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The Schein Nine

NFL truth be told: Cowboys and Eagles need change; Jared Goff and Baker Mayfield deserve flowers

The opening round of the 2023 NFL playoffs provided unexpected thrills and staggering spills. That's the beauty of this parity-driven league: You never know what you're going to get.

That said, in the aftermath of this postseason's first six games, I do know a few things.

So, as we transition from Super Wild Card Weekend to the Divisional Round, here are my undeniable truths, Schein Nine style.

1) Dallas needs sweeping changes

The backdrop is important for this take, as that's not an easy thing for me to write. I am a huge Mike McCarthy fan, as I've repeatedly exhibited in this space. After McCarthy moved on from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore last January and assumed the play-calling duties himself, I predicted big things for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys' offense in the 2023 campaign. And during the regular season, that's exactly what we saw, as Prescott became an MVP candidate in his best season yet, and Dallas led the NFL in scoring. The Cowboys went 8-0 at home in dominant fashion, won the NFC East and earned the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Everything was set up for "America's Team" to finally break through again in the postseason.

And then the upstart Packers came into town and completely flipped the script.

Forget the final score: 48-32 doesn't do Green Bay's throttling justice. This was sheer domination by the visiting team. It was 14-0 in the blink of an eye, 27-0 in the second quarter. Dallas got punked by the youngest playoff team in memory. Dan Quinn's defense was horrendous in every phase, with Packers receivers galloping down the field wide open on seemingly every other play. That was the biggest issue, but Prescott came up small in a big spot. CeeDee Lamb, whom I recently lauded as "the most consistently excellent and dominant receiver in the league this year," was nowhere to be found when the game was being decided in the first half. Just an all-around, inexcusable clunker from the Cowboys.

Dallas just became the first team in NFL history to win 12 games in three straight seasons and fail to reach a single conference championship game. And Sunday was so dreadful, changes need to be made, starting at head coach. I love McCarthy, but obviously, it's just not working for the 'Boys come tournament time.

Jerry Jones isn't getting younger. And he was clearly devastated after the Cowboys' season came to an abrupt conclusion.

"This seems like the most painful (playoff loss) because we all had such great expectations and had hope for this team," Jones said Sunday in the postgame. "I'm floored. This is beyond my comprehension."

Does that sound like an owner who's satisfied with maintaining the status quo? Not exactly.

The available coaching list is filled with stars who could rock the culture in Big D, which is necessary at this point. Bill Belichick is the greatest football coach in history, so that wouldn't be the worst hire. And my respect for Mike Vrabel is off the charts. Either man would be perfect for what Dallas needs: sweeping change.

2) Philadelphia needs sweeping changes

And it starts with the Nick Sirianni. Even after the 2022 Eagles made it all the way to Super Bowl LVII, I never bought the green head coach as the next Andy Reid. Then, this past offseason, Philadelphia lost coordinators Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon to head-coaching jobs, and the Eagles lost, well, everything.

That 10-1 start to the 2023 campaign? Yeah, clearly, it was fraudulent. New England, Minnesota, Kansas City, Buffalo and Washington (twice) all shot themselves in the foot against Philadelphia. And when the wheels predictably began to fall off in December, Sirianni's solution was to give the defensive play-calling reins to Matt Patricia. In related news, Philly's D was smacked by the Cardinals and Giants in the final two weeks of the regular season, setting the tone for Monday's 32-9 beatdown, courtesy of Baker Mayfield and the Buccaneers.

This talented team just completely fell apart. It was a stunning meltdown in the second half of the season. Unsurprisingly, this led to questions about Sirianni's job status following Monday night's debacle.

"I'm not thinking about that," the third-year coach said. "I'm thinking about the guys. Again, there's a lot of guys in that locker room, all the guys in that locker room, every single one of them that put their heart and soul into this. I'm not worried about me."

Personally, I'm worried about the future of the Eagles if they decide to just stay the course. And suddenly, there is a glut of qualified head coaches available to take on this challenging job in a passionate sports market. Belichick? Vrabel? Pete Carroll? I'd be confident in any of them righting this ship.

