluding that either of those teams could beat the other anywhere, anytime. This is an overreactions column, but that is most definitely not an overreaction.
The game saw two of the NFL's top offensive playcallers, Kyle Shanahan and Sean Payton, trading haymakers all afternoon. It made one of the league's best defenses look as if it was using only 10 guys. It literally lived up to the old cliché about "the last team that has the ball will win this thing."
And oh yes, the Niners and Saints absolutely could meet again in next month's NFC playoffs. Could be right back here in the Superdome. Could be in sunny California. Could be in the first round. Could be in the NFC Championship Game. And if it happens ... how are you going to know whom to pick?
The NFL playoffs are setting up this way. With the perpetually unbeatable Patriots showing legitimate wobble, the league's postseason landscape looks wide-open. There are four NFC teams with double-digit win totals already and two more in the AFC. The aforementioned Patriots haven't even clinched their division yet and could still conceivably (not likely, but conceivably) see it slip away to Buffalo. The Packers aren't yet clear of the Vikings in the NFC North. The Titans have won four in a row to catch the Texans for first place in the AFC South, and they play them in two of their remaining three games. And yes, the NFL's rules continue to stipulate that one team from the NFC East will qualify for the postseason.
Lots still to be determined, and once the playoff games start next month, we still won't know what to think. The 2019 postseason field will be stocked with very good teams, some of which will find themselves on the road in the first round, which really only means there will be first-round home teams ripe for upset. So in honor of the wide-open NFL landscape, we kick off our Overreaction Monday column with a series of simple ones:
The 49ers will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. They've lost twice -- in overtime to Seattle and by a field goal in the rain in Baltimore. These are not bad losses in any way, but what really came out of Sunday that encourages the 49ers is that they won a game in a different way. Their defense had carried them all season. They were allowing 15.2 points per game coming into Week 14 and they gave up 46 ... and still won. If you were wondering, "Can Jimmy Garoppolo win the Niners a game if their defense lays an egg?" you got an affirmative answer Sunday in the Superdome. The Niners left this place on a cloud.
The Saints will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. There are reasons to worry, of course. The offense looked great Sunday, but Alvin Kamara still doesn't seem all the way like himself, and tight end Jared Cook left with a concussion after catching touchdown passes on the first two drives of the game. The Saints can get a little Michael Thomas-dependent, which isn't necessarily a bad thing because Thomas is an Avenger, but you'd like to see them diversify. Sunday was encouraging from that standpoint even though it was a loss. You'd feel better if Kamara could get on a roll in the next three weeks and if Cook could come back soon. And the way the Saints got knocked out of the playoffs last season and the year before, dread will accompany any close game until we see them holding up that Lombardi trophy in Miami.
The Chiefs will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. I don't care how shaky Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense looks -- if you win a game as a visiting team in Foxborough, you can win anywhere. The Pats had won 21 in a row at home before Sunday (including the playoffs), and the Chiefs' much-maligned defense came up with the final-minute stop it needed. Kansas City wouldn't have been afraid of the Patriots in January anyway. It played them too close two times last season. But with this win in their pockets, the Chiefs don't have to worry about going through Foxborough in January. Patrick Mahomes & Co. know they can do it.
The Patriots will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. But really only because history grants them the benefit of the doubt. They do not look like a team capable of outscoring other playoff teams right now. Houston beat them up a week ago, and Kansas City held them off in their place this week. All is not well in House Belichick, and there are real problems to be solved if they're to repeat. We've just seen Brady and Belichick solve their problems too many times to rule them out.
The Ravens will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. Buffalo's defense was game, but like San Francisco's a week earlier, just couldn't stop Lamar Jackson enough times when it counted. Who can? There are theories out there that teams seeing the Ravens a second time might be able to solve their offense, as the Chargers did in last season's playoffs. But Jackson is a mismatch factory, and until we see someone come up with a solution, it's tough to envision what it would look like.
The Seahawks will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. I'll take Russell Wilson with the ball in his hands and two minutes to go, needing a score. You can have anyone else. I like my chances. No team plays more close games than Seattle does -- Sunday night's lousy performance was an outlier -- and the Seahawks seem to win them all.
The Packers will win the Super Bowl: Not an overreaction. You might take Aaron Rodgers if you had the second pick in that draft I just mentioned. Would like to see the Green Bay defense look the way it did in September, but the Packers have a formula that translates most weeks and a quarterback who has worked January magic before. Let's get on to the rest of this week's column.
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Jameis Winston will be the Buccaneers' starting QB in 2020
Winston is a maddening player, a turnover machine with tantalizing talent who is likely to convince the Bucs he's a better option than the quarterback wilderness would be. He's an unrestricted free agent when this season ends, so all options are on the table. But after spending the first half of Sunday's game playing his way out of town, he spent the second half playing his way back into fans' and coaches' hearts, authoring a comeback victory over the Colts.
The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. Jason Licht is still the general manager, and he drafted Winston. Bruce Arians went there to coach, in large part, due to his connection with Winston. This is a player the Bucs still believe has greatness inside of him, and coaches always think they can fix a guy's problems.
It remains to be seen what the contract looks like, but I'd expect there to be one that keeps Winston fumbling and throwing interceptions in a Bucs uniform for next year and likely one or two more after that.
John Elway has finally gotten it right with Drew Lock
Outside of signing Peyton Manning as a free agent, Elway the GM has famously struggled to find a solution for the Broncos at quarterback. He drafted Lock in the second round in April, and the rookie spent the bulk of the season on injured reserve before taking over as the Broncos' starter in Week 13.
Now he's 2-0 with five touchdown passes and two interceptions while completing 72.7% of his passes in two games. He led the Broncos to a 31-3 halftime lead in Houston en route to the most shocking result of Sunday.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Just because we've seen this movie before, right? We need more than two games to decide whether we believe Lock is the Broncos' savior or whether we're just in for a summer's worth of "Elway finally got it right!" stories before a 15-touchdown, 13-interception season. Love what Lock's doing, always root for the young guys to succeed, would be great if he were the answer. But it's too soon to know. Pump the brakes.
The Bills are not serious contenders
Buffalo had a chance to make a statement at home against the hottest team in the league. Its defense did what it could, holding Lamar Jackson & Co. to 257 yards. Buffalo trailed Baltimore 10-6 at the half and looked as if it had a shot before a big play from Jackson to Hayden Hurst gave the Ravens some breathing room and an eventual 24-17 win.
The Bills are 9-4, only a game behind the Patriots in the AFC East, but the only team they've beaten that has a winning record is Tennessee, back when Marcus Mariota was still the Titans' quarterback.
The verdict: OVERREACTION. Look, the defense is legit, and Josh Allen has seemed to find a way in big spots. I'm not here to ding the Bills for their schedule, and whatever you want to say about the way the Cowboys look right now, winning (and dominating) in Dallas on Thanksgiving is no small thing for a team on the rise.
If the Patriots mess up in either of their very winnable remaining games, and if Buffalo can spring the Week 16 upset, it's not at all out of the question that the Bills could still swipe the division. Losing to the Ravens is not an indictment of any team.