Why the Browns, Dolphins, Cowboys, Rams, Steelers and Eagles Lost on Super Wild Card Weekend

The NFL season is over for 24 of the league's 32 teams

January 16, 2024 7:18 am
Mike McCarthy watches the Dallas Cowboys.
Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys had a very, very tough weekend.
Ron Jenkins/Getty

Thanks to the weather and our (somewhat new?) inability to deal with it, Sunday afternoon’s scheduled playoff game between the Bills and Steelers in Buffalo was postponed due to snow. As a result, a weekend of NFL postseason action that was supposed to consist of five games followed by a Monday Night Football matchup to wrap everything up morphed into a three-peat of playoff doubleheaders. Now that the six-game slate is complete, let’s take a look back at the overwhelming reason why each of the losers on the NFL’s Super Wild Card Weekend got sent home so early.

The Browns lost because their luck ran out

Largely left for dead after losing star running back Nick Chubb and (alleged) franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson in the first half of the season, the Browns simply refused to lose and won as many games this season (11) as the Dolphins, Bills and Chiefs. Relying on their stout defense and a rotating cast at quarterback that ultimately ended with 39-year-old Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco in the starring role, the Browns and head coach Kevin Stefanski put together a solid season that ended on Saturday when Cleveland went to Houston and received a 45-14 beatdown from the Texans with rookie QB C.J. Stroud throwing for 274 yards with three touchdowns.

Slightly favored in the game, the Browns got down early and did their best to get back in the game, but Flacco, who was watching games on his couch less than two months ago, just wasn’t able to conjure up the same sort of magic he did when he led the Ravens to a championship a decade ago. It would have been a great story if Flacco was able to play Merlin again, but relying on him to do so was a bad choice. In their defense, the Browns, who used three other starting quarterbacks already, didn’t have a better one.

The loss to the Texans, who own the Browns’ first-round draft pick after sending Watson to Ohio prior to last season in a blockbuster trade, does not make this a lost season for Cleveland as they exceeded the expectations most NFL analysts had for them had Chubb and their high-priced QB been healthy. Tasked with playing without those two core players, the Browns matched their highest win total of the past two decades.

The problem for the Browns is that none of their wins this season came in the postseason. Hopefully for Cleveland, the return of Chubb and Watson can help remedy that ailment. The Browns can also always give Flacco another shot as it seems unlikely Watson will actually make it through a season to suit up for the playoffs. Having Flacco in the fold for the postseason may not be a bad idea as he is 10-6 overall in the playoffs and has only lost once in the first round. That happened on Saturday, against the Texans.

The Dolphins lost because they can’t play in the cold

After entering the frigid temperatures and aggressive atmosphere that engulfed Kansas City on Saturday night, the Dolphins appeared to not appreciate the vibe at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium and departed with a loss, the 11th consecutive time Miami has been defeated in a game with a temperature of 40 degrees or less. Mike McDaniel, who has now coached Miami to two straight playoff appearances with two straight losses, has presided over four of those setbacks.

“We fell very short of our goals,” McDaniel said. “We have very strong expectations for ourselves. One of the reasons a lot of people don’t put themselves out there and hold those expectations is because when you fall short of them it’s emotional, it’s gut-wrenching. We lost a game we were 100 percent all-in, fearlessly feeling as though we would win.”

Amazingly, the longest drought without a playoff win in the NFL now belongs to the Miami Dolphins, who have not won a postseason game since December of 2000. Looking back at their playoff history, the Dolphins actually have not won a playoff game that was played away from Miami or outside of a dome since 1994 — when they beat the Chiefs in Kansas City.

Dan Marino was under center for Miami in ’94 and, to cross sports and paraphrase Rick Pitino, Dan Marino ain’t walking through that door. Tua Tagovailoa, who was not very impressive against the Chiefs but also did not have a lot of help, has already crossed the foyer in South Florida, but it remains to be seen if Miami general manager Chris Grier will commit to him with an extension of his rookie deal.

Whatever Grier does with Tua, it probably doesn’t matter unless the Dolphins, as an organization, figure out how to win in the cold because the road to the Super Bowl, until further notice, goes through cold-weather cities like Kansas City, Baltimore, Cincinatti and Buffalo. Unless Miami can win the AFC outright to get the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, something the Dolphins haven’t done since the ’70s.

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The Cowboys lost because they’re frontrunners…

…who also choke in big moments.

Undefeated at home during the regular season and favored by at least a touchdown as most sportsbooks while preparing to host the Packers in Dallas, the Cowboys appeared calm and collected heading into their matchup with the lowest-seeded team to qualify for the postseason in the NFC. Seemingly prepared to finally make a deep playoff run, the Cowboys played as if their shoelaces were tied together and stumbled to a 48-32 loss to Green Bay that was not even as close as that lopsided score indicates.

Arguably the most-recognizable sports brand in the U.S (the Yankees would say differently), the Cowboys have not won anything meaningful for three decades…and counting. Now 1-3 in the postseason (with two of those losses coming at home) under head coach Mike McCarthy over the past four seasons, the Cowboys have not made it to an NFC Championship game, let alone a Super Bowl, since 1995. To hammer that point home, the Cowboy’s in-state rival, the Texans, have more postseason wins (five) than the Cowboys (four) since Houston entered the NFL in 2002.