3) Jordan Love can play; Matt LaFleur can coach

I was dead wrong about Love, repeatedly questioning his bona fides this past offseason. After starting the season red hot, he hit a lull. But then the first-year starter carried the Packers into the playoffs, throwing 18 touchdown passes against just one pick in the final eight games of the regular season, with Green Bay going 6-2 in that span to nab a wild-card spot. And Sunday in Dallas, Love enjoyed a true coming-out party on the postseason stage, shredding the Cowboys' ballyhooed defense with a brilliant display of accuracy, arm strength, processing and ball distribution. It was breathtaking. Love's final numbers, while great -- 16 for 21, 272 yards, three touchdowns -- don't portray just how revelatory the performance was. The 25-year-old quarterback was absolutely sensational in his first postseason appearance. The Packers do indeed have ANOTHER keeper at the game's most important position -- and he has the right man to guide his career.

I loved when LaFleur took the ball after winning the coin flip. He aimed to take control of the game with a statement-making drive right off the bat, and that's exactly what his Packers did, marching 75 yards on 12 plays to paydirt. Remember, LaFleur worked under Dan Quinn in Atlanta and could have become the Falcons' offensive coordinator when Kyle Shanahan left to take the 49ers' head-coaching job. But Quinn let him walk and hired Steve Sarkisian instead. On Sunday, LaFleur exposed Quinn's defense to a shocking degree, as Green Bay had 41 points with time left in the third quarter. The Packers' offensive balance was terrific. Somehow still underrated, Aaron Jones ran angry to score three touchdowns, matching the total from his injury-riddled regular-season. Green Bay scored touchdowns on six of its first seven drives. This was a truly lopsided stunner. LaFleur led his team into Jerry World and nearly burned the place down.

4) Jared Goff is entrenched in Detroit

That scene at Ford Field after Goff hit Amon-Ra St. Brown to seal Detroit's first playoff win in 32 years was so special. I had chills. I can't even imagine what it was like being a Lions fan as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the 24-23 triumph.

The script was perfect, with Matthew Stafford returning to Detroit as "the bad guy" on the opposite sideline for the franchise's first home playoff game in three decades. I picked the Rams to win, and as the ebb and flow of the game played out, I thought they would. But the Lions' red-zone defense bowed up, and Goff ultimately closed the door with a literal four-minute drill. (OK, 4:07, to be exact.)

Goff said all the right things in the postgame, expressing how the win was about Detroit, not his own personal revenge. Still, the man's satisfaction had to be sky high Sunday night. Taken by the Rams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Goff led Los Angeles to the Super Bowl in Year 3. But Sean McVay eventually lost faith in the quarterback and flipped him to Detroit in the blockbuster Stafford trade that ultimately gave the Rams their second Lombardi Trophy. That happened, and it had to be extremely tough for Goff. But he didn't sulk. Instead, he remade himself into a franchise quarterback in Detroit, helping the long-suffering Lions exorcise demons via one of the league's best stories.

With all of that accompanying a fabulously efficient stat line on Sunday night (22-of-27 for 277 yards and a touchdown), Goff arrived back to the locker room with his teammates chanting his name. And Dan Campbell's words in giving Goff a game ball were perfect. Great stuff. I was so happy for Goff, who's now truly the man in Detroit.

5) Matthew Stafford is amazing

Even though the Rams lost, Stafford's Hall of Fame talent and legendary toughness were on full display in Detroit, just as they had been so many times in the first dozen years of his NFL career. Despite taking a number of brutal blows, the 35-year-old gamer racked up 367 yards and two touchdowns through the air, bedeviling his former team with an assortment of arm angles, throwing platforms and ball speeds. Stafford was a true master of the quarterbacking craft, and his chemistry with rookie receiver Puka Nacua (9/181/1) was something to behold.

