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NFL’s ‘Be Love’ Wild Card Weekend

And what the ramifications could be for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Cleveland Browns vs Philadelphia Eagles Perry Knotts/Getty Images

For the past few of seasons, the NFL has been on a mission to promote and honor civil rights, not only in America, but across the globe.

Such has never been more the case this Wild Card weekend.

The message is: “Be Love”

The slogan is a reference to the “Martin Luther King Center’s Be Love” civil rights campaign.

And with 4 games already in the books, what a thrilling weekend of football this has been, particularly for two first-year starting quarterbacks on underdog teams.

The significance of what C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love accomplished this weekend could have a profound ripple effect on this year’s NFL draft.

How hopeful and excited right now are Texans and Packers fans?

How extraordinary was it to see C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love take apart two of the NFL’s most feared and dominant defenses.

Coming into the weekend, Jim Schwartz’s defense in Cleveland was #1 in yards allowed at a mere 290.2 a game, while Dan Quinn’s league-leading defense in QB pressures was #5 at 299.7.

Clearly, no young QB getting his first NFL start in a playoff game were going to be able to handle a top 5 defense. Right?

Yet:

  • C.J. Stroud vs. CLE: 16/21, 76.1%, 280 yards, 3 TDs, 0 ints., 157.2 RTG
  • Jordan Love vs. DAL: 16/21, 76.1%, 272 yards, 3 TDs, 0 ints., 157.2 RTG

Are these nearly identical stats a typo?

Wait, there’s more.

Get this:

Coming into the game, per PFF’s pass rush metrics, CLE was #1 at 91.3 and DAL was #2 at 90.9

Get this:

  • C.J. Stroud —- 0 sacks
  • Jordan Love —- 0 sacks

This is beyond uncanny.

Conversely, this was a particularly rough weekend for some of the most highly regarded DCs in the NFL: Jim Schwartz, Dan Quinn and Vic Fangio. Especially for Dan Quinn, who is expected to be one of the most coveted head coaching candidates this year.

How does Dan Quinn even begin to explain how his vaunted, star-studded defense was carved up at home for 415 yards (272-yards passing, 143-yards rushing ceding 7 of 11 3rd and 4th down conversions combined)? A 48-32 loss to a 9-8 #7 seed with a QB playing in his first ever playoff game? The first time ever that a #7 seed won a Wild Card game?

The closest and most 4th-quarter dramatic game of the weekend was yesterday’s nightcap.

A superb way to capture the excitement of the Lions’ coaches, players and their fans (who haven’t seen the Lions win a playoff game in 33 years, let alone at Ford Field) is this:

For envious fans of the 16 teams that did not qualify for the playoffs this season, the common conclusions are:

  • Everyone wants a head coach like Andy Reid, Dan Campbell, Matt LaFleur or DeMeco Ryans
  • Everyone without a good QB wants a young star QB like C.J. Stroud and Jordan Love.

Heck, this morning you might as well add Browns, Cowboys, Dolphins and Rams fans to the young QB envy.

The best and stingiest defense thus far, the Kansas City Chiefs’, just so happens to be one of the league’s youngest. They held the Dolphins’ #1 offense in yards per game (401.3) to a paltry 264. Sure, the weather was a contributing factor. But, hey, the Chiefs put up 409 yards in that freezer, which was 58 more yards that their season average of 351.

So now there are numbers of envious fans who want to see their teams add an infusion of talented younger players to the mix. 8 of the Chiefs’ starters on defense right now are still on rookie contracts.

The Houston Hope:

What DeMeco Ryans has proven this season is that as a 1st year head coach, a rookie QB and a cadre of young, relatively unknown, but hungry as all get-out players, a recently woeful franchise can rebuild and win at the same time.

How the trends of the Wild Card weekend could provide hope for the 2024 Cardinals.

  • The commendable way that Kyler Murray helped improve the Cardinals’ balanced offense over the course of his 8 games, eliminated any potential consideration for Moni Ossenfort to to draft a 1st round QB this year —- and it provides hope that with a few key additions the Cardinals could have a top 10 offense in 2024.
  • The fact that the vast majority of the QBs in this year’s playoffs were 1st round picks (Mahomes-#10, Tua-#5, Stroud-#2, Love-#26, Flacco-#18, Stafford-#1, Goff-#1, Mayfield-#1), that is likely going to create an added urgency for QB-needy teams to tap into this year’s QB draft class, which features Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels, Bo Nix, Michael Penix and J.J. McCarthy. The more QBs who are picked in Round 1 could help the Cardinals have a better chance of drafting their highest rated players on their board with both their 1st round picks and with their early pick in the second round.
  • With the depth of the QB pool in this year’s draft, the Cardinals may receive attractive trade offers with their two 1st rounders and early 2nd rounder (as the Cardinals did with TEN last year when the Titans felt the urgency to trade up for QB Will Levis).
  • If the Cardinals hit home runs on their defensive picks in 2024 like the Chiefs have been doing for several drafts in a row —- to add to the flashes of talent that OLB B.J. Ojulari, CB Garrett Williams, LB Owen Pappoe, CB Kei’Trel Clark and DT Dante Stills provided —- the Cardinals’ defense could begin to play more competitively.
  • The Cardinals have 11 picks this year and the odds are favorable that 6-7 of those picks will be to improve a defense that was 31st in the NFL in yards per game and 32nd in defensive DVOA. In posting a franchise-record worst 0-6 record in the NFC West, the Cardinals were outscored 184-98. The Cardinals improvement, as always, has to begin with how they handle their business in the NFC West.

Your thoughts about the games and what the trends may do to help the Cardinals?

MLK Day: Be Love