Talented at nearly every position on the field with 81-year-old owner Jerry Jones sparing no expense to put his team in position to win, the Cowboys, as has become an annual occurrence, failed to deliver in a situation that involved pressure. Punched in the mouth by an inferior team with plenty of time to hit back and assert themselves in front of a rowdy home crowd, the Cowboys wilted before it was even halftime.

The response by his team does not bode well for McCarthy as it certainly seems logical he will be fired (and replaced by Bill Belichick?). The situation is a bit murkier given Dak Prescott’s age and the scarcity of talent at his position, but there’s certainly no guarantee that the Cowboys’ 30-year-old franchise quarterback, who made the Pro Bowl for the third time this season, will retain his job, at least without a fight, given how he has performed in the postseason.

If this edition of the Cowboys aren’t ahead, they quit. They did on Sunday — and their season is over.

The Rams lost because Detroit needed to win

The feel-good story of last season after they fell flat to start the season following a stint on Hard Knocks only to rebound to win eight of their last 10 games to miss out on the playoffs by a thread, the Detroit Lions entered this season with expectations.

For the most part, they have delivered, as Detroit went 12-5 to win the NFC North for the first time in decades and earned the right to host a playoff game to open up the postseason. That game happened to come against the Rams, who happen to have Detroit’s former No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford as their quarterback. The Lions, who have ex-Ram Jared Goff as their QB, won by a single point, 24-23.

Trailing for most of the game, Stafford, who led 31 late rallies in his 12 years as Detroit’s quarterback, was unable to rally LA for a comeback win and the Lions were able to end a nine-game postseason losing streak — the longest in NFL history — that dated back to a victory over Dallas in January of 1992.

Not expected to even compete for a postseason spot, the Rams exceeded expectations this season and have some legit building blocks on offense for Stafford to work with in wide receiver Puka Nacua and running back Kyren Williams. Stafford, Nacua and Williams just didn’t have enough to block Detroit.

“Nobody gave us a chance to even be sniffing where we are right now, and [we] gave a really good football team a run for their money,” Stafford said. “Didn’t get it done, but proud of the guys. Proud of their effort from the coaching staff, players, everybody involved in it. It was a fun year, a hell of a year.”

And for the first time in 32 years, the year, or least a weekend of it, belong to the Detroit Lions.

The Steelers lost because Mike Tomlin can’t do it all

After the Steelers finished 10-7 this season and backed into a playoff spot for the fourth time in seven seasons, much was made of Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin completing his 17th straight NFL campaign with a record of .500 or better. Deservedly so, as Tomlin, as he does on an annual basis, got the most out of team that could have easily gone down the tubes after losing consecutive games to the Cardinals, Patriots and Colts, none of whom made the postseason.

However, as the Steelers have done in their last four playoffs appearances, Pittsburgh bowed out in the first round with a loss 31-17 loss to Buffalo in a game that the Bills thoroughly dominated. True to their nature, the Steelers didn’t quit, but they also didn’t put up too much of a fight against a tough Bills team.

Even if they had, the Steelers likely would have lost anyhow as the Bills are in a different class than Pittsburgh and they have plenty of playoff experience to draw on at this point. Tomlin, who coached the Steelers to a Super Bowl win 15 years ago and got the team back there two years later, has plenty of experience of his own to draw from. What he doesn’t have is a set of shoulder pads, as he’s not a player.

Tomlin may have maxed out in what he is able to do in Pittsburgh, as the team he coached on Monday against the Bills has almost no similarity to the one he first presided over in 2007, aside from the uniforms.

At 51, Tomlin can’t pass, catch, run or tackle. But, he can still coach. Maybe just not with the Steelers.

The Eagles lost because things aren’t right in Philly

There really isn’t one issue, aside from losing games they probably should have won, to point to explain why the Eagles never really seemed to find their groove this season despite putting together an 11-6 season. At this point, it doesn’t really matter, as that issue reared its ugly head on Monday night and sent the Eagles home from Tampa Bay with a loss, the same thing that happened to Philly two years ago when Tom Brady was still playing for the Buccaneers.

Baker Mayfield, who has played well enough this season to earn himself a good contract over the offseason in Tampa or elsewhere, was under center for the Bucs on Monday night, and he thoroughly outplayed Jalen Hurts, who came into the game with a nagging finger injury and certainly played like it.

Hurts, who was far from the only member of the Eagles who played poorly as the team lost six out of seven (including Sunday) to finish out the season after starting 10-1, will certainly be sticking around in Philadelphia because he signed a record-setting contract extension with the Eagles that pays him north of $50 million annually on average and will keep him with the team through the 2028 season.

The future for head coach Nick Siraiani, who has gotten the Eagles to the playoffs in each of his three seasons of Phily, is, fairly or not, much less certain.

Whether it was an internal issue with Siraiani, a regression in the play of 25-year-old Hurts or just a gnarly Super Bowl hangover that kicked in a bit later than it typically does, something clearly went wrong in Philadelphia down the stretch as this version of the Eagles, who were playing without top wideout A.J. Brown due to a knee injury, had no business losing to the Bucs the same way they did when Brady was In Tampa.

But, they did anyway and it’s pretty obvious that things in Philadelphia have gone wrong. Bounced from the playoffs far earlier than anyone would have expected, the Eagles have the entire offseason to make things right.

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