The lack of red-zone success doomed Los Angeles, as the offense settled for too many field goals. It's a shame if you are a Rams fan. I loved watching this team all season, and with Stafford playing at an elite level in the postseason, Lombardi dreams weren't unfounded.

6) The C.J. Stroud/DeMeco Ryans combination is special

I don't mean to be redundant, as I've written this forever. But if you didn't believe me, it was on full display as the Texans whacked the piping-hot Browns on Saturday. This was a Cleveland team with an elite defense and a knack for beating quality opponents (SEE: the wins over San Francisco and Baltimore, each conference's No. 1 seed). Houston wiped the floor with the Browns, winning 45-14. Stroud was outstanding, throwing three touchdown passes and just missing a perfect passer rating, looking like Peyton Manning in his prime despite it being his playoff debut. This is hardly a surprise, considering how the No. 2 overall pick has played all season, but still: I'm obsessed with C.J. First-year offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik put on a play-calling clinic, too, befuddling Jim Schwartz's Browns defense from the start.

Ryans has been my guy for quite some time. I *loved* the hire right when it was made. And in Year 1, he abruptly changed the culture in Houston. Remember what this organization has been through in the past few years? The Deshaun Watson divorce and a grand total of 11 wins from 2020 to '22. Houston just notched its 11th win of this season alone, with Ryans' defense recording a pair of pick-sixes against Joe Flacco.

This week's task -- taking on the top-seeded Ravens on Saturday in Baltimore -- certainly won't be easy. But I'm confident Houston will be in that contest all game because of its coach and quarterback, who comprise a special combo.

7) Josh Allen's a freak -- Chiefs, beware!

Buffalo's quarterback is really John Elway meets Nolan Ryan meets Greg Maddux meets Paul Bunyan, given his athleticism, arm, accuracy, knack in a big spot and mythical powers. Allen owned the overmatched Steelers in the Bills' 31-17 victory on Monday, recording three touchdown passes and a soul-crushing 52-yard TD run.

And now we get to enjoy another postseason showdown between Allen and Patrick Mahomes, only this time it will take place in lovely Western New York. Mahomes has never played a true road playoff game before. Wild stuff. And Bills Mafia is going to be foaming at the mouth.

Buffalo's currently on a six-game win streak that started Week 14 at Kansas City. The Bills will indeed reach lucky No. 7 with a home triumph over the Chiefs on Sunday night.

8) Baker Mayfield is at home in Tampa

I'm so happy for Baker. On my Associated Press awards ballot, I voted him Comeback Player of the Year. And Monday's 32-9 playoff win over the reigning NFC champion Eagles should cement him as the quarterback in Tampa. Mayfield signed a one-year, prove-it deal with the Buccaneers back in March -- and prove it, he most definitely did.

Not for one moment this season has it looked like the Bucs miss Tom Brady. That's a wild thing to say, but it's true. Mayfield added awesome energy and play Monday night, torching the Eagles for 337 yards and three touchdowns through the air. And he posted those numbers despite several brutal drops from his pass catchers.

I loved the scene in Tampa for Baker, Todd Bowles, Jason Licht and the Bucs. Mayfield clearly needs a new contract to stay put in his new home in the Sunshine State.

9) The Dolphins are frauds

I had trouble trusting this team throughout the season. And it's no wonder why, as the 2023 Dolphins beat one winning team -- by the skin of their teeth. The Chiefs were ripe for picking off on Super Wild Card Weekend. Shoot, the Aidan O'Connell-led Raiders beat them in Kansas City less than a month ago. But the Dolphins were clearly shell-shocked by the cold, never really competing in a 26-7 defeat.

Yes, I know Miami was dealing with a litany of injuries, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But it was the offense's performance that really struck me as uninspired. Tua Tagovailoa had nothing. The Dolphins threw wide on short-yardage situations. They threw well short of the sticks on third and fourth downs. They were just completely out of sorts, totally outclassed by a Chiefs team that entered the game with serious questions about its own viability.

The Dolphins provided plenty of fireworks against overmatched teams in the fall. But when they had to face legit opposition come wintertime, they were exposed.

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